Sometimes it’s easier to come up with a three-hundred page book than a three-word title. The journey can be brutal, with dozens of contenders considered and then discarded. Or, miracle of miracles, the first title you come up with can be an instant winner. Which way did it go for our Chicks?
I take zero credit for the title of my debut mystery. I belong to a writers group made up of non-mystery writers. One day I described the book I was writing to them — a cozy set in Cajun Country — and mentioned that I hadn’t landed on a title. My friend Mindy instantly blurted out, “Plantation Shudders.” Done! Would that they were all that easy. Alas, they’re not. Coming up with a title for book two in the series was rough. My working title was Crawdeaddy. Kind of clever, but I always had to explain it and people often mistook it for a typo. Plus, my publisher wasn’t on board. I racked my brain for alternates. No luck. I begged for help from the Guppy Yahoo group, an offshoot of Sisters in Crime. Since cozy mystery titles so often are pun-driven (You Cannoli Die Once and For Cheddar For Worse being a couple of prime examples) I hewed to that example. Since the book involves a catastrophic wedding — is there any other kind in a mystery? — the Guppies and I came up with titles like Roux the Wedding Day, Red Beans and Wedding Rice, and Something Borrowed, Something Doomed. None clicked with my publisher. The title we finally landed on? Body on the Bayou. Totally pun-free. I was wary at first, but now I love it. And you have to admit, it totally beats one of my other, desperate suggestions: How’s Bayou?
For about two years, the working title of my mystery novel about a destination wedding planner was Wed and Buried. Then at some point I checked to see if it was taken. Well, dang it, it was such a good title that it had already been used. Twice. I started brainstorming names, and I kept them in a file, which I still have. The list has over 100 titles on it, some of which aren’t half bad, and some of which are comically terrible. Literally: I kept those under the subhead “Comically Terrible Ideas,” and they included such gems as Friend of the Bride, or Friend of the Doom? and the much shorter but no less ridiculous Ring Bearer of Bad News. (I know, awful. I’m ashamed. All I can say in my defense is that there was wine involved.) But then one day the name Terror in Taffeta popped into my head completely out of the blue, and I knew the search was over. The only problem with it (other than the fact that you really have to enunciate to pronounce “terror” correctly)? Coming up with something I like as much for book two!
I can’t take complete credit for my title. It was all due to the input of one Lisa Q. Mathews. She is like the Title Whisperer. I know. Not as exciting as being a Dog Whisperer but still. I’m a tad bit acronym obsessed so I loved my first title—IOU. Unfortunately, my lovely agent did not share said love. Not to be deterred I was all, “NP! I’ll just come up with different acronym!! THX!” and immediately sent an APB to Lisa. After politely being my sounding board (read: not throwing her phone against the wall when I literally texted her every 5 seconds with just letters making up acronyms), Lisa finally suggested that I use the word Day in my title since that’s my main character’s nickname. It was brilliant. I immediately transitioned into texting her every 5 seconds with phrases with word Day in them! I eventually came up with Pay Day, which FYI, I actually love more than any acronym.
I’m positively beaming (and maybe also snorting a little) over my fabulous new title of Title Whisperer. Thanks, Kellye! Back in my editor days, part of my job was to attend title meetings for new books. These were always fueled with super-fudgy brownies from the corner deli, gallons of diet soda, and overflowing bowls of M&Ms and popcorn. And sometimes cheesy pizza (free lunch!) but that made us groggy rather than punchy. And one must be super-giddy to come up with titles, especially those of the pun-ny variety. So the original title of CARDIAC ARREST was Sweet Way to Go. Catchy, huh? But too long to fit on a cover with The Ladies Smythe & Westin. My publisher asked me for a few other–preferably matching–options for their title meeting. I could only imagine all the sugary treats I was missing out on. Anyway, I sent them a 4-page list of titles for 3 books. And yes, they did choose from the list (maybe I wore them out). Anyway, Book 2 (April 2016) is a book club story with a murdered librarian: PERMANENTLY BOOKED. (Here’s the brand new cover!) Book 3 (Sept. 2016), with a fashion show theme, will be FASHIONABLY LATE. As am I, on most occasions.
We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment about your favorite cozy mystery title, your Comically Terrible Ideas, or any other thoughts you have on the subject.
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