All I Need Is A Couple Of Words

By John Gilstrap

So there I was on Tuesday—election day—giving a presentation to about a hundred people as part of my big-boy job when my cell phone buzzed. A casual glance at the caller I.D. revealed a 212 area code. New York City. The source of some of my life’s most exciting calls—and some of the most disappointing. But you can’t very well answer the phone in mid-speech, can you?

Maybe a minute later, the phone buzzed a second time, and I knew that the caller had left a message. Twenty minutes to go.

Applause. Questions. Finally, the phone. The message was from my editor. “We have a major problem with GRAVE SECRETS,” she said, referring to the book that comes out next June. “Call me.”

So much for another of life’s most exciting calls.

“We can’t use GRAVE SECRETS for a title,” she told me. “The name Grave—” It’s a reference to my protagonist, Jonathan Grave; it has nothing vaults for the dead. “—makes every cover concept we come up with look like a horror novel.”


So all we have to do is change my baby’s name. No problem. Yeah, I’d been living with GRAVE SECRETS as a title for a couple of years, and yeah, I’d planned a franchise of similar titles for the series, but that kind of attachment is all emotional. It should be easy to overcome. Publishing is all business, after all, and nowhere do market concerns play a bigger role than with the title.

So change it already.


Hey, I stitched 120,000 words together to write the damn thing in the first place; how tough can it be to stitch two or three more to get a title?


But we need a title! It’s almost time to go to press with the advance readers copies. C’mon! Two or three lousy words!



I’ve got long lists of two-word phrases, but none that really work as a title.

I can do this.



9 thoughts on “All I Need Is A Couple Of Words

  1. Good luck John. It’s those little snippets that are hard for me. The synopsis, then the elevator pitch. Geez I hate that part and I can’t imagine changing your baby’s name.

  2. John-
    I just had to rename my next book too, in a week. I ran a contest offering a $50 Amazon gift certificate to the winning title, posted it on facebook, myspace, and in my newsletter. The level of responses was staggering. Might be worth a try. So sorry- I know how stressful that is, believe me!

  3. Okay, I don’t know what the book is about, except for the protag’s name and the Secrets. But here goes: A Secret Game, A Secret and Deadly Game, In Secret, Secrets,
    Secrets of the Kill (or was that a James Bond title?), The Secret Zone, and Deadly, Secret Games.

    I think I like Deadly, Secret Games. Now I’m exhausted. Good luck, John!

  4. btw: I agree with Joe, Grave Secrets a great title. They should be able to come up with a fantastic cover that doesn’t evoke horror. What’s the book about?

  5. Ah John I feel for you – I’m the worst at titles! Michelle’s idea was an intriguing one but I usually just cry to my agent and in the past she came up with the titles!

  6. Geez, I wish I could help you with that one. I tried to come up with something other than the working title of mine, and I got nothing useful. If they don’t like it (or the title of my next WIP), I’m screwed if I have to come up with another one.

    Man…good luck!

  7. Would Grave’s Secrets work? Removes the implication of a grave and horror (which, I agree, the editor and artist are making too much of) but preserves your protag’s name.

    Just a thought.

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