The Good, the Bad, and the Puns: How a Bestselling Author Creates Book Title Magic

Posted by Hayley on June 19, 2018
Sarah MacLean is the queen of cheeky book titles. The historical romance author has delighted us with The Rogue Not Taken, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, and A Scot in the Dark. This month she puts an alliterative twist on her playful style with her new series, The Bareknuckle Bastards, which begins with Felicity Faircloth making a deal with the devil in Wicked and the Wallflower. Here MacLean shares how she used her sassy wit to get published, which of her silliest puns never made it to print (A View to a Kilt, Earl Gone Wild, and more!), and why she thinks book titles are magical.

Rate this book
Clear rating
The title of my first romance novel was never intended to see the light of day.

It was intended to land in the inbox of a handful of romance editors. I hoped the title would catch their eye and give them a chuckle—then they'd read the synopsis of the book and want to take a look. It was supposed to show editors that I love romance novels, that I don’t take myself too seriously, and that my books are rompy, rollicking reads.

It was never supposed to be the actual title of the book. I mean, who names a book Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake? That’s a bananas title.

Imagine my surprise when, weeks after my editor bought the book, I asked her what the title would be, and she said, “What do you mean? It’s the same title.” Oh, my. And then I realized that I was going to have to title the next book in the series the same way. And the one after that. And then silly titles that were super relevant to the story would become my thing, and I’d have to title every book I ever wrote with some kind of cheeky title forever and ever.

Well, that’s what happened. Now the titles come first. Before I ever set pen to paper.

First came the numbers. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake became Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord (London’s most eligible bachelor) became Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart (a scandalous heroine and her crusty duke hero).

And then came The Rules of Scoundrels series: A Rogue By Any Other Name (star-crossed lovers), One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (my most decent hero and the woman who loves him), No Good Duke Goes Unpunished (falling for a pugilist, a boxer), Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover (lady in trousers).

And then the Scandal and Scoundrel series: The Rogue Not Taken (road trip!), A Scot in the Dark (kilts!), and The Day of the Duchess (#imwithher)!

Rate this book
Clear rating

Rate this book
Clear rating

Rate this book
Clear rating

Rate this book
Clear rating

But for every good title I’ve come up with, boy, there have been bad ones. A lot of wine and a lot of legal pads and lists and lists of absolutely atrocious puns: The Method to My Marquess? A View to a Kilt? All Duchessed Up with No Place to Go? Earl Gone Wild? Full of Hot Laird? Gah!

Thank God for honest editors.

People often ask me what the hardest part of writing is, and I never hesitate to tell the truth. The hardest part is the title. The hardest part is finding the right combination of words to achieve three goals: 1. Tell the reader a story and leave them asking a question. 2. Evoke the tone and temper of the book. 3. Double down on what long-time readers love and simultaneously court new ones.

My new series had a title long before the books did. The Bareknuckle Bastards would focus on a trio of brothers, bastard sons born into the same terrible past, risen into a present that made them scandalous royalty. There was Devil, the smuggler bent on revenge; Beast, the fighter desperate for peace; and the Duke, the one who betrayed them all. The conceit of the series is darker than anything I’ve written before, but even when I go dark, I can’t help but play in the light…and neither can my characters.

Take Devil, for example. A criminal’s criminal, he’s full of vengeance, eager to punish the brother who threatened the lives of the people he loves. And all this seems to be going to plan until ten pages into the book, when he discovers a fascinating, strange, solitary lock picker, who instantly changes everything. Felicity (the lady lock picker in question) consumes him, and suddenly this man, who has spent his whole life with a singular goal, can’t resist lingering in his pursuit—because it means he gets to spend time with his perfect match.

Rate this book
Clear rating

Rate this book
Clear rating

Rate this book
Clear rating

Rate this book
Clear rating

I’ve written a lot of couples in my day, and none of them have bantered like these two. They loved talking to each other. They loved teasing each other. They loved surprising each other. They loved making each other laugh. Boy, does Devil love making Felicity laugh.

So…what to title this book? How do I show readers that these two are darkness and light, that they are perfect foils and perfect matches? That they fill up each other’s empty spaces? How to distill this story into four simple words and leave readers filled with curiosity?

Wicked and the Wallflower, the first in The Bareknuckle Bastards series.

Close your eyes and imagine the book, the story it might tell, the world it might encompass, the characters who will surely tumble into love as part of it. The future they might have together.

I hope I’ve written that book for you.

But this moment, before you’ve read it, when all you have is four words and your own imagination, when you’re filled with curiosity and hope and a keen sense that this might be really, really good. That’s the power of a title.

And that’s why titles are the most magical bit of all.

Sarah MacLean's Wicked and the Wallflower hits bookshelves on June 19. Add it to you Want to Read shelf here.

Comments Showing 1-22 of 22 (22 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Nikita (new)

Nikita Navalkar I don’t know, I kinda like The method to my Marquess 😂

message 2: by Pamela (new)

Pamela Gibson My Contemporary series titles are all a play on words: You Were Mine at Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc to Sigh For, A Pinot for Your Thoughts. I have fun thinking of them. Yours were great.

message 3: by Carol (new)

Carol Bisig I use to on your Arc team, I don't have a clue as to what happened, I am Review mad! How is that for a title?♥️📚👒

message 4: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca García Wallen Full of hot laird 😂

message 5: by Lux (new)

Lux Lindsay Happy book birthday Sarah! I adore authors who can coin quirky, clever titles. (Jayne Fresina comes to mind)

message 6: by Eliza (new)

Eliza White Thank you for writing awesome story!!!🙃💕

message 7: by Sonja (new)

Sonja Earl gone Wild... *snort* LOL!!!
I LOVE this! Thank you so much for sharing your insight! Eagerly awaiting my Bareknuckle Bastards copies!

message 8: by Piper (new)

Piper Nikita wrote: "I don’t know, I kinda like The method to my Marquess 😂"

I’m with you, Nikita!! I think that one’s a dandy!! Hehe!!

message 9: by Pepa (new)

Pepa Thanks a lot!

message 10: by Stacey (new)

Stacey Long-Purifoy Happy birthday Sarah, I want to let you know that all the books that I have read have been a good read... I am currently waiting for your next book to come out

Katie - books_craftandcocoa This is a good article - though I'm not into these types of novels. The woman on the cover of Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord, looks a little bit like Megan Markle!

message 12: by REEM (new)

REEM HB Sarah, very nice article 🌹

message 13: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Wonderer wrote: "Whew! After the romance novels blogpost last week, I was worried they wouldn't have another romance novels blogpost until (gasp!) next week! But, by dint of Herculean effort, Hayley made it happen ..."

You do realize that romance as a genre brings in more money than any other by far? Hence, romance posts. And women read more than men. So really women focused and romance posts make complete sense.

message 14: by Amber (new)

Amber Hey Wonderer, you should come join my book club. We have male and female readers at our book club here on goodreads that read a variety of genres and everything we do there is done at our own pace but we read sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, action adventure, and more.

Come join us at The Reading for Pleasure book club. All adults 18 and over that love to read for pleasure are welcome there and our group is focused on reading for pleasure

BTW, I wish Goodreads would do more posts aimed to male readers too like Recommendations for Action Adventure, Science fiction, fantasy, Thriller and more. These are the types of books I check out besides YA, middle grade, Horror, and general fiction. The only romance I read is paranormal romance anyway.

message 15: by Amber (new)

Amber No problem Wonderer! Happy Reading. ^_^

message 16: by Yaaresse (new)

Yaaresse Wonderer wrote: "Whew! After the romance novels blogpost last week, I was worried they wouldn't have another romance novels blogpost until (gasp!) next week! But, by dint of Herculean effort, Hayley made it happen ..."

Now, be fair, Wonderer. You do know sci-fi, action, and even non-fiction aren't gender specific, right? (OK, I concede celebrity whack job "I'm a hot mess" memoirs are probably gender specific.)

Seriously though? Yeah, it's been a little thick with the chick lit in here lately. Until GR comes around (if ever they do), maybe check out the Marcus Sakey Brilliance trilogy. It's very near future sci-fi meets action adventure. I stumbled over the fist book in the series on Bookbub a while back and found it well worth hunting down the two sequels.

message 17: by Karen (new)

Karen After a book signing with Mary Kay Andrews, I wandered around a small Houston book store. One of the employees had a book called "If Fried Chicken Could Fly" as one of their picks. I stopped, laughed out loud and bought it. The author is the wonderful @PaigeShelton. Her books in that series deliver really well and she also uses clever titles like "If Onions Could Sprink Leeks" and "If Mashed Potatoes Could Dance". So....TITLES ARE EVERYTHING!

Patricia’s Book Summaries I actually want to read a book titled, “The Method to My Marquess.” 🤪🤓💕

message 19: by Karishma (new)

Karishma The Method to My Marquess, All Duchessed Up with No Place to Go and Earl Gone Wild are all really interesting titles especially the first one.

message 20: by Terre (new)

Terre J I’m always open to a hot Laird.

message 21: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia Hopkins-Harris Ms MacLean's books have held me through her characters and the roles they have portrayed. It has opened up an imaginary world that's speaks to the very idea titled people are human plus I have become consumed with historical England and read and watch all things British .

message 22: by Kubra (new)

Kubra Ikr! I would totally read Earl gone wild

back to top