Although when I start writing I have an overall idea for a book, I don’t always know exactly how the book will come together. This is true of both my academic books and novels. While with academic books there will be a more formal book proposal that will include a planned contents list and structure, usually with a summary of what every chapter will cover, even academic books can evolve as you do the work (including the actual research) and the structure can change. Novels can change even more – usually I won’t even know how many chapters there will be before I start (FOUR was exceptional in this respect) and the structure may change as the story takes on a life of its own and characters and the narrative develops in ways that I hadn’t originally imagined or even necessarily given detailed thought to yet.
While all of the above relates to the contents of the book, the same is equally true of the title of books.
Looking back at the proposals for my academic books, I don’t have have a copy of the proposal for Japanese Education Reform: Nakasone’s Legacy, but I think the title was fixed at an early stage and didn’t go through any changes. The title of my next book, Shinkansen: From Bullet Train To Symbol of Modern Japan, was similarly fixed early on and was the one suggested in the proposal itself. Dealing With Disaster In Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash, on the other hand, started out as Dealing With Disaster in Japan: Japanese and Global Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash and I think went through at least one more iteration before the final title was selected. Japan: The Basics was different in that the publisher approached me about writing the book and as it fits within their The Basics series, the title was already fixed. The title for Osutaka: A Chronicle of Loss in the World’s Largest Single Plane Crash took a little while to sort out, but the working title of Osutaka was fixed early on. It didn’t take me long to decide upon the title of Frankie Fans Say, although this is currently a working title and not the full title (which will be revealed in due course).
While the titles of my academic and non-fiction books tend to be fixed relatively early on, the same cannot be said for most of my novels. And while I’m writing I need a working title. I use To Do lists a lot and tend to have a task to remind me to write a little bit every day. For that I need a title, or working title. For the academic books and non-fiction books, the first part of the title may work. For Dealing with Disaster in Japan, I used ‘JL123’ due to the length of the main title. For Frankie Fans Say, I am using FGTH as it works better than the initials of the title itself. But with the novels, I may have no idea about the title yet. Only with Tokyo 20/20 Vision did I have the title fixed before I started writing – but even then, I used T2V as my working title in my To Do list.
For Hijacking Japan I didn’t decide upon the title until very late on. All the way through I had used Toki321 as the working title (using the main part of the name of the shinkansen service upon which the hijacking, which makes up the story for the first part of the book). Although I had thought about having Toki321 as the title, in the end I decided that it wouldn’t really work and help to reach people not familiar with Japanese train names. So I came up with a different title and an additional conversation to introduce it into the book – something that appears to have become a theme in my novels so far. I found it interesting that in a recent post, the author Ann Napolitano talking about her book Dear Edward, one of my favourite books, said that she had a working title of 31A, the seat number of one of the passengers on the plane, which has a similar feel to Toki321.
For my novel FOUR, the working title was HHKS, standing for Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku, once I had decided that the book was going to be in four parts and set across these four islands. I don’t remember exactly when I decided that FOUR would be the title, but I think it was relatively early (although the capitalisation came late on), but nonetheless kept the working title of HHKS in case I changed from FOUR for any reason – which was unlikely due to the nature of the number and its pronunciation in Japanese, as I discussed in another post.
Although I haven’t started writing it yet, the working title for my next novel is already set as Maru, but I know it will end up being something very different. Probably.