Today, as part of the blog tour for the newest Annie Seymour Mystery, Shot Girl, I have a special guest blogger: Karen E Olson.
As a newspaper copy editor, I was charged with having to write headlines
for news and feature stories. This was never my favorite part of the job.
I love playing with the words, making sure everything was spelled right,
making sure the punctuation was correct, that the nut graph was where it
should be. But headlines? I wasn’t very good at writing them.
I learned how to write serviceable headlines: LOCAL MAN PROTESTS PLANNING
AND ZONING BOARD; SCHOOL BOARD CHAIRMAN TESTS PROGRAM; CITY WOMAN DIES IN
BOATING ACCIDENT. Sometimes I’d get lucky (a particularly snowy winter and
more snow in the forecast inspired me to write SAY IT AIN’T SNOW), but I
just never reached the heights some of my colleagues did. A good friend
wrote one of my favorites after a kid decided to try putting his tongue to
a flagpole like that kid in the Christmas movie: FROSTY FLAGPOLE TAKES A
LICKING AND KEEPS ON STICKING.
Coming up with titles for my books is akin to writing a headline. It must
be short, snappy, convey what’s going on in the story, and lure the reader
in, make the story seem worth the reader’s time.
SACRED COWS had no title for months. I’d tried to come up with something
cow-related, something journalism-related but to no avail. Finally, in
the middle of the night, I awoke and it was in my head. I scrambled to
write it down before I forgot it.
SECONDHAND SMOKE was originally BIRDS OF A FEATHER, since there are
chickens in the story. But Jacqueline Winspear has a book of the same
name, and it was nominated for some award, so I had to quickly abandon it.
I was editing a health and science story for the paper about secondhand
smoke when I said, Hey, what about that? My editor loved it.
DEAD OF THE DAY was originally WATERLOGGED. But it wouldn’t fit on the
cover. And anyway, you don’t want to give a reviewer the chance to write,
“Waterlogged is just all wet.” I was frustrated and told my friend Reed
Coleman about it, so he asked what the book was about. I explained that in
the first pages, the subject of the newspaper’s featured obit or “dead of
the day” wasn’t exactly dead. He looked at me and said, “You do know
that’s your title, right?”
SHOT GIRL was relatively easy. There’s a shot girl in the story. A girl
who sells shots in test tubes in bars and makes a lot of money. Granted,
there’s a double meaning to it, but SHOT GIRL is short, catchy and
definitely my favorite title to date. Maybe because it was so easy.
Does a title make you pick up a book? Does a title matter to you as
you’re looking for something to read?
A big thanks to Karen! I've always wondered how authors come up with titles.
Karen E. Olson is the author of the Annie Seymour mysteries. SHOT GIRL, the fourth in the series, is available now. You can find her on her website www.kareneolson.com and with her blogging cohorts at www.firstoffenders.typepad.com.