When authors are submitting a proposal for a series or for more books in a series, we typically are asked to suggest titles for those books, as well. Sometimes they fly; sometimes they get shot down by the publisher. We think the Chicks have had some pretty cool titles, including The Semester of Our Discontent and Til Death Do Us Party. Ellen’s latest release, Long Island Iced Tina, is a contender for best ever! (Look here for a list of all the Chicks’ books to date.)
But today we reminisce about those titles that didn’t make the cut — or the cover.
My first ms. in the Ladies Smythe & Westin series was “Sweet Way to Go.” I rather liked it but…it was a no-go with my publisher. They wanted all the titles to match. So it became “Cardiac Arrest.” (Yep, the victim was a cardiologist.) I love coming up with titles, so I usually submit lists with about 20 possibilities for each book. Really. I love titles. I already have my title lists for a new series I’m working on. Now if only I could finish the manuscripts!
There was one Cajun Country Mystery where I couldn’t come up with a title for the life of me. Nor could my agent or publisher. I got so desperate I pitched How’s Bayou? Needless to say, it didn’t fly. I had an equally horrific time coming up with a title for my third Catering Hall Mystery. Once again, I enlisted my agent’s help. I also reached out to the Guppy’s hive mind (The Guppy’s is a great online subgroup of Sisters in Crime), as well as friends and Chicks. I amassed a list of over 40 titles, some Mob-themed – Three Wise Guys, Jingle Badabing Bells, and We Three Mooks of Orient Are, all courtesy of my agent – but my editor opted for the more generic It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder. The publisher seems to shy away from Mob-related titles, so if they ask for more books in the series, I have a feeling my working titles like The Modfather, The Witless Protection Program, and Leave the Gun, Take the Frijoles will not survive past the story pitches.
For the original manuscript for Book 1 in the Liv & Di series, I shopped it to agents with the working title: Two Corpse Garage. After offering representation, my agent asked me if I’d rewrite the manuscript with Liv as a party planner instead of a real estate agent. (I believe this ended up making the book and series much better. I can’t imagine Liv as anything other than a party planner at this point). For publication, Book 1 ended up as Death Crashes the Party. Book 3 in the series is set around a July 4th celebration. I desperately tried to pitch a title that reflected the holiday. My suggestions included: Ticket to Die on the 4th of July and, my fave, Oh, Slay Can You See! Both got shot down by the publisher, mainly because they had decided all of the titles in the series should include a word that says “party.” So, Book 3 ended up being One Fete in the Grave. I considered it a “win” since I got to use a different word for “party.”
I tried to pitch some other titles with alternate words for party without success. Most famously was: Soiree Seems To Be The Hardest Word! This one made my first editor at Kensington laugh. But, she still said “No.”
True story: for the Lila Maclean Academic Mysteries, I have a document with a list of potential titles that is seven pages long, single-spaced. You would not believe how much time I have spent thinking about titles in order to come up with just the five.
So. Much. Time. *pause for internal screaming*
The first book was originally Lectured to Death, which I loved, but a pub-sister’s books all ended in “to death,” so that became The Semester of Our Discontent. Other rejected titles along the way (I think we can all agree it was for the better) include The Medusa Variation, A Confusion of Colleagues, and Feels Like School Spirit.
Oof—titles are hard! For my Sally Solari culinary series, I’ve had a constant back and forth with my publisher over this subject. They (quite rightly) insisted that each book make clear it was a murder mystery. And I, of course, wanted each one to reflect that the story was about food. Easy, right?
Not. Because I also wanted each title to reflect that the book concerned one of the five different human senses. My publisher cared not a whit about this particular issue, but nevertheless, I persisted. And for the most recent in the series—which concerns the sense of touch—I came up with several titles that kinda worked: Stirred Up by Murder, A Deadly Reduction, and Murder in the Mix. But the sense of touch was only very vaguely hinted at in them. (Though I do quite like them as titles!)
So you can imagine my elation when I finally landed upon the winner, a title that included death, food, and touch: Murder from Scratch. Huzzah!
I’m one of those bizarre creatures who decides on the titles before the book even gets written. I’ve never had any rejected. Coincidentally, I’ve got the next four titles in my Mystery Writer’s Mysteries ready to go—A FOOL’S GERUND, RESEARCHED TO DEATH, KILL YOUR DARLINGS, and PUBLISH AND PERISH. Now all I have to do is write the books! For my Crossword Mysteries, after PUZZLING INK comes PUNNING WITH SCISSORS (May), and FATAL SOLUTIONS (November). I love all of them, but I’m especially partial to A FOOL’S GERUND and PUNNING WITH SCISSORS. (But don’t tell my other books. It’s our secret.)
Titles are tough! For Book 1 in my Sassy Cat series, I knew it would revolve around a tiny dog breed. My mind immediately went to canine titles. I love adding in puns even if they’re only funny to me. The ones I thought of were: Doggone Dangerous, Bark Once for Murder, and Pup to No Good. Suffice it to say that my publisher wanted none of those. I ended up with the much better-sounding (and classier) Mimi Lee Gets A Clue. The thing is that now every title in the series must have the protagonist’s name in it: Mimi Lee Reads Between the Lines (Book 2) and the upcoming Mimi Lee Cracks the Code.