You might have noticed that I’ve been a bit lax with my blog posts lately. The reason is, I’ve been using every available opportunity to write – and the first in my new cosy mystery series about Flora Lively is coming on nicely.
But I’m not making any inroads into the sticky problem of a title. ‘Oh, come on, Jo,’ I hear you cry, ‘It’s not that difficult to think of a title!’ No, it isn’t. In fact, I’ve thought of loads of titles! The problem is, this is the first in a series in a new genre for me and I want to be sure of a couple of things:
- The title has to let people know it’s a cosy mystery
- The title has to be something that will lend itself to a series of similar or recognisable titles. For example, Edie Clare’s Never … series (Never Buried, Never Kissed Goodnight etc) is brilliant at this.
I’m toying with the idea of going with Flora Lively and the … for each book, like Agatha Raisin, for example, or Harry Potter. If I do this, the title of the book(s) has to be something which follows on from this smoothly. Or I may not use that, I might just have the title, then the subtitle of A Flora Lively Mystery: Book 1 etc.
Other points to consider (come on, stay with me – I’m relying on you):
- She’s not a private investigator, just someone who happens upon mysteries and deaths and puzzles, so I want the title to reflect that too.
- There will be humour in the books but it’s not a comedy as such.
- I’m not averse to obscure titles – catchy is good – but I want it to let the reader have an idea of what they’re getting.
- I don’t mind using words like mystery, murder, death, the case of etc, but don’t want it to go too dark.
- I don’t mind a motif – flowers, say, or something else – provided it has enough in it to run on to at least 10 titles
Here’s a very brief (and not very sophisticated) synopsis of Book 1:
Flora Lively’s surrogate grandmother Grace moved into the Maples Retirement Village (I’m not glued to the name The Maples) after the death of her husband six months ago. She was settled and happy until the arrival of the mysterious Mr Felix, who Grace swears is a boy she knew as a child when she was a member of The Joan of Arc club at boarding school. Flora knows there is something Grace isn’t telling her – why is she so afraid of this man? What on earth could she have done to him to believe he is hell-bent on revenge? When Grace’s pet terrier dies in odd circumstances, Grace is even more convinced she’s being terrorized, but Flora has other ideas. In fact, she’s not sure Mr Felix is anything other than a sweet old man with an unfortunate habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One thing’s for sure – the residents of the Maples are scared of something, and it isn’t just being moved to the dreaded third floor for ‘extra care’. A couple of canine deaths do not a mystery make, but when a third floor resident falls to his death, Flora has good reason to be suspicious. Convinced the Captain’s death was no accident, she sets out to investigate.
Well, as a synopsis it’s pretty rubbish (it’s my first attempt), but you get the picture. The titles I’ve had so far are:
The Joan of Arc Club
Murder at the Maples
Death at the Maples
Flora Lively and the Maples Mystery (I like this but hate the name Maples in this context)
Flora Lively and the Mystery at the Maples
Over to you – what do you think? New ideas welcomed, comments on existing ideas welcomed – basically, anything welcomed! I’m struggling with this, and I find it hard to connect with a book until it has a definitive title.
- Naming Your Cozy Mystery (janetboyer.typepad.com)
- The Next Big Thing (joannegphillips.wordpress.com)
May 14, 2013 at 11:55 am
I love Flora Lively and the Mystery at the Maples. You could also have Flora Lively and the Mystery of Maples or Flora Lively Investigates: Murder at the Maples. You could then use Flora Lively Investigates for other books and just add an appropriate subtitle to them 🙂 xx
May 14, 2013 at 7:10 pm
Thanks Lynsey 🙂 I like Flora Lively Investigages, but you don’t think it makes her sound a bit like a PI? x
May 14, 2013 at 11:58 am
Hello, I’m glad to hear you’ve been having a productive writing time 🙂
Is Flora’s grandmother the same Grace who is in your mothers novel? Gives you a ready-made back story 😉
I’m not keen on ‘The Maples’ either, try a different tree maybe. And I’d vote for ‘Flora Lively and the…’ instead of anything else for the titles. Have you thought about incorporating tea into the title at all? That just radiates cosiness *sips vanilla red bush tea*.
Good luck, it’s such a difficult task.
May 14, 2013 at 7:11 pm
On the back of that, I’ve just changed Grace’s name to Joy! 😉 I’m not fond of the Maples – Marina’s Cherry Tree is nice though. Funny you should mention tea (spooky, in fact) as I’m planning to have a tea cup on the cover! x
May 14, 2013 at 9:29 pm
Well tea is just awesome 🙂 Haha, and Joy is good, but I don’t suppose she has much of that…
May 14, 2013 at 11:58 am
Alternatively, you could use The Flora Lively Mysteries 🙂 xx
May 14, 2013 at 12:54 pm
I like what Lynsey suggested. But it would be helpful to give readers an idea in which order to read the books, as I suspect that even if each episode starts and ends within that book, Flora might ‘grow’ and meet several people during her journey, who may (or may not) make their appearance again later.
I would go for something like:
The Flora Lively Mysteries 1: Murder at the Maples
And the for your second book:
The Flora Lively Mysteries 2: Feline Deaths
(or whatever topic you deal with 🙂 )
May 14, 2013 at 7:13 pm
Thanks Martina, you’re the expert at this with the Broken Heart Refuge series (kick me if I got that wrong) out soon. Actually, I like The Flora Lively Mysteries idea – would you put it first in the title, then? x
May 14, 2013 at 7:24 pm
Yes Jo, I would put The Flora Lively Series first, and then the title next or below it.
You got it right with my series. Well remembered! The way I’m titling mine is:
The Broken Heart Refuge 1 – Betrayal
The Broken Heart Refuge 2 – Hope
and so on.
I personally think that the title of the series should go first because imagine when readers find your books on Amazon, the ones belonging to the series will all come one after the other and readers will notice that there is a second book, and a third one and so on.
Obviously Jo, you have to go for what works best for you. I love lots of the other suggestions made here!
May 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm
Jo, just a thought. Why not drop the ‘Flora’ and just make it ‘Lively Mysteries’ (thus punning on the cozy word ‘Lively’) – then follow this with a colon and the name of the current puzzle.
So how about book 1 – ‘Lively Mysteries: Old Dogs and New Tricks’ …?
OK, now I’m having a cuppa 🙂
May 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm
‘Lively Mysteries: Old Dogs and New Tricks’ oooh good one!
May 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm
I’m rubbish at titles too but I do like John’s ‘Lively Mysteries’ as a linking element.
Are you concerned about length of title and fitting it on the dreaded thumbnail-sized cover? If so, something short plus subtitle might be a good option.
May 14, 2013 at 7:14 pm
Interesting idea 😉 Love the Old Dogs reference. Yes, Pauline, the title would need to be broken up on the cover – I don’t know about you but I’ve noticed longer titles creeping into Amazon lately: folks trying to ram keywords into titles I guess. x
May 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm
Hmmm, interesting… If all the books are going to deal with the Maples retirement place then it makes sense to go with something along the lines of Murder at the Maples (which has a nice ring to it.) But if the other books are going to move beyond that then I would choose something using Flora Lively, like (as a commenter posted), The Flora Lively Mysteries or the Flora Lively Cases.
I think the Joan of Arc Club is a really good title, but only if all the books will somehow relate to that club….
I don’t think I was much help :p but good luck!
May 14, 2013 at 10:25 pm
Thanks Layla – your opinion is always helpful 🙂 I’m liking The Flora Lively Mysteries more and more … 🙂
May 14, 2013 at 1:12 pm
Oh wow, I LOVE the sound of this series and can’t wait to read it. You’re so prolific, Jo. Very impressive.
I think ‘The Joan of Arc Club’ is your best title there for the first book. The J of A reference doesn’t need to be used for the other books as it’s the stand-alone title (the series title will presumably add to it, so you’d have ‘The Joan of Arc Club: A Flora Lively Case’. Joan of Arc is very SEO friendly (it will pull in all kinds of new readers for you) and carries more intrigue than the others. I’d worry that the others sound like younger fiction as they put me in mind of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books.
I’d be cautious about losing the ‘Flora’ bit and shortening to just ‘Lively Mysteries’ as that doesn’t give the reader a sense of the character, and Flora’s character will be a key part of the success of the series. I bought a book recently solely on the strength of the character name in the series title and the setting (a Kate Shackleton Mystery – set in 1920s Leeds). Readers are buying in to Flora and everything she stands for – and your brilliant choice of name gives huge clues as to who and what she is. It’s very attractive. Lively could be misinterpreted as just being the adverb – it’s a lively mystery, folks!
I’m really looking forward to seeing how this develops 🙂
May 14, 2013 at 10:27 pm
Thanks Helen! Some really fantastic advice there – I hadn’t even thought of the SEO aspects of the title. And I’m reassured you think it sounds interesting – I was worried the blurb came out a little flat. Yes, my inclination is to keep Flora in the title/subtitle – I think the name works better as a whole. Going to check out the Kate Shacketon Mystery series too 🙂
May 19, 2013 at 9:17 am
I’ve been re-reading all my comments about titles and it occured to me that many of my target readers might be people who loved Nancy Drew as kids 🙂 So maybe tapping into this is a good idea … My latest idea for the title is ‘A Guilty Mind’. So, A Guilty Mind: The Flora Lively Mysteries 1
May 14, 2013 at 1:45 pm
I definitely agree that the full name Flora Lively sounds good rather than just Lively. It immediately makes me think of a cosy mystery – great name. For me I prefer the Joan of Arc club, but I don’t know if that’s because I’m not really a cosy mystery Agatha Raisin reader. I think the other names tell you what to expect. Not sure if any of this helps.
May 19, 2013 at 9:19 am
Thanks Rachel, it is definitely helpful to know what everyone thinks, even those who don’t read cosies 🙂 I tried an Agatha Raisin recently but I didn’t get on with it, although it had more to do with the writing style than the story itself 🙂
May 14, 2013 at 2:06 pm
I would go for either:
Flora Lively: Mystery at the Maples or Flora Lively Investigates: Mystery at the Maples.
I would avoid words like murder and death as you’ve said the novel has comic elements to it too and tells the reader that the story is about solving a mystery rather than one murder.
May 19, 2013 at 9:33 am
Thanks Steph, that’s a good point. And it is more about that, so shouldn’t have murder in the title. 🙂
May 19, 2013 at 10:39 pm
No problem. I really struggle with titles so I’m sure when I’m trying to brain storm some, I’ll be putting it on my blog to asking for help. Hope you work it out. 🙂
May 14, 2013 at 2:42 pm
So pleased it’s coming along nicely – you know my love for mysteries, so I really look forward to reading this one! Flora Lively is a great name, so I do like the thought of ‘Flora Lively Investigates’ as an overarching series title. I find ‘Murder at the Maples’ a bit of a mouthful, so was wondering if there was another tree you could use. I used to jog past a retirement home called ‘The Saplings’, which I thought was quite ironic, and I’ve also heard of things like ‘Pinewood’, ‘Cherry Tree Lodge’, ‘Yew Tree Manor’ and the like. Anything to make it appear idyllic, right? For cosy titles, I think it’s better to have ‘Mystery’ in the title than Murder. Although Death is ‘allowed’.
May 19, 2013 at 9:37 am
Thanks Marina, I’m really enjoying writing it too – plotting a mystery is so much fun! Love Cherry Tree Lodge 🙂 and the Saplings is so funny! x
May 14, 2013 at 3:03 pm
Flora and the Pucelle’s club ;-P
May 19, 2013 at 9:37 am
I don’t geddit 😉
May 19, 2013 at 11:42 am
Flora and the Joan of Arc’s club 😉
May 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm
Hi Joanne, I read cosy crimes, and I think you need something unique to you. Thing with Maples, it sounds a bit like Marple. What about something like…. ‘A Lively Murder’ Death on the third floor. Then you could use the ‘Lively Murder’ as you key words. Good luck with it.
May 19, 2013 at 9:41 am
Good point, and great to have a comment by a cosy fan (hope you’ll give Flora a try) 😉 You’ve got me thinking with your ‘third floor’ idea. Maples does sound a bit like Marple – I hadn’t thought of that – but maybe it’s not necessarily a bad thing; subconsciously this connection to the greatest of all cosy mysteries could work in Flora’s favour. Death on the Third Floor … I’m adding that to my list xxx
May 14, 2013 at 7:36 pm
Jo, can you tell us any more about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the dogs? Wondering if that might help determine the title e.g. Death by Dog Biscuit: Flora Lively Investigates. I like the Joan of Arc Club theme because there’s such a lovely contrast between the seriousness and drama of Joan of Arc and the tweeness of turning it into a club. I think Flora Lively needs to be in the title or subtitle at least, again because a nice contrast in the name – Flora sounds elderly and frail, offset by actually being quite Lively. How old is she? We’re all intrigued, you know – you’ve sold a few copies already just by asking this question!
May 19, 2013 at 9:48 am
That’s great to hear you’re intrigued. Flora Lively is in her late twenties, and she is quite a complex character (needs to be to take her through my planned 10 books in the series). The doggie deaths are suspicous, but I don’t want to highlight them too much in the title: Flora Lively and the Canine Catastrophe 😉 There’s quite a fashion for pre-war names amongst younger people at the moment, lots of Nancys, Evas, Alfies, etc (Lulu?) 😉 I want a bit of a vintage theme with the covers and tone of the books too, so that’s why Flora sprung to mind. Actually, I was riding on the funicular railway in Bridgnorth when I got the idea for her, this slip of a girl running a removal company, getting drawn into the lives and problems of the people she moves because she has no real family of her own.
Thanks for your ideas, Debbie – keep em coming! xxx
May 14, 2013 at 7:52 pm
For some reason, I like Murder at the Maples – If I saw that title, I’d pick it up to see what it was about. 🙂
May 19, 2013 at 9:49 am
The only vote for Murder at the Maples so far 😉 Thank you x
May 15, 2013 at 3:09 am
I like Murder at the Maples too. How about “Murder at the Maples” for a title and “A Flora Lively Mystery” for the series?
May 19, 2013 at 9:50 am
And another! Thanks Kathryn – Murder at the Maples: A Flora Lively Mystery was my original idea 😉
May 20, 2013 at 2:16 am
🙂 Then you know what my vote goes for! Good luck with the title …
May 15, 2013 at 1:02 pm
For me I’d use Lively……based on whatever that particular story is about. For example, Lively Murder at the Maple, Lively Attack at the Fete, Lively Theft at the Metropole, etc……
May 19, 2013 at 9:52 am
Thanks Lynda – you prefer the title without Flora in it, then?
May 19, 2013 at 11:32 am
Yes, definitely, and I’d guess more people would look further without Flora. With Flora I think only women would look more.
May 18, 2013 at 10:15 am
I have to say i love the idea of using her name in the title…it could just run and run 😉
May 19, 2013 at 9:53 am
Hi Vicky, I particularly like Flora Lively and the … myself. But it is hard finding things to follow on from the ‘and the’. Maybe Flora Lively Investigates is a good compromise. xxx
May 20, 2013 at 5:10 pm
“Flora Lively’s Dogged Determination” 😉
Though actually once you start to put dogs anywhere in the title though I’d worry about any connotations of dogging (!) with your book keeping company with quite a different sort of book in searches – so maybe better to stick with the Joan of Arc Club as a theme for the title rather than dogs. In any case, I suspect the setting and the history of the mystery is more important than the dogs who feature in it.
You could bring the retirement theme more into the title (might Joan of Arc being mentioned make it sound like a Dan Brown religious-themed thriller?)
How about a play on words with the “Darby and Joan” connotations of old people? – though you might want to check whether that works in the American market first e.g. “The Lively Adventure of Darby and Joan of Arc”.
Although by the sound of it, the Joan of Arc link may not be apparent till the reader’s well into the book, so maybe better to focus on the immediate setting of the Maples. I might actually be tempted to go for Oaks rather than Maples to suggest the age of the residents (grown from the acorns that they were at boarding school!)
Personally, I agree with Helen Hart about keeping “Flora” in the title too. Miss Marple being female didn’t deter buyers – men read her too.
Actually, I’m wondering whether you might do better to wait till you’ve let some beta readers loose on the book and are a bit further down the line (though I’m sure you want to start marketing it asap). A title may well leap out of the book at you/them then, rather than trying to squeeze one out of the synopsis.