Catch 22: The value of a good title

The August 2011 issue of Vanity Fair has an excellent article on Joseph Heller and the writing of Catch 22.

Here’s the catch… He named it Catch 18 and (as I tell clients not to do) he grew too fond of that title.

His editor suggested it would be confused with a new Leon Uris book about to be published, Mila 18. Two novels on the market with ’18’ would clash in the market.

The Vanity Fair article reprints a note Heller sent to his editor…

“The name of the book is now CATCH-14. (Forty-eight hours after you resign yourself to the change, you’ll find yourself almost preferring this new number….”

Heller’s young agent weighed in with a better idea, puzzling over the 18, and unaware of the 14, as she was trying to fall asleep. In the morning she phoned Heller. “I’ve got the perfect number. Twenty-two, it’s funnier than eighteen.”

So, even if you love the working title for your book, think about how it will stand up to the market, and make sure it has the strength to last for generations, as Heller’s work does.

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