Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Action Potential

Right up to the day of the Tor sales conference, my novel Mindscan had the title Action Potential, which I thought was quite wonderful. Not only is it a cool term from neuroscience, but it also worked well with the plot of the book, since it dealt with an exploration of what actions any of us might have the potential to perform in desperate times (I'm thinking particularly of Jake taking hostages).

Well, the sales force didn't like that title, and so the book got changed to Mindscan. I can't complain; I coined that title, too (in fact, it was a rejected possible title for my much-earlier novel The Terminal Experiment).

Anyway, as I noted a little while ago, my discarded Evolving God (a working title for Calculating God) was picked up by Barbara J. King for her new anthropology book on the origins of religion.

And now I see that someone else thought Action Potential a cool title, too. Since November of 2005 (after Mindscan came out), the journal Nature Neuroscience has been using it as the title of their blog.

I am now waiting to be vindicated and see the blockbuster novel called The Grand Old Man of Physics, which was my working title for Starplex, and which my then agent convinced me to change on the grounds that it was "the worst title he'd ever heard." :)

Seriously, I wish him no ill over this; he was doubtless right that it wasn't a commerical title. Sadly, Starplex turned out to be not much better. In those pre-Google days, how was I to know that a leading maker of those little plastic collection bottles they give you to pee in when you visit the doctor is also called Starplex?


At January 30, 2007 11:40 PM , Blogger John Joseph Adams said...

Though Starplex may be a fine producer of pee bottles, what you lose out to on google is Starplex Cinemas (which has the #1 google rank for the search "Starplex"); your novel does show up at #5 though.

For what it's worth, I always liked Starplex as a title, and it's probably my favorite book of yours. I kind of have to agree with your agent that "Grand Old Man" isn't a great title though. I'd say that I might not have picked up a book called that, but after reading The Terminal Experiment, I would have picked up the next book I saw with your name on it no matter what it was called. :)

While I'm throwing out my two cents about your titles, I'll also say that I would have liked Mindscan better as the title for The Terminal Experiment, and Action Potential for Mindscan. (I think you definitely got Calculating God right.)

Any of your other novels have alternate titles?

BTW, I read Rollback this weekend, gobbled it all up in basically one sitting, thought it was great. I'll get to work on those interview questions for SF Weekly and get them over too you sometime soon.

At January 31, 2007 12:13 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Hi, John. Great to see you here! Thanks for stopping by.

Actually, almost all of my books have gone through title changes, as you can see here. I think only Illegal Alien and End of an Era never had any other titles.

At January 31, 2007 2:46 AM , Blogger Drakkenfyre said...

Okay, if you're vindicated on that "Grand Old Man" thing, I'll go topless in Toronto. In mid-day. In winter.

At January 31, 2007 3:14 AM , Anonymous Jim Shannon said...

Hi Rob, a couple of questions if you don’t mind and I hope they aren't too silly or ambiguous ones. Firstly, does this sort of title change thing go on often before an accepted submission gets published? Also, I’m curious about novel titles that have the same title from different authors in the same genre. For example one of my favorite sites I go to is Fantastic Fiction. I typed in a title of a book I began writing about 15 years ago but never completed it. FF has two search fields, authors and books (titles) I typed the title “Meltdown” the working title of the project I was working on at the time. I got 13 responses from 13 different authors with the same title or subtle variations on the “Meltdown” title. So my 2nd question would be how do companies like Tor handle this? I’ve even seen the exact same title used by different authors. Take for example Clifford D Simak’s classic “Time and again.” Type this in and you get a lot of the same title from different authors, isn’t this plagiarism?

At January 31, 2007 2:08 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

It's not plagiarism, Jim -- not unless you call your book "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," or something really distinctive and original like that. I made up the word "Quintaglio," so if somebody else came out with a book with that in the title, that might be questionable -- but I didn't make up "Hominids" or "Frameshift," and you didn't make up "Meltdown" -- and Cliff Simak certainly didn't make up the idiom "Time and Again." :)

More often, similar titles are just accidents. C.J. Cherryh and I both had books come out the same month with the same name -- FOREIGNER -- by pure coincidence.

Publishers do take reasonable care. I was asked to change FACE OF GOD by Ace not because there was anything wrong with the title but because they'd recently published a book by Brian Herbert called THE RACE FOR GOD, and they didn't want to confuse people (mine was retitled FAR-SEER).

Still, Tor has books in its catalog called MINDSCAN (by me), MINDWORLD (by Phyllis Gotlieb), and MINDSWAP (by Robert Sheckley),and it's no big deal. All of this is why God invented the ISBN. :)

At January 31, 2007 3:24 PM , Anonymous Jim Shannon said...

Hi Rob,I appreciate you clearing that up for me. I hope I wasn't impinging on your professionalism, I was a bit confused and needed to ask a pro. I even dug out that old copy of "Meltdown" and I can't believe how bad it is. I barely got through reading the first page before I just about gaged. I'll keep it around though just to keep me humble :-)

At Fantastic Fiction I typed in the working title of what I'm writing now and at 26k into the work, so far nobody has claimed the title so I think I'm in the clear but that could change in April. Like you said not that it makes a difference to the ISBN Gods.

Anyway thanks again.


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