A Title is a Title is a Title. Or is it?

With all the books on offer, what makes a reader pull your book off the shelf? No one knows. But the title is often the first thing a reader sees, even before they see the cover, and a memorable title can capture the reader’s eye and spur her interest in seeing what the book is about. A memorable title is a definite marketing advantage.

It can also increase sales. Have you ever had someone tell you they just read a great book but when asked, they don’t remember the title? A memorable title makes it easier for readers to recommend books to each other. 

So how does an author come up with a memorable title?

There are rules. It should be short. Not use unusual words. Capture the essence of the book, and so on. Nobody knows for sure but we recognize one when we see it.

My books have been nominated for awards, but I haven’t made the best seller lists yet. Are my titles memorable? Maybe. In any case, I’m happy with them. Here’s a peek at my process for coming up with them.

When I completed the first (there were many) draft of my first NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli mystery, I gave it a long title, a biblical quote purely because I liked it. Months later I found another mystery with that same title, so I made up another title. In the thirteen years before it was published the title changed at least six times, all except for the final title were just pulled out of the air. 

It’s the theme stupid.

Finally, in one of my many readings of the manuscript I realized that families were a recurrent theme throughout—Corelli’s, Parker’s, the victim and the victim’s children as well. I thought the title, A Matter of Blood, captured the essence of the book and the fact that it was a mystery.

And the same thing was true of the second book in the Corelli series. The theme was families again, so The Blood Runs Cold seemed like an appropriate title. The blood in both titles refers to the familial connection.

But here’s is the thing. When you’re writing a series you need to think about the titles in advance. It was logical and I think a good choice to go with the blood titles and so far with A Message in Blood and Legacy in the Blood I’ve been able to remain consistent. And the working title for book number five fits the blood theme too. So far so good. 

Authors how do you come up with your titles? Readers do titles play role in your purchasing decisions?

Catherine Maiorisi

Catherine Maiorisi is the author of the NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli Mystery series featuring Corelli and her partner Detective P.J. Parker–two tough women, fighting each other while solving high profile crimes. A Matter of BloodThe Blood Runs ColdA Message in Blood, and Legacy in the Blood are all available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks narrated by Abby Craden.  

In addition to publishing multiple mystery and romance short stories in various anthologies, Catherine has authored four romances novels. Her latest book, The Disappearance of Lindy James, was awarded a GOLDIE for Best General Fiction.


  1. One of my favorite books is by Lou Berney and it has a title I absolutely cannot remember, The Long and Faraway Gone. I still have to look it up when I refer to it. But then he wrote November Road, which is a terrific title. So now I just say to myself, it’s that book by the guy who wrote November Road. Another title I love is Mystic River. If I like the title, I usually like the book.

  2. When I started working on my first cozy mystery, my mentor (and Author Academy mavin), along with many other cozy writers that discussed titles, have said over and over “Pun-ny titles are it! You have to have your title be pun-ny.”I wasn’t sure. Well, after investigating many cozies and finding that their ‘perfect’ titles often had nothing to do with the theme of the book, I was actually happy. While puns are great in general, if they don’t jive with the theme/plot/characters, what’s the point? The title for my first didn’t come to me until I was well into my 3rd edit, and it popped into my head while reading an article in the British Guardian about a cricket match! “Best served cold’, taken of course from the proverb about revenge being best served cold. It perfectly describes the motive(s) for the murders in my cozy. That was my clue. If my MS ever see’s the light of day in print, the rest of the series titles will be proverb snippets that describe the motive for the murders. So that was how I managed to solve the “title” dilemma.

      1. I just kept feeling that there should be some thread that connects the title to the actual story. It should almost be the hook that gets them to take the book off the shelf, especially if they were familiar with the proverb!

  3. I used color in the title of the first Nora Tierney mystery, The Blue Virgin, which was a metaphor for the murdered woman. The blue color wash on the cover stuck with me and I ended up using color in each successive title. Now when readers of the series see me they ask: what’s the next color? Btw, all of the titles in five books have been three words…

    1. I think consistency and theme are helpful in titles of books in a series. It helps the reader recall the experience of reading previous books while considering a new one. I like your pattern, Marni.

  4. I use two words, common phrases, water, ocean, or diving related, with multiple ways to resonate within the plot, and faintly ominous but not threatening. It’s a tall order. I have a list of about twenty titles on my series map, each with a two sentence log line/ description. I just use the next one I feel like writing when it’s time to start a new book. Every few months, I brainstorm a few more because I get nervous that I might run out.
    Hah! I should be so productive.

  5. Interesting post, Catherine! You’ve provided much to think about—as well as the commenters. When titles are a bit mysterious (when the meaning may not be readily known), I then enjoy the reveal within the book of how the author chose or arrived at the title.

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