Avoiding Annoying Titles

So I wrote most of the Zo stories and called it Zo White and the Five Orphants.  Then Toni and I started on Monday Street about three years ago, and since Monday Street follows Zo, I thought maybe they should be place names, so I changed Zo to Paradise Park, which is the park across from the house they take over.   Only now we’ve got three books and the place names are not working, unless we do Monday Street: Catarina, Monday Street: Sophronia, and Monday Street: Keely.  Is that annoying?  If feels kind of annoying.

What’s your pet peeve about titles?  What should a title do?  Feedback, please.   We’re only going to be working on this for the next couple of years so . . . uh, no rush.

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85 thoughts on “Avoiding Annoying Titles

  1. I guess you could have a series title – ?The Monday Street Chronicles – and then individual titles that incorporate the character name. So, ‘The Monday Street Chronicles: The Curious Cat’, or whatever, with the series title very subsidiary to the story title. Lots of authors do this – K. J. Charles with her various series, for example. And there’s a multi-author, multi-timespan m/m series called ‘Porthkennack’ (since place and genre are the only constants) – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071YBGZV8/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=2BRXM7A5KKBTW&coliid=IKICFAA1OOTG7

    Oh, dear, that link looks terrible. Hope it converts into something usable as I post this.

    I guess the three of you will need to get clear how much you want to market the series, rather than just the individual books.

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    1. PS. I think, like me, a lot of people will buy this series on author name – we know we like Jenny Crusie or Anne Stuart books, for example. Story titles are far less important: as long as they fit with the genre, which is the other thing I’m buying.

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      1. Titles can intrigue, though. I’ve bought books based on the title alone (Expecting Someone Taller is one).

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          1. Yes, now that you mention it, it was Tom Holt. Brilliant title. I should go get that again and reread it.

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        1. Shelly Chalmers just released on called Must Love Plague. I bought it just on the title. (Plus she’s a really great, supportive person.)

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          1. I really like that book, from the title on to the whole Arthurian parallel. I’ve read descriptions of other Tim Powers books, but none has sounded interesting.

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    2. Paradise Park comes first. It’s about six years before these books. And then there might be others set in this world, so the “Chronicles” thing won’t work. Also,”Chronicle” has an epic feel to it and these are pretty much romances, not histories.

      Maybe titles with their names and something else that can be made parallel. Argh.

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      1. Well, just ‘Monday Street’, as you originally suggested, would work as well. I guess I want something like that to tie the stories together, but ideally individual titles that are more intriguing than just the protagonist’s name.

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        1. Just checked K. J. Charles’s Society of Gentlemen series. They’re Regency m/m romances, and the language of the story titles suggests that, too: The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh; A Fashionable Indulgence; A Seditious Affair; A Gentleman’s Position. So, for added bonus points, I think the story titles should suggest the world and the kind of stories they are.

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  2. I hardly ever remember titles. I remember characters and story.

    I do think that authors should get the title they want. Unless it is likely to sabotage the book.

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    1. Titles are marketing, and we often are not very good at that, being all caught up in the story. I had two titles at Harlequin that I hate, but they might have been good marketing. Hate ’em, though: Manhunting and What the Lady Wants. What the Lady Wants was supposed to be Whatever Maebelle Wants, which I think is a GREAT title. They also suggested To Catch A Thief until I pointed out there were no thieves in the book. And yet they let me keep Getting Rid of Bradley, which is a title I love.

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      1. I was ambivalent about either of the titles “What the Lady Wants” or “Whatever Maebelle Wants”. However I hated the title “Manhunting.” It just screamed “heroine is a bimbo” at me. It took me years to break down and buy the book because of that title. However my OCD took over and I had to complete my Jenny Crusie set. I ended up really liking the book and the story of Kate and the little community she became part of in Kentucky. And I was really glad when I could get it on kindle so that no-one would see me reading a book in public called “Manhunting”. So yep titles can make a difference, even when they are from a known, trusted, and much-
        loved author.

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        1. See, I love the title Manhunting because of the play on words (which I think was also communicated by the cover and/or blurb), but I did pick it up as a Crusie book first, so I knew it wouldn’t just be a straightforward “bimbo heroine needs a MAN” book. And I have to admit that “What the Lady Wants” sounds catchier than “Whatever Maebelle Wants” (especially since, without context, Maebelle sounds kind of hillbilly to me and would totally throw off my expectations of the book). Which I guess goes to show both that titles are very important, and that even the “best” title will not be 100% perfect to everyone. 🙂

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          1. Whereas I saw Manhunting as a Deadliest Game adventure sort of title and picked it up on the title and then a page of text. I still have that original book. Plus ecopies from I think four different companies.

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      2. Think Getting Rid of Bradley was the first book of yours I read, and I was drawn by the title. Reminded me of The Trouble with Harry and got me thinking of the same type of humour & wit. And since then I went on to read your other books, it worked to introduce me to an author. But at that point, I was reading for author not title and neither manhunting nor What the Lady Wants would have drawn me. Offhand, of your other titles, think Bet Me, Welcome to Temptation, and Maybe This Time stand out for me.

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  3. The single biggest annoying thing I run into with a novel title is putting “A Novel” on the end of it. It bugs the bejeebus out of me for some reason. Other than that I tend to be fine with it, unless of course the title misleads the reader as to what it’s about — if there’s not even a metaphorical connection then I spend time while listening to the book in trying to figure out how the title works for the story, which is time wasted. (Or at least thought cycles) But that’s rare, as most authors of non-poetry don’t tend to do that.

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    1. You really do need that because memoirs and creative non-fiction are out there, too. It’s usually in really small type, if that helps.

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    2. It’s not the authors who do it, it’s the publishers. Please don’t blame the authors! Nobody hates “a novel” more than me. As the author of “Necessity: A Novel” my first reaction was to say “What, in case the reader confuses it with a block of cheese, or a party hat?” My second reaction was to threaten to write a book called “The Significance of Persia in World History: A Novel” which my editor thought was a fine idea. Also, when he showed me an orangy-pink cover for a fantasy novel of mine and I wailed “Men like it too!” he said “Great chicklit title! We’ll put a high heeled shoe on the cover!” Authors have a lot less control over what’s on the cover than you think.

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      1. “A Novel” might not be a necessity – most fiction books are novels – but if the book is a collection of short stories, it should say so on the cover.

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      2. I once did a collaborative novel with two friends. It had “a novel” on the cover. The reviewer for PW said that it would have been much better as a novel that as three novellas. Yeah, even with “a novel” on the cover, she still didn’t get that it was one fictional story (she didn’t read it, either).

        I like “a novel” on the cover. Titles alone don’t tell you if it’s a novel or a collection or a novella or non-fiction or . . .

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        1. I don’t get how anyone can review a book or an author that they haven’t read. I read a piece about Terry Pratchett, not long after he passed away, where the author of the piece talked at great length about how overrated Pratchett’s writing was. The author had never read any of Pratchett’s books, and had no intention of reading Pratchett’s books, mostly because he knew they were overrated.

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          1. One great review on Amazon was someone gave one star and the comment “Haven’t read it yet.”

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          2. That’s ethically wrong. I know a lot of things are terrible so I don’t watch them or do them.

            But I also know that since I haven’t given them a chance my opinion is subject to revision. Doesn’t mean I’m going to get a subscription to the National Enquirer to give it a fair chance – but I would if I were going to write an essay on them.

            It seems he saw “Best-selling author” and suddenly decided because it was popular it must be over-rated. Jerk.

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          3. A lot of criticism is people feeling superior to the people who actually write books and putting it on paper. Puny little egos (said in the voice of the Hulk).

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    3. I understand the need for it, but ‘a novel’ usually puts me off too. I have had a lot of disappointing reads from fancy ‘novels.’ The poignant ones are the worst. When I see that on a review, I run away…

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  4. “Monday Street: Name” sounds more like either a working title, or a series of spin-offs on CBS, I’m afraid. 😛 A little too straightforward and on-point. I think you could get away with calling it “the Monday Street Trilogy” without sounding pretentious, with individual titles based on the character/events rather than location. If you wanted to unite it more smoothly with Paradise Park so that it marketed more as a 4-book series rather than a standalone/prequel + trilogy….. that’d be trickier, and I sadly was not hanging around back when you were talking about this series more so I don’t know enough about it to suggest more.

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  5. Are there other places? Could they be Monday Street, Bill’s Bar and On the Waterfront, or something? So that they sound as if they fit together? Monday Street, Tuesday Crescent and Wednesday Square would be a bit much, but you’d sure know they were a series!

    I think what a title does is help the book find its friends. So the people who will like it will be a little bit intrigued just by the title. What I try to do is to think of the title as the topic statement. So “Faking It” would be the perfect title for the book, thematic all through, but “Manhunting” is lame because it pulls all wrong. “Strange Bedpersons” makes me think of a book with a lot more shallow sex than the book it is, and there is a play called “Daisy Pulls It Off” which I always secretly think is the true inner title of “The Cinderella Deal”.

    We’re not a good audience for this question, because we’re going to say “We’ll buy it even if it’s called Twelfth Night or What You Will” (actually, What You Will might be a great romance title) but for the random readers out there who never heard of you, you want something that reaches out.

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    1. Yeah, it’s tricky. That’s why I went with place names when it was just me.
      I’m just realizing that I don’t like titles with colons in them. Probably a leftover from all the academic titles.
      Argh.

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  6. I’m curious why a place name won’t work with the 3rd book? I like the theme so far. The only other one that stands out to play with is Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…? Is there any other common element across all the stories? Some word? A color?

    I don’t think tying it all together with Monday Street is a bad way to go. I’m reminded of and her series’ books, which definitely utilize the “A Twilight Texas Novel” or “A Cupid, Texas Novel” or “A Jubilee, Texas Novel.” She also worked “Club” into all the titles of another series, so that was solid branding across those titles.

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    1. A title should make you want to pick up the book. “Monday Street” really doesn’t. Krissie said “Paradise Park” sounds like an amusement park, and she’s right.
      Fortunately we have months to figure this out. I’m still getting Nita finished.

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      1. I would pick up Monday Street, but I would never pick up Paradise Park. Go figure.

        Monday Street just seems so fabulously odd – that combination. Usually day names aren’t street names.

        However, Paradise Park just seems too beachy and perky, like where roller bladers would hang out in California (Palasaides Park?). Hmmm…

        My vote is for Monday Street and for a colon.

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      2. Also makes me think of Green Dolphin Street. Yeah, I know I show my age. Defense: read it as a wee child, and it was already antique.

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  7. Charlotte’s Web – a tale on the power of marketing genius. I’m a grown up anow, and still annoyed. Wilbur was a well-sold pig and while I see the value in valuing the individual, whether extraordinary or not, Charlotte was the superstar deserving celebration here. #teamcharlotte
    Rant over.

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  8. Stick with the titles you’ve assigned as working titles because they, erm, work. Your publisher will change them soon enough, of that we can be sure.

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    1. Actually, my editor and I hash out the titles for my books. If she says no, it’s for a good solid reason: “Walmart won’t carry it with that title.” Okay, then, moving on to another idea . . .
      Sometimes my choices are a little too off and we end up settling for something like “Maybe This Time,” not a great title but it was good for that book. And sometimes she just signs off on them, like on Faking It or Fast Women. Agnes and the Hitman was a working title for most of the time we were writing and editing the book, and when it came time to get a real title, she said, “You know, I like it, let’s keep it,” and we did.

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      1. Wasn’t there one that you wanted to call “Hot Fleshy Thighs” or something like that? Was it Welcome to Temptation? I just remember a forward thanking your editor for the rename suggestions.

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        1. Tell Me Lies. Which is a line from a Fleetwood Mac song, and that people kept calling “Tell Me No Lies.” Argh.

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  9. If you want to do place names I think I would either want four separate places or if it’s only two, place names that are connected somehow—Paradise Park and Valhalla way, something like that.

    But I’m inclined to say stay away from place names because there are so many small town romance series with place names that the title might be misleading to people who want that and a turnoff to people who don’t. I actually like Zo White and the Orphants better because it’s quirky and your books are also quirky.

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    1. I like Zo White and the Orphants best.

      You may have already checked this but if you google Monday Street, you get a lot of parking regulations and street cleaning schedules. Paradise Park is a trailer park in Nashville and a movie about a trailer park as well as a couple of amusement parks.

      It’s not that you can’t make the title memorable but naming the series with something less quirky feels to me like you’re only getting your readers versus new readers. I’ve bought books for the title and ignored generic titles except when I’d adored the author.

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      1. That’s a good point. I think I’ll stick with Zo White and the Five Orphants. I never really liked Paradise Park, I was just trying to set up a title type.

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        1. I think that reinforces the fairy tale background, too. If there are fairy tales you’re using as a jumping point for the other stories, try variations of those. Savvy readers will pick up on it.

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  10. You wrote about titles awhile back. They should come out of the story and characters, in fact, Phin says “Welcome to Temptation.” “Fakin’ It” describes every character; “Bet Me” is the heart of the story; “Maybe This Time” has the wistfulness to emcompass both Andi’s need for fulfilment and May’s need for a complete lived life — of course, only Andi succeeds. “Trust Me on This,” “Anyone but You,” “Getting Rid of Bradley,” all sound like what goes on in each story.

    I was just thinking today that “What the Lady Wants” might be the closest you have gotten to a situation where the heroine is higher class than the hero. I like the play on the term “lady” because Maebelle’s “class” is gangster. But she definitely is classier than those around her.

    I feel sorry for Karen Lord, the author of “The Best of All Possible Worlds.” What an awful title.

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  11. I would probably pick up a book called “Monday Street” out of curiosity even without an author name I recognize. “Paradise Park” maybe not, but with your name on it, I would. The titles that annoy me are the ones that I can’t immediately associate with the plot or characters. There’s a historical mystery series I really like, but all of the titles start “What…”, “Who…”, “Where…” – like that, and sometimes it’s hard to remember which title goes to which story. There are some romance novel titles that are too generic or vague, and I can’t remember what they were about just from looking at the title (Stephanie Laurens titles are like that for me). I don’t usually have that problem with Crusie titles. “Getting Rid of Bradley” may be one of my favorite of your titles just because it’s such a concise way of reminding me of the plot. “Welcome to Temptation” and “Faking It” are also great for that reason. I like “Monday Street” because I really don’t think I would ever confuse it with something else or have to think about it to remember what it’s about.

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    1. I hate most single word titles: Splendid, Passion, etc. Krissie asked me for help with the cover copy on her Ruthless, and I started it with, “When the Viscount loses his little sister, Ruth, he’s . . .” She was not amused.
      I don’t mind quirky single word titles like Jaws or Holes or some of the others, but generic word titles make me nuts.

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      1. Well maybe she wasn’t amused, but I laughed out loud.

        I think Monday Street is perfect, because it sounds like the kind of quirky maybe magical street name that in fact characterises the kind of atmosphere you’re going for.

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      2. Single word titles are difficult. A lot of Amanda Quick books have one word titles; I like the books fine, but I never remember which is which without reading the cover copy.

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        1. That’s my problem with them. If you have at least two words, even if they’re common words, it establishes a relationship between them. Ever After is two common words, but they’re a call back to fairy tales, so it’s a strong title. I did one single word title for the first thing I wrote (and worst thing I wrote) and never made that mistake again. HQ made the mistake when it called my second book Manhunting, but I didn’t. (Manhunting was published first, so it’s my first published book.)

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        2. Yep. And some of the titles are better fits for different books she’s written, in my opinion. So I was glad when she moved on from single word titles.

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          1. Except, I’m rereading ‘Lie by Moonlight’, where the hero and heroine meet when he helps her save four girls who’ve been kidnapped. Really don’t see what that title’s got to do with the story. I think her earlier JAK titles worked quite well (‘Grand Passions’, ‘Perfect Partners’, etc.), but later I think she must have started pulling them out of a hat.

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  12. I don’t much like the semi-colons. And even in a series, each book should have its own title, probably. That being said, just write them, and we’ll buy them. Not helpful, I know.

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  13. The place name books I like are less about the place as a geographic location, and more about it as a state of mind / experience / community. I love the title Welcome to Temptation. Other good place titles: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Where the Wild Things Are, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Into the Woods, Chicago, The Devil in The White City, In the Heights…

    Maybe if you want to stick with the place idea you could get more figurative (hotel at the corner of Bitter and Sweet)? Or combine Monday Street with a specific point of time or activity (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Into the Woods)? Or pair it with various characters (the devil in the white city?)

    I will say I personally can’t do puns, and there are some words that are so over used in romance titles – scandal, desire, etc. – that they’re almost like having no title at all, unless there’s something amazing about the rest of the title

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  14. I agree with folks above that “Monday Street: x” definitely sounds like the file name, not a book title. I want to read these books, but when you wrote out the titles, I was a little turned off. Now, “[Title] A Monday Street Novel” could work. You said “Chronicles” is too historic, but a Monday Street Novel tells the reader which world we’re in.

    As for ideas about what I don’t like about titles…I know this is more on them than me/the author but nothing that makes my husband giggle (so many historical novels). Probably not helpful, I know. It should at least tie into the book?

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    1. Yeah, I like this “[Title] A Monday Street Novel” idea. I find Monday Street intriguing, Paradise Park not really.

      Cliches in titles do put me off the book, especially non- or anti-feminist cliches. I’m not keen on either Manhunting or What the Lady Wants.

      Faking It is perfect. Sums up the book so well.

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    2. I’m getting Book Bub every day now and the titles of the romances leave me either laughing or so cold there’s ice. It feels like they’re now titling some of these books using a random word generator.

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      1. I KNOW. I was going to do a post on it and decided that making fun of other people’s titles is Bad.
        The one good thing about those titles is that they tell you exactly the book you’re going to get.

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        1. My husband *tried* to show exactly what his first raunchy paranormal was about, titling it “The Incompetent Witch and the Very Big O.”

          And our dear, gentle friend said, “Oh! You wrote a children’s book!”

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          1. To Reb:

            Dave said, “Uh, Jack, ‘o’ stands for ‘orgasm.’ It’s a funny book, but you probably don’t want to read it aloud to your second-graders.”

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      2. I really like the ones that say things like, The Greek Tycoon’s Virgin Alien Baby Momma. They make me happy

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  15. My title pet peeve of the moment is the “Girl” books. I am annoyed by them, particularly so many of them. Which I know is not the authors, but marketing. But it’s still ridiculous and needs to stop. So, don’t name your books “The Girls of Monday Street” and I’ll be fine.

    🙂

    (though, with you writing it, I’d buy the hell out of that book too!)

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  16. When you said you don’t like one word titles, is that the reason you don’t name each of the books after the heroine? Catarina, Sophorina, and Keely. BTW, listed like that, Keely is missing an -ina.

    I enjoyed most of the Soulless series by Gail Carriger. (The ending to Changeless was horrid and had me boycotting her book for a while. She broke the contract with me as the reader, I felt, just so she could have book 3, Changeless, which was unnecessary.) So, the 5 books are Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, Heartless, and Timeless, but the series is the Parasol Protectorate. The titles really work with the books. Perhaps, once the books are written, it will be clear to you what to name the series.

    I’m also in the camp that dislikes Manhunting as a title, but I liked What the Lady Wants as a title, and more than the Maebelle version.

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    1. You need at least two words to tell a story because it’s not the words, it’s the relationship between words that gives meaning.
      So one word titles are pretty meaningless.
      Think of a title like “Ecstasy.” Sounds like erotica. But “Ecstasy Lost,” “Chocolate Ecstasy,” “Ecstasy Jones,” “Deep-Space Ecstacy,” or “Ecstasy Lite” are all different genres: grief stories or cookbooks or comedy or sf or whatever (or possibly all erotica). It’s the space between the words where story happens.

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  17. Paradise Park is so terribly bland compared to Zo White and the Orphants. Just bleh, meh, beige. Whereas Zo White has black and white stripes and interesting patches on her bloomers.

    So Zo White and her orphants please, and perhaps Cat and Sophie and Keeliana can have their own “and the blankety blanks,” too? Flying fish, etc? With A Monday Street Novel underneath.

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  18. What about incorporating Monday Street in each title in a different way that reflects the story? E.g.,
    Monday Street Two-Step
    Trash Night on Monday Street
    The Wrong Side of Monday Street (wasn’t there something in the WIP about it being the bad side of the street?)
    Main Street to Monday Street
    Monday Street Dead End
    Dancing on Monday Street
    Monday Street Cred
    Demon Bartender of Monday Street
    Exile on Monday Street
    Nightmare on Monday Street

    (Sorry, getting carried away; I’m procrastinating. These are examples, not actual suggestions. I think you get the idea. 🙂 )

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  19. I’m really surprised nobody mentioned the best titles of all time by Christopher Moore. Okay, I was turned off at first because I thought that perhaps they would be books of The Writer, Trying Too Hard. I mean, Island of the Sequined Love Nun is going to be either very, very good — or very, very bad. Turns out it was very, very good.

    There’s this trend in series where they tie in all the series with matching titles. Kelly S. mentions it with Carriger’s -less series. I noticed it with Ilona Andrews’ Magic-Does-Something series (Burns, Tears, Rents, Drives-a-Volvo). The series is actually very good, but I had the worst time remembering which ones I read and which ones I still needed to buy. I don’t think the Andrews team did anything clever like alphabetical with the titles to show a progression of time. (There’s The Cat Who Did Something Alphabetical series, too, which I haven’t read because someone only gave me J — I’m not going to start with J, and I’m not going to buy eight books without knowing if the series is good for me.)

    I just find it really twee, and somewhat confusing. With the Andrews series (and I think the Carrigers that I read, too), the non-repeating part really did have something to do with the book. But with the Andrews series, I think Magic was Burning in all of the books, not just the one.

    I really like Monday Street, and I really like Zo White and the Orphants. Quirky enough to make me wonder what’s up, but not so quirky that I’m worried I’m getting a National Enquirer version of reality.

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