Wednesday, April 09, 2008


I'd like some help with titles, but first I'd like to share part of an article I recently read in The Week. The focus was the stories behind the titles of a few classic novels and was adapted from the book Why Not Catch-21 by author Gary Dexter. Since the article was already pared down, it's almost impossible to completely paraphrase it, so I am using lots of quotes.

My favorite one was the title story. I was under the impression that Catch-22, an expression used to describe an impossible bind, existed before the title was given to the book but just the opposite is true. It is the book that created the saying -- think about it, there are no catches 1-21 and no Catch-23 onward. "Its very uniqueness," Dexter writes, "meant Heller had to think carefully before naming or numbering it. And his choice was --- Catch-18."

Heller was a bomber pilot during the Second World War and so was his character in the book. When he submitted it (three years later) to the publisher, it still had that title. But then Leon Uris came out with a book the same year called Mila 18 also about the war and so Heller got the job of renaming his book. "It was thought that Heller, a first-time novelist, should be the one to blink."

In a 1975 interview, Heller said, "I was heartbroken. I thought 18 was the only number." Dexter says, "A long process of of numerical agonizing began in which the author and his editor, Robert Gottlieb, worked their way through the integers looking for the right formula. Catch-11 was one of the first suggestions, but was rejected because of the film Ocean's Eleven. Heller at one point settled on Catch-14 but Gottleb threw it out for being too nondescript. When 22 came up, Gottelieb felt it had the right ring, and Heller acceded two weeks later. 'I thought 22 was a funnier number than 14,' Gottlieb said in 1967.'"

Now, I understand I am not writing a classic, but I also understand a title can be a big selling point. In my corner of the world, hooks are used as title bait. Thus my next release, named by my editors, "The Lawman's Secret Son." My title was Shot In The Dark, but I was warned it was too mainstream and that it would hinder sales. I don't want to hinder sales. So my title has the secret baby hook and the policeman hook and it's okay with me. Try getting snotty about these things and see how far it gets you. Plus I've grown to like it just fine.

I'm currently working on a book about identical triplet brothers. I would like to submit with titles that reflect the fact there are thee of them. I've been mulling it over and have come up with zip. With the twin women I did a couple of years ago, they named the "series" Dead Ringers, and then the books had their own titles, so maybe that's where I should get in the three part. Any bright thoughts?

I'm not exactly in a Catch-22, but I could use a little brainstorming. Of course, this is the cart before the horse as I only have twenty pages of book one and seven pages of synopsis and a general idea of book three and very little for book two, but I thought I would throw it out there. Plus, a week or so ago, Paty mentioned titles so maybe she'll chime in.

Do you have a method? Do you use a phrase from your book? If you've published, have you kept your own title? I've been about half ad half.


Paty Jager said...

Ooooo, great topic, Alice!

Yes, I am having a title problem myself. But lets get to yours first.

Triplets- Triple decker comes to mind. Trio of hot hunks is another. Not knowing the stories makes it kind of hard to think of something, but since they are intrigues how about Triple Threat, and then a title about the book.

Hopefully someone else will come up with something else.

My title problem is coming up with a common denominator for a series. Numbers are taken, the alphabet is taken, I'm thinking of using colors. My daughter came up with Red-handed Bandit, Black and Blue Rustler. I know those are funny, but these are hopefully funny, historical westerns. And I'm not sure that's what I want to do. Although the first book is tentatively titled- Pristine White Prostitute. LOL

Geez where is my creative mind today- or any day! LOL

Alice Sharpe said...

Triple Threat is very nice, I like it.

I hate to tell you this, but colors were done and done to perfection in John D. Macdonald's books. The Deep Blue Goodbye, The Orange Shroud, The Lonely Silver Rain, The Green Ripper and on and on. That said, so what? You aren't writing a contemporary mystery series. I doubt there's a twist someone hasn't made so perhaps yours could all contain an alliteration like your Pristine White Prostitute.
Thanks, Paty...

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Oh, I stink at titles.

Paty, when my editor and I were discussing titles, she said she liked the title I'd used for my 2nd book in the contract - Dead To Me. While we were on the phone she pulled up Amazon and said so long as no one else in my genre had used that title recently, it would be fine. There was a Feb '08 thriller titled Dead To Me that just came out - but technically it was available for the RS genre I write in. Because we're going with a theme for all three books, we aren't going to end up using it though.

I don't see a problem with your color titles so long as they fit with your book - and if the books are humorous, it sounds like they do. I know at a lot of epubs you choose your own titles, but if you sell to a NY pub they'll change them if they don't think they fit (*ahem* like my first book).

Alice, I like Triple Threat for a series title too. This one is hard because I know with ST series you have common threads in the titles, but with category books, is it common to have a series title and three separate titles within that series?

I'll have to do more thinking on your title dilemma. Obviously the ones I gave you on IM the other night weren't good enough. LOLOL

Karen Duvall said...

What a fun topic, Alice!

I've always kept my own titles, but then I've only had 3 books published. And all with micro presses. For the urban fantasy series I'm working on, the first is Knight's Curse, and I'll continue to use "Knight" in all the titles because my main character is a modern day female knight. Possibilities in the title arena will be endless.

I like Paty's idea of Triple Threat, but like Paty, it's hard to think of titles without knowing what the book is about. One of the first that came to me was Three's Company. Or Three 'blanks" for Three Brothers. Fill in the blank with whatever your book is about. Other thoughts: And Then There Were Three, Triple Play, Three Kinds of Trouble, Seeing Triple, The Power of Three.

Tell us more about the book and I may be able to come up with more title ideas.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

On the subject of titles...

I just talked to my editor and the titles for my books are good to go! *grin* (I love them, can you tell???) I posted an announcement over at my blog if you're interested in seeing what they are. :)

Alice Sharpe said...

Eli -- Love your titles. Congrats on the covers, too.

Karen, the umbrella story and the mystery of the third book centers on this: one of the brothers witnesses a murder when he was a child. Now the killer is trying t find the right brother. The first to books only skirt on the edge of this story. I got to thinking about a series name of Triple Jeopardy and then each book having it's own title. The first book is tentatively titles Cupid's Bow, so maybe... oh, I don't know. Like Eli said, the editors will have ideas. This does feel like putting the cart before the horse!!!

But isn't the Catch-22 story an interesting one???

Lori Barber said...

Alice, I immediately thought of 'Triple Threat' also. Then I thought maybe 'Tri-Angle Of Fear' might help nudge you in the right direction.

Paty, I love the idea of colors in your titles. Then I thought if this series is historical western maybe you could consider different brands of rifles and pistols in the titles, if that idea hasn't been used before, and there are enough brand names to fulfill your titles. Of course I don't know if guns will be in the books.

How about hats or clothing?

I've got it! Have you considered country eats in your titles? I'd be glad to sling you a mess of titles full of tasty country grub.

Alice Sharpe said...

You know, Lori, I kind of like the country grub thing.

Throw some out there to give me an idea of what you have in mind.

Triple threat has a familiar ring to it, doesn't it?

Paty Jager said...

Finally! sheesh! I've been trying to get back on here all afternoon to respond and my computer kept saying this site couldn't be found. Yet I kept getting e-mails with people's responses...

You could go with anything Triple then a word or two for all the titles.

Lori, I like the gun idea! Especially since the main characters are a Pinkerton agent and a US Marshal. And for that same reason I don't think grub titles would work, but would make an awesome series to have dutch oven recipes in the back of the books if a person did go that route!

Eli, Great titles! Can't wait to see the covers.

Alice, I was also thinking One Third Wanted, One Third Dead, One Third Silenced Anyway you get the drift of the One Third. Yeah, I know lame. But that's how my brain works! LOL

Alice Sharpe said...

No, Paty, it's not lame, I like that idea. Thanks.

The gun thing sounds good.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Alice, I meant to say this earlier but got distracted by titles and almost-6 yr old birthday boys and general craziness...but the whole story behind Catch-22 is absolutely fascinating. I had no idea that was how the catch phrase got started. Thanks so much for sharing that!

Genene Valleau said...

Chiming in really late. Alice, I like Triple Threat too. Paty, really like Pristine White Prostitute too. Eli, your titles are great! Titles with double meanings are wonderful.

I have to work really hard at titles. The books that I've sold have been renamed and renamed and renamed. I think I finally circled back to the original names. Could have saved all that hassle. They are connected books but the titles only have a similar cadence (Songs of the Heart, Feathers on the Floor, Stars in Your Eyes) not any word in common.

For the series of nine books that I'm planning, I'm thinking of using "Legacy" in the titles, though that sounds kinda Western-y and these are contemporary stories. Their father's legacy as an outstanding policeman will be the connection in all the books. Then the other word or words in the title will describe the brothers (Fiery Legacy for a firefighter, Blue Legacy for the brother who is a policeman, etc.)

I also thought about using numbers, but as Once, Second, Third, etc. But I wasn't coming up with anything to go with the numbering theme that I liked for all the books, so pretty much dropped that idea.

Good discussion and timely for me also!

wavybrains said...

Another late commenter!

Eli, I LOVE, LOVE, your titles.

alice: Triple take
Three in a row
Three of a kind

Lori Barber said...

Alice, you asked for it. Here are a few off the top of my head. Hot Tater Pursuit; Steak 'Em Roundup; Sour Dough Bandit; Dumpling Surprise; In a Stew; Raw Apple Cake Robbers; Biscuit Boys Revenge.

Lori Barber said...

Alice, you asked for it. Here are a few off the top of my head. Hot Tater Pursuit; Steak 'Em Roundup; Sour Dough Bandit; Dumpling Surprise; In a Stew; Raw Apple Cake Robbers; Biscuit Boys Revenge. Loaded Pie Ala-mode.

Paty Jager said...

Lori- ROFLOL!!!!!

Alice Sharpe said...

Lori-- Too, too funny!!! How 'bout Grizzled Stakes (cowboy vampire)? or In A Stew?

okay, okay, you win...

Flo Moyer said...

I read Catch 22 four or five years after it came out and loved that book. I had no idea it wasn't already a phrase. I think by the time I read it, it had already become very popular. That is so interesting.

Brainstorm (for the series):
Three of a Kind
The (blank) Three
Three Times the Charm
Triple Threat (I kind of like that one.)
Can you fit Triad or Trinity into something, maybe?
The Trinity--I dunno. I like both those word though. They sound mysterious.

Alice Sharpe said...

Oooh, Flo, I like triad and trinity, too. Thanks.

I've never read Catch-22. Maybe I need to get a copy and give it a look see.

Genene Valleau said...

Lori, I love your "grub" titles! LOL!

Flo, Triad is nice. A reminder to me to check out the online thesaurus for title ideas too.