Potato, Potahto: What’s in a Title?

With my fifth novel, I joined for the first time the list of authors who have published an identical novel under two different titles. The Ellie Hatcher novel published as Angel’s Tip was published in the UK as City of Fear.

Until then, I had been completely unaware of the double-title phenomenon. I asked my UK editor at Avon why she was suggesting a different title. I thought Angel’s Tip was perfect. In the opening scene of the novel, Indiana college student Chelsea Hart is still getting her party on at a hot Manhattan club when her friends decide it’s time to crash back at the hotel. Chelsea opts to stay out on her own for one last drink. The name of that drink? An Angel’s Tip. The title also alludes to a tip that comes in later to NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher from the father of a previous murder victim. Decent title, right?

Well, little did I know that in the UK, “tip” is sometimes slang for dirt or a mess. Angel Detritus was not what I was after. City of Fear had a nice ring to it, highlighting both the Manhattan setting and the stalking tone of some of the chapters. And the title wasn’t the only change. I had to cut back on a light scene in which Ellie and her partner, JJ Rogan, sing the theme song to The Jeffersons during a stakeout. Apparently George and Weezy weren’t on constant syndication on the other side of the pond.

It turns out I’ve gone and done it again. The next Ellie Hatcher novel will be published as 212 in the United States this spring, but UK readers should look for City of Lies. I know I’m not the only author who’s gone through this. Lee Child had “Running Blind” and “The Visitor.” Karin Slaughter currently has “Undone” and “Genesis.” Nevertheless, I have a hard time wrapping my head around it.

I suppose it’s similar to having a child you call Miguel in Spain and Mike in the US, but do parents really do that? My guess is they don’t, because a name conveys something unique about the thing that it names. The fact that I go by my given name, Alafair, instead of the more convenient Ally, says something about me — nothing concrete, to be sure, but something. It’s because names matter that companies pay market researchers big bucks to come up with brands like Accenture and Apple.

What do you think? How much does the title of the book affect your reading of it? Or the jacket art for that matter, which also varies in different countries? Will readers of “212” and “City of Lies” have identical experiences if the insides of the books are the same, when the outsides are different? Or do the title and the jacket frame the book from the outset, not just physically but psychologically? And what other double-title books are out there?