Killer Titles

Your title either grabs the reader or it doesn’t. Readers are pretty savvy. They want the title to speak to them and intrigue them. Simply by the title, they want to know what type of novel they’re looking at. After all, we’re asking them to plunk down their hard earned cash to buy it.

So, the author has to know his/her stuff. First know the genre. Of course, I’m talking crime fiction titles. Still, that over-arching genre breaks down into: thrillers, murder mysteries, detective stories, suspense novels, romantic suspense, and cozies. If you’ve got a humorous cozy with a delightful grandma sleuth running around town catching thugs and murderers, the last thing you want is a super-serious title.

Back On Murder

If you write for a publishing company, the final word on the title will be the publisher’s. No matter how emotionally attached the author is to the working title, the publisher wants a title that’s a workhorse, a title that will sell the book. If you’re an indie author, you’ve got to choose that type of winning title.

I enjoy a clever title and think most readers do. It could have a double meaning, a play on words, or it could be a bit of a riddle. One title that grabbed me from the get-go and pulled me in is J. Mark Bertrand’s BACK ON MURDER. The story takes us into the world of a detective whose life fell apart after his daughter was killed by a drunk driver and he was bounced off the homicide squad. When the novel opens, he’s back on murder, but this is his last chance.

Without FailWhile devouring my key lime pie at an author’s luncheon not long ago, the speaker, a librarian, mentioned that if library goers like a book they took out, they will then purchase subsequent novels by that author. This is true of me. And usually it’s the title on the spine of the book that grabs my eye. If I like the book, I’ll want to read other stories by that author…and I don’t want to wait for the library to get them in. That happened to me with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. I’m a sucker for two-word titles. [All of my novels have two-word titles.] So, as I browsed the aisles at my local library branch, WITHOUT FAIL, number six in the series, seemed to leap off the shelf and into my hands. When I opened the book and read the first page, and I was hooked. I finished this thriller, returned it to the library, and starting with book number one, began ordering from Amazon.

You can google: How To Choose A Title and find articles that give you 5, 7, 10 tips to creating great fiction titles. Ultimately, you have to love your title. If you aren’t totally satisfied with it, it’s not the right title.

Why not have a fun day searching for terrific titles? The Grand Army Plaza Public Library (main branch in Brooklyn) has a gourmet snack bar. My local branch doesn’t, but they’ve let me bring in a container of tea. Barnes & Noble has Starbucks. Go to one of these, get your fav beverage and find a table. Then browse the mystery/thriller section. Look at the spines for novels of the type you write. Pick out ones that jump out at you (10 – 20 books). Bring them to your table…where you have a notebook handy. Enjoy your beverage while you study the titles. Take notes. Do these great titles have anything in common? Narrow it down to the five best. What makes them the best? Is there action and movement in the titles (verbs)? Do they promise something? Are they quirky, denoting humor? Does this fit your story?

Harmful Intent, Amazon SmWhen I chose the title: HARMFUL INTENT, for my recently released whounit, I hoped the title conveyed the promise of diabolical schemes, treachery, deceit…all good things in a murder mystery. And it passed my ultimate test. The title satisfied me, totally.



16 thoughts on “Killer Titles

    1. Marcy, Out of curiosity, I read a couple of the 5, 7, 10 Tips to writing great titles articles. Too formulaic for me. I’m way to seat of the pants for most of that. But a cup of a fav beverage and a day at B&N or my library sounded like fun, and productive as well. There’s something to walking down the aisles as real readers do and seeing what grabs me, what the trend in titles is, etc.


  1. Great post, Nike. Titles are so important. I hope I have a winner with mine. I think I do. Mine satisfies me, too, totally. However, I’m willing to change it if need be. Don’t you just love the smell of B&N? *smile*


    1. Tessa, The speaker at the luncheon gave some impressive stats from a survey. People who borrow books from the library actually purchase quite a number of books.


    1. Holly, Welcome to my blog. Glad you’re interested in my books. The four in my Sanctuary Point series are classic historical murder mysteries. HARMFUL INTENT is a contemporary detective novel. All of my novels have a bit of humor. HARMFUL INTENT has a few outright funny scenes and chapters, but also gritty moments.


      1. I’m glad to find more Christian Fiction that’s also gritty. My book, Crooked Lines, launching August 3rd is also gritty Christian with a murder/mystery in the plot, too.


  2. Also, Nike can you tell me something about the John 3:16 Marketing Network Authors button on the side. I’m a hybrid publisher and am about ready to indy pub a novel.


    1. Holly, The John 3:16 Marketing Network is a group of Christian/inspy/Christian world view authors who help each other in various ways with marketing. They tweet for each other publicize on FB and G+ for each other, etc. You can ask if anyone wants to review your novel, etc. I’m going to contact you via email to give you more info.


  3. saragoff

    You can make any chore fun, Nike! I’ve gotten great feedback on my title I Always Cry at Weddings in first person, even though the story has a close third person POV. Would that bother you?


    1. Sara, I like fun and laughs. Laughter gets me through life. God’s Word is true, it’s a medicine.

      I read 3rd person POV. I’ve written in 3rd person…not my latest, though.


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