Subtitle blues

The first book of Merchantman Halflight needs a subtitle. I’m finding this tremendously difficult.

When I originally envisioned the series as a Webcomic, I planned each printed book (they all do that, so why shouldn’t I?) to cover about 150 issues. I was fortunate enough to nail exactly the pace I wanted in the novelization. The comic’s first book I originally thought should be subtitled Five Stars as it literally takes place in five star systems; the second book’s subtitle I’ve had in mind for just about as long, and I think it will work perfectly as-is. The third and fourth books, and a prospective fifth (I don’t have the scripts to fully cover it yet) are also easy to subtitle.

But for the novel, I don’t know if Five Stars will cut it; it’s too cheeky. My current working concept is Get a Crew, which effectively is how the book opens and works on a lot of levels—but the level it doesn’t work on is punch. I just don’t feel moved by it, and if I don’t feel moved, will readers?

Titles are the absolute worst. There are people who say that about blurbs, but they’re wrong; titles are way harder. Not that this series is going to be easy to blog anyway. This, minus the fact line, is what I’m looking at (first draft) for the first book’s blurb:

Best friends Cole Brinnet-Gur, captain and legendary cheapskate, and Vince Jozig, ever searching for his fourth concurrent girlfriend, are ready to expand their interstellar shipping business. After clawing their way out of debt and parting ways with an insane cook, they need a proper crew for Halflight. What they get instead are a trigger-happy ex-mercenary who once blasted a city into orbit, a young pilot named Mishap, and a hard-pranking, hard-partying engineer with purple eyes.

With the jury-rigged old cruiser long overdue for repairs, Cole is beset by constant demands for parts and supplies. Vince’s decisions about cargo, relationships, and cuisine are as questionable as his grasp of ethics. But their worst headache of all is security specialist Ryxissa and her best friend Old Jack, a monstrous gun she’s happy to introduce to any pirate, thief, or petty annoyance standing between her and the end of a three-year quest.

Surviving the pirate-infested trade routes of the Fringe is enough adventure for anyone. Halflight’s new crew has to survive each other first.

What should be patently obvious here is how far I had to deviate from my normal “formula”. There’s no act structure nor even a real possibility of one, so temporal focus is much looser and aims for about the 1/3 point. This is an ensemble cast and there’s no way to focus on one character very easily. It’s heavy on detail to the point of kitchen-sinking, but it’s a deliberate choice for comedic impact; I do think it plays better in humor blurbs than in others.

But none of that helps me pick the best subtitle. These books would be pretty unblurbable if I didn’t already have a lot of practice writing blurbs. I have far less practice picking effective titles and subtitles. (My first book’s title was sort of a “best I can do” choice after the first two choices fell through.) There’s an art to it. I’m happy with the choices I have in mind for the later books, but this one is tricky.

About Lummox JR

Aspiring to be a beloved supervillain
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