James Swallow is a New York Times, Sunday Times and Amazon bestselling author, a BAFTA nominee, a former journalist and the award-winning writer of over fifty books, along with numerous scripts for videogames, radio and television. His latest novel ROGUE is the sixth book in a series of fast-paced action thrillers featuring protagonist Marc Dane, out now from Bonnier Zaffre in the UK and Europe; readers in North America can catch up with Swallow’s fiction in EXILE (out now in paperback) and GHOST (coming in November in hardcover) from Forge Books.
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You can also follow James on Twitter at @jmswallow or visit him on his website at www.jswallow.com, which features more free fiction, including the original Marc Dane novella ROUGH AIR.
We’ve been told that judging a book by its cover is not proper, but let’s be honest, we all do it. A bit of dynamic cover artwork is just the thing to hook the attention of a passing reader in a bookstore – but that’s not enough if you don’t have a thrilling title to seal the deal.
For me, the perfect title is a combination of a number of factors. It can’t be too long. It has to have a sense of impact. It has to connect strongly to something in the story. And lastly – this is the hard part – I want it to have a deeper meaning that only becomes clear to the reader after they’ve finished the work.
When I wrote the first book in my Marc Dane series, my goal was to create a fast-paced, tech-savvy espionage thriller for the digital age, set in a post-Snowden, post-WikiLeaks world where private military contractors, agile terror cells and corporations wield as much power as national intelligence agencies.
Marc Dane is the protagonist, an MI6 field operative accused of betraying his country who uncovers a horrific conspiracy. Relying only on his skills and his wits to stay one step ahead of those hunting him, Marc crosses paths with ex-Special Forces sniper Lucy Keyes and her boss, the enigmatic African billionaire Ekko Solomon, the man behind the shadowy Rubicon Group; together they must race the clock to stop a devastating terrorist attack.
I settled on Nomad as the title for a number of reasons – partly because it was the code-name for the MI6 covert ops team my hero belonged to, but also because this was a story about a man on his own fighting to clear his name, someone forced into a nomadic experience for much of the novel. Little did I know, I was making a rod for my own back… My publishers wanted 5-letter titles for every book in the series – they wanted to create a sense of identity for Marc Dane’s adventures that readers could recognize instantly. Nomad was followed by Exile, Ghost, then Shadow (and yes, I got complaints from some readers because I added an extra letter!) and most recently Rogue.
One of the marketing team told me that the series titles all reflect a ‘state of being’, which I thought was a pretty cool take; personally, I think they could also be the names of high-end men’s fragrances too, but what do I know? I’d love to tell you what the 6th book in the series will be called, but we’re still arguing that one out!
So what is the secret of the eye-catching title?
I think it is the ones that set up a question so that the reader is compelled to find the answer. Why is the Red October being hunted? Where has the Girl Gone? What happened to Bourne’s Identity? Speaking personally, those are the ones that draw me in like a magnet, which is what every author wants from a reader.
Your mileage may vary of course, and maybe you’re wondering if I’m overthinking this – but remember that the title of your book is literally the first thing a potential reader will read. What you communicate to them in those words can mean the difference between them taking your story home or leaving it on the shelf.