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What’s in a Name?

Writers talk about what they almost called their books.

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Ron Suskind on ‘The One Percent Doctrine’
In a November 2001 meeting, Cheney said that if there’s “a one percent chance” that terrorists could get ahold of WMD, we need to “treat it as a certainty.” I refer to the doctrine in the text as the “one percent solution,” a roll-off-your-tongue phrase, redolent of The Seven Percent Solution, a seventies book and hit movie about Sherlock Holmes. In other words, a perfect title. And subtly misleading. By the end, the reader discovers that the rule is anything but a solution. I tried to find substitutes. The One Percent Gamble? Finally, the editors and I agreed on doctrine, a flat word, with weight.


Will Self on ‘The Book of Dave’
The working title was Neves, which is “seven” in Cockney back-chat, for the amount of money a London cabbie could expect to earn. However, this did seem very obscure to me. I then toyed with The Knowledge, the encyclopedic grasp of the London streets that a licensed cab driver has to have. Unfortunately there’s already a play by this name, about London cabbies. The Book of Dave seemed a little bland, but the change from “David” to “Dave” really says it all.


Kate Atkinson on ‘One Good Turn’
The original title was Jolly Murder Mystery. I didn’t decide to nix it, the publishers did. It didn’t work for the Americans, and my British publishers decided it would be less confusing if they followed the U.S. I was very aggrieved when the Brits changed it. I don’t like it as much as the original, obviously. At least it’s more straightforward than the French: “Les choses s’arrangent mais ça ne va pas mieux,” which translates to something like “the best-laid plans are subject to disaster.”


Marisa Acocella Marchetto on ‘Cancer Vixen’
I had told [Times writer] Bob Morris I’d just been diagnosed. I think I was wearing lumpy clothes, and I was a little depressed. And he said, “What’s up with the sweatpants and sneakers? Where are the five-inch heels? You look like a victim. Where’s my vixen?” I told him I was thinking of calling my book Breast Case Scenario. Bob said, “That’s terrible, you should call it Cancer Vixen. And throw the sneakers out.”


Karen DeYoung on ‘Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell’
I went through The Good Soldier, Reluctant Warrior, all those kinds of things, and it was actually my editor who said, “Why not just Soldier?” Powell himself said that [the subtitle] should be The Life of Colin Powell So Far, but that didn’t have the same ring to it.


Richard Ford on ‘The Lay of the Land’
The Lay of the Land was always this book’s title— and I don’t remember how I figured that out, or dreamed it up, or found it. It seems to me so riven into the gist of the book itself that I’ve departed from any memory of when it wasn’t the title.


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