A Book By Any Other Name

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about how book titles can make a difference in what people choose to read.

Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest. Kathleen’s newest book in the series, Dressed to Kill, will be released in the UK on August 1, 2019 and in the US on November 1, 2019.


There will soon be a 4th book in the Mary McGill canine mystery series and, after much discussion between the author and the editing staff of Severn House, the title chosen is Dressed to Kill. It is, I think, a good title. It says a lot about the book in only three words. Or, at least, it is supposed to.

Book titles, like book covers, are designed to entice the reader to pick it up, to look at the blurb on the back, to crack open its cover and read a little of the 1st chapter, then, hopefully, carry the book up to the front of the store to the check out counter. Consequently, the title is chosen with care.

You can usually tell a genre book by the title. Cozy mysteries titles are often play on words and have kill, murder or death in the title. A dead giveaway. (I couldn’t resist). A thriller might have something a little darker like “Dark River Rising”. A very good thriller, by the way. Dick Francis was a master of the one-word title, but they always told you something about the book, only not until you were well into it. Romances are easy to spot, their titles almost always reflect the story and, of course, the rocky road to romance. Mainstream fiction is a little harder. Remember The Secret Life of Bees? I would never have guessed what the book was about from that title, or To Kill A Mockingbird, either. But the titles alone might make you take a second look. Then there is The Book Thief. You had to pick up that one, if only to find out who was stealing what books. If you started to read, oh my goodness, you couldn’t put it down. If the goal of a title is to get the reader to pick up the book and explore further, these did the trick.

But what about titles that aren’t so intriguing? If you had never heard of Oliver Twist or Charles Dickens, would you pick it up, or just say, who’s he and push it aside. Or Brat Farrar? I had already read other Josephine Tey’s books and liked her writing when I first picked it up. It’s one of my favorites but I’m not sure, if, in this era of thousands of books to choose from, I would have judging by the title alone. What a treasure I would have missed. Or, Little Women? Is that an intriguing title? The book is but is the title enough to capture a huge audience in this era of intense competition? They aren’t doing anything that sounds interesting, at least not according to the title. I wonder how many people who have read the book and loved it would pick it up today if they knew nothing about it.

Which brings me back to Dressed to Kill. Those three words tell you it’s a mystery, a traditional or cozy one. Hopefully, you will wonder how someone dresses to kill and will pick it up to find out. I’ll give you a hint. It’s Halloween. Not enough? Well, then. Someone dressed as a clown has a gun and doesn’t seem to  mind using it, at least not while he robs the bank. A woman is dead, Dan Dunham, Chief of Police of little Santa Louisa, is on the floor, shot, and the clown isn’t finished.  But Mary and her cocker Millie are on the case, determined to find who shot their beloved Dan. They just might do it, if they don’t end up on the receiving end of a bullet.

Hope you like the title. Book is available for pre-order and you can read the first chapter here.