Back in 2012, I sold my first mystery, Three May Keep a Secret, to a small publisher called Five Star Publishing. It was followed by two more books and a novella, all concerning a retired teacher named Grace Kimball in her small town of Endurance. I called the series the Endurance Mysteries. Yes, of course the name of the town is symbolic…former English teacher here.
Writing the books wasn’t as difficult as naming them, especially the first one. I originally titled that book A Silent Place to Die. Fortunately, I came to my senses and realized a title like that didn’t sound much like a cozy mystery. I needed another name. I sat in front of my laptop, my fingers poised over the keys, and…and…came up with nothing. This was ridiculous. I could write an almost-300-page mystery, but I couldn’t come up with four or five words for a title.
The bulb lit up, and I realized I could use Benjamin Franklin epigrams. Fantastic idea and it worked for two more books. Marry in Haste (Repent at Leisure) and Death Takes No Bribes came from Poor Richard’s Almanac, a book Grace Kimball might have taught. Ben had so many great epigrams that I could have carried on with them for some time. But that series ended after three.
Next, I began a new series called the Sweet Iron Mysteries, again named for the town. This time the tone was less cozy, more traditional. It was about family and how important it is to know where you came from. The protagonist, Beth Russell, keeps an appointment in a small town where everything is named for the Tippitts, a family who had great money and influence. Somewhere in that title I’d probably have to say something about that family name. Because I was now a little more knowledgeable about publication and advertising, I decided I needed a phrase that would sound good as a tagline. You can see from the photo of my paper where I brainstormed about titles. I finally picked one out from quite a few ideas. My thought was the tagline would be “A Death at Tippitt Pond changed everything.” And it did for the characters in the story. I’m satisfied with that one.
My next problem will be trying to decide how to create the rest of the series with titles that will have some connection. Maybe I’ll put the word “Tippitt” in each of the titles. That is a thought for further deliberation.
…which brings me to my position in the present. I think I have the perfect title for the book that just went to my agent: Death in a Pale Hue. I have a paint palette in my head as an interesting symbol of the story, which is about a young woman who is a painter. She goes back to her small town to become executive director of an art center named for her famous sculptor mother. Since it is a murder mystery, someone is murdered. That’s all I’m going to tell you. I needed a word that would suggest that world of art in my title, so “hue” it was.
I think I’m home free, right? No more thinking about titles for the foreseeable future. That’s when my agent tells me I need plots and names for two more possible books in the series. Great. I have the plots, but guess where I’m stuck? And I need two!!!
I’m terrible at titles, too. I usually ask for help! Yours have all turned out great–I like your titles.
Hi, Kaye. Stumbling by accident on titles helps too. I guess I know who NOT to call for title help, and you probably won’t call me either.
That’s probably best. The temporary title for my current WIP is Novel.
I love your thought process, thanks for sharing this!
Ha, ha. This is actually a pretty organized set of notes that should be titled, “What the heck can I do about a title?” Usually it is much less organized, and I have writing everywhere with lots of circles and arrows.
Hi Sue, Interesting process! I enjoyed reading At Death at Tippitt Pond and look forward to Death in a Pale Hue (great title). 🙂
Thanks so much, Joanne. I have decided I like that title two. Now, I just have to come up with two more. And congrats to you on the new book cover, which looks intriguing, and your trailer. Love stories that go back six decades. Good luck.
Enjoyed your blog. Yes, titles are the hardest to dream up.
Thanks so much for stopping by. I’ve been working all afternoon on those two new titles. I think I will say they are a work in progress and I may change them yet down the road. We need some kind of automatic title generator.