Monday, March 4, 2013

Gone with the What?

RHYS BOWEN:
Would you expect a book called All's Well That Ends Well to be a light drawing room comedy or a sweeping international saga? Answer: the latter, if rumor is correct. That was the first title that Tolstoy chose for what became War and Peace.

Would The Strike have been as striking as Atlas Shrugged for Ayn Rand? Or Fiesta instead of The Sun Also Rises for Hemingway? How about First Impressions instead of Pride and Prejudice or Tomorrow is Another Day instead of Gone with the Wind?

These were all original titles for great works and it's reassuring to note that even the great ones had troubles with their titles. I can appreciate that now as I'm in mid title debate for the Molly Murphy book I am currently writing. It takes place in Paris and has to do with the end of Impressionism and the birth of modern art. So my working title had been Lasting Impressions. My editor felt this didn't have the edge necessary for a mystery novel. My agent desperately wanted the word Paris to feature in the title.

So I put it to my Facebook friends, and they went to town with it. There were some serious suggestions but they became more and more hilarious. My favorites were "Plastered in Paris", Monet isn't Everything" (but it's sad Toulouse) "An eye-full in Paris" or "Louvre and Let Die", "Bone jour" I could go on.

You'll be pleased to know we settled on none of the above. We've moer or less chosen City of Darkness and Light. What do you think?

Titles are so important, aren't they? How many times have you picked up a book because the title intrigued you? In this world of super-stores, airports and Amazons sometimes the title and front cover are all we have to sell the book. I love Red Deb's titles, especially the latest THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS.  It's intriguing because it isn't the sound of breaking glass. It's already broken. So can it make a sound?RHYS BOWEN:
Would you expect a book called All's Well That Ends Well to be a light drawing room comedy or a sweeping international saga? Answer: the latter, if rumor is correct. That was the first title that Tolstoy chose for what became War and Peace.

Would The Strike have been as striking as Atlas Shrugged for Ayn Rand? Or Fiesta instead of The Sun Also Rises for Hemingway? How about First Impressions instead of Pride and Prejudice or Tomorrow is Another Day instead of Gone with the Wind?

These were all original titles for great works and it's reassuring to note that even the great ones had troubles with their titles. I can appreciate that now as I'm in mid title debate for the Molly Murphy book I am currently writing. It takes place in Paris and has to do with the end of Impressionism and the birth of modern art. So my working title had been Lasting Impressions. My editor felt this didn't have the edge necessary for a mystery novel. My agent desperately wanted the word Paris to feature in the title.

So I put it to my Facebook friends, and they went to town with it. There were some serious suggestions but they became more and more hilarious. My favorites were "Plastered in Paris", Monet isn't Everything" (but it's sad Toulouse) "An eye-full in Paris" or "Louvre and Let Die", "Bone jour" I could go on.

You'll be pleased to know we settled on none of the above. We've moer or less chosen City of Darkness and Light. What do you think?

Titles are so important, aren't they? How many times have you picked up a book because the title intrigued you? In this world of super-stores, airports and Amazons sometimes the title and front cover are all we have to sell the book. I love Red Deb's titles, especially the latest THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS.  It's intriguing because it isn't the sound of breaking glass. It's already broken. So can it make a sound?

I think there are certain buzzwords that attract us to mystery novels. Bone/bones, blood, chill, cold are some of them and I think that Darkness or Dark is another. So Reds and writers: do you agonize over titles? Have you ever wished you├»¿½d called a book something else? Confession, I really wish I had not given the Evan books clever puns as titles. It made them sound cozier than they were are probably turned off some serious readers.

 What do you think is your most successful title to date? In the Bleak Midwinter was perfect, Julia. Hallie's are so atmospheric, Lucy's and Rosemary's clever, The Other Woman is spot on, as we say in UK and Dreaming of the Bones one of my favorite titles ever (and favorite books too, Debs.}

So readers and writers out there: what kind of title would make you pick up a book? (surely not Plastered in Paris?)

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I'm in title hell right now! I delivered my manuscript to my agent and she loves the title, but I am having second (and third) thoughts. It's the story of five friends, one of whom may have run off with another one's man. It's currently called The Bitches of Brooklyn but I'm starting to think that misrepresents the book - and may sound angrier or more Real Houewives than it is.  I too polled some friends and readers - the funniest one I got was from Rhonda Dossett, the southern half of the writing duo Evelyn David. (Marian Borden Edelman is the northern half.) She proposed this title And Just So We're Clear - Her Prom Dress Was Ugly, Too.
I'm considering it.

LUCY BURDETTE: Rhys, those are hysterical and utterly silly:). Sheila Connolly mentioned on one of my loops recently that her publisher was lobbying for CORNED BEEF AND CARNAGE for her new Irish mystery. Luckily, that one was nixed and replaced with TOP OF THE MOURNING, which I think works so much better.

Ro, I love that new title and subtitle! I have to agree, BITCHES OF BROOKLYN sounds a little like a downer to me.

I know the publishers spend lots of time trying to get this right, because I've gone round and round for almost all of my books. For the last two (#3 and #4) in the Key West series, I lobbied for FATAL RESERVATIONS. Food critic? yes! Murder mystery? yes! The only thing missing was Key West, which is well represented in the cover art. Instead, I've ended up with TOPPED CHEF and coming next year, MURDER WITH GANACHE. I like both of them just fine. I think the key is to have lots of options and sooner or later, the right one rises to the top.

HALLIE EPHRON: I like titles that sound a little bit nursery rhyme, a little bit creepy (THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN, NEVER TELL A LIE) - because I'm writing domestic suspense. I do remember one of my earliest mystery novels was entitled ADDICTION an sure enough I had people coming to talks thinking they were going to hear about 12 steps.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: PRIME TIME was almost "TIME CODE" because that's the term for the numbers that are burned it to videotape to let you keep track of time. Which I initially loved, than decided it sounded too science fiction. The it was "Story of my Life" because the main character was after the news story that wold save her career. But then--that sounded too--autobiographical. Then one day someone said (about a new reporter)--oh, she's not ready for prime time. And I knew it had been settled.

I'm now working on the title of my (crossing fingers) next book...and I'm wondering whether it should be The (some word that means "wrong or bad") (gender or relationship.)  THE OTHER WOMAN THE WRONG GIRL< and now...any ideas?  Or maybe just go another way altogether.

Rhys, I think your title is wonderful. And the right decision!  (Although I did laugh at Louvre and Let
Die.)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hank, I'm glad you went with PRIME TIME. I would have thought TIME CODE was about a group of spies trying to stop a bomb countdown.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys, I LOVE The City of Darkness and Light!!! So perfect for the book! But the other suggestions are hysterical, and I must confess to a fondness for Louvre and Let Die.

I've only had to change one title. Mourn Not Your Dead was originally One Blood Will Tell, but the sales team at my then publisher didn't like it. My agent and my editor came up with Mourn Not Your Dead, and I still like the working title better.

And you are so right about the buzz words. The title for the book in progress is To Dwell in Darkness, and I hope I get to keep it. I love title with metaphorical layers (at least they are metaphorical to me!) The Sound of Broken Glass refers not only to the ruin of the Crystal Palace, which provides a sort of atmospheric background to the book, but to the shattered relationship that forms the core of the story. And then, since the book revolves around English rock music, there's the the Nick Lowe song, "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass."

Favorite titles? Hmmm. Maybe The Sound of Broken Glass. Second favorite might be a tie between Dreaming of the Bones and In a Dark House.

JULIA: I can't help but think that cozy titles are the most difficult to get right. There's a convention that there's a pun, and it has to be related to the topic, like Lucy's with Key West and food critic, and it has to reference murder or mayhem, and it can't sound like every other title out there. That's a lot to juggle!

I've had to change a few of my titles. My second book was  JUST AS I AM before it was A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BLOOD (I confess it's my least favorite title.) ALL MORTAL FLESH was shortened from LET ALL MORTAL FLESH KEEP SILENCE. And the book that will be coming out this November had the working title of SEVEN WHOLE DAYS, which was greeted by a rousing, "Enh" from every bookseller I tried it out on. They and my publisher liked  THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS much better.

The best part of having hymns as your titles? Free advertising in hundreds of churches every year as they cycle through the hymnal.

19 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Okay, I like “City of Darkness and Light” . . . I’m not a fan of “The Bitches of Brooklyn” . . . but in either case, I’d get the book because it’s not the title that draws me to a book --- it’s the author’s name. I must confess to being a fan of Julia’s hymn-titles [and, yes, we do indeed sing many of them in the course of the church year!] . . . . Often, for writers who are new to me, it tends to be the cover art rather than the title that draws me to the book . . . .

Anonymous said...

I really loved "Plastered in Paris." That is just hysterical. I think I laughed all day long the day that was posted on facebook.

I'm also not a fan of "The Bitches of Brooklyn." A bit too harsh.

I agree that cover art is a huge draw in as much or more than the title.
~Kimberly

Kristopher said...

I have often thought that cozy titles sometimes work against gaining readership. Some are just too "punny" for some readers to even consider picking them up. I happen to think that is a real shame and would love to see a series break that tradition.

I think that City of Darkness and Light is a great title, but then I also like Lasting Impressions. To me, Lasing Impressions seems more like a "Molly" title, but I am no marketing expert.

Hank, I'd be all for another title in the mold of The Other Woman and The Wrong Girl. For the first book, the title seemed a little simple and generic, but then after reading, it had so much more depth.

The Bitches of Brooklyn is not bad, but it does have some preconceived connotations that might go against the book's plot.

As for Julia, Deb, and Hallie titles, I think they are always so strong.

Karen in Ohio said...

I'm also a fan of Julia's titles, and Margaret Maron's, and Jacqueline Winspear's, and Rhys Bowen's, and Catriona McPherson's, and Hank's, and Rosemary's, among others. But I am really, really weary of the silliness of many cozy titles. But are there more of those kinds of books being written now than ever? It sure seems as if there are. Which would make it doubly difficult to figure out names, in particular names that haven't been used before.

My first book, about sewing for profit, was called Sew Up A Storm: All the Way to the Bank! I still like that name.

Rhys Bowen said...

Karen, I tend to agree that maybe cozy pun titles have run their course. There are now so many of them that clever puns no longer make an impact.
I'm just re-reading Dorothy Sayers in order and what great titles she had. How can you beat Gaudy Night?

Karen in Ohio said...

Yes! Gaudy Night, what a great title.

Denise Ann said...

I should be so lucky as to title a completed book! But I love titles, and love this discussion.

For the Brooklyn book, what about using "The B Word"?

Hank, too bad there is already that show on TV -- "The Good Wife," but maybe there is room on the shelf for "The Wronged Wife" or "The Bad Wife" or "The RIght Girl."

I like long, convoluted titles -- like the Flavia da Luce books are using.

Write on!

Leslie Budewitz said...

Hank, laughed out loud listening to your Google speech when you pointed out the name & title combo: "Hank Ryan -- The Other Woman," "Hank Ryan -- The Wrong Girl"! So of course I'm thinking "Hank Ryan -- The Right Man."

Those cozy puns can be a challenge! My working title for Food Lovers Village #1 was The Food Lovers Guide to Murder. Publisher chose One Foot in the Gravy, but when I pointed out that it features an Italian food festival but #2 features a steak cookoff, we moved that title to Book #2, and chose Murder with Marinara, until we discovered that's the title of another new release! So, we finally settled on Death al Dente -- or murder not quite well done -- and I'm loving it!

Hallie Ephron said...

Ro - Bitches of Brooklyn seems harsh to me, too. This is reminding me of Kaye's red crayon post from Sunday!

How about:
Girlfriend not

And I sort of like:
Her Prom Dress Was Ugly, Too

Darlene Ryan said...

One of my many weird writer things is that I have to have a title before I start writing. Most of the time it ends up not being the title of the finished book.

Julia, I can't stop stop singing Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.

Rosemary Harris said...

The B Word....what a good idea!

An Inconvenient Woman...but that's already been done, unless it was so long ago it doesn't matter.

Kaye Barley said...

I'm not too taken with "Bitches of Brooklyn" as a title either . . . NOT that it's not a great title, I think it is. But maybe not one that fans of Rosemary's would go for. The prom dress title made me laugh out loud. I like Hallie's idea of "Girlfriend, Not" or a play on that somehow. Titles are tough!

Deb said...

Hank, thinking on yours....

Ro, I love "And Your Prom Dress Was Ugly, Too."

Julia, I wish they'd let you keep the full title for All Mortal Flesh.

The cozy titles are hard, aren't they? Puns are tricky, but if you get them right they can be great. The title of Jenn McKinlay's upcoming book, which is set in a hat shop in the Portobello Road in London, cracked me up: "Cloche and Dagger."

Jayna said...

A Witch with a Capital B?

I do look for my favorite authors first. I tend to discover new authors by word of mouth and recommendations. I will say, if an author is writing a series I do pay attention to the titles. For example, with Donna Andrews' Meg Langslow series, each title contains a bird, so I pay attention to how she uses the new bird in her new title.

Libby Dodd said...

I'm sure you must have noticed that the original repeats part way through.
Rosemary-I think the longer version title (And Just So We're Clear...) is marvelous!
What a delightful bunch of comments from you all. Thanks for letting us into this part of the writing world.

Hallie Ephron said...

I wrote a book about books (1001 Books for Every Mood) with a whole list of original author's titles and published titles. Here's a few - answers below...
AUTHOR'S TITLE
1. Catch-18
2. First Impressions
3. The Sea Cook
4. Bar-B-Que
5. A Jewish Patient Begins Analysis 6. The Summer of the Shark
7. The Last Man in Europe

PUBLISHED TITLE
1. Catch-22
2. Pride and Prejudice
3. Treasure Island
4. The Postman Always Rings Twice
5. Portnoy’s Complaint
6. Jaws
7. 1984

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

OH, I LOVE this, Hallie! SO revealing. Bar-B-Que? Whoa.


Sister Darlene, I have the same thing. I must have a title. Because that's what the WHOLE book is going to be about.

I do think I have one for the next (knock on wood) book. And it's not in the pattern! We shall see. You all will be the first to know, of course!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

HEY! My earlier comment disappeared! WeIRD>

I'd said, to Kristopher, thank you--that's exactly what I was going for.

I'd said: Denise Ann--yes, The Good Wife is the perfect title.

And I'd said: seems like I'm the only one, I confess, I liked the bitches of Brooklyn. But I see the...challenge.

There's a new book I read about in the NYT this week about three sisters, called The Pretty One. Doesn't that say it all? Sigh.

Beth Rang said...

I thought I'd already read a book with that title by Marge Piercy, but hers is City of Darkness, City of Light.