Thursday, March 26, 2009

What's in a Name

Rhys here, home at last from a whirlwind speaking trip and trying to catch my breath--oh, and
get back to the small matter of a deadline...So I'm thinking about titles and what buzz words make people pick up a book. I've heard that words like blood and bones make mysteries sell better. And I guess that food in the title does well too. And knitting and quilting.
I know I'm attracted to books with unusual titles, like "the Shape of Water."

And what about blogs? I believe we've found that the buzz words "Yard sale" have generated the biggest interest in our blog so far. More even than "sex" or "chocolate". Interesting. So what makes you read a blog? Buy a book?

HANK: First we had Water for Elephants. Then the Elegance of the Hedgehog. Secret Life of Bees. Maybe we should all think of weird animal titles. I like clever. That's what does it for me.
In fact, I'm always thinking of titles. My brain is consumed with it. I'll hear a little random snippet of conversation--like someone says, "well, that was the end of my interest in etc..." and my brain picks it out. Mulls it over.
I'll think "End of My Interest." Hmm. Is that a title for something? Right now I'm trying to make something out of Voir Dear. (Is that too insiderly double-meaningy? Maybe..a short story about a woman who sees her ex-husband on a jury? Hey. Don't steal it. Mine.)

HALLIE: Darned. I liked that.
When talk turns to title my mind turns to "Eats Shoots and Leaves"...the clever book title from a fairly serious book about punctuation. Talk about a great title--I mean, a book about grammar and punctuation on the best seller list? Another great title: "See Jane Run". Beats me as to why, but it is. And I'm partial to Sharyn McCrumb's title "Bimbos of the Death Sun".

ROBERTA: It's been proven that I stink at titles--I've never had one accepted by the publisher that I actually thought of. I fought hard for DEADLY ADVICE to be LINE IN THE SAND, but it wasn't judged mysterious enough. To Rhys's question, I think titles with blood and guts put me off. And not that crazy about punny names, though my stable is full of those horses:)

JAN: I love a title that gets to the essence of the book in a not-on-the-nose way, so I'm not crazy about mystery titles with Death or Murder in the title. Too easy. I know she hated it at first, but I've really come to like Rosemary's The Big Dirt Nap. Something amusing and ominous about it.

RHYS: I've been quite lucky with my titles. I've only had to change one or two during my mystery writing career. I have to say I got a little weary of all those Evan puns and wished I hadn't started along that route because it made the books sound cozier than they were. But I'm now very tempted to call my next book "Blood and Bones with the pandas at the Yard Sale."

RO: I'm with Jan on Death and Murder in the title..although the book I'm I'm working on has Dead in the title (DeadHead) and I seem to like it fine! I also agree with Rhys on animals..look at how well Silence of the Lambs did. (People should ask me anything this morning, I'm feeling very agreeable..) It's hard to tread that line between clever and cutesy. BTW Before The Big Dirt Nap was TBDN someone wanted to call it Stalking the Corpse Flower. How awful is that? Any other near disasters?


  1. Out of five books so far, only one title of mine has survived--Pane of Death.

    When I give talks to various groups, I have noticed that Berkley's "punny" titles invariable draw a laugh from people. I figure they might remember it, if they think it's funny. I love Donna Andrews' titles for just that reason--and I remember them.

    But I agree that the title should have some connection to the plot.

    For my more serious stuff, I love to use fragments of poetry (think Julia Spencer-Fleming?), but none of those has sold. Think it's the titles?

  2. I think Rotten to the Core is one of the best. It's funny, but edgy, too. And, of course, it has the apple thing.

  3. Oh! How could I forget the best title I've heard in a long time--

    Betty Webb's ANTEATER OF DEATH.

    I burst out laughing every time I see it. (And I haven't read it, yet, but I hear it's terrific.) And certainly the title is amazing.

    (And see, like I said. It's an animal title.)

    Rosemary, maybe you could do Grubworms of Death. Aphids of Death.
    Hallie could do "Never Tell a Lion."

    Okay, I'm going back to work now.

  4. I've read Anteater of Death--it's good. She knows her zoo stuff and I'm a big animal nut. But I've managed to avoid bringing animals into my books. People write to you if you forget to feed them for 100 pages.

    My one near disaster, when I used to write YA--my German title translated as "First love tastes like Raspberry icecream." And it was about mountain climbing without a single ice cream in the book.
    I always wanted to write a camping book called "Murder Within Tent."
    And of course Donna Andrews pointed out that I write an Irish Mist Tree. Sorry.

  5. "Blood and Bones with the pandas at the Yard Sale.

    Rhys, I soooo would by that book and read it!

    I'll often hear a phrase and think I want to use it for a title. Sometimes, I actually get around to. Usually, it just goes in my writer's journal so I don't forget it. Punny titles make me laugh but I'm never clever enough to come up with them.

    Have a great weekend, ya'll.

  6. I love when you all do your back and forth blog posts because you all are so darn funny and clever!

    I am really bad at titles, and never can think of anything punny--but I admire people who can figure out all the titles for their series before they've even wrote them.

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  8. I'm in the middle of the title dance now. The book had one working title, sold with another, and now the powers-that-be are considering a change for publication -- a change mostly considered due to the success of somewhat similar books and the 'format', if you will, of their titles.

    I've got my own thoughts on this, but watch their commercial deliberation with interest. I don't write in a genre where pun titles work, unless you count something like Carrie Fisher's WISHFUL DRINKING -- great cover shot, too. I still like RUNNING WITH SCISSORS as one of the tightest memoir titles I've ever read.

    Some of my favorite titles in the generic are probably Christopher Moore's -- ISLAND OF THE SEQUINED LOVE NUN and THE LUST LIZARD OF MELANCHOLY COVE among them. He's just so twisted.

    Kate Atkinson's titles are unusual and always resonate. Her ONE GOOD TURN (and again, the cover image) works well on multiple levels.

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  11. Sooki--
    Bring it on! We'd love to give it a try.

    Susannah--eager to hear what happens. Keep us posted.

    Meredith--thanks! And what's this about tattoos?

  12. "Line in the Sand" would have been a great title, Roberta!

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