On the nose. An explainer.
The other day I told my editor that I was about the send her the first draft of the sequel to The Devil’s Half Mile. “What’s the title?” she asked. I told her.
“I don’t like it,” she said.
I was gutted. I had sort of fallen in love with it. My agent had liked it, too, but when I asked her, she suggested that on second thought, maybe it was a little … on the nose?
On the nose. You might think this means …exact. “The plane landed at 5pm on the nose.”
Apparently not. Or not always, at least.
Certainly not in Australia, where ‘on the nose’ can mean ‘smelly or malodorous.’ As in, “Bruce is a little on the nose today, don’t you think?” “Bloody right, mate. He smells like a burning brewery!”
I didn’t think the title was that bad!
On the nose can also mean something more subtle. It has an almost ironic usage, meaning unimaginative; overliteral, or lacking in nuance. As in “Wearing full highland dress to a Burns-themed cocktail party was a little on the nose, wasn’t it?”
In fact, I wanted my title to be on the nose. Not because I wanted it to be obvious, but because I wanted to trick the reader a bit, to get her thinking the book was going to be one thing, then have it turn out to be another. Building a twist into the title, in a way.
But I’ve realized this is not a smart thing to do. Readers like to be fooled, but they hate being cheated. For example, you wouldn’t put the word Police in the title and then not have any cops in the story.
Also, and this is more subtle, if the title sounds too obvious, it might turn the reader off altogether. Either way, I would lose potential readers.
So I changed the title. The sequel is now called “Hudson’s Kill.”
I know you’re asking, “What was the original title?” And I’d tell you, I really would.
But I think it’s a bit too on the nose.