The background to my question:

I have always assumed that authors choose their titles, because I consider them an important part of the book, but then I read interviews with some authors who had a fight with their publishers on this subject.

Is a book's title generally the publisher's decision or the author's?

  • 1
    to note, it's Phillip K. Dick is usually considered horrible at titling his works. that's why a lot of Dick's works get renamed when made into movies, a la Blade Runner
    – DForck42
    Aug 17 '11 at 13:40

After the author writes the book, he submits it to the publisher, who then suggests edits all over the book, which the publisher believes will improve the book. Thus, it's really the author's choice, but the publisher can be insistent. Such suggested edits can be done to the title, or just parts of the entire work itself. It's still the author's decision, but the publisher can decide not to publish the work, if the publisher believes that the work won't sell and be profitable. Thus, it's a kind of compromise that the author and the publisher have to work out.

  • The most famous display of this interplay I can recall is the exchange between Fitzgerald and his editor Maxwell Perkins: "Perkins replies that none of his Scribner colleagues likes the Trimalchio title, and urges him to change it. Significantly, he adds: 'But if you do not change, you will have to leave that note off the wrap. Its presence would injure it too much;òand good as the wrap always seemed, it now seems a masterpiece for this book.' Fitzgerald replies: 'About the title. I’ll try my best but I don’t know what I can do. Maybe simply Trimalchio or Gatsby.'"
    – sentientcabbage
    Aug 16 '11 at 14:41
  • 1
    It's definitely a balance. The publisher has the option to say "Change it or we don't publish it" but the author also has the option to say "Leave it alone or I walk." Aug 20 '11 at 2:12

I think they actually have less say over the matter than that.

Richard Dawkins has written quite a bit about the lack of choice authors have over their titles. Dawkin's publisher actually refused to let him title his most recent book "The Only Game in Town"; he had to settle for his second choice: "The Greatest Show on Earth".

He's also bemoaned the practice of publishers renaming books when they're republished overseas (either England to America or vice versa). Gould's Full House is one example of this (I don't recall what the UK title was).

  • 1
    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
    – Kalamane
    Aug 16 '11 at 17:32
  • @Kalamane?? Did Rowling originally have a different title in mind for that book?
    – Adam Rackis
    Aug 16 '11 at 18:39
  • 5
    Isn't it Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone in the U.K.? Aug 16 '11 at 18:46
  • Exactly, Peter.
    – Kalamane
    Aug 16 '11 at 18:48
  • Well I'll be...I guess it is en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Adam Rackis
    Aug 16 '11 at 18:48

The more clout you have as a writer-- the more popular your books are-- the more control you have with future books. They renamed my first book and wouldn't take no for an answer. On the other hand, I was able to veto all but three of the content changes (which were good changes, in my opinion). A title can kill a book, but it shouldn't be the reason you wrote the book.

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