May 4 – 10: “What are the considerations when adopting a title for a series?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re joined by ITW Members Michael J. Martinez, Larry D. Sweazy, J. L. Abramo, Ralph Pezzullo, Cat Connor, Layton Green, Robert Wilson, Penny Clover Petersen, Suzanne Johnson, Adrian Magson, Gary Grossman and Jean Heller as they discuss the things one must consider when adopting a title for a series?

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Circling the Runway by J.L. AbramoJ. L. Abramo was born in Brooklyn on Raymond Chandler’s 59th birthday. He is the author of Catching Water in a Net, winner of the SMP/PWA award for Best First Private Eye Novel, the subsequent Jake Diamond mysteries Clutching at Straws and Counting to Infinity, the stand-alone thriller, Gravesend, and Chasing Charlie Chan, a prequel to the Jake Diamond series. His latest Jake Diamond novel, fourth in the series, is Circling the Runway.

 

The Shadow Cartel by Layton GreenLayton Green is a mystery/suspense/thriller writer and the author of the bestselling Dominic Grey series, as well as other works of fiction. His novels have been nominated for several awards and have reached #1 on numerous lists in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. In addition to writing, Layton attended law school in New Orleans and was a practicing attorney for the better part of a decade. He has also been an intern for the United Nations, an ESL teacher in Central America, a bartender in London, a seller of cheap knives on the streets of Brixton, a door to door phone book deliverer in Florida, and the list goes downhill from there. Layton lives with his wife and children in North Carolina. Please visit him on Facebook, Goodreads, Library Thing, or on his website.

hellerMost of Jean Heller’s career was as an investigative and projects reporter and editor in New York City, Washington, D.C. and St. Petersburg Florida. Her career as a novelist began in the 1990s with the publication of the thrillers, “Maximum Impact” and “Handyman” by St. Martin’s Press. Then life intervened and postponed her new book, “The Someday File,” to publication in late 2014. Jean has won the Worth Bingham Prize, the Polk Award, and is an eight-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.

 

The Venusian Gambit by Michael J. MartinezMichael J. Martinez is the author of, most recently, The Venusian Gambit, the final volume in the thrilling Daedalus series of historical fantasy-slash-space opera novels from Night Shade Books. When not making things up and writing them down, Mike enjoys homebrewing, travel and spending time with his family in the New York City suburbs. He can be found on his website and on Twitter at @mikemartinez72.

 

Also Murder by Larry D. SweazyLarry D. Sweazy has been a freelance indexer for seventeen years and is also a two-time WWA  Spur  Award winner, a two-time winner of the Will Rogers Medallion Award, Best Books of Indiana award winner, and the 2013 Elmer Kelton Book Award. Larry is the author of the Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger western series, the Lucas Fume western series, The Devil’s Bones, and See Also Murder. He lives in the Midwest with his wife, Rose.

 

Roses Are Dead My Love by Penny Clover PetersenPenny Clover Petersen draws on a lifetime living in the suburbs of Washington DC surrounded by her somewhat peculiar family, to create her Daisy&Rose cozy mystery series. Her second novel, ROSES ARE DEAD, MY LOVE once again features cocktail loving sisters Daisy and Rose Forrest as small town shop owners who just can’t seem to get through a day without attracting malicious pranksters, stumbling onto blackmail plots, or tripping over dead bodies.

 

You Will Never Find Me by Robert WilsonRobert Wilson has written thirteen novels. A Small Death in Lisbon, won the CWA Gold Dagger in 1999 and the International Deutsche Krimi prize in 2003. Capital Punishment, the first novel in his latest series featuring kidnap consultant, Charles Boxer, was published in 2013 and was nominated for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. You Will Never Find Me is now out in the US and UK. The next, Stealing People, will be published in 2015.

 

Pirate's Alley by Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne Johnson is the author of the award-winning Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series from TOR Books. Book four, PIRATE’S ALLEY, was released in April 2015. Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the best-selling Penton Legacy paranormal thriller series, as well as The Collectors romantic thriller series, both for Montlake Romance, as well as several standalones. A displaced New Orleanian, Suzanne currently lives in Alabama.

 

Hunt the Fox by Don Mann and Ralph PezzulloRalph Pezzullo is a New York Times bestselling author, and an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His books have been published in over twenty languages and include Jawbreaker (with CIA operative Gary Berntsen), Inside SEAL Team Six (with Don Mann), The Walk-In, At the Fall of Somoza, The Chopin Manuscript (winner of the 2008 Audio Book of the Year), Plunging Into Haiti (winner of the 2006 Douglas Dillon Prize for American Diplomacy), Eve Missing, Blood of My Blood, Most Evil (with Steve Hodel), the SEAL Team Six thrillers Hunt the Wolf, Hunt the Scorpion, Hunt the Falcon, Hunt the Jackal, and The Navy SEAL Survival Handbook (also with Don Mann).

Eraserbyte by Cat ConnorCat Connor is a Cantabrian who’s lived most of her life as a northerner. (Makes it a bit hard when the Crusaders play the Hurricanes but apart from that it’s not too bad.) She shares her office with a retired racing greyhound called Romeo and Missy the fat grey cat. Luckily the animals don’t mind loud music. Hosting a fortnightly writing workshop at the Upper Hutt City Library: A Writer’s Plot, is something Cat truly enjoys, and she’s been doing so for 3 years. A coffee addict, lover of pinot, and Jose Cuervo tequila, Cat has been described as irresistible, infectious, and addictive. She believes music is as essential to life as breathing. Cat is a member of The New Zealand Society of Authors and International Thriller Writers. Her latest book, databyte, is longlisted for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh best crime novel Award.

old earthGary Grossman is an Emmy Award–winning television producer, a journalist, college teacher, and author of the bestselling thrillers Executive Actions, Executive Treason, and Executive Command, from Diversion Books. As a member of the International Thriller Writers he has participated in numerous ThrillerFest panels. He credits Michael Palmer for helping launch his career and thanks other ITW members W. G. Griffiths, Steve Berry, and C. J. Lyons, among others, for their help and inspiration. Grossman teaches at Loyola Marymount University’s Graduate School of Film and Television and is a contributing editor to Media Ethics Magazine.

Close Quarters by Adrian MagsonAdrian Magson is the author of 17 crime/thriller novels and hundreds of short stories and articles. Author of the Riley Gavin crime series, the Harry Tate spy thriller series and the Inspector Lucas Rocco crime series set in France in the 1960, his latest novel is Close Quarters – follow-on to the highly successful The Watchman, which saw the introduction of a new hero in close protection specialist Marc Portman. A regular reviewer for Shots Magazine, he writes the ‘Beginners’ and ‘New Author’ pages for Writing Magazine, and is the author of Write On! – The Writer’s Help Book (Accent Press).

 

ITW

International Thriller Writers Inc represents professional authors from around the world. Learn more about them, their work, and the sources from which they draw their inspiration at the Official ITW Organization Website.

Interested in becoming a member of the International Thriller Writers? ITW offers Active and Associate memberships.
58 Comments
  1. I am most interested in hearing what fellow panel members think of series titles, since I’m wrestling with that question right now. My current book, THE SOMEDAY FILE, is the first in the Deuce Mora series. Initially, it was my plan to use the word “File” in future installments.

    But one weekend recently, when I was rearranging some of my books, I was looking at my John Sandford collection, and realized that in only one or two cases could I actually match one of his “Prey” titles with the story between the covers. They had all become a memory blur. This is not to say Sandford’s stories aren’t memorable, just that all those “Prey” titles ran together in my head.

    When I got to Lee Child’s Reacher books, my exercise of matching title to story was much easier. There was no repeating word in any of the titles.

    And it made me wonder. If the repetition of a word in the title helps identify a book as part of a particular series, does it also muddy memories of what each individual story was?

    In his Virgil Flowers series, Sandford doesn’t use a repeating word. Nor does/did Lee Child or Robert B. Parker, or Evan Hunter or Ross Macdonald. John D. MacDonald used colors in his titles. Sue Grafton uses letters of the alphabet. I could go on, but you get the point.

    I even asked my friends on Facebook which they preferred and got no consensus whatsoever.

    I’m beginning to think it’s better to give each book its own individual name and then, perhaps under the title say, No. 2 in the Deuce Mora series. I’ll be eager to hear what the rest of you think.

    1. I understand your reflections on repeated words in titles.

      In the example of Sanford’s PREY series it can become a question of “Have I read THAT one yet?”

      However, if you can find a common THEME to your titles-it may help readers connect the books.

      Of course, when your NAME becomes a household word-the title of a series novel may become irrelevant.

      1. Think we all want to be there, J.L.! Although as people have found, even famedom doesn’t prevent reader confusion when it comes to ‘Have I read that…? (Actually, my wife has a near-eidetic memory, and always knows if I’ve read a book before. Trouble is – or maybe it’s a good thing – I’ve been known to read books more than once, and usually years apart, so my enjoyment can be prolonged. The gift that keeps on giving…

    2. You’ve encapsulated it nicely, Jean, in your final para; give the book the name you want to, and add a subtitle by way of number. I always find far that easier to remember than, say, the ‘Prey’ titles – and it shows the reader/browser that you’ve got a series.

    3. I think you may be right about giving each book its own title, one not particularly connected to the series name. I have only written two so far. Each has Rose in the title because it worked with the story. My intention was to add a flower to each title. But as I work on this next book, I have to ask whether just keeping a flower name in the title to identify the series is worth ending up with titles that have nothing at all to do with the story line and do readers really notice that?

      1. True. Depending on the plot, you might have to venture into Bella Donna or Monkshood, etc – but that might getting a bit too dark for your mysteries!

    4. Jean,
      Well, this is a good example of everything is possible. The advice I got for my Executive series was opposite, but I’ve been building on the thriller’s visibility and the branding has surely helped me. When it comes down to marketing, which we have to do as enthusiastically as we write, I have found continuity has given me a leg up. But readers who become true fans are smart, engaged and devoted. They know a great series and follow them.
      gary

      1. I spent some time debating the title of my soon-to-be-released first novel, DARKLY STEWART: THE WOMAN WHO TASTED DEATH. As my main character appears as both a girl and a grown woman, I toyed with The Girl Who Tasted Death. The world Girl brings up connotations of young adult, which Darkly is distinctly not. So, I went with Woman. I avoided one pitfall, but I am currently writing the second novel, LIGHT AND DARKLY, and I cannot decide whether it is more effective to let the title stand alone or put the main character’s full name before the title once again. I am leaning towards the power of continuity of title.

  2. The title of a novel and the cover artwork are generally the first stimuli the prospective reader experiences. These, perhaps more than the kind words quoted from reviewers or fellow writers, are the encouragement for the browser to physically open the book.

    More specific to our discussion, I feel the most important consideration in writing a succession of books featuring the same character or characters is consistency—within each novel and throughout the course of the entire series. I believe the titles of series installments should also display an identifiable relationship—a familiarity.

    Speaking to my experience—the working title of the first book in the series was something like Jake Diamond Private Investigator—thankfully temporary. Somewhere along the line, when Jake is describing the lack of progress in his investigation, he says it is like ‘trying to catch water in a net’—and I had a title. With the second book, I wanted to express that same elusiveness and it became “Clutching at Straws” and, inadvertently, a new connection appeared. Both titles began with a word starting with the letter ‘C’ and were gerunds. So, “Catching Water in a Net” and “Clutching at Straws” led to “Counting to Infinity” and “Circling the Runway”—all I needed to do was have someone in the novel voice the title at some point and I had the thread which held the Jake Diamond titles together.

  3. I can pretty much echo what Jean and J.L. have said.

    I’ve always been a huge fan of series novels, which I think stems from reading comics as a kid, and looking eagerly for the next instalment of my favourite characters and storylines.
    It therefore seemed natural to me (albeit as a writer)when, some years ago, on being asked what my second book was going to be, to think about a follow-on. And now with 18 books published, only two of which were standalones, I still find myself going for the next in line, although so far none of the series has got past book five; The Riley Gavin series (5); the Harry Tate series (5), the Lucas Rocco (4 and a novella), and the current Marc Portman series (1 and writing). I’m not sure why – I think it’s because I keep thinking of new characters and situations and just have to give them a shot.

    The titles for series, however, can be a problem. Publishers don’t always like the ones you come up with, and there’s a tussle to get it past the editor or think of an alternative to the one you’ve probably lived with for a good while.

    I also find, being a ‘pusher’ rather than a plotter (I never outline – I always go off-plan as soon as I start writing), that an original title I’ve had in mind at the start doesn’t always quite fit the completed book.

    I have to admit I’ve gone off lengthy titles. Since my first series (the Riley Gavin crime series which had ‘No Peace for the Wicked’, No Help for the Dying’… and ‘No… something for the something’ titles, I wanted to come up with shorter, punchier ones (easy to remember, better for search engines, etc). So the next one was Red Station – a spy thriller, followed by four one-word titles which I really felt encapsulated each story.

    Then I began another crime series, set in France in the 1960s… and my new publisher insisted on a French word in the title and either ‘murder’ or ‘death’. So it was back to long titles beginning with ‘Death on the Marais’. (Trying to find subsequent titles with ‘Death’ followed by French words wasn’t easy, but I managed).

    One recurring problem is the question of how many books and e-books are already out there with the same brilliant title you’ve just thought of! How dare they!

    My current latest – ‘Close Quarters’ (out 30 April thro’ Severn House) – is a fast-paced spy thriller with zero sex and ditto nakedness. The trouble is, it shares an Amazon page with numerous other Close Quarters, all with an abundance of sex and flesh and fast-paced action which browsers will have to wade through before they get to mine. Hopefully they will not lose patience or be swayed by the very attractive covers and blurbs along the way!

    What I always try to aim for is a title that will create sufficient interest in the word(s) alone to make browsers take a look. A thriller I have coming out in 2016 (thro’ Midnight Ink) is called ‘The Locker’. There’s a good reason for this otherwise innocuous word (it pops up in the opening paragraph), because it also has a dual meaning later on, which is at the heart of the storyline.

    Now all I have to do is think of a new title for the next one…

    I look forward to reading other comments on this knotty issue!

    1. Good points, Adrian. I have had problems in the past with a publisher who didn’t like a title I had chosen for one of the books in one of my series.
      My second series featuring the Spanish detective Javier Falcón were psychological thrillers set in Seville. I thought it was important that the first book had Seville in the title and thought it would be fun if it had the same rhythm as the one title everybody in the world knows The Barber of Seville. The book’s main theme was all about people’s inability to see or not wishing to see, denying the truth or avoiding it. I decided to call the book The Blind Man of Seville. It had the necessary beat, Seville was in the title, it pointed dramatically to the fundamental problem and it asked a question: who was this blind man? The second book in the series was the only time I’ve ever had a disagreement with a publisher about a title. I had written a poem about the horrors of South America in which an aged dictator was being revisited by all the people for whose deaths and torture he’d been responsible. These terrifying visitors were The Vanished Hands, which became the title of my second Falcón novel. My London publisher’s sales team hated the title, didn’t understand it, thought it confusing. Much against my will I had to change it for the UK and Commonwealth territories and came up with the anodyne title: The Silent and the Damned which, by remarkable coincidence, had the same rhythm as The Silence of the Lambs. Because the third book in the series was taking a look at terrorism or rather the West’s potential to be spooked by anybody Muslim I had to include something Islamic in the title. The Hidden Assassins might seem at first glance a somewhat clunky title but the word ‘assassin’ has a fascinating etymology. Most people think that it comes from the Arabic hashshashin meaning ‘hashish user’. In the 11th century a Persian sect of Ismailis were thought to use hashish to inspire them into acts of espionage and killing. Clearly there was some confusion about the effects of hashish, which has the tendency to send people to sleep rather than making them into reliable killers. Others think that this sect, who were followers of al-Hassan ibn-al-Sabbah, were called assassins because they were Hassassins ie followers of Hassan. Still others think that the attribution of the epithet ‘hashish eaters’ is a misnomer derived by the enemies of this sect and was used in the pejorative sense of ‘rowdy people’. I liked the confusion surrounding this word’s etymology because it fitted so well with the plot of my book in which an explosion brings down an apartment building where there’s a mosque in the basement. The expected assumptions are made. The last book in the series has a very strange title The Ignorance of Blood. What drew me to create it was the idea that, as humans, we invest the notion of blood with so much importance. To be of the same blood as someone strikes us on a powerful emotional level and yet blood, even when vital and more especially when it has been spilled, has no knowledge of this. It is just a substance within us that does the job, like many other organs, of keeping us alive. It struck me as pithy way of encompassing the problem of being human.

      1. Very interesting, Robert – and I like ‘The Ignorance of Blood’ as a title. As you say, it’s merely a substance, but without it we’re screwed! (Could also hint in some ways as the ignorance of family/bloodline, etc.

  4. Titles are everything. They have to communicate excitement, impact, and power for an individual book and connect all books in a series. As smart as I may sound, I learned this from my teacher/mentor, legendary publisher, Roger Cooper. He wisely named my first thriller “Executive Actions,” a great title which constantly resonates in the news today because of the ongoing debates over presidential power. “Executive Actions” follows Secret Service agent Scott Roarke as he investigates a three-decade sleeper spy plot to seize the White House. Then Roger Cooper said, “Kee it going. Stay with the Executive angle.” Along came “Executive Treason” which picks up the plot and focuses on hate radio’s ability to manipulate public opinion and the election process. Now I understood. The title provided a true marketing brand, so “Executive Command” came next. It focuses on a nationwide threat to our water supplies and the command decisions required to contain and control the disaster. The three books, published by Diversion Books, resonate because the common theme of the title delivers continuity of characters and allows me to let them grow through the series as I ramp up the challenges. Specifically, the word Executive strategically aims at the presidency and the White House. The second word underscores the distinct plot points. Both are important considerations, making the marketing all the more easier. Now that I’m on the subject, I have to come up with the title for the next book in the series! The outline is shaping up right now. (Check out the book trailer for “Executive Command” at http://tinyurl.com/kgztaba and my latest thriller, OLD EARTH.) See you at ThrillerFest!

    1. Clever title theme, Gary – and it can go on and on. It speaks instantly, as you say, of government, White House, etc.
      Executive Fire
      ” Power
      ” Threat
      ” Shield

      Good luck with the series.

      1. Adrian,
        Thanks! Yes, lots of possibilities ahead. Of course, some were taken by other great authors, so I am exploring the best possibility for book 4 in the Executive series. I took a break writing OLD EARTH, but now I’m series about the new book in the series. Back to the advice, I did try a different off-brand title for what became Executive Treason and Executive Command, but the publisher said stick with what’s working and let’s build on it.

  5. I would say a series title should be familiar and easy to remember, and if possible, something no one else is using. I think you want a name that you can readily find on-line, a name that will identify the genre, and give a hint about the books. Don’t make it too arcane. Readers shouldn’t have to work at trying to figure out what the series might be about.

    After my first book was published and I realized that I was going to write more about the Forrest ladies, Daisy & Rose Mysteries as a title for the series just came naturally. It clearly states ‘mystery’ and gives a hint as to the seriousness (not very) of the book. My hope is that readers start to think about my characters as friends and remember them when searching for something fun to read.

    1. You’re right with ‘Mysteries’, Penny; genre-specific readers do like to connect quickly with a familiar theme, and the word ‘Mysteries’ generally alludes to the subject matter, especially if the reader makes the connection with the recurring – and hopefully – popular characters.

      Means you get asked when you’re writing the next one, too!

  6. Most of the time, I have a title before I have a story. But writing a series is much different than writing a standalone novel. A common thread that loyal readers can identify as a series title seems to be a good place to start. Think John Sanford’s long running Lucas Davenport series—identified with Prey in the title, or Sue Grafton’s easily identifiable Kinsey Milhone alphabet series. Both are perfect examples of fantastic series titles. So how can you create a series that is different, but the same? In my Josiah Wolfe series, all set in Texas, I chose an indigenous animal to the state to be included in the title. Rattlesnake, scorpion, badger, cougar, etc. It seemed to work out, and the series ended with six books, but I had plenty of animals to play with.

    I don’t think series titles have to be identified by specific words like Prey, they can be themes. For my new mystery series featuring professional back-of-the-book indexer Marjorie Trumaine, all of my titles will have a bibliographic reference, and something that relates to the story, hence, SEE ALSO MURDER.

    The tricky thing about writing a series is that you never know who long it will last, so you need to think long term. For John Sanford and Sue Grafton that kind of selection from the beginning has worked out really well. On the other hand, I can think of series where titles are not linked by words or themes—Loren D. Estleman’s Amos Walker series comes to mind. THE SUNDOWN SPEECH, YOU KNOW WHO KILLED ME, and ANGEL EYES are not linked at all other than they are Amos Walker mysteries. So the larger question for me is, do all series titles have to be linked in one way or another to be successful? Or can series titles be standalone titles?

    1. Good point, Larry. I used to think having a common theme title was the best way. But experience – and the explosion in publishing which means you can rarely come up with an exclusive title anymore – leads me to look at not worrying too much about titles being linked (and my publishers don’t always agree with my suggestions, which is OK), so a number or a subtitle ‘Pt 1 in the Hillbilly Bigfoot Romance series’ (I jest) solves the problem for me.

      Like you, I can never guess how long a series will be – although that may be because I tend to have new ideas all the time which won’t ‘fit’ with the current series, so I have to start a new one!

    2. Larry,
      The other way we get some continuity branding is through cover art or billboarded words that indicates it’s part of a series. Sue Grafton seems to hit each. Vince Flynn and Tom Clancy didn’t, and clearly didn’t need to. Sometimes, it’s a mention of the main character. I guess all of this is to say, we have to work with the marketing departments at the publishers. Truth be told, a great cover is as important as a great title. Hey, maybe that’s another discussion topic!

      1. Right, Gary, I think cover art has a lot to do with series continuity. Though most of the time the author has little to no control over covers. Sometimes, titles, too. It’s not uncommon for marketing or publicity to object to a title, and as far as I’m concerned their take is extremely important. They have a track record of selling books–and series. Adrian, I still worry about linking titles in one way or another, though I like and admire Estleman’s approach to a twenty-something list of books in a series, which is to rely on Amos Walker, his protagonist, (and his name) being the pull for readers. It’s something to consider–and hope for.

  7. Interesting discussion! I too am pondering the name for a new series. I always make sure the books within a series follow a pattern–all the Sentinels of New Orleans books are named after streets in NOLA (Royal Street, Elysian Fields, River Road), while the Penton books have one-word “epic” titles like Redemption and Absolution. But the series title is different, as it has to do a lot of work.

    It takes a bit of psychic ability (or experience learned the hard way) to come up with a series title that works on all the levels it needs to work:
    * It needs to be simple enough for readers to remember;
    * It needs to be unique in the marketplace, or at least in its genre;
    * It needs to fit the subject and genre of the series;
    * It needs flexibility in case the series proves to really have “legs” and needs to change directions at some point; and, last but not least,
    * It needs to be something you as an author like. After all, if it turns out to be successful, you’re going to be stuck with it for a long time.

    I think there’s a lot to be said for series that use a character’s name if there’s an ongoing hero or heroine, although I haven’t yet done that.

    I have three current series and am contracted for a fourth whose name I’m currently pondering. I’d say the series titles have varying degrees of success or failure.

    The Sentinels of New Orleans series is urban fantasy, and I chose it because it succeeds on most of those levels. So far the books have been in first-person POV from the wizard sentinel, but it leaves the door open for other sentinels to enter as characters should I decide to do so. I don’t think it succeeds in terms of a reader automatically knowing the genre (as if it were Wizards of New Orleans, for example), but on the whole it works and as I work on book five, it’s still holding up well.

    The Penton Legacy series is…not so successful. What might that be about? Who knows? In fact, my publisher changed the series title to The Penton Vampire Legacy to clue in readers that we were looking at a paranormal title. If they don’t figure out from the publisher’s name that it has strong romantic elements, surprise! It has romantic elements. As I work on book five in the series, I’m pondering turning it into the first of a spinoff series with a different name: Penton Vampire Wars, perhaps. Stay tuned.

    The Collectors series is a bit of an oddity, as it is a thriller series with a dash of romance that isn’t keyed around the hero but around the villains: a group of uber-wealthy collectors who compete to manipulate poor down-on-their-luck ordinary people into finding some of the world’s great lost treasures. I like this series title: since the Collectors might or might not survive from book to book and the key collector is different in each book, it’s flexible. Does it say thriller? Um…maybe not.

    1. A nice summary of what a title should do, Suzanne. The only one I’d add in this digital search age is it should include a good keyword. That’s tough to find these days, but yours seem to fit the bill nicely.

      I like your Collectors idea, especially as it focusses on the villains. This could set off a play on Collectors, as in:
      Collectors – Revenge
      ” Betrayal
      ” Deceit, etc…

      It would also be easy for the key word Collectors, to take readers to the list of the other titles in the series.

      Damn. Should have thought of that…!

  8. Afternoon!

    When I came up with the name for killerbyte no series in mind so there was absolutely no forethought or consideration given to how I’d name subsequent books in this series.
    Maybe if I had thought about writing a series I would’ve named it differently? Yeah, nah. Probably not.
    The title of my first book in this series was a joke. It was a comment on the size of the doc file as I was wrote the story by a friend who was my beta reader and goto person for all things techy and weird.
    After killerbyte came terrorbyte and exacerbyte. They all worked quite well. I was happy with the titles – they had everything I wanted in a title. Short, memorable, descriptive, and snappy.
    And then it got hard.
    Really hard.
    I’d exhausted plays on the computer byte by jumping ahead.
    Easy to do when I thought a trilogy would be great.
    But I hadn’t finished!
    So then we had to start doing some serious brain storming for titles. It involved a lot of Admin dinners and wine (and tequila).
    I was well over half way through the fourth book and it was affectionately known as unnamedbyte. That wasn’t a keeper!
    I wanted to stick with things that were a little bit techy and computer based because we had to fit whatever we chose with the byte suffix.
    Not easy.
    Turned out to be a lot of fun though.
    But each subsequent book posed the same issue. Flashbyte (lots of meaning in that – but my original thought was centered around how we store information), soundbyte (yep, sound was involved), eraserbyte (information was erased). And then came the 8th book and that (joyfully) had an instant title and it simply worked, psychobyte. You better believe there was a lot of relief. I wish I could say I was done with this series but I’m not. What I do have now though is a file of potential byte titles.
    As for the collective title for these thrillers.
    Because the common suffix is byte, the _byte series made a lot of sense.

    The craziest thing of all is I’ve got a kiwi thriller/mystery sitting here now and the Admins have already come up with three titles. Looks like I’m writing two series now.

    No rest for the wicked.

    Cat xx

    1. Now that’s a luxury, Cat. Having more than one series on the go, while demanding in one way is, I find, a useful changeover of place, pace and detail.

      Having written a crime series early on in my career, I swapped to a spy thriller, which was a complete change of pace. But after writing that one, I decided to play my options and wrote the first of what I thought could be a cop series based in France in the 1960s (where I went to school). My agent promptly sold both within twenty hours.

      The great thing was, they went to separate publishers (I didn’t want all my eggs in one basket), and both asked for a series! So I ended up writing two books a years for a few years.

      However, I enjoyed changing from 1960s rural France (no cell phones, computers, CSI-type forensics, etc – but lots of history on which to base the stories), to contemporary spy action with all the technology I could want and a lot more besides.

      Effectively I was wearing two very different hats. Although I wanted tension and action in both, the details and pace was different, and each in their own way was great fun to write.

      And as you all will know, writing has to be fun if it’s to be worth doing.

      1. Thank you Adrian – the thought of writing two series simultaneously is a tad daunting! The new series is more a spy type mystery than a thriller and also set in NZ (for a change).

        You must’ve been wearing out keyboards writing two books a year! 🙂

        Been some interest regarding the NZ spy novel from the UK, so that too will be interesting.

        Having a lot of fun!!

        1. Good to hear, Cat. If we can’t have fun, what’s the point?

          My learning curve as a writer involved writing lots of short fiction and features for magazines, so I got used to writing under pressure for deadlines. I therefore found 2 books a year within my capabilities (although it doesn’t get any easier).

          It’s true that the spy genre here is very popular now, and agents and publishers seem to be on the lookout for new voices, so I wish you all the best of luck with it.

    2. Cat,
      You are going to be a very, very busy writer for a very long time. Congratulations, what fun! Can’t wait for Trilobyte…extinct marine arthropods reborn in cyberspace eating their way through archives one byte at a time! I’m going to start your series! Thanks, gary

      1. Glad I was sitting at the PC and not my nice shiny new MacBook when I read your reply Gary! Almost had a coffee incident.
        Coming up with the names for various is so much fun!
        Having just started book 9 with no title in mind (mostly because I don’t know yet what the book is about) there is much fun to come.

        1. Cat,
          So glad you liked. It just popped out and considering I have no filter, my fingers took over! Looking forward to our next question and hopefully meeting you at ThrillerFest!
          Best,
          Gary

          1. Wish I could be at Thrillerfest! It’s a bit far away for me at the moment … being in New Zealand does make things like Thrillerfest a tad tricky!

            🙂

  9. What a terrific conversation. I’m so happy to be a part of it!
    I’ve written three series to date. The first was a noir series written in the first person, dark, descriptive, inspired by Chandler and set in West Africa. When it came to titling I was looking to somehow emulate the title of that great novel by Joseph Conrad, which was set in deepest, darkest Africa – Heart of Darkness. It was no surprise therefore that my first title was from that terminally dark Shakespearian tragedy – Macbeth – and featured the word ‘darkness’. Instruments of Darkness also had a rhythm to it, which I think is important for any title. The oral tradition always used rhythm to instill stories in listeners’ minds and I think that is true of titles as well. Some of the most memorable titles of all time have great rhythm The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Where Angels Fear to Tread. I also wanted the titles to communicate something of the wild, buccaneering, moneymaking, corrupt madness of that part of the continent. My second title was The Big Killing and took place around the time of the latest Liberian war and which, like many African wars, featured tribalism, massacres, surreal scenes and great horror. The title was also a play on the phrase for making a huge profit, which was why many non-African people made their way to that seaboard, which had always been known as The Gold Coast. The third title looked at the cheapness of life in that part of the world and was taken from the First World War poet Wilfred Owen’s The Inspection. An officer reprimands a soldier for coming on parade with dirt on his uniform and when the soldier later reveals that it’s blood, his own blood, he retorts ‘Well, blood is dirt.’ The last title in that series was taken from a WH Auden poem called ‘The Two’ – The sky is darkening like a stain, Something is going to fall like rain, And it won’t be flowers. I extracted A Darkening Stain from these lines, which communicates not only something of the wet season but also a terrifying ominousness.

    1. Hi, Robert. Nice list of titles – and very atmospheric. A play on words is always useful. I followed this route in a forthcoming book, ‘The Locker’.
      In one sense it fits the opening which features a changing-room locker. Sounds mundane, but it’s where the drama begins. A wife and mother finds a piece of card addressed to her inside a locker with the message that her young daughter has been kidnapped. But the word ‘locker’ has another, much darker meaning which becomes clear as the investigation unfolds and reveals a terrorist dimension.

      Haven’t come up with a title for No 2 in the series yet, but am working on the same principle.

  10. Interesting and timely discussion. With millions of books to choose from, title (and cover) become increasingly critical As a series author, I love Suzanne’s summary and agree with all of it. The title, especially for a series, is a branding device, and should reflect not only the storyline but the genre as well.

    My first mystery was originally titled UNDERNEATH IT ALL. The book deals with reinvention and image, and at the time, I felt like the title captured those themes nicely. An agent (who was, alas, ultimately not to become my agent) requested that I change the title to reflect the genre, and that’s how “KILLER IMAGE” came to be. Since then, every title in the series has been carefully chosen to capture my protagonist’s profession (image consultant) as well as something relevant to the plot. In keeping with the precedent set by KILLER IMAGE, the title must also be two words. Thus, DEADLY ASSETS and DYING BRAND–and next year, VICIOUS LOOKS–came to be.

    On the other hand, I feel like there’s much more freedom in naming a standalone. In fact, for my standalone thrillers, I often start with the title, which helps me as I write the book. Of course, as some of you have pointed out, a publisher may ultimately change a title, no matter how well the author feels it fits.

    1. Hi, Wendy. I agree re: standalones. Much easier to play around with a title without being tied to a particular theme. Unfortunately, my publishers keep asking for series!
      I did write a standalone called ‘Smart Moves’ and decided to put it on Kindle because I wasn’t sure quite where it fitted. But I didn’t get the title until I found a cover image which was a chess-piece wearing a red tie. Easy!

  11. The title of my DAEDALUS series came together completely by accident. My debut novel, THE DAEDALUS INCIDENT, was a bit of a brainstorm between myself and my publisher, and I thought it was just fine. At the time, however, there was no series — it was published as a stand-alone novel.

    Then the reviews came in, and my publisher asked if I had anymore books in me. When a publisher asks you this, you say yes. (And thankfully, I certainly did.)

    So almost by default, DAEDALUS stuck as a series name. When it came time to think about titles for the next two, I didn’t necessarily want the series name right in the individual title, because HMS Daedalus wasn’t featured in the following two books. Instead, we opted for titles that sounded similar.

    Hence, THE ENCELADUS CRISIS and, as of tomorrow, THE VENUSIAN GAMBIT. They’re subtitled “Book Two (or Three) of the DAEDALUS series.”

    There’s a rhythmic beat to those titles that appeals to me. There’s an object or place name, followed by a very active noun that implies conflict. But I think each title allows the book to be unique as well.

    I’m now looking at names for my next series, and because of the success of these books, I can think about doing a series from the get-go. So in this case, I’m considering more connective tissue between the titles, possibly including the series name in the title of each book. We’ll see how that goes!

    1. Wow, I have a quick question for you and I look forward to your answer. In this age of looking up titles rather than having books jump out at us at the book store, has the spelling been an issue for you. Your titles are off-the-charts great, but do you find they’re easy enough to call up. I keep thinking about the movie studios and how they have to have a title that really flows easily. There was great concern about the Bond title “Quantum of Solace” which finally stuck, but a lot of “What?” from people. There was a slate article awhile back to explored the issue, pointing out that marketing departments are affected by internet SEO, Search Engine Optimizers, to reach for titles that have keywords that are likely to come up. “Quantum of Solace” not being a good example. I don’t know if publishers are doing the same thing. Now that I think about it, I’ll ask! Keep up the great writing and original titling! Best, Gary

      1. I remember one reviewer calling THE ENCELADUS CRISIS by a pet name: THE ENCHILADA CIRCUS. I had a great chuckle over that one, and it became something of a shorthand around the house whenever I talked about the book with family.

        In my own promotions, I tend to shorthand the books to ENCELADUS or GAMBIT, and it works well. I don’t think either book was harmed by an unusual title — and indeed, in dealing with the SF/F space, unusual titles like that stand out from the crowd a bit more.

        Then again, most of my readers know Enceladus is a moon of Saturn that might harbor life…! So how that would translate to a broader audience? Not sure. But to my knowledge, discoverability hasn’t been an issue.

        1. One of my Lucas Rocco titles was ‘Death on the Pont Noir’ (ie – black bridge – the series is set in France). One reviewer spelled it ‘Death on the Pinot Noir’, which didn’t have quite the same ring…
          Adrian.

    2. Hi, Michael. You’re right – we’re like actors being asked at an audition if we can ride a horse. Of course we say ‘YES’!

      I agree there’s a rhythm about titles (quite apart from when we’re asked what our latest book is, it’s nice to have it trip off the tongue! But that aside, if it sounds clunky, it doesn’t quite go, does it?

      1. Adrian, I couldn’t agree more. I think all titles should have something that’s easy to speak — it becomes easy to remember, like that earworm melody from the radio you can’t get rid of. Even the longest titles can ideally be given a shorthand meme, if you will, that will stick in the brain.

        1. Now, wouldn’t that be great if your title really became an earworm to the extent that everybody had to go out and buy it! (Okay – steady, boy – fantasising a bit here…)

          Interestingly, looking at your book cover, the word GAMBIT stands out far more the ‘Venusian’ (maybe that was the result of clever planning?). As long as people remember that one word, at least they will always be able to find it in listings.

  12. Our primary job as thriller writers is to write rich, compelling, illuminating stories. Marketing and branding come second. And if you’re going to write a series, there’s no question that a unifying title is an important marketing and branding tool.

    Based on my experience, I would say that your goal should be to choose one that catches peoples’ attention, captures the spirit of your books, and links them together in readers’ minds. Although I’d like to claim credit for coming up with the idea of the Hunt series titles for the military thrillers I write with Don Mann, I can’t.

    Don and I sold the series concept to Mulholland/Little Brown based on the manuscript we had written for the first book, Hunt the Wolf. When it came time to write the second book in the series, I proposed a list of titles that had no connection to Hunt the Wolf. To my mind, the unifying concept was that the books dealt with the ripped-from-the-headlines adventures of a special group of Team 6 Navy SEALs called Black Cell. It was our editor John Parsley, who thought we could go further, and link the books through the titles.

    Since the second book was set primarily in Libya and dealt with the search for the remnants of Omar Gaddafi’s nuclear and chemical weapons program, Hunt the Scorpion seemed like a natural fit. It has proved to be a wise choice, as sales continue to grow from book to book. The fifth book in the series, which comes out next week is set in Turkey and Syria and is called Hunt the Fox.

    1. Interesting display, J.L. Putting aside the dubious use of some titles, I doubt some of these images (ie – Backwoods Tramp)would get the go-ahead these days!

        1. Michael. Fascinating procedure in building up the cover… a sort of multi-tasking in picture form.
          Great stuff.
          Adrian

        2. Back in the day there was very little if any contact with cover artists…I didn’t see the artwork until it was a done deal…and wondered at times if the artist had bothered to read the book. Lately I have had the good fortune to work closely with cover artists who are open to input and willing to throw ideas back and forth during the process. It was great fun working with Jason Smith on CHASING CHARLIE CHAN and thought I would share the experience…so here is a post from a few years back:http://jlabramo.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-evolution-of-book-cover.html

      1. Have to admire the publicists who came up with tag lines like TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES-SHE’S NO ANGEL, WHEN IT CAME TO LOVING-HE KNEW WHICH DAISY TO PICK and SAM SPADE SEARCHED EACH ARTICLE OF THE GIRL’S CLOTHING (along with the scantily clothed damsels) to promote sales of classic novels. One can only wonder what Thomas Hardy would have thought.

  13. What a fantastic thread. I have recently dealt with this issue firsthand; not just crafting a compelling title, which of course we all struggle with, but deciding whether to stick with a theme. I write a globe-trotting suspense series with an X-Files-esque twist, where my protagonists investigate a new mystery each time out that might or might not have a paranormal/supernatural resolution. My first three novels had two-word titles that all alluded to the antagonist: The Summoner, The Egyptian, The Diabolist. For the fourth novel (published May 1), The Shadow Cartel, we angsted quite a bit over whether to stay with the same theme. We couldn’t find a suitable two-word title, so in the end we went with a three-word title that referred to an organization, rather than the antagonist. Not a huge leap, I know, but still a break from the mold. The question we debated was whether it was more important to stay the course with the title theme, or use the most compelling title we could come up with. In the end, of course, the latter won out. I’ll report back once sales are in!

    1. Layton. Good title. We all know that cartels are usually not a good thing (except, perhaps, for the cartel), and Shadow merely adds to the feel of intrigue. I’m sure people who enjoy the first books won’t worry about the slightly different take of the third title.
      Good luck and may all your sales be Xtremely huge.
      Adrian

  14. I think this is the one of the best and most lively discussions ever!
    I’ll be talking title creation with the writing group a host this coming weekend and shall point them here in the meanwhile!

    How’s this for hopeless? I wrote my piece about titles (and I’m super lucky that mine have always been accepted by my publisher so they are all my titles) and completely forgot about book six. It’s only the one up for The Ngaio Marsh Best Crime Novel award this year! How’d I forget? (Let’s blame moving house next week and the subsequent packing and general chaos.)

    Book six started life as nonamebyte and after MUCH consultation with the Admins and friends and me explaining to everyone I came across that the book was about information and misinformation … I finally settled on DATABYTE. I think it might even be one of my favorite titles and really captures this book.

    1. Well, Cat, congratulations on being up for the NM award – that’s definitely something to share! (And, as I discovered last year, moving house means the brain gets emptied all to easily – usually way before most of the boxes).

      I’ve just started book No 3 in a series, and so far haven’t got a definite title in mind – although I’m more concerned at the moment with getting the first few chapters out of the wood and onto the page, and seeing how it goes. But spurred on by this discussion and the excellent comments, I decided I should at least try to find one that fitted rather than simply calling it ‘No 3’ until I hit THE END.

      Then, this morning, I got distracted by a couple of ideas for chapters or scenes later in the book (I rarely write a book in order), but had to get them down before I forgot.

      So it’s title on hold at the moment. But it will come to me.

      Eventually.

      Adrian

      1. Thank you Adrian!

        I’m trying not to let the next Byte novel take hold of me completely until this packing/moving craziness is over. Titles are floating around in my head – but currently we have ‘Byte for Caoilfhionn’ as the working title because two new characters were suggested by my lovely 16 year old daughter.
        Doesn’t help me much really – it’s still early days in the writing process and I have no real clue what the story will be about (apart from a couple of bodies in odd places).

        Good luck on your title hunt!

        Cat

  15. What a great thread. I’m playing catch up since my new mystery series (SEE ALSO MURDER: A MARJORIE TRUMAINE MYSTERY)debuted this week and I’ve only been able to drop in a couple of times. Interesting timing, too. Looks like marketing and publicity are not keen on the title I chose for book #2 in the series. So, I’ve given them (and my editor) a few alternatives. I’ve had a few people ask me if that bothers me…and, well, no not all. I’m happy my publisher cares enough to consider the future impact on my books and has a long term vision for my series. I’ve been in situations where publicity and marketing didn’t acknowledge that my books existed, much less want to change a title. I think this is all part of the traditional publishing process, and I welcome it heartily. And I’m so glad cover art came into this conversation. A consistent image, brand, is really important–as long as it’s the same, but different. The basis for all series books…

    1. Good point, Larry. I’ve had the same question many times, mostly from unpublished writers who express varying shades of outrage that a publisher might not use ‘our’ title’. I got used to title changes when writing magazine fiction, so if I didn’t want to be paid or published, all I had to do was dig my heels in and be confrontational. What they don’t realise (and it’s the same in book publishing) is that there are lots of others queuing up to take our place, and you have to be pragmatic about these things.

      As for cover images it’s pretty much the same thing. I’m very lucky to be with two publishers who ask for my input and ideas, but I know of a couple of big authors who get one view of their proposed cover – and that’s it.

      Like you say, the image brand is important, too, because it can help the book stand out in a crowd even if one can’t at first glance read the title.
      Adrian

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