Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Right Colour

By R.J. Harlick

How do you choose your titles? Put a bunch of words in a hat and pull them out at random? Use a title generator? Does your publisher do it? Do you find it easy or hard? Do you start with a working title, or just start writing? Has the title ever stayed the same?

I sometimes think that coming up with a title is one of the hardest parts of writing a book. I even make it easy, because I always use a colour in the title. But then again, perhaps, it makes it harder, because I need to first come up with the colour before finding the words that work well with the colour and also reflect the storyline of the book.
I will admit I am not the first mystery writer to use colour in a title. John D. MacDonald was the first. Since I loved his Travis McGee series and I love colour, I decided to use it in my Meg Harris series titles.  Coming up with the colour was easy for the first few books. I had the whole spectrum to choose from. But now that I have used up most of the main colours, it is becoming more challenging. Purple, as in Purple Palette for Murder, was the latest colour used.  Yellow and brown and black are still available. But since my publisher designs the cover around the title colour, I doubt I will ever use brown or black. I don’t fancy either a brown or black cover. 

I generally decide on the colour close to the outset of a book’s writing. Coming up with the actual title is an entirely different matter. For much of the writing of the book, it is generally known as ‘the red book, the green book, etc.’. As the writing progresses, I maintain a list of possible titles, dropping and adding as I go along.  Often it isn’t until close to the end of the first draft that I finally choose one. I try to use one that reflects some aspect of the story and hints at its murder mystery content using such words as ‘death, dying, murder, etc.’ 

I use three words not counting articles or prepositions. It was only after I decided on A Green Place for Dying, the 5thbook in the series, that I realized all the titles had three words.  I suspect that subconsciously I liked the flow of three words, plus I felt a shorter title would be easier for the reader to remember.  

Though my publisher has never changed any of my titles, I think that if I had diverged from the three word format, they would have asked me to return to it. On occasion, we’ve had discussions about the use of articles in some of my titles, primarily because of where ‘a’ or ‘the’ place the title in some automated catalogues. But I have generally won these discussions.

I decided to include a photo of all my books and discovered I don’t have copies of the latest printings for the first two books, whose covers have been entirely redone to reflect the colour theme of each book, so Death’s Golden Whisper is now entirely gold and Red Ice for a Shroud is red. Plus the title font etc., has been changed to reflect the later books. My publisher wants a common look for all the Meg Harris mysteries. So when you look at the photo imagine a gold book and a red one. A peek at their Amazon listing will give you their latest look.


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Robin. That's an interesting process for coming up with your titles, and that's also an impressive body of work.

Cathy Ace said...

Thanks Robin - super post about an interesting process. I'm glad it wasn't my turn to be up this week!

Susan C Shea said...

Robin, you're so smart and organized. I generally run around, tearing my hair out, wishing I had a publisher who would help. Title are hard for me!

RJ Harlick said...

Oh, there is a lot of hair pulling, Susan. I just forgot to mention it. Thanks for your comments too, Cathy and Dietrich