The Fourth Watcher

September 13th, 2007

I’ve just learned the title of my next Poke Rafferty novel, due to be published by William Morrow in July 2008. It’s [tag]The Fourth Watcher[/tag].

It’s a good title, I think — evocative and interesting: What or who is being watched? Who’s watching? Who are the other three watchers? It’s got a kind of Daniel Silva thing going for it. Maybe people in a hurry will think it is a Daniel Silva book and buy it. That should move me up the ranks at Amazon.

But, considering that I finished [tag]writing the novel[/tag] in June, why do I only now know what the title is?

Because the people at [tag]William Morrow[/tag] — who have volunteered to take these 100,000-word daydreams, package them attractively, and manufacture many, many copies in the hope that someone will buy them — didn’t feel that the original title, The Million Dollar Minute, was strong enough. It sounds like a financial book, several people said. Even if the jacket design makes it clear that it’s a thriller, it will sound like a financial thriller, and that’s just exactly not what it is.

The way my editor explained it to me, we’re trying to influence a two-second decision. It can me take a year to write a book, it can take Morrow another year to edit it, groom it, design it, promote it, teach it to curtsy, print it, and distribute it — and it all comes down to a two-second decision on the buyer’s part: am I going to pick this up and open it, or not? And the only weapons we have to persuade that person to bring his or her entire life to a halt and investigate the book are the title and the cover design.

If you’ve ever wondered why names such as [tag]Lee Child[/tag] and [tag]John Grisham[/tag] are in nine-thousand point type, that’s why. There are hundreds of thousands of people who would scoop up any new book with Lee Child’s name on it, even if he’d decided on a change of pace and set out to explore the declensions of 450 Latin verbs. Lee Child’s name triggers that two-second decision.

But mine doesn’t. So the title matters. And we went through about ten of them before we settled on The Fourth Watcher, which has the advantage of actually having quite a bit to do with the book. I combed through the book, my editor combed through the book, my extremely creative agent combed through the book, and my wife combed through the book. We free-associated. We looked at Haiku and Chinese lyric poetry. We came up with a spectrum of titles with so little in common it’s virtually impossible to believe they were meant for the same book.

Finally, my editor, Marjorie Braman, who knows the book better than I do by now, shared a short list of titles with about eight people whose opinions she values, and they were overwhelmingly in favor of The Fourth Watcher. So that’s what it’s going to be. And I’m happy to say that I was, at least, the one who thought of it.

I came up with one other title I loved during this process, and I offer it to anyone who wants it. My book has something to do with family resemblances — physical, psychological, and even mystical — and I thought of The Geography of Bone. It was roundly rejected as too arty and also containing the name of everyone’s least favorite class, but I like it. I can’t use it, though.

So take it. It’s yours. (If you do, let me know — I’d love to see how the title does. If it’s a best-seller, I’ll never let anyone forget it.)

2 Responses to “The Fourth Watcher”

  1. Dana King Says:

    I like it. Not only does it have the virtue you noted (Who is being watched? Who is doing the watching?), it makes one wonder, “Why fourth? Why not fifth, or third?”

    I’m looking forward to it.

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thanks, Dana — after going through more than 15 titles, I have no idea. At one point, I would have called it “Fluffy Bunnies in Bubble Land” just to bring the process to a halt.

    So . . . do you want “The Geography of Bone”?

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