What’s in a Title?

titlesYou may have noticed that the titles of the novels in my Street Stories suspense series, Painted Black and Bend Me, Shape Me, are similar to or exactly like the titles of  rock songs popular during my youth.  I carefully chose the titles for several reasons.  In the first place, having titles tied together with a similar theme adds cohesiveness to a book series: the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mysteries come to mind as in M is for Malice and V is for Vengeance.

I thought of 60s and 70s song titles as the consistent element because my protagonist’s father, with whom she has a rocky relationship, would have listened to the songs in his youth.  I doubt whether most people will get this reference, however, because I never tie this fact or the song itself in the book contents.

The titles are chosen primarily because they relate to the main street kid in each book.  Painted Black is about a homeless graffiti artist who paints in shades of black and gray because it reflects the way he sees the world.  Bend Me, Shape Me is about a psychiatrist who twists his patients’ minds to mold them any way he wants to because they are homeless and have no one to stand up for them.

Titles can’t be copyrighted, so there is nothing illegal about using these titles, but some might question my intent.  Am I just lazy or unable to come up with original content?  Leaving aside the fact that I’ve written and published two other books under Deb Donahue with original titles, I’d like to point out that each book is filled with an average of 60,000 words of completely original content.  Surely that outweighs the use of a few words initially coined by others.

Was I hoping that the use of these titles would spark a curiosity that might bring people to read the synopsis and possibly buy the book?  Of course, but what book isn’t titled with that same hope, whether it is based on a famous song title, a hackneyed cliché, or an original inspiration?

Did I think of the possibility that someone searching the internet for information on the song itself might come across my book or its website and click on the link to see what the book was about?  Again, of course. Marketing campaigns are often targeted hoping to produce similar results. SEO linking in online articles blatantly promotes that idea. But since the plotlines and characters in my books have nothing whatsoever to do with the song lyrics, the title by no means unduly influences them to buy the book once they find it.

Do I want to earn money with these books?  I would love to.  Do I expect to get rich doing this?  Never in a million years.  To me, the Street Stories series isn’t about fame or fortune.  I have two goals in mind: to build an enjoyable story for my readers, and to show the humanity behind the invisibility of people without homes.  If either of these happens, I will be thrilled. If BOTH things happen, well, doing the Snoopy dance won’t come close to covering how excited I’ll be.

2 thoughts on “What’s in a Title?

  1. Deb, I loved Painted Black. Reading it brought back lots of memories of Street Links. I was interested in your comments about using song titles for your books. When I was a full time pastor of a church sometimes I would use a book title for the title of my sermon. Other times a particular book title would inspire the theme of an entire sermon. I am also a fan of the Kinsey Milhone alphabet stories. I will be sorry when I get to the last one, “Z”. I have read through “T” so far. Enjoy the day.

    • I’m so glad you liked the book! Street Links was one of the reasons I decided to try moving to Seattle from Chicago. I knew I would really miss working with The Night Ministry but the Street Links program was so similar that I felt confident I had found a good substitute.

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