Book Titles

At Bouchercon I sat on a panel with the always-hilarious Chris Grabenstein, who said he thought of his title Tilt-a-Whirl before he’d written a page of the book. I’m the opposite. With the exception of Missing Justice (about a missing judge: get it?), all of my book titles have come only after I’ve finished the manuscript, and then only after I’ve hemmed and hawed and polled all of my friends about the many possibilities.

Well, I’m at the same place again. I’m off and running on the next Ellie Hatcher book, with no titles in sight. It had me wondering about the significance of titles. From a commercial perspective, the most successful series titles are undoubtedly Sue Grafton’s “A is for…” etc. and Janet Evanovich’s “One for the Money…” etc. Early on, these titles helped readers recognize the books without remembering the author. Now they help readers keep track of where they are in the series.

But with those exceptions, what’s the value of a title? How closely does it need to relate to the subject matter of the book? I fret because I want the title to be perfect, evoking a certain feeling and also relating directly to something important about the book. Angel’s Tip, for example, is the name of the last drink Chelsea Hart orders before she’s killed, but it also refers to a father’s tip to the police after a dream about his murdered daughter has him wondering if his daughter’s cold case might be related to Chelsea (“He did not know anything at all about Chelsea Hart or her trip from Indiana, but he could not help but wonder if her murder had something to do with the dream that had pulled him from his bed so early that same morning, brushing his cheek like the tip of an angel’s wing.”).

In the end, though, is all my hand wringing for naught? My hunch is that the tone just needs to be right. Lee Child’s books, for example, all strike the same Reacheresque tone, but are for the large part interchangable. Bad Luck and Trouble and Nothing to Lose are both kick-butt titles and could probably be the titles for any books in the series.

So what kind of tone should an Ellie Hatcher novel strike? Angel’s Tip sits just right with me. Dead Connection, on the other hand? I can see why Entertainment Weekly praised the book but dissed the “dopey title.”

Any suggestions for #3 in the series? (Yes, I’m serious. Please name my next book without even reading it. Praise and gratitude await you.)