To complete the quote from the Bard’s Romeo and Juliet, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” For many of us writers it could be paraphrased, “What’s in a title? That which we call a book by any other other name would be as read.”
Of course, the answer to that is probably no. The title of a book, as with the cover, tends to draw in many a reader, especially if you’re not well-known. It took me a while to get that. Sometimes the obvious has to come over and kick me in the knee before I realize what’s going on. Death of a Clown, my docu-fiction noir about Ringling Brother Circus circa 1942, was on the market before I got feedback on just how many people fear and dislike clowns.
There are actually people who will not under any circumstances even touch a book with the word clown in the title. Even though it won a fairly prestigious award, some readers still hesitated to buy and read it. So after a few years, I bit the bullet and changed the title (and the cover) making it Murder un the Big Top. Not one word of the story was changed, just the title and cover. It took some doing, a lot of official documents, and buying yet another ISBN number. Murder under the Big Top still isn’t my biggest seller by a long shot, but at least people don’t send me the I-would-never-read-that-book hate mail. Well, not hate mail, exactly. Dislike mail.
The first book of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries is called Murder is a Family Business. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t call the book that. The title seems to indicate a more serious work to some, especially males, and has fooled many of them. They were expecting something more along the lines of “The Sopranos.” When they got a load of the family-oriented detective agency complete with a kitten and designer shoes, they were not happy. I didn’t change the title, but did create a cover that leaves no doubt this is a cozy. Between the title and cover, I think you can let a reader know that. But once again, if I had it to do over again, I would choose another title for the book.
I got better at it as I went along, but still had much to learn. Take the second book of the series, A Wedding to Die For. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have chosen that title, either. Now I would put the proposed title into Amazon and see what other books come up. If I had done that with Wedding, I would have seen three other books had the same title. But as that’s the book under development by a major streaming service and production company, I’m leaving it alone. But another lesson learned.
There are some very clever titles out there, especially in the cozy mystery field. Just this year we are offered: Penne Dreadful By Catherine Bruns, Wonton Terror By Vivien Chien, and Death Bee Comes Her By Nancy Coco. For my part, one of my favorite titles for my books is The CEO Came DOA. Although the latest book of the Alvarez Family Mysteries, The Drop-Dead Temple of Doom, is a very fun title. I don’t think any guy is going to buy it thinking it’s mob related. Although, gentlemen, never trust a protagonist who knows Karate and carries a Glock 19. Even if she does wear designer shoes.