The Evolution of a Title

By Sherry Harris, enjoying lovely fall weather in northern Virginia

Jessie recently talked about What’s in a Name and her joy in naming characters. Some of my characters seem to show up with names. With others I have a much harder time finding the right name. I just finished the second Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery. I had one character named Blank and one named Place until the month before I turned in the manuscript. They became Olivia and Gennie. It isn’t only naming characters that gives me trouble but also titles.

I love all the cleverly named books that are plays on words. Edith’s book A Tine to Live A Tine to Die was named as one of the punniest cozy mystery titles of the year by RT Book Reviews. You can read their picks of clever titles here: The Punniest Cozy Mystery Titles. Liz has Kneading to Die, Barb, Clammed Up and Jessie, Drizzled with Death. Julie — we’ll find hers out soon enough. It seems like there are plenty of clever things Julie will be able do with a theme of time.

Tagged for Death mech.inddThe title for the first book in the series, Tagged for Death, came to me easily. It references tag sales (a New England term for garage sales), the tags on yard sale items, and the person who is targeted to die. In my proposal the second book was titled “Marred Sale Madness”. I thought marred was a decent rhyme with yard. As I started talking about the book and telling people the title they always said, “What?” Some people thought I was saying “March,” others just didn’t understand. Then I’d have to carefully enunciate the word, M-a-r-r-ed. I don’t know if it’s my Midwest nasal tones or it’s just that hard to say, but I decided a new title was in order.

At the Wicked Cozy retreat last April I told the Wickeds that I needed a new title but was drawing a blank. Barb came up with Deal or Die. I liked it and wrote my editor asking if that was okay. He agreed it was. But as time approached to turn the second book in my editor decided to go another direction and titled the book “The Longest Yard Sale”. It’s cute and fun. I double checked on Amazon to see if there were any other books with a similar names. I found: The Longest Yard Sale by Sherry Harris available for pre-order! It comes out June 30, 2015.

The third book’s working title is: Murder As Is. I have a feeling that might change too.

Readers: Does the name of a book influence your decision to read it? How do you come up with titles? Do you have a favorite?


42 Thoughts

  1. I think Tagged for Death is a perfect title for the book! A tag has other connotations for the dead, as well. Very nice.

    I pay attention to titles regarding content. Catchy ones and another dimension of fun to the book especially with cover art. Cozy cover art is usually very clever and charming. When I saw the tag sale art and the title, I thought immediately it would be an attention-getter.

    [Sorry… WordPress has been insisting on signing me on here with my WP page. I can’t seem to sign in the usual way. Rather than not comment…]

    Just Me-Reine xoxox

  2. I like titles that are puns/play on words. Or has “chocolate” in them. I have more than one book called “Death by Chocolate”.

    1. I love that you love the word “chocolate” in titles! After your comment we may see a lot more authors adding it in! I’m now picturing all sorts of classic novels with the word “chocolate” added in. Crime and Punishment and Chocolate. For Whom the Chocolate Tolls. Okay, I’ll quit now.

  3. Too bad about Marred Sale Madness, Sherry – I love it. I’m terrible with punny titles so I always throw out a call for help and haven’t been disappointed yet. I also like the series with titles that either repeat a word or have a common structure, like Barb’s: Clammed Up, Boiled Over, Musseled Out. Wish I could thing of something similar for my Country Store series, but Biscuits and Slashed Browns, as suggested here, is calling to me for Book Two!

    1. I like the slashed browns! I don’t associate hash browns with biscuits all the time. My favorite breakfast (some kind omelet, hash browns & toast…any time of the day! Toast & Slashed browns? No matter, I’m buying & reading!

  4. This is so timely for me! I am working on my 2nd cozy mystery while my agent tries to sell my first (An Apple A Day Can Be Murder) and I cannot think of a decent title for this one! Great article – thank you for sharing!

  5. Titles often make me smile, but I don’t expect them to reflect either the content or the author’s intentions. By the end of this year I should have 25 books out (don’t ask me how that happened!), and of those, only three of my own titles made it to the book cover. I have this vision of my publisher’s marketing department, locked in a windowless room, making up increasingly silly titles (there might be strong drink involved, or too much caffeine).

    But I have noticed that if you’re giving a talk and people laugh at the title, they’re more likely to remember it later.

      1. I had to stop and think! Pane of Death (Sarah Atwell), Let’s Play Dead (Museum Mysteries, set in a children’s museum), and Relatively Dead (ebook from Beyond the Page Publishing which is now morphing into a series).

  6. Sherry, I agree that tittles are difficult. I wish they were as easy as the names for characters but I never find them to be so. Sadly, from what Sheila had to say, I don’t know that we can hope for it to get any easier!

  7. I sometimes have a title before I have a plot. That happened with both KILT DEAD and FACE DOWN IN THE MARROW-BONE PIE. But after several books in a row where I had a title I loved and the marketing department did not, I’ve started avoiding titles so I don’t get too attached. I come up with one for the proposal but assume it will be changed. I call my current WIP “Liss #9” The title of #8, HO-HO-HOMICIDE is not my choice. I wanted to call it AULD LANG CRIME.

    As for titles drawing me to books, I love a clever pun, but I’m always disappointed if it ends up having nothing to do with the story.


    1. I like Auld Lang Crime! I’ll remember funny or punny titles but usually they don’t influence my selection. But with clever cover art of cozy mysteries & punny titles, I will be more likely to pick it up & read the blurb. In a bookstore. Online not so much.

  8. The most important thing for me, title-wise, is that the title is memorable, but only because I want it to stick out in readers’ memories both for purchasing purposes and recommendation purposes. It’s much easier to tell people I just read this great new book by Sherry Harris named Tagged for Death, than to say it’s named … and then blank out.

    But I don’t buy books anymore based solely on the title. I’ve been burned by some books before that had great titles, but the inside of the books just weren’t for me.

  9. I love a good punny title but with cozy mysteries I am more interested in the following the character in the series. So as long as I know it’s a Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery, that’s what I’ll be looking for!

  10. I love a good punny title. I’m not sure how much it influences my purchasing, but since I firmly believe there is no such thing as a bad pun, I enjoy them.

    Now coming up with them? I’m horrid at it.

  11. I discovered Carol Higgins Clark because of the title Wrecked the cover and the content inside. I had to read more about her characters. …….. my comma key does not work so when I want to do a grin g> that’s what it looks like.

  12. Funny or puny titles do seem to stick with me especially if the cozy has great cover art. So those titles alone might not cause me to select to read. However, I will remember titles in order to share with other mystery readers. For example I’ll remember “

    1. Not sure what happened to cause rest comment to drop off… Tine to die more easily than perhaps Cornwell’s latest because of the cover & punny tilte.

  13. I love the name” The Longest Yard Sale”. I have to admit , some cozies have really lame titles and you can see when the authors are really stretching for a title.
    I’m only working on one full novel, but titles for my poems, short stories or even song titles come easily to me.
    A cozy author with several series out there recently had a perfect title nixed by her publisher because she thought it could be misunderstood as referring to drug use! Anyone who knew the author would never in a million years think that, but the editor was adamant about changing it. She only had a few ideas, (it must be terrible to know you had a perfect tile and not be able to use it), so she asked her Facebook followers for ideas. There were a number of good suggestions and I worked hard on a list.The last one that came to mind was the only one the editor liked…go figure!
    I haven’t finished a novel and it’s been a while since I’ve had anything else published, but there’s a books coming soon with my name…er, title, on it!

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