Question of the Week for April 22, 2022
Titles, I want to ask about your book titles, ladies. How do you come up with the titles for your books? Or do you? Some publishers insist on naming books. I wanted my second book to be titled The Eleventh Villa, which was a story about greed and opulence. Instead, it became Permanent Sunset. How much difference does a title make?
Titles matter. Remember that marketing Rule of Seven? Someone needs to hear the marketing message seven times before they buy. A catchy title that surfaces over and over again on social media does. For instance, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I’ve seen that title over and over in the past few years and was on the brink of buying it many times except I was focusing on crime fiction. And then, just when I needed a break from mysteries/thrillers, the name floated by me again. Two clicks later it downloaded onto my audio app.
I love titles that intrigue me. Station Eleven comes to mind, and I like The Eleventh Villa. I just saw the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine cover for my story, Detective Anne Boleyn, and they modified the title and added in A Tourist Dies in the Tower. But I don’t care because it looks so gorgeous.
I love the Eleventh Villa title a lot. Now that you have the rights back, I think you should change it.
I chose the title of my first book, In Deep, because it featured a freediving competition that resulted in a murder. If you aren’t familiar with freediving, it’s a fast growing sport where people go underwater to astonishing depths with no equipment. No fins, no tanks, no nothing. So I liked the double meaning. The diver was in deep water. Then he was in deep trouble, then Fin Fleming, the protagonist, was also in deep trouble as the killer targeted her too.
Then came book two, Sunken Death. I selected that title because I wanted a two word title to go along with In Deep. The book is about diving for sunken treasure, and a death unexpectedly occurs. I liked “Sunken Death” because it sounded a lot like the familiar term “sudden death,” but it was clearly underwater.
My third book, ”Dark Tide” carries on the two word tradition, and the allusions to the ocean. The crime here is kidnapping, and the word dark refers to the greed and jealousy that led to the crime. I can’t tell you how without ruining it, but the ocean’s tide contributes to the suspense in a very big way. It’s available for preorder now and will be released May 29.
My publisher, surprisingly, went with my first title. I’d always heard that publishers change the them so I didn’t create one that I was in love with. Murder in G Major was a working title in my head. Murder, music, alliteration, and G for “ghost” were the elements that went into it. I never expected the publisher to use it. Of course, after that I was locked into a title with a word related to death and a musical key that started with the same, or a similar, letter as the death word. The titles all had to have the same rhythm. I wanted to call the second book A Killing in C Sharp but the publisher wouldn’t let me use the initial A because it didn’t follow the same pattern as Murder in G Major. Titles are important. With all of mine being similar, you can tell they all belong to the same series and that they are all related to music and murder.
I believe titles are important. And whether it’s one of my romances or a book in my NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli mystery series, I try to have the title reflect the theme of the story and give the reader an idea of what they’re getting.. For example, Matters of the Heart signals a romance but also the heart attack that plays a major role in the story. In the Corelli series the word blood appears in the title of every book. It ties the books together and indicates they are mysteries but each title also conveys the theme or something about the story that hopefully the reader understands when reading the book. Some of the mystery titles could lead to solving the crime so I won’t discuss them but I will say that in A Message in Blood the message written on a mirror in blood is a key event/clue in the investigation.
For the most part, Bella Books, my publisher, has gone with my titles. The only exception was The Disappearance of Lindy James. It’s general fiction and one of the main characters is having a breakdown. I went through a number of titles before we settled on Disappearance which is relevant to the story and not as scary as using words like breakdown or psychosis.
With A Matter of Blood and The Blood Runs Cold, the first two books in the Corelli series and the first two books I wrote, I came up with the titles after I completed the manuscript. In the later books, romances and mysteries, I’ve found that finding the title as I’m writing helps me focus the story. Now, in my ever evolving process, I’m struggling with whether to attempt to come up with the title for the fifth Corelli before I start writing or to start writing and then find the title as I have in the past.
Sharon: I vote for finding the title first. It really helps as you’re planning the book.
Catherine: I’m tending that way, Sharon, but planning ahead is not my strong point.
I LOVE The Eleventh Villa, Michele! I would definitely pick up that book.
Who knew that traditionally published authors don’t get to pick their titles? I didn’t. But fortunately my publisher, Crooked Lane, takes my suggestions into account (but only so far). My first book, A Dream of Death, started out as A Curiously Embellished Casket. The team of Crooked Lane nixed that, fearing that readers would expect a fancy coffin to show up. They were probably right. The second book in The Kate Hamilton Mystery series, A Legacy of Murder, began as The Finchley Hoard. I was focusing on the object at the center of the mystery. The publisher wanted to focus on the characters. With the third book, The Art of Betrayal, I decided to go with the flow, and my latest, The Shadow of Memory (coming May 10th) follows the pattern. Apparently, the title of a book tells the reader in advance what kind of a story they can expect. Novels of suspense or thrillers often have abstract covers and one- or two-word titles. Titles of cozies are usually puns, and the covers are cartoonish. Since my books are traditional mysteries, my titles reflect that–as do the covers.
I’m awful at coming up with titles. The working title for Hide in Place was Odd Boy, and I really wanted to name it Minor Threat, but knew I couldn’t because it’s a name of a well known band (in some circles). My agent came up with Hide in Place, and my publisher loved it, so that was that.
When it came to coming up with a title for book 2, I had terrible working titles. So terrible, I won’t even share. Okay, I’ll share one of them: The Forever Deception. Then, having been through this once already, I sat down and churned out thirty verb/noun combinations. I looked at a webpage of action verbs and went with that. Then I expanded to a list of about ten or so three-word phrases with a noun at the end. Behind the Lie won.
C. Michele Dorsey is the author of the Sabrina Salter series, including No Virgin Island, Permanent Sunset, and Tropical Depression. Her latest book is Oh Danny Girl, a mystery featuring a daughter/mother lawyer team. Michele is a lawyer, mediator, former adjunct law professor and nurse, who didn’t know she could be a writer when she grew up. Now that she does, Michele writes constantly, whether on St John, outer Cape Cod, or anywhere within a mile of the ocean.