Catherine Gayle Finds the Perfect Title

I am happy to introduce to you a new friend and local RWA chapter-mate. Banditas and Bandita Buddies, please help me welcome Catherine Gayle to the Lair! Catherine is a prolific writer of fun and frolicsome Regency-set historicals. She is with us today to talk about an aspect of writing that reader’s don’t usually hear much about: choosing the perfect title. Catherine has a new release coming out in the next few days and she claims she thought of the clever title long before she thought of the plot.

So Catherine, tell us about this fantastic title idea you had and how it came about…


There’s something special, when you write novels, about finding the perfect title. We get great story ideas all the time — ideas that lend themselves well to having 80,000-100,000 words written about them in order to convey the entire thing to the reader. But then we (or the editor, or the marketing team at the publishing house, or someone) get the lovely task of taking those 80,000-100,000 word novels, from which we couldn’t possibly eliminate a single word, and condensing all of that down into a short, memorable title.


That’s right, we have to somehow sum up the entire display of our genius, those perfect 400 pages, in a brief phrase that sparkles and shines. Something that everyone and their dog will see and say, Wow! I’ve got to read that book. Something with pizzazz: something so perfect you know Hollywood will be beating down the door for the film rights. Something filled with such sheer brilliance, it is inconceivable it won’t end up on the USA Today and New York Times Bestseller Lists as the be-all and end-all that means You Have Arrived.


All of the above is to preface the following: I am not very good at coming up with titles.


I tend to labor over them. And even when I have a title for a book, I’m not always (read: pretty much never) completely satisfied with it. So occasionally, I’ll try again, and again, and maybe a third or fourth or seventy-eighth time, until I find something that I can kind of halfway stand. Generally, then, I stick with it. My title may not be perfect, but it is the best I can do. So I suck it up and deal with it. Because I have a title.


But then there was this one time when the title came to me as perfect as could be — so perfect I never even dreamed of changing it.


I tend to spend a bit of time (*ahem, cough, cough, that would be WAY too much time*) on Twitter. One day, while I was avoiding writing a scene in my then-current WIP, someone I follow (actually, one of my critique partners) Tweeted about a book coming out called SEVEN MINUTES IN HEAVEN.


Now, that’s not a particularly unique title, but it got my brain churning. In title terms, I’ve always been a sucker for a play on words. I write historical romances, so I love titles that take modern phrases, then turn them on their heads to make something different. And, since I write novels set in Regency England, my mind automatically turns to things related to that particular time and place.


When I read the Tweet, fireworks exploded. Angels sang in the heavens. Snoopy danced a jig with Schroeder playing in the background. (You can totally hear the Peanuts theme right now, can’t you? It’s going to be with you ALL DAY. Sorry.) I had it—that glorious, much sought after but rarely discovered Perfect Title: SEVEN MINUTES IN DEVON. (Listen closely…you can probably still hear the angels—but now they’re singing the Peanuts theme.) And by the way, if you disagree with me and feel this is NOT the Perfect Title, please humor me. For now. Tomorrow can be a different story, when I’m not here.)


Perfect Title: check! The only problem with this perfect title? I didn’t have a story for it. Nothing. Nada.


I was in the midst of writing a series and didn’t have time to veer off into the discovery phase and start something new. So I put my Perfect Title in my title ideas file and told myself if an idea ever came along, I had the title. (Like I could ever forget that title! Bwah. Really.)


I tried to let it sit in the file, but I couldn’t let it just sit there. I couldn’t. I tried, and succeeded for about ten seconds — but I couldn’t leave it alone. Instead, I put my then-current WIP aside, pulled out all of my planning tools and set to work.


Devon was a given as my setting. But seven minutes? What could be significant enough about seven minutes to warrant such prominent positioning in THE Perfect Title?


I started throwing ideas around. What happens in seven minutes? Well, sex is an obvious answer to that question. (Seven minutes might be a little long, sometimes…) But that was the problem. It was too obvious. I’m not much of an erotica writer, either, so that didn’t quite cut the mustard. Scratch that one.


Car crashes happen a lot faster than that, but I write in the Regency era and there were no cars. There were carriages. I could have a bad carriage accident. But it didn’t feel right. It felt overdone. Scratch.


I thought about a seven minute long marriage. Um…that was just weird. Scratch. What about an argument? Bo-ring! Scratch.


I went through this process over and over, until all of a sudden I had an image in my head. It was a woman in a river, and she was drowning.


Hmm. Now I had something to play with. Granted, I didn’t know who she was or why she was drowning in the river, but I had something to go on. So I kept exploring the ideas that came to me, one after the other, until I had the impetus for my next release.


SEVEN MINUTES IN DEVON will be out next week.


Catherine, we can hardly wait to hear how that drowning woman got into the river. Do tell us more!


During a minutes-long span three years ago, lives were forever changed when Lady Morgan Cardiff nearly drowned.


Returning to the disastrous scene for the first time, Emma Hathaway is older, wiser — and ready to move on. With her parents’ health in quick decline, she needs a husband. Alas, she is an awkward, bookish girl with no dowry to recommend her, and she is far from being an Incomparable or an heiress who might rouse a gentleman’s interest. Her hopes of changing the ton’s view of her are dashed upon the arrival of the others involved in that life-altering accident. Aidan Cardiff’s glares prove he blames Emma for his sister Morgan’s scarred, blinded condition. His unfounded hatred leaves Emma shaken, but his unbidden romantic advances threaten to thwart her essential husband-hunt.


Ever since his sister’s failed attempt to take her own life, Aidan Cardiff has been a bitter, brooding artist. He’s spent three years creating artwork depicting the revenge he’d like to exact against anyone who can be blamed for Morgan’s pervasive melancholy. Yet his art has done nothing to assuage the rage he’s built inside. His sister is finally ready to live again, but Aidan fears letting her out of his sight — particularly with Emma Hathaway, whose very existence sets his blood to boiling. But is the heat he feels for Emma due solely to his anger, or is there something more?


It certainly sounds like you found a thrilling plot to fit your Perfect Title, Catherine. I can hardly wait to find out how Aidan and Emma work things out! 


Now it’s your turn, dear Readers. Have you ever, like Catherine, found yourself doing things in reverse or inside out? Does it work out, or do you wish you’d done it the normal way by the time it’s all over with?


Be sure to join the conversation and let us know. Catherine will give away 2 digital copies of SEVEN MINUTES IN DEVON to winners in a random draw (to be delivered upon the release). You can find out more about Catherine and her books at her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter where the whole business began!

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  • Melody May says:

    Hi Catherine, that cracks me up about the title. I like to do things in order. I can’t wait to read your new book. You know that I’m a fan of yours. However, I’m anixiously waiting for SHELVED. 😀

    • Caren Crane says:

      Melody, I’m so happy you’re already a Catherine fan AND that you are in temporary possession of the Golden Rooster. Um…have you hosted him befoe? He can be a bit rough on the furniture…and he sometimes sheds feathers about. But he is a, er, colorful chap to have about. Maybe as a talking point with your neighbors? Not that he would chase their dogs or anything…

    • Caren Crane says:

      Oh, and I bow to your ability to start at the beginning. Those who can do that don’t realize how lucky they are! 🙂

    • Hi, Melody! Yes, I do know you’re a fan. And I know you’re waiting on Shelved. I’ll have it done as soon as I can, but I’m glad I have something to hold you over until then. 🙂

  • Helen says:

    Hi Catherine

    Wow that was really interesting I could never think up a title let alone write a book LOL but I do love reading them.

    I tend to do things in the right order I don’t think I can remember anything that I have done backwards so to speak although I am sure I probably have it must have worked out fine LOL.

    I look forward to reading this book

    Caren for inviting Catherine along today I do love finding new to me authors

    Have Fun

    • Caren Crane says:

      Helen, I am not at all surprised to find out you are a very organized sort of person. Even keeping your towering TBR piles in order, much less dealing with all those adorable grandchildren, would be beyond me. 🙂 I have to say I have done lots of things backward, though not intentionally…

    • Helen, I think it is hilarious that you *might* have done things out of order, but you don’t remember. That says to me that you don’t really know what order things should happen in, and so you don’t care. You’re probably one of those people who drives me insane, skipping steps without realizing you’re skipping them. LOL.

  • Natasha Devereux says:

    I too have done something with writing that was TOTALLY backwards. I was sitting at the computer in the wee small hours of the morning back in 2004 and an entire chapter of a story poured onto the screen. Complete, well rounded characters, background and setting. Everything flowed as if I was nearing the end of a well thought out story. It wound the threads of several stories together neatly and I could see the end in sight – BUT – I hadn’t even thought about writing a SF novel before, let alone writing one. Well, four years and 146,000 words later (cut down from 187,000 – there’s a trilogy in there don’t you think’) Return of the Fire Serpent was complete . I have decided to give it a re-work and hopefully by the end of 2013 it will be in the hands of a publisher. If that’s not backwards, I don’t know what is LOL

    • Caren Crane says:

      Oh, Natasha, I feel your pain! Sometimes these “gifts” from your subconscious aren’t all that great. Nice one, subconscious! Think you could throw in, maybe, some research notes or a character notebook or – what the heck – maybe a W chart? 🙂

      I’m so glad you’ve kept on with it, though. What an epic trilogy (yes, it sounds like one) that will be! Maybe you’ll hit the sweet spot like my beloved George R.R. Martin and have a runaway bestseller on your hands!

      Then everyone will be astonished at you, the Overnight Success. That always makes writers laugh themselves silly! I can’t wait to hear about a release date for this!

      • I love George R. R. Martin! I wish I had more time for reading fun stuff, because his books are so LONG! But when I’m reading one of them, I don’t care how long they are. I want them to be longer.

        So Natasha, if you write like him, don’t worry about it being a trilogy in there. LOL. I read once that when he first started writing A Game of Thrones, he thought it would just be one book. Then he got pretty well into it and realized it would be a trilogy. Well, he’s working on what, book 7? And he’s said it will go through at least 8, I believe. So you’re doing fine. 🙂

    • Natasha, I would love to have a story come to me like that. LOVE IT! Yeah, it might be daunting to realize you don’t know all those things you don’t know, and so you have to go in and figure them all out. But it is so exciting when an idea comes to you so fully formed already where you can see it and just have to hope you can write fast enough to get it down on the page. 🙂

  • Deb Marlowe says:

    Hi Catherine!

    I’m still waiting for the perfect title to hit me! Congrats! The book–and series–sounds wonderful.

    I have tried to ‘reverse engineer’ some recipes…sometimes they turn our well, but never yet exactly like how I expect!

    • Caren Crane says:

      Sorry, Deb, but I answered below! There I go doing things backward again…

    • HIi, Deb! I sincerely doubt I’ll ever have another Perfect Title moment. Usually, I’m thrilled with an I Don’t Completely Hate This Title sort of title.

      I’ve done the reverse engineering on recipes before, too. Sometimes it has been very successful. Other times? You’d do best to avoid my house/apartment for a week while the disaster clears out.

  • Caren Crane says:

    Deb, I have loved many of your titles, though I know editors and publishers love to change those working titles – Her Cinderella Season, anyone? 🙂

    As for reverse-engineering recipes, I’ve gone there as well. I’ve had some great dishes emerge as a result, but invariably they are not quite what I expected. This has even happened following those recipes that are supposed to be just like Restaurant X or whatever. Maybe it’s my lack of an industrial kitchen, but it’s so frustrating!

    • I get so excited when I find one of those Just Like Restaurant X recipes for one of my favorite dishes. And invariably, it stinks. (Sometimes literally.) So sad.

      • Caren Crane says:

        I know, right? It’s such a pack of dirty lies! I always assume there is some crack team of chefs working on these counterfeit recipes, perfecting them in a secret kitchen somewhere. Usually, though, the muck I end up with seems as if someone simply found a recipe online and threw in some odd step. Don’t even get me started on the “make your own frapuccino” recipe. Grr…

        • Ha! I haven’t seen the make your own Frappuccino recipe. I wouldn’t even try it, though. I’ve got my Keurig, so I can have coffee within 30 seconds, any time of the day or night. No need to wait on someone to blend up one of those. 🙂

  • Caren Crane says:

    Catherine, I’m very happy to have you with us today! I have to say, it’s reassuring to me to hear other people talk about their backward processes, because I seem to do things backward an astonishing percentage of the time! Which is one reason I have a son who is 26…but I digress.

    The very first novel I ever wrote, I had no idea what I was doing. Scenes kept coming to me, so I hurried and typed them up or wrote them down. Dialogue, vivid descriptions, epic action – it was all there!

    Since I had no clue how to write a book, I thought I was doing great! Then I realized I had no idea how these people had gotten where they were, how they met, how the modern-day heroine ended up in medieval times…well, you get the picture. I spent tons of time writing other scenes to set up already-written scenes. It was a crazy quilt that I ruthlessly stiched together as best I could. It took months and months to clean up!

    It was a horrible experience I would not wish on my worst enemy, really. I did manage to final in Georgia Romance Writers’ Maggie contest with that story, but it was a fluke I tell you! That book may stay firmly tucked in the hard drive forever.

    Then again, I may resurrect it someday and see if I can make that Bride of Frankenstein work for me. Since it’s backward me, you never can tell!

    • Hi, Caren! Thanks so much for inviting me to join you!

      I think pretty much all writers have a First Novel horror story. With mine, I didn’t have a clue about plotting and so I just wrote until I was done. When I finished, I had a glorious 120,000 word masterpiece. Then I found a critique group who helped me to realize the first five chapters had to go, that no one would ever buy a romance novel with a rape on page one, and that I only had enough plot in there to really justify about 50,000 of those glorious words. Yeah. I then got to cut, cut, cut, rewrite, rework, rethink, write some more, cut some more. Like yours, it was an arduous process that took months–much longer than the initial thing took to write.

      But at least that process (and hopefully yours, too) helped you to learn. That’s what it is all about, right?

      And…well…the 26 year old son. Yeah. I’ll just say that we all do things in a different order where that’s concerned. LOL. Live and learn?

      • Caren Crane says:

        Catherine, I really am glad it wasn’t just me. I was super-excited to find out it wasn’t all a huge pile of dreck, just mostly a huge pile of dreck. There are definitely savageable elements to the story, too, so it’s not a total loss. Unlike my next two or three books, which were horrific!

        I did learn to have some sort of a plot idea before I started writing and to start at the beginning, so that was good. I never quite got the whole baby-making thing straight, but at least now they are all grown! 🙂

        • It took me until my third try to figure out I should actually find a plotting process that works for me, and to plot before I start to write. And then it took until about my fifth try to find the plotting process that works for me. I can only hope it keeps working for me, because I’m not much of a fan of my early process any more.

  • Mozette says:

    Interesting blog post. Being a writer, I have a lot of problems with thinking of a title for my works each time I start one. So, what I do is have a Working Title for them… and along the way, a title will come to me and I’ll put it in its place. Sometimes that works, while other times it won’t.

    But then, I’ll have the story all written up and the title will come in at the very last paragraph… it’ll just jump out at me from nowhere and will encapsulate the whole story in three words or so. I do have a file on a usb drive of titles for just about anything; and have used them from time to time. There’s around 100 titles and about 6 of them have been used successfully. 😀

    So, yeah, my book and story titles come in from all over the place. I have no organised way of writing my works. If it comes in at the beginning – great! If not, well, it’ll happen sometime during my book/story. 😀

    • Oh, Mozette, how I would love to have a usb file of titles sitting around and waiting for me to choose them. *sigh*

      I tend to not be able to get past a certain point in my WIPs unless I have at least a reasonable working title for it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect…but it has to give me a feel for the tone, if nothing else. Until I have that, I don’t really know how to write what it will be. Pathetic, isn’t it?

    • Caren Crane says:

      Mozette, you and Catherine are both ahead of me. I never, ever have title ideas. Well, there was this one time I did, but it ended up being a title everyone HATED. Ha! 🙂 Maybe one day I’ll sustain a head injury and suddenly become wonderful at titling things. Until then, I’ll have to rely on other people’s creativity. Good thing I have the Banditas!

  • I’m always looking for new authors and draw upon recommendations. That’s how I wound up last week with Suzanne Enoch’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes,” and “Rules to Catch a Devilish Duke.” The first title had absolutely NOTHING to do with the story, and the second title, well, there was a duke with a slight problem there, but I wouldn’t call him “devilish,” and this isn’t a title to stand out on the shelves. Yet the books were very entertaining! (Their covers were also generic stuff. Generic covers have always puzzled me, but they sell, which is reason enough for their presence. Too bad.)

    Once I was searching for a title for one of my books. I wanted something to evoke location, excitement, and the basic premise, but be short. I woke in the middle of the night with the PERFECT two-word title! Ordinarily I’d have written it down, but it was sooo fabulous I knew there was NO WAY I could ever forget it, and so lay back down to sleep.

    Guess what…

    • Oh no! Oh, Carol, I’m so sorry. I learned years ago that I need to keep a pad and paper right on my nightstand, so that when I have those mid-dream moments of brilliance, I can quickly write them down and then go back to sleep. I had a scene that came to me like that…it was EXACTLY what I needed, what I’d been stumbling over, and suddenly, in the middle of the night, I had it. Eureka! But then I knew I would still have it in the morning, and since it was about 2:48 in the morning, I rolled over and slept. And it was gone.

      GONE!!! Waaaahhh.

      I’ve found, in reading a lot of my favorite authors, that sometimes their publisher/editor/title-coming-up-with team tend to just go with something sort of catchy that fits in with their current titling trend, whether it fits their story or not. Boo on that, I say. Boo! Because if the title isn’t intimately tied to the story/characters/whatever, how will readers be able to really remember it, to look at the title three years down the road and remember what it was they loved so much about it? I can’t stand that. And it seems to happen a lot.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Carol, those middle-of-the-night epiphanies that evaporate in the light of day are heartbreaking! Unlike Catherine and other very smart people, I never have room on my nightstand for an actual pad of paper and writing implement – too many books, plus lamp and alarm clock!

      I rarely awaken in the middle of the night, though, which is probably for the best since I have no paper and pen handy. Makes me happy to be a great sleeper! Why can’t I find a way to make that particular skill pay, anyway?

  • fedora says:

    How fun and funny, Catherine! I marvel at your upcoming release and love reading the story of how it came about, title-first and all! I do tend to prefer things orderly, but admit that sometimes that doesn’t always play out the way I might expect or prefer… But a series, gotta read that in order, if at all possible 😉

    • Fedora, I can’t stand to read a series out of order. I know that most of us try to write our series so that if you pick up one, you won’t be lost and will be able to enjoy that story without having read what comes before…but I still prefer to read them in order. But it never fails that sometimes I’ll pick up a book, not realize it is part of a series, and read it. And love it. And want more. So then I go to find other books in the series, only to realize I picked up book 6 in an 8 book series, and have completely screwed myself up. *sigh*

      • Caren Crane says:

        Totally agree. All books in a series should state boldly on spine and cover “Book X in the Blah Blah series”. I am far too clueless to figure these things out otherwise! 🙂

    • Caren Crane says:

      Fedora, I am with you on preferring order, though my preferences are usually disregarded by the Fates, who mock me mercilessly. 🙂

      I also insist on reading books in a series in order. The few times I have realized I accidentally grabbed a book that was part of a series and not the first one, it sort of ruined the preceding books for me. Such a spoiler to see couples from other books already together, often with weddings and babies and pets! 🙁

  • Reese Ryan says:

    Finding the perfect title is always a struggle for me. The title for my debut was actually the fifth title for the book before I ever started sending out queries. But it was worth all the fuss and change because it’s perfect for the story.

    I had to complete a title and series naming sheet for my publisher not too long ago and I struggled mightily with it. I think I finally found the perfect title for the second book, which I just started writing during NaNo. We’ll see if my editor and the publisher agrees.

    • Oh, Reese, how I feel for you. The first book I wrote? I had the perfect title for it. And I talked myself out of it, for a number of reasons. It went through about 17 variations, none of which really fit, and then I came back to the original title by the time it was published.

      Good luck with getting your publisher to agree with you on your new Perfect Title. It’s hard enough to come up with one YOU like. It’s about a bazillion times harder to find one that you like, and that a publisher likes. *sigh*

    • Caren Crane says:

      Reese, thanks for stopping by! I really hope your publisher loves your Perfect Title. We’re all lectured about remaining flexible but it can be tough when you’ve grown attached. I’m sure they will love it as much as you do. Good luck with NaNoWriMo. You are a brave soul! 🙂

    • Reese, I struggle with titles, too. I’ve had some I thought were absolutely perfect, while others have been more along the lines of “that’ll do.”

      Good luck with your series!

  • Cathy P says:

    Hi Caren and Catherine! Congrats on your release of Seven Minutes in Devon, Catherine! I am not an author, but a reader that usually does things in order. However, at times, I have to admit that I read the last chapter in a book first. Lol!

    • Caren Crane says:

      Cathy, be assured you are not alone! I can’t tell you how many people have confessed in my hearing that they peek at final chapters of a book. For some reason, reading is one thing I definitely do in order. Very seldom have I allowed myself to peek at a last chapter or page to see how things will turn out. I’ve found I enjoy the read more when I can lose myself in the story and trust the author will make it come out okay.

      Then again, I have a prodigious ability to wait. Just ask my siblings, who still claim I “tortured” them by saving my treats long after they had devoured theirs, then enjoying them in a meandering fashion. I just wanted the good time to last. Honestly! 😉

    • Ack! Cathy, you read the last chapter first? Even in a romance? I mean, we all know that in a romance there will be a Happily Ever After, right? So there is no need to skip ahead. I did that once. I flipped to the last page, just to be sure that things would work out the way I wanted them to, and I’ve regretted it ever since.

  • Tawny Weber says:

    Hi Catherine, and welcome to the Lair 🙂 HI Caren *g* Happy Friday!

    I love your journey to this story -what a fun experience. I do tend to get my ideas in all sorts of orders, quite often backward. My first published novel, DOUBLE DARE, started the idea of a dare. Then it went to what kind of dare would be the hardest to accept? (a dare to do the first guy to walk into the room) Then it shifted to who would issue that kind of dare, and what kind of guy would freak over being targeted in that dare, etc etc etc 😀 I love the game of What If… it’s one of my favorite parts of writing LOL.

    Congratulations on your release, Catherine, it sounds fabulous!

    • Caren Crane says:

      Tawny, I recall that story about Double Dare from back in the mists of Bandita time. 🙂 I love that story and that book! I know you have to write your books on an often-short deadline, so it’s really impressive you can make different processes work for you. I am in awe!

    • Thanks for the welcome, Tawny! The exploration of ideas, playing the What If game, that is one of the most exciting prospects writers face. I’m exploring a bunch of What Ifs right now, in gearing up for a new project. I know what end they’ll eventually get to…but there are all sorts of things between now and then to get in the way. Sounds like you had a LOT of fun with answering your What Ifs for Double Dare. 🙂

  • Catherine, welcome to the Lair and congrats on your new book! That’s a great story.

    I can’t remember having a title before the story, though. I tend try to read series in order, though I occasionally make a mistake. As others have aid, there are times when peeking at the last chapter is irresistible.

    • Thanks for the welcome, Nancy!

      I’ve got to tell you…the one book I’ve read that I looked at the ending before I got too far into it was the final Harry Potter book. I mean, lots of Important Characters were dying. And it isn’t a romance, so there was no guarantee of a HEA. I just had to know if certain characters were going to live. So I peeked. Then I beat myself up for it the rest of the way through the book.

      • Caren Crane says:

        Catherine, I’ll admit that when I was reading all the Harry Potter books aloud to my daughters, I sometimes peeked ahead a bit so I could reassure them that something horrific wasn’t going to happen. It usually didn’t. Usually.

        Sometimes I had to level set them, though, like when poor Dobby died. That tore all of us up!

  • catslady says:

    I could never, ever read the end of a book first! It’s like watching a sporting event after you know who wins but worse. And please forgive me but when I first heard your title I was wondering if Devon was a place or a person lol.

    • Ha!!! Catslady, that gave me a huge laugh. I’m now imagining all sorts of stories this *could* have been, if Devon had been a person and not a place. I think it would probably have to be erotica.

    • Caren Crane says:

      Catslady, I’m with you on not wanting to know the ending. Really, except for reading ahead for my kids’ sake, I don’t recall doing this! I’m sure I have but I really love to be surprised, so if I did it would have been long, long ago. Still not too sure about that…

  • Erica Monroe says:

    Love it, Catherine! I’m really looking forward to this one.

  • Margay says:

    I actually come up with titles first in most cases, In fact, I have pages of titles hanging around, just waiting for a story to go with them!

    • Oh, Margay, I am envious of you. It was actually a pretty neat process to find the title and then play the What If game to see what might fit it. But I don’t know that it’ll ever happen again like that.