How my novel got its name

Although this is the first post in in my ‘debut novelist’ blog, I’ll skip the ‘my struggle towards publication’ part of the story if you don’t mind, except to say that writing novels is lengthy, lonely, often hopeless work, and like most novelists I got turned down a lot before someone said yes. So, of course it was a big deal, personally and emotionally, when Sandstone Press accepted my manuscript in September of last year. The novel they offered to take on, however, was not called Finer Things but The Unlosable Game.

Here’s why it had to change. I am an unknown novelist; my name means nothing to potential readers. Consequently everything else about my book’s cover has to pull in attention, including the title. Nobody at Sandstone much liked The Unlosable Game and, although I was a bit sad to give it up, my publishers had more experience and success at selling books than I did. Agreeing to choose a new title was easy; finding one, not so much. It would require the following qualities:

  1. The title had to say something about what was in the story – about the collision between Delia’s gangster world and the lives of my art school bohemians. That’s why Among Thieves was one of my favourite alternative choices – but…
  2. It must not already have been used for another novel (so Among Thieves didn’t make the cut – and a curse on Jeanette Winterson for having got to Art and Lies first).
  3. It couldn’t be too on the nose – hence goodbye to The Art of Shoplifting and all others of that variety.
  4. And it must not be rubbish. (I am too ashamed to list many of the titles I suggested during a week or so of emails, but trust me, plenty of them were abominable.

We had to come up with an answer fairly quickly so the designer could get on with draft cover ideas. I kept throwing lists of ideas at my editor; she kept coming back to one particular title I didn’t like at all (at the time – though now I can see it might have worked). You go snowblind with a thing like that. Everything looks right and everything looks wrong.

And then Alice, who runs Sales, suggested ‘Finer Things’.

Hmmm. All of my characters are looking to make their lives better in some way; Tess and Jimmy are fine art students; the consumerist world of the department stores Delia robs is all predicated on an illusion of a life improved by expensive things. It fitted. During the edit I even found a way to slip those two words into the text, as if they had always been the title I planned. Look out for that, careful reader.