Ideally I prefer to find a title once the book is written and that’s the way I’ve approached it with my private eye and police series. Only at the end can I be sure what this particular book is about compared to the others and I’ve often found unexpected themes emerging in the process of writing.
I take a couple of weeks to mull over possible titles, write down any themes, topics, motifs from the novel along with anything about location, character or images that seem particularly strong. Then I browse books of phrase and fable, proverbs, the dictionary and thesaurus.
I like to use phrases when I can find them and titles that can be interpreted in more than one way. It helps if there’s something unusual or memorable in the title, to distinguish it from all the others on the shelves. Once I’ve created a short-list I gradually whittle it down until I have a favourite. It’s a bit like choosing a name for a baby: a list of alternatives informed by the nature of the creature once you know what it’s like. Sometimes I find the perfect title only to discover that another crime writer has beaten me to it (looking at you Mark Billingham).
More recently, with my stand-alone novels, I’ve had to come up with an idea for the theme of the book and its title at the start of the process – with an option to alter the name if I discover something better in the meantime. And stashed away I’ve a couple of titles that I love the sound of but have never (yet) suited my stories.