Title Troubles

MELS COVERThe first draft of my novel UPTOWN THIEF was originally titled THE MANHATTAN TRICK HEISTS. As I look back at old drafts, many are called TMTH. However, a sex worker beta reader explained two things to me. 1) the word “trick” was dated and out of touch. 2) It was a terrible stereotype that sex workers were always wanting to rob their clients. As I’ve mentioned before, the workers robbing the clients was the entire action story, so I had to completely reorganize my plot. Of course, it greatly improved the plot, because now they are robbing corrupt corporate CEOs involved in a sex trafficking scandal.

My new title (which I loved) was THE MANHATTAN ESCORT AND LARCENY SERVICE. I loved the idea of stealing being a service. The files from those years are called MELS. Many of the editors who liked the book really loved the title. But none of those editors who were such fans of the title actually acquired the book. It landed with Kensington’s Dafina imprint. They go for catchy and short titles. I came up with the new title, DOWNTOWN MADAM, UPTOWN THIEF. My agent also liked it, but my editor shortened it to UPTOWN THIEF. Initially, I felt it lacked juxtaposition. Clearly, I like conflict, even in the title. My agent wisely pointed out that uptown implies downtown and implies juxtaposition. This was just one of many wise moves on her part.

When my deal came out on Publishers Marketplace, I wanted to include the new title. I figured it would be my first chance to promote the book. But–again–my agent wisely insisted that we should go with the title it had when on submission. She explained that this was how the various editors who had read the book would know where it landed. This was a good lesson to me in the difference between information that is important to share with the general public and information that is important to share with industry insiders.

Over time, I’ve grown to love UPTOWN THIEF. Every time I see the book cover with the new title and my name on it, it’s hard to imagine the old title.

I hope the same will be true with Book #2, which focuses on Tyesha Couvillier. She is the right hand woman of the protagonist from UPTOWN THIEF. When I sold it, the proposed title was TYESHA, INC, but my editor nixed that right away. I tried several titles, and my agent liked THE BOSS best. Of course, I just read on Twitter that comedian Melissa McCarthy is starring in a new comedy called THE BOSS. So much for my title. Maybe it’ll be THE NEW BOSS. It’s about ambivalence and upward mobility, about being face-to-face with the ratchet relatives you thought you’d escaped from, about strippers fighting to unionize, a rap star love interest, and the plot has a central heist where they’re stealing evidence from some mobsters. My editor will want a short, catchy title that sums all that up…Wish me luck.

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Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Her work has appeared in Essence Magazine, xojane, Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Mutha Magazine, Movement Strategy Center, My Brown Baby, KQED Pop, Bitch Magazine, Racialicious, Fusion, and she has been a guest on HuffPostLive. She is the author of the children's picture book PUFFY: PEOPLE WHOSE HAIR DEFIES GRAVITY. Kensington Books will be publishing her debut feminist heist novel, UPTOWN THIEF, in 2016. For more info, go to ayadeleon.wordpress.com.

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