24 May 2016

A Rose By Any Other Name ...

I've been so busy getting my house ready for sale (and it just went under contract!), that I jumped at the chance when my friend Sherry Harris offered to do a guest blog in my place today here on SleuthSayers. Sherry is the author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mystery series. Her newest book, All Murders Final!, came out in late April. Take it away, Sherry!

--Barb Goffman                        

A Rose by Any Other Name ...

by Sherry Harris

Which comes first for you, a title or a story? If you change the title, does the story change too? Last Friday I turned in the fourth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series, A Good Day to Buy. Hitting send always makes me feel relieved and nauseated at the same time. An hour later I heard back from my editor. He loved the first chapter, would read the rest over the weekend, and hey, would I have any serious objections to changing the title to the planned title for the fifth book? What?!

I sold the series to Kensington on proposal, which means I came up with story lines and titles before writing the books. When I wrote the proposal, the titles of the first three books were Tagged for Death, Marred Sale Madness, and Murder As Is. Tagged for Death is the only title that stuck. Marred Sale Madness is hard to say so it became Deal or Die, which my editor wasn't crazy about so he came up with The Longest Yard Sale. And Murder As Is became All Murders Final.
When I sent the proposal in for the next two books, the titles were A Good Day to Buy and I Know What You Bid Last Summer. I had very specific plot lines in mind for each story. So when  my editor emailed about wanting to change the title of my next book, I closed my laptop (maybe with a little more force than usual), slightly concerned that the book I just wrote didn't match the proposed title. But my concern soon turned to intrigue. Could I pull it off? Ideas started percolating that might make the title work without massive rewrites. I called, emailed, texted, instant messaged, and sent smoke signals to my friend and freelance editor Barb Goffman. (Just kidding. Barb doesn't do smoke signals.) She came up with a great suggestion that worked perfectly with what I'd been thinking. 

Titles and matching plots are very important to me--especially with a title like I Know What You  Bid Last Summer. I wrote my editor and asked him if I could have the manuscript back. I told him I thought with some tweaks to the book, the plot would go along with the title. He agreed. I rewrote five scenes, and they weren't even complete rewrites, just plugging in a few things and changing a few paragraphs.

When I finished, I was happy, relieved even. The plot for book five is going to have to change, but I didn't really want to write the back-and-forth story (last summer, this summer) that I'd envisioned. We've already scrapped A Good Day to Buy as the title for the fifth book so if anyone has a suggestion for a title where "buy" can be plugged in for "die," let me know. Fair warning--my editor has already rejected Buy, Buy Love and Buy Another Day.

Readers: Do you have a favorite book title?
Writers: Which comes first for you, title or plot?


  1. I used to find I either got a good book or a good title- sounds as if you've gotten both!
    And congratulations to Barb on selling her house- that is always a big relief.

  2. Janice, meshing the two is difficult!

  3. I've had several great titles with no plots to go with them. It's frustrating. But I'm keeping those titles on a list, with the hope that one day a corresponding plot will arise. (Usually with me, I come up with the plot and then the right title comes along.)

  4. Ooh, I have a title idea for you: Buy, Buy, Baby, which could be about some things (babies?) being sold by some shady vendors and the amateur sleuth who puts a stop to it... Too dark?

    Or it could be about a baby doll that is purchased at a garage sale that comes to life and terrorizes the town? Hmm. Probably not the right genre.

    It could be about a baby doll that is purchased at a garage sale that was sold by accident because ...

    I'm full of ideas for you, Sherry!

  5. I love it, Barb! I'd better get busy writing all those stories!

  6. I have to admit I like the John Floydesque title The Longest Yard Sale, but sometimes I think editors screw up names. I think A Good Day to Buy and I Know What You Bid Last Summer are genius. So is Buy, Buy Love!

    Funny, I think I do better naming titles for others than I do my own.

    Only once do I recall coming up with the title first, then ages later a title came to me. I like titles that address more than one issue, such as Under Pressure, which has multiple meanings within the context of the story. The title Untenable carries a wordplay echo of the plot, where the word TEN figures prominantly. (Without realizing it, I seem to settle upon Un- titles, e.g, Unspeakable, Unstoppable, Under Pressure).

    In answer to your question, you’re already too sharp for me. Buy Hard sounds too contrived and doesn’t Live and Let Buy? Maybe Buy Another Day?

  7. Never Say Buy, Curl Up and Buy, Buy by the Sword. You'll have to think of the plots, Sherry.


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