Chick Chat: What’s in a title?

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.

Lisa Q. Mathews

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!

 Ellen Byron

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.

Vickie Fee

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.”

Cynthia Kuhn

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 VariationA Confusion of Colleagues, and Feels Like School Spirit.

Leslie Karst

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!

Becky Clark

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.)

Jennifer Chow

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.

58 thoughts on “Chick Chat: What’s in a title?

  1. Coming up with titles for my series gets harder as time goes on. They’re all “[something] in Cherry Hills,” and I’ve already used up the obvious ways to kill people (Poisoned, Shot, etc.). Now I generally like to start with the title because I’ve found that’s easier than coming up with one after the fact. I must say, the Chicks all have great titles for their books!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Aww, thanks Marla! We love your titles also. You gave yourself quite the challenge with the “Mad Libs”-style format, but you did it!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I never considered how problematic it could be to have a formula title and run out of options until so many of my writer friends started talking about that. I feel your pain!

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Thanks, all! I didn’t really think much about using formula titles when I started out. I do have to admit it’s not all bad. In fact, in some ways it’s easier, because I really only have to come up with one word whenever I need a new title!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. This was a fun blog post with some fun (and funny) book titles. I will have to say my favorite is Jennifer Chow’s rejected title — Pup to No Good.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Oh titles! ROOT OF ALL EVIL started life as EVERY OTHER MONDAY IS MURDER, which was fine until an agent said it made her expect a serial killer story. Oops. Now they almost always are based on a snippet of a saying or quote, except it takes forever to come up with them. The one I just finished (LIE DOWN WITH DOGS, out August 2022) was Laurel Highlands #5 until I was practically finished with it. I had another title I really liked, but I (and my critique group) thought it was too spoiler-y.

    The titles for my Homefront Mysteries have come easier. I’m on #3 now, which is the last under contract: THE LESSONS WE LEARN. It’s great, except now there’s a pattern and if I get a contract for more, I’m most likely going to have to continue it – THE (SOMETHING) WE (SOMETHING)

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Way to go, Liz! You came up with some great titles. When I first read your comment (too quickly), I figured you might have problems creating titles because I thought you wrote that titles *were* the root of all evil.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Oh, I am FEELING the something we something structure.

      Had that situation before I realized it with The X of X too. (The hard part was always trying to also fit something academic AND crime-y too.)

      Best wishes–yours have been great so far!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I love hearing about other authors’ titles and how they came to be. We used to have all-hands-on-deck brainstorming meetings at the kids’ book packager I worked for–usually impromptu, when a project needed something perfect and oh-so-clever STAT. Often, though, there would be several needy books. Our bosses brought in lots of caffeinated soda (sometimes even wine) and every kind of super-sugary candy you could think of (M&Ms and Reeses Pieces were tops). Didn’t take long for those title ideas to start popping. Usually, though, we ended up collapsing into giggles. Double entendres and particularly outrageous (and highly inappropriate) puns were always the biggest hits. Occasionally we’d sneak a few of those iffy titles onto the final consideration list for the publisher. One editor there never got the double entendres, which we thought was just hilarious. Once she chose one–loved it–and our boss had to tell her it was a joke. Not so funny.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s amazing what a sky-high sugar buzz will do…The wine was mostly for our bosses, I think. The wine store 2 blocks down delivered.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Lol, I had so much fun reading this post. Loved OH, SLAY CAN YOU SEE and PUP TO NO GOOD, Vickie and Jen. And V, thanks for the LONG ISLAND ICED TINA shout-out. Would you believe I had to fight for that at Kensington, land of the punny title? Jen, if you ever wanted to, I bet you could build a whole series for them around that title!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I’m probably out on a limb on this one, but I don’t consider titles too important, except as a branding tool. The titles of the Natalie McMasters Mysteries are all one word, followed by an exclamation point. I want that word to suggest the theme of the book, but I think that the overall cover design is way more important than the title for getting the attention of a prospective reader.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. “Leave the Gun, Take the Frijoles” and “Oh, Slay Can You See,” and “Pup to No Good” are all so fun! But being the grammar nerd I am, it’s “A Fool’s Gerund” for the win, Becky. And Lisa, dying to hear some of those double entendre titles…

    Liked by 4 people

  8. WOW, I never realized how hard it is for an author and agent/publisher to agree on a title!

    CYNTHIA: You win the award for the highest number of titles collected!
    BECKY: Since you have never had a title rejected, we know who to turn to when we are running of our possible ideas!
    ELLEN: Is the third Catering Hall mystery set during Christmas? That is the first image that came to my mind when I read “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder”.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. This was so fun to read y’all! I love it.
    It reminded me of when I watched Julie and Julia, the scene where the editor was trying to come up with the title ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. Child allegedly didn’t give a darn, based on her life’s books. But I guess that gem would have sold no matter what.

    Now, the question is, what do aspiring writers name their books (like for camp nano next month, I am revamping my camp map, more professional looking and fun)?
    Many of us just do a generic title, like Hestia meets Death.
    Some of us go all out, thinking it through to designing a book cover for inspiration.
    Me? Since I play with a series, I try to use titles fitting the theme of the book. Vegas popular issues. Trying to do a cover, but it doesn’t seem to meld right.
    Call in for Murder (hope to get published one day!) is about a radio caller who dies (adultery, gambling and the mob)
    Deadly Flings is about the gay scene controversy
    Beck and Call Murder is about call girls
    Murder is Indigestible is about restaurants
    Vintage Meow Murders is about a cat themed burlesque theater
    Murder by the Cover is about sports betting

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Love Call in for Murder, Hestia! My WIPs tend to be such exciting things as “Sally Solari #4.” Or the name of the sense they’re about: “Touch book.” Good thing I come up with other ones later…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Becky and Jen, A FOOL’S GERUND and PUP TO NO GOOD sweetened my coffee this morning!
    Jen, I know you’re already writing two series, but in your SPARE time I think you should get cracking on the Pup To No Good series! 😃

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Well, shoot, 2/3 of my post was missing all day. Just added it back and that’ll teach me for getting over here late. Sigh. Surprised no one emailed me like, “um, hello, how about making an effort here?” 😀

    Anyhoo, I LOVED all of your titles, Chicks! You’re so clever. Will be smiling about those all day.

    And that was very sweet to give a nod to Semester upfront, thank you so much. xoxo

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Ohmygersh, I loved this post so much! Titles are so fun/interesting, and I absolutely adore everyone’s!!

    I goofed and my post didn’t, well, post, but in addition to bemoaning my title 39 WINKS (which people mishear as all kinds of things), I likened title concepting to naming products/companies/whatnot, which is something I do in my day job as a copywriter. One funny naming story is that we spent a good deal of time naming a restaurant. After we presented the options, our client said, “No, actually when I said ‘name’ it, I meant literally. Like Betty or Sheila.” HA! We still laugh about it to this day. (And we did end up giving it a NAME name.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s hilarious! And so much easier going forward … Annie’s Restaurant, Betty’s Tire Repair, Carlotta’s Gym, Deb’s Salon …. you can put in a full day’s work and be home by 10am!

      Liked by 2 people

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