Thursday, February 6, 2020



I am in the throes of writing my historical novel set in Venice in various time periods. And the working title, across the top of the front page, reads:

The Venice Sketchbooks/Inheritance/Legacy/Keys/Secret/ That Year in Venice/Those Venice Years/City of Bells and Birds/ The Bells and Birds of Venice etc etc. 

This shows that I have yet to come up with a title I really like. I’m hoping one will one day strike me between the eyes as ABOVE THE BAY OF ANGELS did. Or In Farleigh Field, which went through goodness knows how many titles first!

I’ve been acutely aware of titles recently. So many seem to be using the same buzzwords, don’t they? How many Daughters and Wives can we have?
So if I were smart I’d get one of my computer brilliant family members to come up with a title generator.
In one column we’d pick from:
Possibly Son?

The next would be a profession:
Hat maker
Waffle maker

The third a place:

The fourth a word that conjures a mood

A verb:

And maybe a tantalizing question:

Then you run these randomly through the computer and come up with:

The Lost Shoemaker’s Daughter (on a train/In the Woods)
The Abandoned Child
The Wife in Darkness
The Woman under the Sky
What the Wafflemaker’s Wife knew

You get the gist. Do you think I’m onto something here?
Actually I love titles that are intriguing. THE SHAPE OF WATER. Where the Wild Things Are. Dreaming of the Bones (but it does have bones in it) 
When I see a cover with a title I can’t immediately place I have to pick the book up and look at it. So maybe The Venice Inheritance/Keys/Legacy/ etc is just too obvious.

I have to confess with my own titles I've been guilty of the dreaded Child. The Tuscan Child... but that was what the book was about!
Her Royal Spyness was one of my best and has defined a whole series.
And I love the fun titles I've used in that series: Four Funerals and Maybe Wedding
and most recently Love and Death Among the Cheetahs!

What do you think? Writers how do you choose titles?

--> Readers, what draws you to a title?


  1. You may be on to something with the title generator, Rhys! Are titles always so hard for writers?

    I usually notice titles that are intriguing or that pique my curiosity, but I don’t think there’s a particular type that always grabs my attention . . . .

  2. I am in awe of good titles. I don't know how you do it because I always feel like I struggle thinking of titles for anything. LOVE AND DEATH AMONG THE CHEETAHS was a very clever title. Honestly, Rhys, you have some wonderful titles across your many books.

    Keep working at it, you'll come up with a great title. No title generator needed for you.

  3. Don't ask me. My first book was called Sew Up a Storm: All the Way to the Bank! Way too long.

  4. You mean there isn't a title generator? How disappointing!

    I usually head for an author first, oftentimes after reading blog posts. From there, it depends on a combination title/cover. Play on word titles are a fantastic draw, I love to suss out the underlying inspiration. Titles that suggest place and mood are extremely attractive as well. Then there is plain old personal preference. Art Deco covers always capture my attention.

    As an author there's a click moment. My first title is rarely my final.

  5. I outsource a lot of my cozy titles to friends and fans who are great with puns, but I was delighted to come up with MULCH ADO ABOUT MURDER and STRANGLED EGGS AND HAM myself. My historical titles aren't punny at all. I particularly like Judge Thee Not and this year's title, Taken Too Soon, both of which were inspired by the book's content and came to me as I was writing.

  6. A title generator? I love it! Where can I get one? Just kidding of course, but it's fun to think about it. I am especially impressed with your What the Wafflemaker’s Wife Knew :-)

  7. I like titles that at least give me some hint what the book is about. I really don't care for punny titles; I think they have been done to death. I also don't care for titles that seem to follow a trend. My best way to find a good book is to go with my favorite author, whatever the title. I do see, however, that won't help someone unfamiliar with that author.

  8. titles that suggest something about the book--something that leads me into the story. Copy-cat titles turn me off completely. Also, as mentioned in the comments above--title plus cover can get me to pick up a book from an new-to-me author. From the writer's point of view, it just seems like the story flows better once you have the working title nailed down (I realize an author's choice of title can be replaced by the publisher).

  9. Brilliant idea Rhys! Cozy-ish titles often have puns, and they are too often groaners IMHO. I've seen a few on FB lately that I love--Miranda James's CARELESS WHISKERS and Sherry Harris's ABSENCE OF ALICE. Clever, right?

    I have no title for my WIP--nothing. So if anyone thinks of something with Scotland and murder and food (that Kathy Emerson hasn't already snagged) please let me know!!

  10. So interesting how the title is either instantly obvious, or it takes so long! Trust Me went through a million iterations, but The Murder List had the title before the book! Now I am thinking about your Venice book. I know we can think of something! I agree, try the title generator Now I am thinking about your Venice book. I know we can think of something! I agree, try the title generator! love it!

    1. The same for me, Hank. Usually the title is one of the first elements but when the publisher says no I have to scrabble desperately

    2. Rhys, is it the publisher or the editor who says No to the title?

  11. My way to choose a book won't help you to attract new readers because I mostly buy books by favorite authors .
    So, if your title was : my 45th book, I would buy it today.

  12. I like titles that create an image in my mind, even if that image isn't what the book is ultimately about. Out of the titles you generated here, I think I would definitely pick up a book called "Woman Under the Sky," but I would be thinking prairies, not Venice unless the cover art had gondolas in it. Good luck. I know you'll find an excellent title before you have to turn in the manuscript.

    1. You see, occasionally a title generator would produce a good one

  13. I love your title generator, Rhys!

    Everything I write is " #N" until I've written enough to know what the book is about. Then I start playing. I'm currently drafting the second Homefront mystery and I think I just titled it "The Stories We Tell." We'll see if it sticks.

  14. Death in Venice and The Venetian Affair are already taken. Donna Leon uses lines from Baroque oratorios in her books. I think you should start with a landmark: church, piazza, Grand Canal, Murano, or a specific bridge, and add birds, bells, and water. Palazzo or Ca' or Ponte something. Bridges are a good link between different generations.

    One of our magical moments in Venice: we stood on the Accademia Bridge in Venice in the early evening and watched the boat traffic below, before attending a Vivaldi concert at a nearby church.

    1. Yes, that works, though other cities have bridges of sighs. The one in Venice is THE Bridge. Past and Present. Identifies the setting. Who doesn't want to read a book about Venice?

  15. I look at the author first, rarely do I even remember a title -- except for Dreaming of the Bones. And puns? I avoid them. Maybe because I rarely to never read cozies?

    But still, for great titles, Ruth Rendell wins the prize. How can you beat An Unkindness of Ravens? Or The Dark Adapted Eye?

  16. Rhys, this is so brilliant! Too bad none of us are tech-savvy enough to actually create the app. And, btw, I love your titles.

    When I name my books I think about branding... which is why your Her Royal Spyness was so brilliant. I'm never going to name one "The girl..." or give one a short snappy 1-2-word title. Instead my titles are longish, storytelling admonitions (Careful what you wish for, Never tell a lie, You'll never know dear... ) Sometimes the titles are just there from the beginning; other times they take a ton of work to find. I think if you put the titles of each of the last 5 Jungle Red Writers titles, it would be easy to group them by author even if you'd never heard of any of the books. (A terrible thought, I know)

  17. Great idea for a title generator. Some youngster on this blog could whip one up for you by lunchtime.
    Like many others have stated above, I go for an author's next book. I love the titles in your Her Royal Spyness series and I'm sure you'll find a great one with some help from your friends. Debs books all have really good titles, too.
    My cousin, who is a professor of journalism and the author of two books about the Holocaust and I were talking on the phone several years ago. She was just sick about the title that her publisher was going to use for her first book. We talked about her ideas and then came up with something that worked for her and for her publisher, as well. Her book was finished at that point, I believe, except for the title.
    I am confident that your new book will have an amazing title. Margaret's idea of bridges between generations and the bridges in Venice sounds like a great starting point.

  18. I vote down the title generator and vote up meaningful titles that give me a sense of not only the story between the covers but also the sensibility of the writer. Now, I realize it’s often the marketing department who decides, but they do a disservice to both author and reader when they pick a too-trendy or too-clever title. Make it intriguing and smart and I’m in!

  19. I love titles that cause me to stop and think: "wait, what would that book be about?" But I also like them to tie in very well with the book itself. In your list Rhys, I really react to "sketchbook" How about something that creates dissonance with that? The Silent Sketchbook?

  20. Such a timely post (for me), Rhys. Your titles are always brilliant. (Jealous!) My cozy mysteries are all punny, intentionally, so that's fun. The romances, come to think of it, were also punny. My women's fiction is where blood was almost drawn between me and the powers that be (okay, not really, but it did get tense). Paris is Always a Good Idea became the title after months of debate and in hindsight, it actually is quite perfect. I was on the phone with my editor yesterday. I have the title for the women's fiction book that I'm about to start and I asked her what the odds were that I'd get to keep it. She said, "We shall see." I might scrap my title and use that. LOL!

  21. The working title for my (prize-winning-- can I boast?) book, "From Pen to Print" was "So You Wanna Be A Writer" but the publisher (Henry Holt, which should have known better) wanted to call it "What You Need To Know To Get Published Successfully." Figuring the book would be DOA in bookstores, I sent them a list of potential titles and subtitles and they liked having the choice of one from Column A and one from Column B. It did wind up having the subtitle "The Secrets of Getting Published Successfully," but At least that was the subtitle, and it was phrased (IMHO) better than what they'd proposed.

    All my science fiction novels bore the title of the series, with individual subtitles. They were about a woman judge's amorous adventures in outer space. The one that took place on a water world was subtitled "Scales of Justice." Please stop groaning.

  22. Some titles can really grab my attention. I know how hard it is to come up with something so I don't fault anyone for not having literary lightning bolt. I typically go for favorite authors regardless of the title. I find that when I read the book the title may or may not make sense. Invariably I can't remember later which title goes with which story in a series. I just know I liked the story, so I guess that's on me! I've noticed repeating titles. By that I mean someone used that title, and then someone else, and so forth over the years. I've also noticed authors are more often asking their readers for help on naming books. And that we sometimes come up with equally lame titles! Rhys, your Lady Georgie titles are a treasure trove!

  23. Coming up with great titles is definitely NOT a skill of mine. I’m always impressed and a bit mystified by great titles, so I’d definitely be in the market for a title generator. I love titles that make me think or laugh. And ones that turn out to have more than one meaning once i’ Read the book.

  24. I love a great title, and your titles fall into that category, Rhys. I enjoy titles for different reasons. I have to admit to being quite a fan of alliteration, and there are so many wonderful ones from children's books through adult books, including In Farleigh Field. I also love titles with some mystery to them, inviting the reader to find out more, like your working title City of Bells and Birds, Rhys and like Hallie's Careful What You Wish For and Debs' The Sound of Broken Glass and Julia's Hid From Our Eyes. And, oh, those theme titles that Hank is so great at, like The Wrong Girl, with Hank weaving that title theme in many layers. Then, there's the humorous titles that the cozy mysteries do so well, and often, those title contain alliteration, too, making them even more fun. Jenn's latest Buried to the Brim, Rhys' Naughty in Nice, and Lucy's Killer Takeout are all excellent examples. Now I have an idea for a list (I do love making lists), a Favorite Titles list.

  25. I like the punny titles for cozy mysteries. I also read Piers Anthony Xanth series that is all about puns. Otherwise, something that tells something about the book, maybe a famous quote. As do the others, I follow my favorite authors but consider titles and covers in choosing new authors.

  26. Late to the party again!

    Rhys, you will find a wonderful title. I love the titles of your novels. I remember that Agatha Christie often chose her titles from a line from a nursery rhyme or something like that. What draws me to a title is a title that is easy to remember. Recently I have been trying to put together titles from novels for the Instagram bookstagram challenge like titles that start with J-A-N-U-A-R-Y so I had to look for titles that started with these letters. It was though trying to find a title that started with Y. Many titles start with "The" or "A".


  27. Finally have a minute to add a note.
    Titles can grab my attention if I'm browsing, that's how I found Julia's books. In The Bleak Midwinter - I stopped, blinked, thought "I know that hymn", and the rest is history. Punny titles can be fun and they normally match feeling of the story.