Better Off has had three titles, and it’s only a year old. The working title was Shameless, because the book was inspired by a Billy Joel song by that name (though I prefer the Garth Brooks cover). I’m not allowed to quote song lyrics, but basically it’s a song about a proud man being so in love with someone he’ll do anything to keep them.
I love the idea of being that hopelessly smitten, so I wanted to write a book about it. Mac, like the guy singing Shameless, is a strong man who’s never felt powerless before, but he’s powerless in the face of how much he wants Hailey, willing to change fundamental aspects of his philosophy, his personality, and his way of living in order to have what he now knows he wants most.
Some people dismiss it as instalove. Others see it as Hailey being abusive, despite Hailey never asking Mac to change in any way other than to educate himself a little. But can’t we ever have that kind of passion? Can’t someone inspire us to be better just for their sake? I think so.
Back to the title.
Shameless might’ve been my inspiration, but it wasn’t a great title for the book. My editor asked me to come up with another one, which was agonizing. Usually, my books are born with titles. I had no idea how to retrofit one. I brainstormed keywords, my friends threw out suggestions, I asked everyone I could think of, and someone came up with the idea of Him Improvement— a pun that ties into the revitalization theme central to the book. Regardless of who first suggested Him Improvement (it might’ve been me), it was a universally popular choice. Everyone loved it. Except me.
I’d finally come up with the right title, which was Better Off. Better Off works on a few levels. Mac being better off financially is a huge part of the story, and Mac is trying to improve Ball’s End, to make it better off. The kicker is that it’s Mac who ends up being better off.
But everyone preferred Him Improvement, including my editor. Since this was my first trad-published book, I decided to go with expert opinion. Catchy is better than accurate. Marketable is better than meaningful. But one of the benefits of being indie is I can do whatever the fuck I want, even if I lose money over it, which is why when I got the rights back to Him Improvement, I put it through one more name change. I like being indie. I might not be raking in the big bucks, but my books and I are better off.