Talking Titles: Harlequin's New Trend

The Multi-Millionaire’s Virgin Mistress, The Infamous Italian’s Secret Baby, The Virgin Secretary’s Impossible Boss, The Secret Mistress Arrangement, other than a whole lot of secrets, mistresses and virgins, what do all of these book titles have in common? You won’t be seeing any upcoming Harlequin series romances with this type of of title. Recently the behemoth romance publisher has moved away from the racier, giggle-inducing types of names they’ve used for years, in order to showcase these books in a different light. To find out more about this shift in titles, I contacted several series romance authors and asked them the process they went through in order to name their recent books. 

Natasha Tate told me that her book An Inconvenient Obsession was originally The CEO’s Virgin Seduction. The author had chosen this title thinking it would fit nicely into the Presents imprint. However, she was informed by Harlequin’s London office that the change in the company’s book naming style would mean that the “virgin” mentioned in her title would be omitted. Natasha admits that she was pleased with the final result. This is what she said about An Inconvenient Obsession:

“I love the title they selected for my book; it really highlights the emotional theme of Ethan and Cate's story and lets the reader know Ethan's inner conflict immediately. Since I find that I tend to select books based on the emotional conflicts I'll discover within their pages, I'm excited to see that Harlequin is choosing titles that echo the emotional underpinnings of our stories.”

And she is not the only one pleased by Harlequin’s new take on titles. Some of the other authors I spoke to also mentioned that the new direction better encapsulate the themes of their books. For example, Dominique Burton’s working title for her latest American Romance was The Firefighter’s Heiress. But then her editor, Kathleen Scheibling, pointed out the underlying fairy tale feel of the story. Heroine Natasha decides in order to honor her recently deceased friend, she will start a foundation and raise money with a marathon, which helps the heroine get into shape, and she also plans a ball. Hence the change to The Firefighter’s Cinderella

Another author happy with the new Harlequin title trend is Kay Stockham. She says the marketing team worked hard to help her create a title that perfectly fit her latest book. The author was not happy with any of the titles she had previously tried out. Kay thought the suggested book name Zane McKenna’s Daughter was not original enough, while Playing for Keeps was just too sport-y. But then In The Rancher’s Footsteps was proposed and Kay knew it was the winner. 

“Harlequin’s editors and marketing team chose the title based on one of the story's concepts, that of Gabriella, the heroine, performing a list of 'chores' listed in a letter left to her by her estranged and now deceased father, a good man who was a rancher at his core and knew nothing about raising a little girl. In the process of following in her father's footsteps, Gabriella learns to love the man she had thought deserted her — and find love along the way.”

So if CEO and heiress titles are on the chopping block, what is a trend that promises to continue? It seems cowboys are here to stay. In every change made to author Crystal Green’s Special Edition title, the word “cowboy” was always included. Starting out as Too Many Cowboys, this story’s title then became Just The Right Cowboy, before the author and publisher hit on The Hard-To-Get Cowboy. Crystal says she loves this choice because it has a “light” feel. Her story is about an ultimate bachelor and bachelorette whose fling ends up being more serious than they first intended and The Hard-To-Get Cowboy is a fun, playful title just like the story. 

Another thing readers will notice is that these new Harlequin titles aren’t afraid to tell readers exactly what will be coming at the end of the book: a happily ever after. Take Barbara Hannay’s Bridesmaid Says, “I Do!”. The author tells me the working title for the story had been How To Be A Perfect Bridesmaid, but this just didn’t showcase the book’s happy ending. (After all, when honorable bridesmaid Zoe falls for the groom, there are a lot of ways that this situation could go horribly wrong.) But with Bridesmaid Says, “I Do!” a HEA is assured. 

When speaking to the different authors, another issue that often came up was that of the dreaded “repeat title”. With over a hundred Harlequin books published every month, there are bound to be a few duplicates. This is what happened to Cynthia Cooke’s Nocturne The Vampire’s Seduction. After starting out as Embracing Darkness, the marketing team changed it to Seducing the Vampire (since, apparently, titles with “Darkness” don’t sell as well). But it wasn’t long before the team realized that Michele Hauf’s HQN December 2010 release had this title and so Cooke’s book was changed to The Vampire’s Seduction

Thankfully, not all authors get title fatigue. In fact, prolific series author Julie Leto tells me that she has been pretty lucky so far. Most of the titles she offers her publisher seem to stick. So it was no surprise to her that her newest release, Too Wicked To Keep, was the first and only title that was considered. 

“I think the title Too Wicked to Keep worked the best because it fit with the hero so well. Danny's a real scoundrel. He's been a thief with very little conscience for a long time...until he meets the right woman, of course. But my heroine has tangled with him before—and got her heart broken in a big way. But she needs him in her life again—temporarily. He is too wicked to keep!”

In a similar vein, debut Love Inspired author Noelle Marchand was able to perfectly craft her own title. The book, Unlawfully Wedded Bride, was actually finished when Noelle was only sixteen years old. She titled it To Catch a Dream, but when she was twenty and submitted it to Harlequin, she had considered several alternatives like The Unintended Bride and Her Accidental Husband. Unhappy with these, Noelle brainstormed until she found the absolute perfect title: Unlawfully Wedding Bride. “I thought the title was just startling enough to make people take a second look at the book and unusual enough to memorable. I also thought it captured the tone of my book very well.” The author was very happy that it worked for Harlequin and now this is available to buy. 

Whether the book title is chosen by the author, editor or marketers, I for one am pleased by Harlequin's new title trend. I love the more descriptive titles, which showcase the stories’ emotion and heart. Additionally, I always thought it was easy to get confused by the often generic-sounding fare of the older Harlequin titles. It will be interesting to see how the new titles are embraced by readers, because no matter what we might say, everyone judges a book by its title.

What do you think about the new direction that Harlequin is taking in their title choices?