Renaming Pay Me, Bug!?!!???

Should an author rename a novel they’ve already published? More specifically, should I? That’s what I’m thinking through right now, and I thought it was worth thinking through out loud.

Last Monday I was feeling whimsical. I was looking at book covers and noticed a the ones that featured the name of the author at the top of the page frequently had “HUGO AWARD WINNING AUTHOR” or “HUGO NOMINATED AUTHOR” or “NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER” placed under the author’s name. It made perfect sense from an advertising perspective, but I thought it would be cheeky and amusing to see something similar for authors who had no awards whatsoever, so I did this:

"Not An Award-Winning Author"

And then I laughed and went on my merry way.

But a few interesting things happened. First, the response I had to the cover change was mostly positive, with people thinking the “Not an award winning author of any kind” tag was something worth actually putting on the book. Second, at the same time, I got into a discussion with someone whose opinion I tend to respect about the problems both the title and the cover create for me getting people to give the book a go.

And that conversation, combined with a slow but steady string of comments I’ve seen in the past, has got me thinking seriously about whether I need to:

  • change the name of the book, and
  • commission yet another cover for it.

So here is the dilemma: I genuinely like the name. I think “Pay Me, Bug!” is a great name as long as you know what the book is about. It doesn’t directly allude to the plot, but it is illustrative of how the protagonists in the story deal with the plot—equal parts trying to figure out how to win and betting on whether or not they survive. It’s anarchic and enthusiastic (it has an exclamation point!) and a little silly and it lets you know the story has a bug in it. These are all important things to convey.

HOWEVER, the name is definitely divisive. As a general rule it appears people either find the name intriguing or off-putting. I’ve read more than a few comments from people who said “I was kind of put off by the title, but when I started reading it, it made sense.” Which is, from a certain perspective, vindication for the title (“When I started reading it, it made sense”) but from another perspective, it’s this:

“I was kind of put off by the title…”

Just so you know, I’ve heard this a lot. I heard this when I was initially trying to find a publisher for it. I heard it the one time I was told that the publisher had taken it out of the slush pile and forwarded it to the editor (specifically they said “… even though we hate the name”), and I’ve heard it from people who are enthusiastic readers who want me to finish writing the sequel (yes, I am working on it, I promise). And it makes me wonder, since there is a not statistically insignificant number of people who were put off by the title but read it anyway, how many people were put off by the title and never bothered to read it in the first place.

This is an important question to answer, because I want people to read this book, and as much as I love the title, if it’s a roadblock to people picking up the book and turning to the first page then I will change the name and never look back.

The thing with me and writing: I’m perfectly willing to write a story people don’t like if it’s the story I want to tell, but I’d prefer to minimize roadblocks up to that point. If the reader doesn’t like the story I told, that’s the unavoidable result of me making the decisions I made clashing with the preferences the reader has… anything that keeps the reader away before they get to the story is the result of bad marketing, and that’s something I need to fix.

So: there is a chance that I will be retitling Pay Me, Bug!, at which point a new issue with a new ISBN will be released, and—probably—a new cover.

The new cover thing is harder, because I love Garth Graham’s art, and I love the way he drew Ktk. However, the people who have talked about the title being a roadblock also talked about the cover as well, and each case the comment has been the same. I paraphrase below:

It’s not that the cover is bad. It’s not. But it doesn’t reflect the story.

Jefferson Smith, who has actually reviewed the book twice, summarized his issue with both the title and the cover art very well:

The only blight on the entire experience was the odd choices for title and cover art. Once you’ve read the book, the title makes perfect sense, as it’s a reference to a running gag in the story, but it sets entirely the wrong tone for what the story is actually about, which is probably causing a lot of potential readers to skip on past it. And the cover art, while professional looking, fails to convey the frenetic drama of the grown up action adventure that lies inside. (Review of Pay Me, Bug! On Creativity Hacker)

Another comment I received branched off in another thought-provoking direction: because the book cover has a comic book feel, it sets up the expectation that the reader is going to get comics if they buy the book. I can see the logic behind that. Sure, don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but the cover is there and it’s going to inform the overall aesthetic of the book. It’s marketing, and if you do marketing wrong you piss off your prospective customer. So if your book is a space opera, and a reader wants to buy a space opera, it helps if your cover effectively communicates the idea that your book is a space opera.

Does the cover actually do this? Apparently not as thoroughly as I’d like. So if I change the title, I’ll probably wind up getting a new cover. This will actually bother me more than the title change, because coming up with the title was free and I paid for the cover, and—this is the more important part—it was money well spent. Garth gave me exactly what I wanted… I just wasn’t wanting the right thing.

I’d love to hear from readers and other authors on this. Those of you who have read the book: what are your thoughts on the title and cover? Did they distract you? Do you see a marketing advantage in a change? Those of you who are authors, have you been in this situation? How did you deal with it?

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