I really like punny titles. They’re cute and reflect my quirky sense of humor.
Recently, my marvelous editor, Angela Kim, at Berkley Publishing asked me to come up with a title for Book 3 in my Sassy Cat Mystery series. I balked at giving her suggestions. Why? Well, the title for the first book in the series changed a lot from draft to finished copy, and I worried about offering her an inadequate name.
My process for crafting a title starts with the theme of the book. In Book One, my main protagonist is a pet groomer, and the victim in the story is an unscrupulous dog breeder. I wanted to tie the title to animals and called my manuscript, Doggone Dangerous. (If you can’t tell, I enjoy alliteration.)
In the end, though, the marketing team came up with a more brilliant title: Mimi Lee Gets A Clue. I love how it places Mimi, my main character, center stage and employs a double meaning. The “get a clue” phrase could refer to the hints that Mimi picks up, but it also alludes to her getting a clue about her own life.
When I needed to come up with a list of potential titles for the third book, I started scrounging around for ideas. I wanted to exert my creativity, but I also understood I’d be constrained by certain parameters; the Mimi Lee name needs to start off each title because I’ve already created a pattern for the series (the second book is Mimi Lee Reads Between the Lines).
After seeing the first book’s title evolve over time,
I wondered about other writers’ experiences. Did they also have trouble making
up names? Had their titles changed from the beginning drafting period until the
I took an informal survey of fellow mystery writers to find out. I’ve listed the authors and their titles below:
· *Daisy Bateman’s Murder Goes to Market was shortened (her agent’s suggestion) from This Little Murder Went to Market; note the fun reference to the five little piggies
· Ellen Byron’s Murder in the Bayou Boneyard (Cajun Country Mysteries) was originally known as Halloween Horreur; to avoid readers mistakenly thinking there was a typo, her publisher suggested the final title
Becky Clark’s titles have remained
the same, but she keeps a long list of murder-y words on hand, so she was well-prepared
for both her Mystery Writer’s Series and the first book, Puzzling Ink,
in her upcoming Crossword Mystery series
Vickie Fee’s One Fete in
the Grave (Liv & Di Series) changed from Oh, Slay Can You See after
some author and editor collaboration
Leslie Karst exchanged the title A
Matter of Taste for Dying for a Taste
(Book One in her Sally Solari Mystery Series) to make it sound more
*Kate Lansing’s Killer Chardonnay remained the same from beginning to end;
the series name, though, changed from Vino Valentine Mysteries to Colorado Wine
Lisa Q. Mathews created all the
titles in her Ladies
Smythe & Westin Mysteries; however, the title for the first one, Cardiac Arrest, started off as Sweet Way to Go
*Elizabeth Penney’s Thread and Dead (Apron Shop Series) came from her own creative
mind, as did the title for the first book in the series
*= These are 2020 Debut authors!
What’s the takeaway message? Some authors nail the title on their first try. Others need to employ a little tweaking. And always trust your editor and agent!
As for me, my editor and I have narrowed down the possibilities for Book 3. Suffice it to say, I’m definitely leaning toward her suggestion!
On a side note, you can use this mystery title generator as a starting point for inspiration: https://blog.reedsy.com/book-title-generator/mystery/
Have you heard of book titles changing? Share those stories and your favorite titles below!