This week, Jean Hanff Kore­litz, the author of You Should Have Known (avail­able today from Grand Cen­tral Pub­lish­ing) as well as four pre­vi­ous nov­els, a poet­ry col­lec­tion, a nov­el for chil­dren, and numer­ous essays blogs for The Post­script on com­ing up with a title for her new book.  

The Post­script series is a spe­cial peek behind the scenes” of a book. It’s a juicy lit­tle extra some­thing to add to a book clubs dis­cus­sion and a read­er’s under­stand­ing of how the book came together. 

Want to talk” with Jean about her new book? Join the JBC/​Jewcy Twit­ter Book Club on Tues­day, April 2 at 1:30 pm ET! #JLit

I’m not great with titles. My first nov­el, A Jury of Her Peers, was orig­i­nal­ly called A Jury of His Peers until a savvy edi­tor informed me that she had changed the pro­noun. (She was right to do so.) I want­ed to call my sec­ond nov­el The Same Riv­er Twice”, but Alice Walk­er grabbed the title first; it end­ed up as The Sab­bath­day Riv­er. My next two nov­els were fair­ly straight­for­ward, title-wise; they could only have been called, respec­tive­ly, The White Rose, and Admis­sion. But my brand new nov­el was, until recent­ly, just a poor, for­lorn 400 page man­u­script with­out a name to go by. I just couldn’t fig­ure out what it was called.

The dif­fi­cul­ty was that the novel’s title had to serve two func­tions; it had to do the nor­mal job of rep­re­sent­ing my book’s ideas and themes, but it also had to serve as the title of a book with­in the book: my pro­tag­o­nist Grace’s non-fic­tion book about rela­tion­ships. Grace, a ther­a­pist, has grown weary of hear­ing women in her prac­tice reveal that their ear­li­est impres­sions of their spous­es were accu­rate pre­dic­tors of mar­i­tal dis­cord ahead. How can we see some­thing clear­ly when we’ve just met some­one, and then grad­u­al­ly see it less and less clear­ly as time pass­es and we get to know the per­son bet­ter”? You Already Know” was the title I came up with. It was per­fect for the book-with­in-a-book. It had an in your face” qual­i­ty that I could pic­ture on a cov­er in the Self Help aisle. But when I told peo­ple my nov­el in progress was called You Already Know”, they said, No, I don’t know. That’s why I asked you.”

So maybe You Already Know” wasn’t going to work.

I start­ed to think about that ques­tion that always popped into my head when some politi­cian was caught in an extra­mar­i­tal affair, or a financier was revealed to be run­ning a vast scam. Sure, the guy was obvi­ous­ly guilty, but what about his love­ly, intel­li­gent wife who stood beside him at the press con­fer­ence or in the court­room — Did she know? How could she not have known?

How could she not have known?

That became my novel’s title, and it stayed that way for the longest time. Then I decid­ed to tin­ker with the pro­noun (pro­noun prob­lems – again!) and it became: How Could You Not Have Known?” I liked that ques­tion mark — it remind­ed me of a title by Trol­lope, like Can You For­give Her?” or He Knew He Was Right”. I was real­ly tired of think­ing about titles, and my best friend, who loves Trol­lope, real­ly liked How Could You Not Have Known?”

But my edi­tor, alas, did not. And the sales force at my pub­lish­er, alas, also did not. No one but my best friend, it turned out, liked How Could You Not Have Known?” It was time to throw it out, along with all of the oth­er past titles, and find some­thing we could all get behind. The prob­lem was that I was offi­cial­ly out of ideas at that point, and a few days of con­cen­tra­tion on the title prob­lem did noth­ing but get me tied up in knots rehash­ing the titles I’d already con­sid­ered and thrown away. Final­ly I took the coward’s way out. I asked my friends. I sent out an email to about twen­ty peo­ple, most of them writ­ers, all of them read­ers. I told them what the book was about (a cou­ples ther­a­pist, about to pub­lish a book about mar­riage, who has ignored her own advice, with dis­as­trous results). Then I wrote: 

Time run­neth out to find a title for my new nov­el that every­one can love — and that every­one” includes me. How many have we run through? YOU ALWAYS KNOW, YOU ALREADY KNOW, HOW COULD YOU NOT HAVE KNOWN? and final­ly the cur­rent title: HOW COULD SHE NOT HAVE KNOWN?

In a last ditch attempt to get fresh eyes on this, and in case there real­ly is a bril­liant, genius title I just can’t see, I appeal to you: super smart peo­ple I know who are real­ly good at stuff like this.


About half of them sent back the same sug­ges­tion: YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN

It was so sim­ple. I can’t say that it had been star­ing me in the face the whole time, because it hadn’t been. But now it was. It was the right title. It was the only title. You Should Have Known. And now I knew. 

Relat­ed Con­tent: Read more on choos­ing names in Wayne Hoff­man’s post What’s in a Name?” and Anne Cheri­an’s post The Dif­fi­cul­ty of Nam­ing Cats…and Char­ac­ters

Jean Hanff Kore­litz is The New York Times best­selling author of the nov­els The Plot, The Late­com­er, You Should Have Known, Admis­sion, The Dev­il and Web­ster, The White Rose, The Sab­bath­day Riv­er and A Jury of Her Peers, as well as Inter­fer­ence Pow­der, a nov­el for chil­dren. Her com­pa­ny BOOK­THEWRITER hosts Pop-Up Book Groups in which small groups of read­ers dis­cuss new books with their authors. She lives in New York City with her hus­band, Irish poet Paul Muldoon.