Help! The Ever-Tricky Thriller Title

Okay, it’s true. I judge a book by its cover. And it’s title. If either are egregiously stupid, I don’t even pick the thing up to see what the back says. Unless it’s by one of my favorite authors (see future post about my auto-buy writers).

So you can understand if I’m somewhat paranoid about picking the title for my first ever Deacon Hale novel (see this post if you have no idea what I’m talking about). We’ll save covers for a whole different post (and different heart attack).

In one to five words, I have to convey the essence of my 100,000 word novel in a way that is charming, consistent with my genre, and compels you to click on / pick up the book. No pressure. These are the moments in writing when I think of Thomas Mann’s quote “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Amen.

But onward we go, anxiety or no. (Rhyming. Never a good sign.)

The current working title of my manuscript is “Almost Fatal.” But I keep falling in and out of love with it. I came up with it because the villain in my book gets herself in trouble when she tried to kill someone and they survive. So her attack was almost fatal.

As a general rule, however, you should not use “almost” in a title. I don’t want this going on in the readers head: “Oh, your hero was almost able to kill the bad guys? Great, I definitely want to almost read your book.”

So I’m looking for other options. It feels kind of like picking a name for your kid. Is anything ever going to be good enough?

Here’s where you can help. I’ve put my current top favorites in a poll at the end of this post. You can vote and help me narrow down the list. Or you can be EVEN MORE HELPFUL and leave a comment / email / text / FB me with suggestions. If you come up with the title I eventually use, I will of course mention you in the dedication. 

Here are some handy guidelines to help you out (which, technically you’ll have to disregard if you want to be a super hipster. You know who you are). 

Conventional and/or Neurotic Kate Title Guidelines:

  1. Shorter is usually better. But now always.
  2. Sound like a badass, but not like a cliche. It’s a hard line to walk, trust me. I’m not super literary so I’m generally willing to risk being a little cliche if your title sounds truly badass. You’ll see what I mean when you read my options in the poll below.
  3. Don’t use something that someone else has already used successfully within your genre. The best way to check this is by typing your idea into If good books pop up, you’re out of luck. Pick a different title. If bad/unpopular books or books in a completely different genre pop up, then you might be able to use that one.

If I were to choose one thing that I want the title to convey, it’s a sense of Deacon Hale as a deadly, single-minded law unto himself. An impression of an unstoppable force. Carefully contained violence. Think Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp, and the Die Hard Series’ John McClain.

If you need inspiration, NPR did a survey in 2011 and picked the best 100 thrillers ever written. So yeah, those titles are probably pretty good.

For example, all of these covers/titles are pretty good:

But all of these are less than awesome:

[FYI, for future reference, “less than awesome” and other similar phrases are code for “suck” that I use when I’m talking about something created by someone that I like and/or respect. For example, my friend Natasha once sent me a picture text of herself with a horrendous hair cut that later turned out to be a wig. My response was that I’d have to “examine the hair cut in person” later. Which is also code for “sucks.”]

Here’s a synopsis of my book to help you in your task. I tried to keep it a little vague so it’s not really giving anything away for when you read (with rapt fascination) the actual book. Also, ignore the over-the-top language. I wrote it for something else and it’s a little… pushy… in tone.

On a quiet August night, a vicious assassin slips onto a military base and slaughters Ryan McGrath’s entire family, leaving him to bleed out from her signature set of three puncture wounds to the neck. But Ryan does something that none of her other victims ever has—he survives.

Three years after a combat wound ended Deacon Hale’s military career, Ryan McGrath singles the former Delta Force operative out in a diner. When he shows him his scars, Deacon feels a familiar rush of adrenaline flood through him. In an instant the last three years slip away and he’s doing what he does best—preparing to hunt and eliminate a target. Because he’s seen that set of scars before. And he’ll go to any lengths to find the assassin who made them.

Twenty-four hours later Ryan is missing and Deacon is in a race to find him before the assassin gets a chance to eliminate the one blemish on her record. To succeed he’ll have to solve a series of brutal murders, outmaneuver a skilled sociopath, and expose a powerful man’s darkest secret.

Okay, here are my current top choices. You should probably vote for one to help me out. Or leave a comment with your brilliant, but slightly counter-culture alternative.

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