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How To Pick A Title

Please help me welcome today’s guest…..drumroll…..Courtney Milan!

Confession time: I suck at titles. If I have to make up a title for a book, I hem and haw and basically come up with really awful sounding strings of characters that nobody would ever want to read, not in a million billion years.

Proof by Seduction was the very last title I had for this book. While I was writing it, I mostly just called it by its code-name: Ornithology, since my hero is interested in birds. I also pretended, from time to time, that it had other titles. I used The Making of Jenny Keeble, a truly awful title, when entering it into contests for unpublished romance writers. I briefly flirted with other possibilities: The Lord and the Liar, and Flight of Fancy. None of these seemed to fit the book, and I had just about given up, assuming that the book would be titled something truly awful and generic, like The Scientific Lord’s Virgin Fortune-Telling Mistress, which would have been unfortunate since Jenny is neither a virgin nor Gareth’s Mistress.

I found the title when I was beating my head against the wall trying to write a query letter for my book. For those of you who don’t know, a query letter is a dreadful rite of passage inflicted on newbie writers, whereby they try to make their 100,000 word book sound interesting and exciting using about 100 words. I was trying to be clever and cute, and noticed the similarity between the words “induction”—a word scientists use to describe the process of continued observation—and “seduction.” In fact, there’s a method of mathematical proof called a “Proof by Induction,” and a very long time ago, when I was flirting with the notion of becoming a computer scientist instead of a romance novelist, I’d learned to do proofs by induction.

Thus, the title was born: Proof by Seduction. It combines both the hard rigor and finality of proof with the languid sensuality of seduction. As an added bonus, it’s an awful pun that will make scientists the world over glare at me and stalk off in disgust. I did not mention this little tidbit to anyone while the book was on submission, because I was pretty sure that if I told them that the title was great because it was a horrible scientific pun that nobody would get, they would change it instantly to something less dorky. Now I’ve snuck it by them, and it is too late! Mu ha ha!

The book I’m writing right now is code-named: Bigamy. Oh yeah. You know you want to read it already.

Those of you who are interested in a copy of Ornithology–er, I mean Proof–will be happy to know that one random commenter will get a copy! Just tell me what your favorite title is for a book, and why you like it.

Keri here—Courtney’s running a second contest on her blog with Victoria Dahl and Carrie Lofty! After you leave a comment here, pop over and check it out for a chance to win their books!


22 Responses

  1. Welcome Courtney! and oh…I hate naming books. Such a challenge.

    My favorite titles are ones like Louisa Edward’s: CAN’T STAND THE HEAT and ON THE STEAMY SIDE. I love their bounce and how they releate to each other and fit right in with her kitchen/cooking theme.

  2. Hi Courtney,
    My favourite titles are The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and The Memory Collector. For some reason titles with ‘memory’ in fascinate me.
    I love that your title is slightly geeky (if you don’t mind me saying), but that not many people will get it!

  3. Welcome, Courtney. My name’s Liz and I suck at titles.

    I seriously think there should be a group for us. We could sit around saying things like “What else rhymes with ‘love’? LOL

    I think all publishers should employ someone to create titles for books. It’s so important, yet it’s so hard to do. Or maybe run a contest on their site. Now that might work.

    My book that sold got a namechange. I really liked my original – Heartbreaker. It sounded edgy and just right (with lots of undercurrent) but it was so not a Harlequin name. Now it’s Vegas Two-Step. To which my mother immediately replied, “There’s no dancing in it.” 🙂

    So I totally get you on being title-challenged.

  4. Oh, I forgot to say my favorite title.

    Jeez, that’s hard. Well, I just read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and I like how simplistic the title is and how it hides the complexity of that simple word. BTW, it was a fabulous book – a must read if you grew up in the South. If you didn’t, you’d still like it.

    I like simple titles – The Poet by Michael Connelly.

    Silence of the Lambs – you know you’re gonna pick that one up.

    And, Bigamy, yeah, I like that title. 😉

  5. Keri, I love Louisa’s titles, too–and I really, really wish that historicals could have titles like that!

    newtowritinggirl, I completely agree! One of my favorite books of all time is “Memory” by Lois McMaster Bujold. Just “Memory.” If I could think of away to come up with a historical romance sounding name that had the word memory in it, I would totally do it.

    Also Liz, I absolutely LOVED “The Help.”

  6. i like simple titles like “almost heaven” or “something wonderful” (judith mcnaught) and if it’s a series book then i love where the titles all have that similar word in it “lover eternal”, “lover awakened”, “lover revealed”, etc. (j.r. ward).

  7. Hmm…I don’t know that I have a favorite title. I’ve read so many books and I tend to remember the stories more than the titles. Although, I will say that I like Nora Roberts’ titles, like Montana Sky, or her Born in Fire [Ice or Shame]. They tend to be simple, yet creative, and explain the theme or plot of the book. I also like Sherry Thomas’ Delicious – totally made me want to know what was going on in the story. It just evoked instant curiosity.

  8. Huh, I’m not sure I have a favorite title for a book. I don’t usually pay too much attention to them. But I always like it when a title works on multiple levels. For example, Craig Thompson’s graphic novel Blankets: some of it is about remembering being a timid little boy during cold winters, some of it is about sexual awakening, some of it is about an actual quilt that someone makes.

    I also like The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold for a similar reason – there are several different people who could be the titular “apprentice”, and it’s kind of fun to figure out how each of them fits in that story.

  9. Hi Courtney and Keri!

    That I have heard about this blog is proof Twitter has some good qualities! 😉 I love the dorkiness of “Proof by Seduction” mostly because the dork factory completely escaped me and I adore cleverness. My favorite titles vary but here’s a few: The Road by Cormac McCarthy (it said it all in two words), Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy (eloquent, poetic-just like the book) and in the land of romance I absolutely loved Untamed by Elizabeth Lowell. All the titles made so much sense when reading the book and went far beyond just a marketing tool.

    Great post, Courtney!

  10. Hi ladies!
    Courtney, I love your title, and now I love it even more, knowing the background. Sexy math puns. Yay!

    And I actually really like The Making of Jenny Keeble. I know it might not be right ‘branding’ for the story, but I like it nonetheless. But . . . I admit I am a terrible at knowing what’s a good title marketing-wise.

    Congratulations on a stellar debut, and here’s to many, many more. (Books, not debuts.) 🙂

  11. Congrats on the upcoming release of “Proof by Seduction,” Courtney. I love all of Marianne Stilling’s titles especially “Sighs Matter,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evie” and “The Damsel in This Dress.” These titles are clever and they always make me laugh.

  12. I love the title. But you’ve stumped me for my favorite title.Maybe…One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest. (not romance, I know but I love the title)

    But I suck at titles. Seriously bad. If I ever publish, I can guarantee my “working title” will never be the final title!

  13. Michelle, I really think that the simple titles are great–but sometimes, they can blur together in my head, ESPECIALLY if they use some of the standard romance triggers, like “Wicked” or “Seduction” (says the author who has had a novella called “This Wicked Gift” and a book called “Proof by Seduction”).

    Tili, yes, I love the Warrior’s Apprentice, especially because it’s also reminiscent of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the tale of the Sorcerer who tries to magic a broom into cleaning the floor and instead has the whole thing get away from him… which is exactly what happens to Miles. Incidentally, I completely loved that book, too.

    Kim, along the lines of “Prince of Tides” I also love Meredith Duran’s “Duke of Shadows”–so brilliantly evocative! I just adore it.

    Kris, thanks for liking my terrible titles. 🙂

    And Jane, I also like clever titles. For some reason, they usually work best for contemporaries, but Julia Quinn has done some great ones–for instance, “What Happens in London” which is an awesome title for a historical romance.

    Some of my favorite titles, though, have been really long ones:

    The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell
    The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker

    There’s something almost magical and poetic about those….

  14. I like Julia Quinn’s What Happens in London and I like Sleepless in Scotland by Karen Hawkins. For series’ I like Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed series titles…Kissing and Midnight seem to be the themes! 🙂

  15. I like titles in a series to be somewhat related – it’s easier to find them. Otherwise, titles aren’t as important to me as what’s inside the book. I like Soulless and Red-Headed Stepchild, they got me interested in what was in the book. Three Days to Dead intrigued me as well. Clever titles with a play on words from movies, etc, like For a Few Demons More, and Every Which Way But Dead are fun.

  16. Welcome Courtney! I love the title. It’s one that would make me pick up the book if I didn’t know the author. And the cover is awesome!

    Like everyone else, coming up with a title for my wip is never an easy thing to do. But (you know there always has to be a but), I have to have one when I start. Even if the one I pick is going to change. 🙂

    Favorite titles – Nora Roberts Key series, and in YA I’d have to say, Pretties, Uglies, Specials…one word, but I was hooked by the words.

    Amy – I love Heartbreakers too! Vegas Two-Step is fun and it is one that would have me picking it up. Just kinda funny that it was choosen since you say there’s no dancing in the book. Still, it’s going to do great!!!

  17. ArkansasCyndi, Titles are really hard. I’m usually happy if I can come up with something that vaguely sounds like it’s in the wrong genre. Some people are just good at titles, though.

    Danielle, I do like “word” themes, too, but it can be hard to get right. I’ve seen some series where the “words” are so similar I never know if I’ve read that book already! I think J.D. Robb does this really well–they’re all IN DEATH, but the one word that’s not IN DEATH is really, really well chosen.

    Barbara, Soulless is a great name for a book, and Gail Carriger’s next two really work on that theme: Changeless and Blameless. Man, I want her title skillz.

    Vicki, I think Scott Westerfeld’s titles are totally awesome (or should I say bubbly?) and “Uglies” conveys so much, right there. Some of the best titles are one word titles… if they work.

    So here’s another one of my favorite titles: Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Name of the Wind”–it’s so powerfully evocative!

  18. Yes, Welcome, Courtney! 🙂 Great to have you join us! You’ve peeked my curiousity with the title and cover. I’ll be adding this one to my list.

  19. As a science major, the story behind your book’s title made me giggle. 😀

    I don’t have a favorite title, but I think I tend to enjoy one-word titles; it’s so hard to pack an entire story into a synopsis, much less one word.

  20. Melissa, I hope you enjoy it. And Julie, one-word titles are so wonderful…but so hard to get right!

  21. Finally, I’m supposed to pick a random commenter to win a copy of PROOF BY SEDUCTION. Random.org says the winner is…

    Angelique! Congratulations! Angelique, please send me your snail mail address at courtney@courtneymilan.com.

  22. I just hit the halfway point in this book and have just fallen completely in love with the title and so I thought I’d share, again, on this thread: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

    Initially I thought it was quirky, kinda funny (I mean, seriously- am I the only one who thought of a Hedgehog all dressed up in red-carpet ready gowns?!) but having gotten to the explanation of it it’s blown me away. Love it when that happens.

    Thanks for the article, Courtney!

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