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My personal book purchases are almost always based on author. Either I buy books by favorite authors, books by intriguing people I’ve met at conferences or by authors recommended by writer friends. So titles and covers don’t play into my purchases much, but I do have some preferences and pet peeves about titles.

One thing that bugs me (and don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed many books with these titles) is the mass repetition of titles in the romance genre. Just a half-hearted search has turned up loads of books with variants of “ideal/perfect” and “bride/wife”:

  • THE IDEAL BRIDE (a fun romp of a trad Regency by Nonnie St. George and a historical by Stephanie Laurens)
  • A/THE PERFECT BRIDE (Samantha James, Jo Ann Ferguson, Sheila Walsh, Eileen Putnam, Jasmine Cresswell)
  • AN IDEAL WIFE (Betty Neels, Mary Balogh)
  • THE PERFECT WIFE (Lynsay Sands, Shari McDonald, Jane Goodger, Victoria Alexander, Mary Burton)

These titles are just so unmemorable (not that the stories are, necessarily). But maybe there’s just something so intriguing about this combination of concepts that keeps these books flying off the shelves. Ditto with all the Regencies with titles including “London Season”. Still, I worry that sameness of titles connotes sameness of stories. I’d rather see more attempts at original titles (while fully recognizing that the authors might not have had a choice in the matter).

Another pet peeve is titles that are misleading. The worst offender I can think of is a book titled CAPTAIN CUPID CALLS THE SHOTS, by Elisabeth Fairchild. Between the cute title and the rather insipid cover, no one could guess that the story involves a hero with post-war traumatic stress!

I rather like Jean Ross Ewing/Julia Ross’s titles, though I find them amusing in a way. THE SEDUCTION, THE WICKED LOVER, NIGHT OF SIN, GAMES OF PLEASURE are titillating titles with their hint of the forbidden, though the stories are more psychological than the titles might imply and the innate message (as in all good sensual romances) is the healing and cleansing power of loving sex. And the covers are so elegant and luscious!

OK, now to titles I’ve loved. Some of Mary Jo Putney’s: THE RAKE AND THE REFORMER, THE ROGUE AND THE RUNAWAY. They just evoke conflict and adventure and have a nice rhythm. “R” is a sexy letter, too, though maybe as a Risky Regency, I’m a sucker for that particular alliteration. 🙂

Loretta Chase’s Regencies had some memorable titles. VISCOUNT VAGABOND and THE DEVIL’S DELILAH. More alliteration (!) but these are also fun, as are her stories. I also like MISS WONDERFUL and MR. IMPOSSIBLE.

I’ve been fairly lucky myself in having some say in my titles. How about the rest of you Riskies? Have you had to give up a favorite title, or fight to keep it?

As readers, what sort of titles turn you off, or compel you to buy the book?

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, a Romantic Times Top Pick!

Hi, I’m Susanna, and I have trouble with titles.

Not the aristocratic kind. I’ve spent enough time reading and writing the Regency over the past decade that how to speak of dukes, earls, and their relations no longer mystifies me. No, I struggle to name my books.

I’ve now sold four manuscripts, and I’ve yet to have a single one go on sale wearing the first working title to grace my hard drive’s work-in-progress file.

The first book I wrote (the second I sold) began life as Lucy and Mr. Wright. In its first draft, it was a traditional Regency, and the hero was a wealthy but untitled gentleman. Upon further consideration, I promoted James to baronet and renamed the book Lady Wright. Then I realized I wanted to bump James yet higher on the totem pole, so he became James Wright-Gordon, Viscount Selsley. Unfortunately this meant no more clever puns on “Wright,” so I went with The Inconvenient Bride. Years later, as I prepared to submit it to Carina, I decided the title needed a little more oomph and changed it to A Marriage of Inconvenience.

When I started my next manuscript, I was still hung up on those trad-Regency-style titles, so I called it Anna and the Sergeant. However, I quickly realized it just wasn’t a trad story and switched to Soldier’s Lady. Which isn’t a bad title, but it didn’t say, “Get your forbidden star-crossed cross-class lovers here!” quite as loudly as I wanted it to. Hence, The Sergeant’s Lady.

Carina published both those books under the titles I used for submission–possibly because I’d had so long to think them over that I’d actually come up with something good. With my next two sales, my editor’s acceptance email basically read: “Congratulations! We love your book! Your title? NSM. Here’s a worksheet to fill out so we can work together to find something better.”

My November 5 release began life as The General’s Mouse. The hero, Jack, marries the heroine, Elizabeth, upon minimal acquaintance to fulfill a deathbed promise to his best friend. At the time he isn’t seeing her at her best, and he glumly reflects that he’s married a mouse. The rest of the book is all about proving that his so-called mouse has a mighty roar. Clever? Maybe. Based on the title alone, does it sound like a cute kid’s fantasy book about a talking mouse who befriends one of history’s great commanders? Absolutely.

So I brainstormed with my critique partners and filled out the title worksheet. Carina chose one of my suggestions, An Infamous Marriage, which I fully acknowledge is much better than my first choice.

Just this month Carina acquired my first-ever novella. (It took several tries, but eventually my muse accepted that stories can come in sizes other than 90,000 words.) It’s an interracial romance set in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Vittoria in 1813, where some British soldiers made fortunes by plundering the captured French baggage train. The plot revolves around a particularly fine ruby necklace my recently widowed heroine is trying to conceal from the soldiers surrounding her so she can go home to England, sell it secretly, and use the proceeds to buy a happy, secure life for herself and her young son.

At first, I called it Widow’s Fortune. But I soon decided that was too prosaic and changed it to Far Above Rubies, which I thought sounded particularly evocative. It comes from Proverbs 31:10, “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” I saw it as both a literal reference to how the hero cherishes the heroine and a symbol for the characters’ dreams of a better life and how they’re able to fulfill them together.

The editorial team, however, thinks it sounds more like a fantasy than a historical…and I figure they’re the experts, so it’s back to the title worksheet for me!

I’ve come to a place of acceptance where I don’t expect my first idea or two to work. In fact, my current ideas in various stages of brainstorming or drafting go by Home Run Blast from the Past (time travel!), Hell, Frozen Over (a winter survival tale), and The One With the Battle of New Orleans (which opens at–wait for it–the Battle of New Orleans). Now I just have to think of something presentable before they go anywhere near my editor’s inbox…

Over to you–what makes a title good or bad? What are some of your favorites and least favorites?

I just got the second proof copy of the Print-on-Demand version of Lady Dearing’s Masquerade. The first copy had a few problems, which I’ve fixed and this copy looks great! Even though I believe e-books are real books, having a copy I can hold in my hands is still really, really cool.

So now I am looking at this proof copy. Susanna’s post last week,  Trouble with Titles reminded me of how I’ve been struggling with a title for my balloonist story. The connection: I’d be delighted to give away this copy in exchange for some help brainstorming.

Note: this is just brainstorming–I’m going to pick a winner at random, not based on who gives the best title advice. I won’t necessarily use any of the names we come up with.  I still have a few months’ work to finish the story, so the Perfect Title Fairy might still deliver.

Just tell me what you think of my ideas so far and let me know if any new ones come to you.

To give you an idea of the story, here’s the tiny blurb I currently have up on my website, which sounds kind of trite (quick pitches are another thing I struggle with).

My hero, Gil, is a Waterloo veteran turned aeronaut. Not trusting the future, he lives for the moment, while my heroine, Emma, is a village schoolteacher so weighed down by past tragedies she has forgotten how to enjoy life. Together they deal with ghosts from their pasts, a saboteur and a passion that won’t be denied.

My initial working title was Heaven Sent. He crashes into the meadow behind her cottage and changes her life. Clever, huh?  Not so much. There are at least eight books on Amazon with that title, mostly romance in various sub-genres but also one book that was religious in nature.

I decided I was not in love with that title anyway.

So I took out my journal and trusty blue gel pen and started brainstorming:

The Angel and the Aeronaut — too traditional Regency!  Too much sex in this book for that title.

Then I thought of playing with Flight of …. something.  Flight of Fancy?  Flight of Passion? But I also found a few books with titles like that.

OK, maybe The Height of something?  Folly? Passion? Desire?

Or something to do with rogues–my hero seems like a bit of a rogue and rogues are sexy, right?  Rescued by a Rogue?  Or does that sound too Regency again?

That’s where my brainstorming petered out.  So for the chance to win the final proof copy of Lady Dearing’s Masquerade, let me know what you think of these title ideas.  New ideas warmly welcomed!

I’ll announce the winner next Friday.


One of my Regency hobby-horses is the use of titles.  I’m afraid it makes me crazy if an author spends the time to write a novel set in our era and neglects the proper titles for her aristocratic characters.  Indeed, an author who’s writing I love has been known to make me wild by getting titles wrong book after book.  Come on, honey.  You should have figured this out by now.
I have had this rant before on other sites, so I will not take too much space with the ranting and, rather, devote this post with some advice about how to get it right.  It’s not that difficult.

Let’s start out with what not to do:  A duke is never my lord or your lordship.  He’s not Lord anything.  Most frequently a title is not the same as a last name and they are never interchangeable.  Earls, marquesses, and viscounts are never Lord Surname and certainly never Lord Given Name.  Dukes, as we have established, are never Lord anything.  Last names and titles, if different, are not interchangeable when addressing an aristocrat.  There’s only one right way to do it.

Now, on to that right way.
A duke is “your grace” or “his grace.”  The same goes for his duchess.  His title is “Duke of Title.” For example, Peregrine Cavendish is the Duke of Devonshire.  He is never Lord Devonshire or Lord Cavendish.  His peers may call him Duke rather than Your Grace.
An earl is Lord Title, never Lord Surname or Lord Given Name.  For example, John Montague is the Earl of Sandwich and is addressed at Lord Sandwich..  Friends might refer to him as Sandwich.  His wife is the Countess of Sandwich and is called Lady Sandwich.  In a few cases, such as Earl Spencer, the title and surname are identical.
A Viscount is also Lord Title.  Edward Pellew is Viscount Exmouth and would be addressed as Lord Exmouth.  His wife is Lady Exmouth.

Barons are also referred to as Lord Title.  Barons, more frequently than other titles, may have titles that are the same as their surname.  For example, William Hawke is Baron Hawke and is called Lord Hawke. His wife is Lady Hawke (and may or may not be played by Michelle Pfeiffer). This is not always the case, however, and you should be sure that, whichever you choose, your title remains consistent.

So these are the basics.  It goes on from there.  Oldest sons of dukes, marquesses and earls usually take one of their father’s lesser titles as a courtesy title (if one is available) and would, thus, be Marquess, Earl, or Viscount of Whatever.
Younger sons of dukes and marquesses have the courtesy title of Lord, but they use their first names.  Lord Peter Wimsey is Lord Peter, never Lord Wimsey or Lord Denver (his older brother is the Duke of Denver).  And, moreover, his wife would be Lady Peter.  Cool, huh?
Younger sons of earls, viscounts, and barons are just “honorable” and are usually addressed as “Mr.”
Daughters of peers are Lady Given Name regardless of their birth order.  In Pride and Prejudice, Lady Anne Darcy and Lady Catherine deBourgh are the daughters of an Earl (which one, we’ll never know).  This applies to daughters of dukes, marquesses, and earls.  It does not, however, apply to the daughters of viscounts and barons.  Like the sons, they are just honorables and addressed as “Miss.”
Have written these down, I realize they don’t look as easy as I may have lead you to believe.  However, I have a couple of web sites for you that will make it much easier.
Laura Wallace created and maintains the fantastically useful British Titles of Nobilitywhich takes on all this stuff and more in an easy-to-understand layout.  If you bookmark this site, you need never wonder if you’re using the right title.  For something not as detailed or exhaustive (just the basics, ma’am), I give you the table of honorifics from the Jane Austen Information Page at The Republic of Pemberley.
So, there it is.  Yes, it’s a little convoluted but if you love your subject and your era, and you’re going to write about it, it’s not too much to ask that you get the details that are easily available to you. Right?  If you don’t know it, look it up.  Or ask a friend who does.
Here’s the final question.  Am I alone in being driven wild by misuse of titles?  Does this make you tear your hair out or are you able to overlook it and get on with the story?
Posted in Research | Tagged | 12 Replies

A few weeks ago, we talked about new covers for electronically reissued Regencies. In a private chat with my local writer buddies, one of them suggested I also consider changing titles.

I’ve always thought of LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE more as a Regency historical than a traditional Regency, both because of its length (90,000 words versus the 75,000 my traditional Regencies usually ran) and because it takes the heat up a notch from my earlier books.

So I’m brainstorming ideas for a new title that sounds a bit less like a traditional Regency. I’d love to hear your suggestions. I can’t guarantee that I’ll use any of them, but I will send a copy of the paperback version of this book to a commenter chosen at random.

Comment all week long, and I’ll pick a winner next Saturday.

To stimulate your creativity, here’s the back cover blurb:

Hearts in Hiding

She became the ton’s most notorious widow after kissing a costumed stranger at a masquerade. Her reputation was destroyed overnight in a swirl of spiteful rumor. Shunned by polite society and unable to forget years of a desperately unhappy marriage, Olivia, Lady Dearing now hides her heart where no man will ever find it. Though she fills her life with children she has taken in from London’s Foundling Hospital, a stranger’s seductive voice haunts her dreams.

He has given up hope of ever finding her, but two years later, the empty place in his heart still aches for the beauty he kissed at the masquerade. Sir Jeremy Fairhill, a widower with painful secrets of his own, devotes himself to the cause of the Foundling Hospital. When he learns that an infamous widow has taken some of the children into her own home, duty alone compels him to investigate. But passion will soon engulf them both, leading to a disastrous scandal—or love.

Comment away! Funny as well as serious ideas welcome.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 16 Replies
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