Choosing a Book Title – Be Smart


Yellow book isolated on white, black frame for title on the spinWhen I wrote my first novel, I wanted the main character to be, like me, and Italian American. There are many Italian-sounding first names I could have gone with, Tony, Johnny, Carmine, etc. I decided to go with Frank. Frank is a name that is common among Italians, but it also gave me the opportunity to be clever with the title. I went with Frankly SpeakingThere were other books with this title, but none in the genre in which I was writing. It was a good title in that it seemed to work and not adversely affect sales.

Then came the sequel. For the sequel, I decided to use ‘Frank’ in the title. To try something different, I actually ran a contest and the person with the winning title had their name used as a character in the book. It was gimmicky, but it worked and I landed on Let Me Be Frank as the title. I adapted the story by having Frank use an alias for part of his investigation.

The second book was well received and I had several readers clamoring for more ‘Frank’.  The story arc across the books had led to a loved one of Frank’s being in danger and him using drastic measures to capture her. I was inspired and went with Frank IncensedI released the book right before participating in the Indie Bookfest in Orlando. I participated on a panel and the subject of book titles came up. I mentioned my series and my hope that I wouldn’t run out of titles before I ran out of story ideas. After the panel discussion, a gentleman came up and presented me with a list of about 25 ‘Frank’ titles. Some were usable. Some were PG-13 to R rated.

I started thinking about other authors that have done this with titles. James Patterson comes to mind with his Alex Cross books that mostly use the word ‘cross’ in the title. Sue Grafton is another with her ‘A’ Is For Alibi‘B’ Is For Burglar‘C’ Is For Corpse, etc. series. She painted herself into a 26 book series. Janet Evanovich and her One For The Money Stephanie Plum series seems to have infinite possibilities for titles.

Image result for alex delaware novelsIf you are working on a series, is it smart to tie them together with a gimmicky title? Some authors avoid this. I am a fan of the Jonathan Kellerman Alex Delaware series of books. They all have unique, unrelated titles with the subtitle, ‘An Alex Delaware Novel’.

I’m curious about your thinking on this. What experiences have you had? How do you choose a book title?

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

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47 thoughts on “Choosing a Book Title – Be Smart

  1. I like the gimmick idea. Didn’t try it with ‘Legends of Windemere’, but having Bedlam in the titles for my dystopia series ran along similar lines. I didn’t do any wordplay though. It was always two words with the second being ‘Bedlam’. With my titles, I typically come up with some that sounds epic and hits on the main point of the plot. This is probably because I do fantasy, which has typically had such titles.

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  2. What timing! I’m working on a title right now for a novel I’m writing. It is important, as you say, to choose wisely. I like your idea of linking your novels (although, as you say, not all authors do that). I think a title needs to be to-the-point, and needs to give a clue to the story. So far, my Joel Williams novels have unique titles with ‘A Joel Williams Mystery’ on them.

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  3. I love how your “Frank” titles came to be. And I love the wordplay.

    I have a series that each title is three words, two important ones joined by “and” (Type and Cross, Out and About, Pride and Fall). I have another series that was a play off the four key elements (heart, mind, body, and soul) of a person. Each is two words long and is a familiar saying (Bleeding Heart, Mind Control, Body Armor, Tortured Soul). And I have a series that has single word titles for impact (those will start releasing this year).

    Titles are much harder for me when I have standalone titles. Working with series seems so much easier to me, maybe because I have a theme or pattern. I can see why you’d be concerned with “Frank” limiting you, but if that gentleman gave you 25 off the top of his head, I’m guessing you can easily create solid titles for a very long series. The five you’ve included are a great start.

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  4. Hi Don,
    I have the first draft completed of my next book, and I still have no idea of a title. I like the idea of asking readers to help with the title. Would you mind telling me how you orchestrated it? I especially love as a reward, name a character after the winning title. Thank you.

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    • For my second book, I did it through my author newsletter. The gentleman that won actually went on to co-author the fifth book in my Frank series with me, Frank Immersed. He now has two books of his own that are published and is a great author.

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  5. I love titles that are a play on words or have something else clever going on. Your “Frank” titles are wonderful, and very eye-catching. I haven’t done anything similar yet, because I never intended to write a series. Both of mine were supposed to be stand-alone books, and turned into a series when I kept getting emails from folks wanting more. But if I were definitely planning on a series, I’d love to come up with something clever like yours! Well done!

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    • Thanks Marcia. His original name was Tony, but I thought it was too stereotypical for an Italian character. His name is really Francis and the next book in the series, inspired by my trip to Italy this summer, will look at the origin of his name as it relates to Saint Francis.

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      • Oh, I like that. And good on you for picking Frank. Tony has been a bit overdone, perhaps? (I always think of the Sopranos when I hear it, though I never watched that.) At any rate, Tony is fine, but to me, Frank is more fun! 🙂

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  6. I love ‘Frank Incesed’ for a Myrrh-der story! And, of course, you had to have not giving a damn!
    I am editing an unnamed novel by a deceased author that I have given the working title of ‘A Matter of Death or Death’. Everyone but myself hates it, I don’t know why.

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  7. Very clever play on words you developed with your series, Don! Yes, I think tying a series together in some way is good for further book sales and for readers who want more from the imaginary world, character(s) or setting.

    With my Fantasy series, I used the concept of ‘the Dance’ which is integral to the first book to ties them; Dance of the Goblins, Demoniac Dance, and Power of the Dance. The magic of the fantasy world is tied in with this idea.

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  8. If you are writing a crime series I think it is good if you can come up with a word or two that links them. Here in the UK M.C. Beaton has two crime series. The Hamish Macbeth ones all start ‘Death of a …’ and then victim’s profession or social standing etc. For her Agatha Raisin series they all start ‘Agatha Raisin and the ,,,’ and then sometimes the victim’s profession or some prominent feature in the story. Peter James has ‘Dead’ in his Roy Grace series as well as distinctive stark black and white photos of Brighton (the main setting) on the cover. But finding that linking word or phrase is not easy. I keep coming up with titles for mine then look to see which word could define a series and so far no luck.

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      • Your article has given me the kick up the whatsit I needed in getting my title sorted and and focusing on a word or phrase that acts as a series ‘signpost’. Readers looking for crime novels will search for ‘dead’, ‘death’. or ‘murder’ as a word likely to lead to a crime novel. The last title I came up with had ‘death’ in it but as I pointed out M. C. Beaton has a series with ‘death’ in it (and I’m sure she’s not the only one) so using it as the ‘signpost’ is out. I looked back over previous titles I’d discarded and one word leapt out that I CAN use as a ‘signpost’ – sorry won’t reveal at this point – but I’m very happy with it and now have: ‘A ****** of Death’ as my title.

        So thanks, Don, for the inspiration to get my finger out.

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  9. I always thought the long ago Travis McGee series with a color in the title was a cute one. A totally different kind of gimmick but once you got into it clicked. McDonald also always had the “a Travis McGee novel.” You could generally read them in any order, although a ten year gap might introduce some minor changes.

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  12. Titles are vital because they’re the first words of the novel. I originally called mine Running Uphill to give an impression of what the main character was going through, also in the first chapter he goes for a jog and runs up a series of foothills near his house.
    Eventually I removed the chapter because it didn’t fit so I changed the title to Heart’s Delight, as in Valley of Heart’s Delight, the former nickname of Santa Clara Valley when it was an agricultural capitol and before it became Silicon Valley.
    I then decided to change the title a third time to Redwood Summer, which doesn’t relate to my novel directly but was a real life series of events happening in Northern California in 1990, the year my novel takes place.
    It took at least 12 years to find a satisfying title, and that’s where I’m going to leave it.

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