Titles so awesome, they used ‘em twice


So, first things first: the winners of my giveaway!

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Jami G.
The Demon’s Covenant: Gillian
The Knife of Never Letting Go: Aja

Today’s blog post is about titles that get used more than once. When I was trying to come up with a title for my second book, I knew I wanted something that evoked my first one. That is, I wanted something that had the same structure (Blank by Blank), that was also a subtle play on words, and that had a kind of sexy element to it. Thus I came up with Trial by Desire–a title the book really grew into, in ways that I hadn’t anticipated when I first started writing it, since you can take pretty much any of the definitions of “Trial” in the dictionary, starting with “the determination of … the righteousness of his cause, by a combat between the accuser and accused” through “the fact or condition of being tried by suffering or temptation,” and everything in between.

In other words, it was the perfect title. But when I checked Amazon, there was already a book called Trial by Desire–written by Elisa Curry, published in 1984. What was I  to do? I shrugged, figured that the book was no longer commercially available, and that was that.

The same thing happened with my February, 2011 release, which is titled Unveiled. Unveiled was the perfect title–absolutely perfect. I had sat with friends for hours, rejecting one title after another. I wanted something that suggested mystery, spotlessness, pristine beauty–and the hint of something to come. When a friend of mine suggested Unveiled, I knew it was the right title.

This was more problematic. When I checked Amazon, there were actually a number of books called Unveiled–one about the hidden lives of nuns, one about women in Islam. One of them was even a historical romance, written by Kristina Cook in 2005–an author (and an all-round wonderful person–I hadn’t met her at the time I chose the title, but did shortly afterwards) who is still writing today, under Kristi Astor.

Ultimately, I decided to just go with it. Our names sound different enough–and there was enough of a time-gap–that in mass market, the likelihood of confusion was small.

But sometimes books end up with the same titles even though they are released within months of each other. One example of that is Maggie Robinson’s Mistress by Mistake–a fabulous, funny, extraordinarily sexy book about a woman who goes to visit her fallen sister, only to be mistaken for a courtesan herself. This book happened to be released within months of Susan Gee Heino’s Mistress by Mistake–a fabulous, funny, extraordinarily sexy book about a woman who gets tipsy in celebration, and accidentally ends up in bed with a man who thinks she is a servant. They are both debut books, both quite excellent, and both really awesome.

Still, I know some people wondered: How on earth does this happen? Easy–Maggie Robinson is published by Kensington. Susan Gee Heino is published by Berkley. Neither knows the titles the other is planning on using, until the catalogs come out–at which point it is too late to change the title, because accounts are placing orders and the covers are already finished. Sometimes, lightning strikes. What are you going to do?

First, you can shrug your shoulders and say, “oh, well.”

Or second, I can give away a copy of both books–which is what I’m going to do. So if you want a copy of either Mistress by Mistake–by Maggie Robinson or Susan Gee Heino–let me know in the comments, and I’ll draw a winner early next week.

P.S. Maggie Robinson’s second book is titled Mistress by Midnight, and I am eagerly awaiting its arrival in January of 2011. Of course, I just got wind that Nicola Cornick’s December 2010 title is Mistress by Midnight. What can I say? Mistress titles are all the rage!

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23 Responses to “Titles so awesome, they used ‘em twice”

  1. Gillian says:

    Thank You! I cannot wait to read Demon’s Covenant. :)

    I have the Mistress books already. They both rock in their own special way. The only thing I have to be careful about are back releases. When a publisher changes both the cover and the title, and the statement “previously printed under the title…” is very small, then I end up with a book I already have. It’s all good, though. I just pass along a copy to someone else.

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  2. Oh, yes, re-releases…. Those are tricky beasts. I am too young an author to have them, but I have been burned by them as a reader. On the other hand, I’ve also been pleased by them, too–when a title that was otherwise out of print is rereleased, I’ve gotten to read a bunch of cool stuff.

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  3. Thanks for the promo, Courtney! And gah is all I have to say about the titles—I was so happy Kensington kept my titles, all 3 of them in the Courtesan Court series, titles I though were soooo original and perfect, LOL. Apparently others thought so too. Now if someone pubs Mistress by Marriage (out next year) I’ll know that the Title Gods are playing another trick on me.*shaking fist in air in futile fit of frustration*

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  4. I’ve heard so many good things about Maggie Robinson’s Mistress by Mistake – I would love to win it!

    Thanks for the giveaway!

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  5. Jami G. says:

    Squee! I won something? I now officially adore you, Courtney. (I mean, more than I did before…) I’ve never won anything. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I’m assuming I’m supposed to email you with my address?

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  6. Collie says:

    Something similar happened with Julie James’s debut, Just the Sexiest Man Alive. Diana Holquist has a book titled Sexiest Man Alive (sans Just The); not only do they have such similar titles, they both have heroes who are movie stars!

    I would love a copy of Maggie Robinson’s book, but Susan Gee Heino’s sounds good as well!

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  7. Kelly S says:

    Poor Maggie, both her books titles are shared. Quite the double whamy! I was fortunate to obtain a copy of Maggie’s Mistress by Mistake already, but I would love to try Susan’s as well.

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  8. limecello says:

    Readers love a good mistress title, it seems. Or they sell. I’ve already read Maggie Robinson’s Mistress by Mistake and actually did not know Susan Gee Heino had a book with the same name out as well, and I’d definitely be interested in getting my hands on it. (In fact before I’d finished reading your post I had already googled it.)
    And – good to know the titles of your upcoming books :) I’ll keep an eye out for those as well!

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  9. I’d love either one. They both sound great.

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  10. It’s been kind of fun sharing a title with Maggie–we’ve both gotten a little extra attention for it, in fact! It’s sort of like being in our own special, super-elite club. LOL

    Thanks for all the unsolicited kind words, Courtney, and I can’t wait for your next releases! Great titles, and I know they’ll be awesome stories.

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  11. peggy h says:

    Hi Courtney–Love these discussions on your blog! I would be delighted to get either of the Mistress books! (And I’ll probably end up buying these books, or the other if I’m lucky enough to win one…Haha! That’s the danger of reading these discussions!)

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  12. Both Mistress books sound fabulous. Count me in. :)

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  13. Chelsea B. says:

    I can imagine in any genre it is hard to come up with an original title that has not been used. But especially in romance there is always a trend!
    Count me in for Maggie Robinson’s books! I already have the other!

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  14. MaryK says:

    I was planning on trying the Maggie Robinson but hadn’t heard of the Susan Gee Heino.

    I came across a reused title recently; wish I could remember what it was. The original use was by an established author, and I remember thinking, “you can’t use that that’s _______’s title.” :lol:

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  15. Kristen A. says:

    I just want to mention that my mind is still boggling over reading through the Publisher’s Weeklys at the library on slow days and realizing that there were two books called Dracula: The Undead scheduled to come out within about a month of each other last year.

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  16. I would love either Mistress book! But I’ll give the edge to Maggie Robinson – I’m looking forward to her turn on the Eloisa James/Julia Quinn BB next month and I need to have my reading done. :)

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  17. Julie says:

    Poor authors, at the whims of the title gods! I’m already a happy owner of Maggie Robinson’s book, so I’d love a copy of Susan Gee Heino’s. Thanks for this chance to win!

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  18. Kaetrin says:

    Please count me in for the Heino Mistress by Mistake, it sounds fun, plus I already have the Robinson MbM!

    I suppose it’s one thing when books are released by different publishers at around the same time but what about books like JR Ward’s Dark Lover? – Jessica over at RRR used that as an example when linking to your post (which is how I came to be here!)- Brenda Joyce’s book of the same name published about 4 years later. If a book was years ago and wasn’t wildly popular (or as you point out in the post, a non fiction book vs. a fiction book) that’s one thing but when a book is as “big” as JR Ward’s is the (second) author inviting (potentially unfair) comparison by using the same title? Or is it the publisher’s decision and not the author’s? (I’m not commenting on the books themselves – I haven’t read the Joyce and don’t really know anything about it other than the title and I think it might be an historical – it’s more the concept I’m interested in, if that makes sense).

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  19. Kaetrin, I don’t have any knowledge at all about the decision-making behind Brenda Joyce’s title, and so I can’t possibly speculate as to what anyone was thinking.

    My personal reaction is that while J.R. Ward’s “Dark Lover” is an immensely popular book, the title itself is not hugely distinctive. Half the paranormal/urban fantasy books out there use the word “Dark” in the title; pick one of 20 romance-sounding buzzwords to combine, and I think that the odds of two people coming up with the same title independently are quite high.

    I can also tell you this: under my contract, my publisher has the right to publish my book under any title it likes, although in the US and Canada it is supposed to “consult” with me first. That being said, so far, my publisher has stuck with the titles I have chosen. But I know authors who have had every one of their titles changed by their publishers, too.

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  20. Kaetrin says:

    @ Courtney Thx for that. The publishing world is a mystery to me. I suspected the publisher had the final say but I wasn’t sure.

    I have no idea of course, but I was wondering yesterday if Ms. Joyce was bothered, amused or unconcerned about the 2 books sharing the same title. On the one hand, loyal readers of her books won’t care, the similarity in title might actually get her new readers or it might invite comparison (which might be good or bad I guess). I suppose all three things can happen at once!

    In any event, I was more using the 2 books to illustrate my query rather than saying anything about the books/authors in particular. (sorry if that didn’t come across clearly)

    From my point of view, once I knew an author, an identical title wouldn’t bother me or stop me from reading a book. I’m really not sure if it would make a difference if I didn’t know the author at all, but I think probably not.

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  21. Lynz says:

    First off, Trial by Desire is an awesome title made of win and I can’t wait to read it. Secondly, what you said about “Dark Lover” not being a particularly distinctive title? I totally agree, and I find those are the ones that usually overlap. Since they’re so… typical, and I don’t mean that in a negative way, just that they are… I don’t really care about the titles so much. But if someone were to publish a new book entitled To Have and To Hold? Well, that’d be another story.

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  22. Lindlee says:

    Very interesting topic. Maybe that’s why we get so many crazy titles that really have nothing to do with the content of the book–someone was just going for an original title!!

    Both of the Mistress by Mistake sound interesting. I’d love a copy of either!

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  23. Jessica C says:

    Great post! I had always wondered about this…. I thought you had rights to a title or something. This happens with movies too, I believe.

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Courtney Milan writes historical romance novels like the ones you see to the right. She still remembers bits and pieces from her old lives, where she was (variously) a scientist and a lawyer.

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