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related book titles within a series

What do you folks think of authors giving books similar titles within a series?

For instance, Victoria Thompson has a popular series of historicals called the Gaslight Mysteries, featuring the midwife Sarah Brandt and the police detective Frank Malloy in 1920s New York. The first book in the series is Murder on Astor Place, and then the subsequent titles all begin with Murder On... and end in a place name.

I was writing recently about the book Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn. The first book was called Silent in the Grave - a Shakespeare quote and really an awesome title. But from that point it's a bit downhill, and with the fourth book she's given up entirely on the naming system; it's called Dark Road to Darjeeling.

Then we also have series that could perhaps go on forever, as the nomenclature is not complex. For instance, Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series - Magic Bites, Magic Strikes, Magic Burns - you could come up with reasonable titles with the word magic in them probably until the end of time. (Sometimes I snark on this series, like Magic Itches, Magic Drops a Refrigerator On You Magic Tickles.)

So, what related book titles really impressed you? What did you think was problematic? If you wrote a series, would you use related titles?


( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 28th, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC)
I like the idea of related titles, IF they make sense. One example that comes to mind is Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. The book titles so far are Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless, all of which are definitely relevant to the content of the respective books. Sometimes, though, authors get too hung up on their matching titles, and they forget to make sure that the title is somehow relevant to the book. Deanna Raybourn's series, which you mentioned, is a good example: Silent in the Grave made sense, but not the subsequent titles.
Mar. 28th, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC)
Thanks for commenting, christina_reads. I love how similar our icons are!

I agree with you about the Parasol Protectorate and about the Raybourn series - I think sometimes authors paint themselves into a corner, and then it either sounds silly or is nigh-impossible to come up with subsequent titles. The Adult Fairy Tale series is an example of that - Black Thorn, White Rose and Black Swan, White Raven are great titles. Ruby Slippers, Golden Tear on the other hand is a bit of a stretch!
Mar. 28th, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC)
First thought was The Magic Tree House Series I read in primary school. All of its titles followed the "(something) during/at/etc (time of day)" format and I always thought it was so cute that they all involve rhyming or alliteration.

Dinosaurs Before Dark, The Knight at Dawn, Pirates Past Noon, Dogs in the Dead of Night, Leprechaun in Late Winter ...
Mar. 28th, 2011 03:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, those are cute. And there are many ways to describe a time of day, so they won't have to repeat much.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 28th, 2011 03:23 pm (UTC)
Indeed, ashura_oh. I have wondered if a lot of the similar-titles thing is publisher, rather than author driven, as a marketing technique. It's true that similar titles make a new book in a series easy to recognize - a strong benefit if it was a popular one. But it can make the books blur together.

Good call on Harry Potter, too. The main limiting factor there is that if Rowling ever wanted to write about a character OTHER than Harry Potter, that would be tough! Which since she doesn't plan to write more about Harry Potter, is probably somewhere on the horizon.
Mar. 28th, 2011 03:29 pm (UTC)
That's what pseudonyms are for. . . though if she doesn't need the money, nevertheless the publishers do, so -- hmmm. . . .
Mar. 28th, 2011 04:12 pm (UTC)
Yes... in her wikipedia article, though, she said she knew that if she ever wrote under a pseudonym the media would probably know within a few hours and shout it from the rooftops! And she's probably right about that. Fame has its price.
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Mar. 28th, 2011 04:15 pm (UTC)
So true! I would, too, just to see what she did next, and I'm not even an HP fanatic like my roommate. :)
Mar. 28th, 2011 03:19 pm (UTC)
What can be problematic is that when the pattern breaks it sticks out like a sore thumb.

A strict and rigid pattern can get tiresome but it helps when they are at least related.

Dresden Files had two word paronomasia (or pun 0:) titles up to the last one. Which was just titled Changes and boy was he not kidding.
Mar. 28th, 2011 04:18 pm (UTC)
I agree, that's a great point. I think Raybourn could instead have used other Shakespeare quotes, though that would have assumed some literary knowledge on the part of her readers - it would have been more subtle.

The Dresden Files naming convention rocks! Or rocked, at least. :) You could tell it was him, but not what the name of the next book was going to be, if that makes sense.
Mar. 29th, 2011 01:43 pm (UTC)
Well, the next one will be Ghost Story.

From the publicity, it looks like it will undermine the established canon about ghosts.
Mar. 28th, 2011 05:46 pm (UTC)
Agreed! If the author is going to start with related titles, then they better stick wth it!
Mar. 28th, 2011 03:33 pm (UTC)
I really like it when titles are descriptive AND related, but if it fails in either, I'd rather it be relation than description.

One example of related titles I really enjoy is the Coldfire Trilogy:
  • Black Sun Rising

  • When True Night Falls

  • Crown of Shadows

It's not cookie-cutter or following a pattern, but I think the names relate very well, and that order in the series is pretty obvious, if you have all three names.
Mar. 28th, 2011 03:38 pm (UTC)
I like related titles if there's some kind of logic, whatever it is, behind it.

For example, Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels get their titles from their place in the continuum: One for the Money, Two for the Dough etc. The titles have nothing to do with the plot but they're logical. Also, Evanovich chooses each title from the suggestions her readers have sent her, and then acknowledges that in the novel in question ("thanks to X for suggesting the title for this book"). It's just such a nice way to interact with the readers and let them know that they matter. :D

On the other hand, if one title is different from the others it really grates my nerves. Six out of seven titles in Weis & Hickman's The Death Gate Cycle series are nouns both in English and in the Finnish translations. The last one (actually the sixth book) is called Into the Labyrinth. When I first saw the Finnish translation, I thought the translator had made a mistake and it was meant to be just The Labyrinth. No such luck, and it still annoys me that the title is thematically different, especially because it might have as well been The Labyrinth: the novel was more about being in the Labyrinth than getting into it.
Mar. 28th, 2011 06:01 pm (UTC)
I hear you on the different title thing. I think, "Did you think we wouldn't notice?" I also think that authors (or maybe publishers) don't plan far enough ahead. Assume it will be a bestseller and you will have to write ten or twenty more! What then?
Mar. 28th, 2011 03:49 pm (UTC)
Roger Zelazny had definitely settled into a pattern of titles by the time he got to the second Chronicles of Amber series (you can see the pattern forming as he went through the first series):

The Corwin Cycle:
Nine Princes in Amber
The Guns of Avalon
Sign of the Unicorn
The Courts of Chaos

The Merlin Cycle:
Trumps of Doom
Blood of Amber
Sign of Chaos
Knight of Shadows
Prince of Chaos

I quite like patterns, as long as the titles relate to the content and aren't just random. And if you're going to have one, make sure it's not to constraining! [Something] of [something], as above, is pretty good because you can fill in the blanks with just about anything :-)
Mar. 28th, 2011 03:51 pm (UTC)
D'oh, I appear to have managed to miss a title out of the first series (& I can't edit).

It should be:

The Corwin Cycle:
Nine Princes in Amber
The Guns of Avalon
Sign of the Unicorn
The Hand of Oberon
The Courts of Chaos
Mar. 29th, 2011 01:47 pm (UTC)
I was reading letters from Gene Wolfe, and once he discussed the need for something about the titles in the contract so they couldn't make one of these anomolous:
The Shadow of the Torturer
The Claw of the Conciliator
The Sword of the Lictor
The Citadel of the Autarch

Then when he did the sequel, it was The Urth of the New Sun
Mar. 28th, 2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
I don't mind related titles, but I hate it when the title is chosen just to fit in the pattern, and not because it actually describes the book. (E.g., George R. R. Martin's Wild Cards series -- every book had a "playing card" theme title, and there's no way you'll remember from reading a list which book is which, where it falls in the sequence, etc. "Aces High," "Jokers Wild," "Double Solitaire," etc... what the hell do they mean?)
Mar. 28th, 2011 06:04 pm (UTC)
That's a great point, inverarity. Thanks for chiming in.
Mar. 28th, 2011 06:12 pm (UTC)
I still love Ilona's own play on her Magic titles and I can't find it to save my life, but it involved Kate joining a nunnery.

As far as series goes, as you say, if it has a purpose, a continuing theme, that's great. But if it keeps going and then the author runs out of murders in houses with names and has to change it up, it always seems a bit jarring.

However, Kathy Reichs continues to do well, I think, using "dead" or "bones" each of her titles. But each title always has relevance to the plot and it's not SO repetitive it drives me nuts. Same with Charlaine Harris. Always with "dead" in the title, BUT the titles are always specifically relevant to the plot and...death.
Mar. 28th, 2011 07:51 pm (UTC)
I've seen a few series do it "right" where the title is both relevant and themed, but I'd definitely prefer relevance to the story over fitting the theme. For my own works, I'm kind of torn on the idea of using themes. On the one hand, if I can make the titles relevant to the story, it really does serve as something else to tie the books together. But if I get too attached to the theme, I could find myself with a title that has no point other than to fit the theme.
Mar. 29th, 2011 11:32 am (UTC)
I'm not really into related titles. It seems a bit funny (silly) to me, and as others have mentioned, if one of the titles in the series is not related it seems even sillier.

The real reason behind my resentment towards this is however when the American publishers decided to change the name of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights into The Golden Compass to get matching titles. Grrr >:|
Mar. 29th, 2011 01:30 pm (UTC)
I agree with what others are said. I actually like titles that go together but only if they make sense. It let's the reader know the books are part of a whole quite effectively. Maria Snyder did well with this with her Study Series (Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study). I also don't like titles that don't really make too much sense. I remember reading somewhere that the Hollows Series by Kim Harrison (beginning with Dead Witch Walking), doesn't have too much logic to the way the titles are anymore. They just need to reference a Clint Eastwood movie with a supernatural twist.
Mar. 30th, 2011 02:48 am (UTC)
Theres Sue Grafton's alphabet books - A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc. which I don't mind. Some of the other series that have been mentioned, though, were kind of irksome, but similar titles don't bother me much.
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )

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