Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by thriller novelist JL Greger.
What’s the Right Title for Your Next Novel?
The title should be short. Most thrillers have titles of one or two words, like Robin Cook’s Coma or Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. Thus I called my thrillers, Coming Flu and Ignore the Pain. Mystery novels often have longer titles, e.g. The Hound of the Baskervilles. Of course, exceptions, i.e. John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, prove good ideas trump rules when naming books.
The title needs to be catchy. It is difficult to define catchy. I like titles such as D. H. Lawrence’s The Man Who Died and Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. Somehow, I don’t think many others would think these titles were catchy, so I asked a writers’ group to help me name my second novel. I gave them the choice of “Death of a Diet Doctor,” “Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight,” and variations of these two. They immediately chose Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. Although many writers have since commented they like the title, several men have told me this title made my novel sound like a “chick” novel and turned them off. So cuteness can backfire.
Establishing a brand is smart. A good example of successful branding is Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries, beginning with A is for Alibi. Although James Patterson has given names like Kiss the Girls and Cross My Heart to his novels, he usually manages to mention Alex Cross on the covers and in ads.
Most importantly, the title should tell you something about the book. The Book Seller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad and Jambalaya Justice by Holli Castillo have informative titles, which tell you the setting of the novel and the occupation of a major character. Most titles are more symbolic, but hint at the topic. Good examples are Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, which is about the building of a cathedral, and Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, which is a memoir about his mother.
I include tidbits of science in all of my novels and wanted to show in Ignore the Pain, my new medical thriller, how individuals differ in their response to physical and emotional pain. As a public health consultant in Potosí, Bolivia, my heroine Sara Almquist learns laborers in the silver mines chew coca leaves to decrease the pains from hunger, thirst, and heavy exertion at high altitudes. The active ingredients in coca leaves and its derivative cocaine are not analgesics; they do not dull pain. They are stimulants and help users to ignore pain. Thus the title is scientifically correct and addresses the theme of the novel.
So what are you going to name your next novel? Will it be short, catchy, and informative?
Morgen: Thank you, JL. My latest’s working title was ‘Henry’ (about a talking dog with attitude) but has now changed to ‘O Henry’ or ‘Oh, Henry’. I’m only 50,000 words through it so it may end up being something completely different. I’m a big titles fan and love quirky ones, short or otherwise. It needs to be something people remember so that if they don’t remember who wrote it they can still tell everyone about it and / or Google (other search engines are available) it.
JL Greger is no longer a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, instead she’s putting tidbits of science into her novels. She and Bug, her Japanese Chin dog, live in the southwest USA. Bug is the only non-fictional character in her medical mysteries and thrillers: Coming Flu, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, and Ignore the Pain.
Blurb: In Ignore the Pain, Sara Almquist couldn’t say no when invited to be the epidemiologist on a public health mission to assess children’s health in Bolivia. Soon someone from her past in New Mexico is chasing her through the Witches’ Market of La Paz and trying to trap her at the silver mines of Potosí. Unfortunately, she can’t trust her new colleagues, especially the seedy Xave Zack, because any one of them might be under the control of the coca industry in Bolivia. Her books are available from (change .com to .co.uk for the UK):
- Ignore the Pain: http://www.amazon.com/Ignore-Pain-J-L-Greger/dp/1610091310
- Coming Flu: http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Flu-ebook/dp/B008WDL84O
- Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight: http://www.amazon.com/Murder-New-Lose-Weight-ebook/dp/B00DFCC3IM
- And from this blog, guest posts by: Catherine Stovall, and Kenneth S Murray.
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