Thursday, November 05, 2009

What's in a Title? Everything (a/k/a Help, please)

by Laura Caldwell

Titles are the one of trickiest parts of writing a book. I learned that years ago with a novel of mine that was, ultimately, called The Night I Got Lucky. Originally, the book had been named What You Wish For. It was about a woman who got everything she ever wanted overnight and not only has to deal with the consequences but with the feeling of not having contributed to her life. Ultimately, I hoped the book was an essay on the tests of marriage. But the original title wasn't working for a number of people on my team, and so we went back to the drawing board. What should we call it? We came up with hundreds of titles in the next few weeks, but none of them seemed right. I’d written three women’s fiction novels (“chick lit,” if you will), and everyone thought we needed a title in that vein, something sassy, beguiling. We went round and round. Finally, still no perfect title in sight, we settled on The Night I Got Lucky, a (hopefully) catchy reminder that the character, in one night, had gotten it all. Of course, the title had a sexier implication. And that’s the way most readers saw that title. I have to admit, I’ve never liked it, never been comfortable with it, although I love the book and I’m immensely proud of it.

This summer my Izzy McNeil trilogy was released. I know y’all are sick of hearing about it, but just as a reminder for the purposes of this blog, the titles were Red Hot Lies, Red Blooded Murder, and Red White and Dead. I'm now writing four more Izzy novels, and we're trying to decide again about the titles. Should we stick with the red theme? Izzy is, after all, a redhead and red is a powerful burst of the word with lots of mysterious implications. But I'm afraid readers might get confused. They might wonder, did I read that red one or that other red one? I know this confusion because the same thing happened to me with Robert Ludlum’s books featuring Jason Bourne. I couldn't distinguish between the The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Ultimatum or The Bourne Hell (was that one of them? Kinda like that title). So, now we're trying to decide whether to move onto another color. A blue series perhaps? Something like, (just tossing these out there) - The Blue Room, The Blue Hat, The Blue Diamonds? Is that too simplistic? Maybe we should stick with red albeit in a different way, maybe using synonyms like ‘crimson’ or ‘scarlet’? And if we were to cast aside the red, how could we keep that theme in there somewhere? Perhaps have my name in red? Or have a red icon on each cover? We're all brainstorming over here. If you have any thoughts, we'd love to hear 'em.

10 comments:

Barbara D'Amato said...

Okay--I'm sure everybody's heard this: The Ludlum books should be called Bourne and Bourne Again.

Sorry.

Dana King said...

I'm often a little put off by series titles that are too thematically linked, as I tend to forget which ones I've read. John D. MacDonald used colors in all his Travis McGee books, and to this day i can't tell you which ones I've read. More recently, Joe Konrath named all his Jack Daniel's mysteries after drinks, and I can't remember which was which.

I like series titles that have a common sound, but tell me something about the book. I've soured on Robert B. Parker's recent Spenser books, but the titles are all short, pithy, and give me some clue what the book was about. (Hugger Mugger was the horse story; Double Deuce was the project address; Hundred Dollar Baby was the hooker, etc.)

I think the final Jason Bourne look should have him brought down and can be title Bourne Loser.

Cindy said...

I like the idea of changing the color. I'm thinking of Mariah Stewart and a change she made that was somewhat like that with the "Dead" series, the "Truth" series, the "Last" series and so on. I didn't find it confusing. Good luck.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

There is often a point where the titles in a series stop having anything to do with the story and are just reverse engineered to fit the theme, and that starts to be problematic, I think. If you set out all of John Sandford's Prey books on a table, I'd have a real hard time telling you which ones I've read and which ones I haven't, which probably explains why I haven't read any in awhile.

I noticed Barry Eisler stopped using "Rain" in the title of his John Rain series, and I suspect it has something to do with the angst you're feeling. But it was also probably difficult, wondering if he was going to lose some readers along the way.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Also the first two Harry Bosch titles both had "Black" in them, right? I'm sure someone knows the answer to this, but I always wondered if that was going to be a thing for awhile and then at some point he decided to drop it.

Laura Caldwell said...

Thanks you guys this is so helpful. This really is a tricky, tricky subject. I agree that it MUST correspond with the book.

jnantz said...

Kevin,
I have no idea if Connelly was trying to do something with "black" in his titles or not, but in the second one "Black Ice" is the name used for the drug that is central to the storyline. So that one, at least made real sense. I always figured The Black Echo was so titled because it featured a former tunnel rat who ends up in a gunfight in a tunnel.

Laura Caldwell said...

Jake, I agree that Connelly did a great job with Black Ice - it wasn't just a catchy title thrown in there because it was color-matching. I tried to do the same with my red trilogy (in Red Blooded Murder, the victim, who was frequently unfaithful, called herself "red blooded." In Red, White & Dead, a mafia-type chasing Izzy in Rome says to a colleague that when "she comes back to the red, white and blue, she's going to be red, white and dead."

Marcus Sakey said...

Personally, Laura, I say jettison it. Screw the Red, screw the Blue. It made sense with the orginal three, when you were introducing the series and the character and, more importantly, releasing them in quick succession. But past this point, I think it would be gimmicky.

For my money, name each book independently. You want to tie them together? "An Izzy McNeil Novel" does that just fine. And design similarities in the look of the books will continue the brand. But slavishly following a theme like this is not only exhausting, it's counter-productive.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Jake, Yeah I have no problem with those Connelly titles. I think they're both appropriate. I just meant that if I had just given my second book a title so similar to the first one, I would be having the kind of discussion with myself that Laura is having now.