Ten years ago this week I released my second novel (and second baseball novel), Nine Bucks a Pound. It's possibly my favorite, though sales-wise it ranks a distant third behind The Greatest Show on Dirt and Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed. And in time it will surely be passed up by This Is Who We Are Now.
I didn't realize how fortunate I was with The Greatest Show on Dirt when it was released in 2012, but the Durham Bulls connection there netted a lot of publicity in North Carolina, with several major newspapers running reviews or short features shortly after it came out. It was also still the relatively early days of Kindle sales, and I have never since matched the success of some of the promotions I ran that first year. Even two years later, the market had matured enough that it wasn't as easy to catch that sales wave.
I've also had second thoughts on the title, dating back to even before I hit the publish button. The working title all along was Branded, but it turned out to be not very original. There were, in fact, a number of books already for sale on Amazon called Branded, and they tended to largely fall under the bad-boy romance umbrella. So I reached a little deeper, choosing a name that needed to be explained, which should have been my first clue that it was a poor choice. Then again, there are plenty of very famous books with titles that don't necessarily make it obvious what they're about. The Catcher in the Rye. Bang the Drum Slowly. The Sun Also Rises. Still, going esoteric might not be the best strategy for naming a novel.
The other strong contender for title was Lightning in a Needle. If I could go back 10 years, I think I'd go with that. Combined with the bobblehead holding the bat syringe on the cover, I think that would have done a better job of conveying what the story was about. Which, if you're not familiar, is this:
From the moment he’s drafted, Del Tanner shows the Twins a smooth left-handed stroke and a slick glove at first base. But his path is blocked by players who possess the one thing he lacks—power. When a teammate’s injury is the only thing to spare him on cutdown day, the message is clear: Put more balls over the fence or find a new line of work.
His aspiring agent connects him with a steroid dealer operating out of the back room of a South Florida funeral parlor. After a winter in Mexico, pumping iron by day and riding the bench by night, Del reports to spring training sporting twenty additional pounds of muscle. Suddenly a legitimate power threat, he ascends from the ranks of the unknown to American League Rookie of the Year. Within days of being so honored, allegations surface of his performance-enhancing drug use, forcing him on the defensive as he fights to restore his reputation and repair his personal relationships.
Those who have found it have seemed to like it for the most part. It's currently rocking a 4.2 rating on Amazon, tops among my novels. And those reviews are one of the major reasons I've never re-released it with a different title. No point risking losing all those. That's another thing that seems to have changed over the years. Amazon readers seem a bit stingier with reviews these days. At least based on my own anecdotal evidence.
Lesson learned. Unless I somehow become famous enough to get away with it, cryptic titles are not my friend. You only get one chance to get that name right, and if you don't you may wind up a decade later wondering what if.