Monday, March 12, 2018

Seven Sinister Sisters Talking Titles!

Jenn McKinlay: I am thrilled to be hosting seven fabulous mystery authors here today to talk about one of my favorite book topics: 
Titles! Let her rip, ladies...



Thanks so much to Jenn McKinlay and all the terrific Jungle Red Writers for hosting the Seven Sinister Sisters on our grand blog tour! We are seven mystery authors, all members of Sisters in Crime, with new books launching between now and April.
  
Our question for today: How do you choose the titles for your books?

“Titles are tough,” says Cathy Perkins. “You’re trying to capture the tone of the book as well as the key plot element, while selecting a title that hasn't been used a dozen times by other authors. Whew—no pressure! Then, to make it more fun (and complicated), there’s the series aspect to consider. The second book in the Holly Price series releases later this spring. My team wrestled with whether to go with the “So About...” or “... the Money” title continuity. While everybody loved “So About” because it was different, it made the titles awkward. So About the Truck? Eh, no. So About the Family? Not working for me. I’m happy to announce the next Holly Price novel is titled In It For the Money.”

Shawn McGuire agrees: “Titles are so hard!! Sometimes they come from a line within the story. That’s easy. With the Whispering Pines series, the further into the first story (Family Secrets) I got, I realized a lot of the story was about the main character’s family and another family in the village, so that title made sense. By the end of that first book, I realized there were a lot more secrets yet to be uncovered; therefore Kept Secrets and Original Secrets followed. I still haven’t found them all, so the other books in the series will also have “secrets” in the title.”
  
According to Sue Star, however, “The titles choose me. I started with a light-toned mystery about martial arts, and the first book of the series became Murder in the Dojo. In the second book I wanted to explore some troubling concepts of attitude that sometimes crop up in my high-altitude setting: Murder with Altitude. Then Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, and my editor handed me the title of the next book: Murder for a Cash Crop. My friends and family, who claim that I am obsessed with moose, gave me the title of the current book, Murder by Moose. I wonder what title will choose me next?”
  
“For all my books,” Becky Clark says, “I start with titles. I’ll have a basic idea of the series concept and several plot ideas, but if I can’t come up with at least four good titles that work on the theme, I don’t pursue it. I like writing cozy series and I know the titles for those need to be punny and clever. In the Mystery Writer’s Mysteries, I have Fiction Can Be Murder, Foul Play on Words, Kill Your Darlings, and some others. Fingers crossed my publisher likes them too!”
  
But for Pat Hale, “the titles come to me at some point during the writing, most often when I’m not thinking about it. For the first book in this series, The Church of the Holy Child, the church is at the crux of the conflict. It’s also a slight play on words in that, the serial killer believes their mission is in the best interest of the children. Durable Goods, the second book, is about the sex-trade industry where women are treated like merchandise and yet their spirits endure. Whether they escape their captors or not, their emotional strength cannot be ignored.”


“The best titles tell a miniature story in two to five words,” according to Leslie Karst. “Other than your cover art, the title is all you have going to encourage that reader to pick up your book in that store, turn it over to read the back and, hopefully, even crack the spine and take a peek inside. My titles have two primary roles to play. They must convey that they are murder mysteries and also that they concern food. But the titles also hint at the fact that each book concerns one of the five senses. Hence, Dying for a TASTE (food/taste); A MEASURE of Murder (music/hearing); and Death AL FRESCO (painting/vision).


And then there’s Edith Maxwell’s option of getting help from others: “My cozy mysteries from Kensington feature puns in the titles—and I stink at punning. So I outsource them! The Sisters in Crime Guppies chapter, a childhood friend (whom I’ve rediscovered on Facebook), and fans all contribute great title ideas when I ask: Farmed and Dangerous, When the Grits Hit the Fan, Mulch Ado About Murder, and the latest, Biscuits and Slashed Browns—all courtesy of friends. For my historical mysteries, Midnight Ink changed the first two titles and I’m happy with their choices: Delivering the Truth and Called to Justice. The April book's title—Turning the Tide—was mine, and I’m delighted they liked it.”

  
So now it’s your turn: How important are titles in your decision to read a book? What sort of title will compel you pick up that book in a store (or make you shun it like the plague)?
  
And to celebrate our new releases, the Seven Sinister Sisters are having a giveaway! Seven lucky winners will receive an ebook from one of us. One GRAND PRIZE winner will receive a signed copy from each of us! Enter to win by leaving a comment below.
Our tour runs from January 6th to April 30th and we’re answering a different question at each blog. Leave a comment at each blog for more entries! We’ll draw the winners from all the combined comments at the end of our tour.
If the grand prize winner is out of the United States, we'll send an Amazon gift card for the equivalent amount.
Watch our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/sevensinistersisters for the next stop on the tour.
  



106 comments:

  1. Congratulations, ladies, on your new books . . . I enjoyed hearing how you came up with the titles for your books.

    Generally, the author’s name is the thing that grabs my attention first, but those catchy titles have a certain pull as well. The ones that I tend to pick up are the ones that hint at intrigue, or, perhaps, are a familiar phrase.
    Still, if a book title catches my attention so that I pick it up, you can count on me walking out of the bookshop with it . . . .

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    1. I'm with you, Joan, author recognition is a big draw for me!

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  2. Love the title stories! My publisher let me keep the title for my first, but changed my second. Luckily I liked it and it made for a spectacular cover tie in.

    Titles and cover art are an equal draw to me, but if a cover calls to me, the attraction overcomes the title--as long as its on the mystery/thriller/suspense shelves!

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    1. Always great when you like what the publisher does!

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    2. My publisher never likes my titles - don't get me started! :)

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  3. I'm not really sure how important a title is to me in terms of grabbing my attention and making me want to buy a particular book.

    I've always thought it was the synopsis on the back of the book that was the main inspiration behind me buying a book.

    Of course, then this weekend I was listening to a band I like and one of their song titles struck me as being perfect for a title to a thriller that I pretend to imagine myself writing.

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    1. "a thriller that I pretend to imagine myself writing" - funny, Jay!

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    2. LOL, Jay! I bet there's a thriller in you. Do it.

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    4. Besides the title, I also have the name of my lead character. Now all I need is a story, and the time and talent to write it.

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  4. Thanks for having us today! So fun to be on the front of the blog AND the back. ;^)

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    1. Lovely to see you all, Edith! I love reading about the journey to titledom for other authors.

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  5. Hi, guys! So happy to have you on Jungle Reds. So interesting about titles. I agree with Leslie, the best title tells the story (in 6 words or less).

    The thing that I didn't realize about titles was that, even for myself standalones, the FIRST title I picked (if the book was a success!) would set the tone for all the titles that came after. You're really defining your brand, whether you realize it or not.

    For instance, you'd know Loyalty is Ingrid's title, and Shall Not Want is Julia's, and Fatal Reservations Lucy's, and... So when it came to naming the book I'm finishing (YES!), I wanted to call it Folding Frank. It's perfect (tells the story in miniature) for the story, but it doesn't feel like a title for one of my books. So I named it more of a me-title: Careful What You Wish For. (If it were Hank's she'd probably want to call it What You Wish For)

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    1. Careful What You Wish For is definitely a Hallie Ephron title. You're titles always make me think of Fairy Tales for whatever reason. But the dark kind of fairy tale. ;)

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    2. Folding Frank! I love it! My favorite all time title was for a movie, not a book, tho/

      "Boxing Helena"

      Best movie title ever imho

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    3. That's a great title, Hallie, and it sounds like one of your books. I love Folding Frank, too, but people might confuse it with "Loving Frank", the novel by Nancy Horan.

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    4. You're right, Hallie, the first title sets the tone - this could have fit into Ingrid's blog about surprises in publishing. This one surprised me, too.

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    5. I would absolutely pick up a book called Folding Frank to take a look, lol, but I get why you changed it. And yes, you get 6 words for fiction, as long as at least two are articles or prepositions.

      Thanks so much to Jenn and all the Reds for hosting us!

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  6. Titles are killers! Talk about packing a lot of information into tiny spaces--twitter aint got nuthing on a good title! As you SSS pointed out, it's got to set the tone of the book, convey something about the actual plot of the story, and cohere with the author's brand. So, yeah, titles really catch my attention--it's language, after all, that makes the book come alive. Congratulations to you all on your forthcoming books!

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    1. It can be brutal. And you're right, Flora, it feels very important to get it right.

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    2. Titles are like tiny little free verse poems...

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  7. That's so interesting Hallie, about how your first title defines your brand. I agree that your second one fits in well with the others. Boy did I have a struggle with food critic #8--I had a million good ideas (with lots of help), but Crooked Lane Books didn't like any of them. They wanted DEATH ON THE MENU instead--and now I've warmed up to it!

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    1. Death on the Menu is perfect, Lucy.

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    2. It's s really good title, Lucy! All of you food critic books are well titled.

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    3. Crooked Lane and I often wrestle for a while before we both agree on a title, but it's nice to have a publisher that will actually give you say. And I agree that Death on the Menu is terrific, Roberta!

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    4. The proposed title also describes a couple of places I've eaten over the years.

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  8. I have to say that a lot of what I read are series. Usually a friend recommends the author or I look at the Library. If the title catches my attention, I look up the first in the series and start from there.

    Thank you ladies. Looking forward to trying one from every author!

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    1. I'm the same with series - I start at book one and am thrilled when there are more!

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    2. Thanks Maryellen! I'm the same way - if I find a "new to me" author and enjoy a story, I look for other books they've written.

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  9. It's always fascinating to hear about other authors' title struggles. I agree with Leslie - the title should tell a story. It's interesting to look at the photo of the Seven Sinister Sisters' latest books with that in mind; the reader has an instant impression of not just the subject of the novel, but the genre and tome as well. There's a LOT of weight on those a 2"x3" gifs or an 8"x5" pieces of coverstock.

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    1. And if they get it wrong? Reader disappointment ensues -- never a good thing.

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    2. Categories, covers and keywords - yikes! So many elements to get right.

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  10. Oh, and I'm going to add my pet peeves: single word titles where the word tells you nothing about the book. I'm fine with something titled TITANIC or THE HINDENBERG, but what the heck is PERSUADER about? HEARTBROKEN? VENGEANCE? (All of which appear on two shelves on one of my bookcases.)

    I confess this may be a personal prejudice driven by the fact I cannot for the life of me remember single-word titles. This is why all my titles are basically sentences. It's the only way I can discern one from the other.

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    1. I actually like one word titles, probably because the librarian in me wants the patron to get to the point. "The blue book called what?" A one word title (Divergent, leaps to mind) was usually easier for my teens to remember.

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    2. My fictional title is 6 words, 5 if you drop "The". Though I'm not sure if it would really tell you anything about what the story is about. It's just a cool sounding title.

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  11. I like titles that are a play on words like a pun or a twist on a classic title. Titles that don’t give me any clue what genre the book is in are less likely to catch my interest.
    sgiden at verizon(.)net

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  12. Congratulations on all the new releases! A clever title will draw my attention to a book, but it's not enough to get me to buy it. But I have to be aware of it before I buy it, so drawing my attention is a good step! I choose most of my reading based on word of mouth (word of electrons?), or on my previous experience with an author; the title plays a pretty small role. It's interesting to see the comments about recognizing the author from the title; it would be a fun game to make up titles in each of your styles and see if we can guess the intended authors.

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    1. Oh, I love this idea Jim! Match the Red to her possible title - fun!

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  13. I love the puny titles. When I try a new author or series of is the title and the cover art that first attracts me. A cat in the story is also a definite plus.

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    1. Cats are mystery writing gold - or so I've been told.

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  14. Titles, some times.
    Covers, some times.
    Serendipity? Always!

    Libby
    libbydodd at comcast dot net

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    1. Serendipity - yes, that is the best way to discover a new author. It feels like finding treasure.

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  15. I love hearing about the origins of so many different titles! Congratulations on the new releases, too!

    Have any of you had a title that you either loved or hated and your publisher felt the complete opposite?

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    1. Thanks, Ingrid! I loved my first two Quaker Midwife Mysteries titles: Breaking the Silence and Breaking the Chains. But I'm equally happy with what Midnight Ink's creative team proposed: Delivering the Truth and Called to Justice.

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    2. That's the worst. I had no idea that sales and marketing had smooch say over titles until I was published. We don't always see eye to eye.

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    3. I have, Ingrid. I named my first book The Deadening, which I thought fit with the lingo of the setting in Appalachia. My publisher said it sounded like horror and made me change it. He was right! The book became The Drowning of Chittenden--much more mystery evocative.

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  16. Defining the brand is important! A potential reader can tell a lot by the title, whether it's a mystery, general fiction, or a children's book. It must be such a challenge to choose from not only an endless list of possibilities, but also from those not already in use. There are so many books already written, after all.

    I'm in awe at the creativity, truly.

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    1. You're very kind. Sometimes I think it's just plum luck.

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  17. I will admit that I love to read the punny titles for cozies, but part of me thinks they do a disservice to the books inside. It's too easy to brush off something that's cutesy funny as not "serious" work. While it fact, those books are as hard to write as anything else. YMMV.

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    1. That's my dilemma, too. I will belly laugh over a title but then I think the unfamiliar don't realize there's a dead body and a plot in there, too.

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  18. Congratulations to all the authors for their new books. As for titles? Let's give a nod to the blog tour itself. "Seven Sinister Sisters" is perfect!

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    1. Thanks, Connie. I can't claim credit for the blog tour name, but it works. Even for a cozy/traditional writer like me.

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    2. Alliteration is the author's friend when it comes to titles and names.

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    3. We've had so much fun working together on this tour!

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    4. It's a grand tour title. Well done, ladies.

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  19. Neither titles nor covers grab me, usually. I am far more influenced by the author, and although I hate to admit it, the blurbs. If Louise Penny says she likes it, chances are I will too. Same with you, Deb, or any of the Reds. But most of all, being a devoted e book reader, it is that sample. I love being able to read the first chapter or two, and God help you if I have to begin editing. I won't buy the book in that case.

    Reviews are also a consideration, as is making the NYT best seller list, being long listed for a prize, and certainly for winning a prize or even being short listed.

    Titles with puns don't intrigue me. Titles with literary references do catch by eye immediately. And recommendations from friends are iffy at best. There are so many different tastes out there.

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    1. I am also partial to authors who's books I have already read and liked. If I like an author, I will probably look for all the other books, if any, that have been written by that author. Very often though, the title is hidden in the text of the story or in a quotes in the beginning of chapters. It is gratifying to me to find such a reference although frankly I don't always understand the reference in relation to the plot. These seven sisters will definitely go on my lengthy 'to be read' list.

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    2. I do read blurbs on the books, but they don't generally make up my mind on whether or not I'll buy it.

      Though when I read a couple of blurbs from Hank, I did get the books. One was pretty darn good, the other one was OK.

      The story description for a book by an author I have not previously read is what will cinch my decision. For writers that I do read anyway, the title, cover and usually even the description won't matter. I'm buying it because I'm a fan of the author.

      (Unless it is a prequel book, I tend not to get prequel books that are published long after the series has been running. That's just annoying and kills any suspense as to whether the character will survive.)

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    3. I've been burned by a few blurbs so I'm a little more wary of those. And, yes, I've had friends rave over a book and I'm left re-evaluationg the friendship - LOL.

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  20. Titles do not influence me nor does cover artwork. The author is vital and the plot and storyline is important.

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    1. In the end, it does come down to the writing. Absolutely.

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  21. Titles are not important and neither is the cover. What matters is the author whose novels I know and enjoy greatly.

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    1. So how do you find new authors?

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    2. Finding a new author - it's always like making a new friend, isn't it?

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  22. Titles for me are like cover art: a catchy one will get me to pick up the book, but won't ultimately dissuade (or persuade) me to read it if the premise and the first few pages don't hold up.

    I struggle with titles like nobody's business. ROOT OF ALL EVIL is at least the third (maybe the fourth?) I came up with. Fortunately, I think I've good ones for all the books under contract.

    Mary/Liz

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  23. Welcome welcome welcome...love you all! This is such a brilliant idea to tour together. And you all seem to be having so much fun!
    Titles--sometimes SO easy. Sometimes SO difficult! I am completely and totally thrilled with TRUST ME , but it was initially Double Negative, then True Enough, then Day 252, then Forgotten Rooms. And then--TRUST ME! So--it can be a process.

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    1. Your titles are always da bomb, girl.

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    2. Process - that it the perfect word, Hank.

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  24. Oh, I struggle with titles. I like them to have a little double meaning, even if nobody gets it but me! And to be a little literary, but still catchy and easy to remember. And they have to sound like Crombie titles, which I can't explain but it is definitely a certain thing.

    And I like to have a working title, otherwise the book just doesn't come together for me. I'm still not sure about the one for the book-in-progress.

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    1. The double meaning with So About the Money was so much fun! It could be So....About the Money or So About the Money [enter eyeroll here] which have different meanings :)

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    2. Yes, I agree. A working title is key. I just struggled to finish a book and I think it's because I was "meh" about the title.

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  25. Congrats to you seven lovely ladies on all your new releases! So clever of you to do a traveling group blog!

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    1. Too bad we don't have any Sinister Snake Oil to sell...

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    2. Hmmm...swag for our next conference...

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  26. I love puns, although, like Edith, I'm bad at coming up with them. And I stink at titles, both with the very few short stories I've written and with my review titles. I would definitely need a team to be helping me come up with book titles.

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    1. It's a gift. Sometimes I have it and sometimes not so much.

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  27. My post vanished. Dang it. In essence I've found new books from reviews, blogs, Jungle Reds, Dru, etc. But a good title may jump out at me from BookBub or Goodreads and make me look twice.

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    1. I get my new authors from JRW, Mystery Scene, Suspense magazine and simply by searching the shelves at the local B&N.

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    2. BookBub is a solid bet but I love to just browse in a book store - I've found most of my authors that way.

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  28. Congratulations on your new books!! If it's a series I've been reading then the cover and title don't matter but if it's a new to me author then I like a catchy title and an interesting cover.
    pgenest57(at)aol(dot)com

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    1. Which is where sales and marketing come in - they always say they need a solid cover and title to sell the book. I understand but sometimes I feel they lack vision. LOL.

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  29. What a lively bunch! I wish I were a faster reader (or dedicated more of my time to reading) because there are so many delicious treats out there!! I am currently reading my first book by JENN (!) and loving it -- "Books Can Be Deceiving."

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    1. Thank you, Denise. I love that series because I can still be a librarian while writing it :)

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  30. From Becky Clark:

    Blogger hates me, so Edith is posting for me. [What did I ever do to you, Blogger? she sobbed]

    First, thanks so much to the Jungle Red Writers for hosting us. You guys are always so supportive.

    Second, thanks to everyone who said such nice things about Seven Sinister Sisters and our books. We've been having a hoot with this tour, so I'm glad you're enjoying it as well.

    Third, Ann Mason ... you've made me very happy with your comment because guess who said this about my new book FICTION CAN BE MURDER — "Charlee Russo is my new favorite amateur sleuth! Wickedly witty author Charlee takes us along on her wild ride to prove her innocence in the murder of her literary agent, a murder based on the plot of onevof her own books! Giving readers an inside look at the writer's life, Becky Clark pens a funny, clever page turner of a mystery and I can't wait for the next one in this terrific new series!"

    That's right, the lovely and generous Jenn McKinlay! (Thanks again for that, Jenn!)

    Fourth, I'm a sucker for a punny title. They make me happier than a kitten in a yarn factory.

    And, fifth, if any of you will be at Left Coast Crime next week [yeep ... next week!!] please say hi. I'd love to meet you and talk books! Perhaps you can 'splain to me why Blogger hates me *sob* ....

    oxox
    Becky Clark

    And sixth, thanks, Edith, for posting on my behalf!

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    1. LOL - Blogger hates everyone. It's like Grumpy Cat. Becky, I loved your book - it was a pleasure to read! Anxious for book 2!

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  31. I do love and appreciate clever titles! They are a little taste of the wit within.
    I remember my horror when I first realized that titles could be used by more than one author, but then realized the practicality in the limits to possible combinations. Now if a search turns up more, I investigate the new authors along with the one I was seeking. Thanks for adding interest to life. <3

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    1. I used to try to not use titles that have been used before - but it gets...complicated. Variations frequently work.

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  32. Interesting topic. A corny title will often cause me to pass up a book which may not mean it's a bad book, LOL Karen in Maryland

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    1. And see I'm the opposite. I assume shenanigans will be involved if the title is kooky enough.

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  33. I follow my regular authors and get recommendations for new authors from this and other blogs. If I'm just browsing Barnes and Noble, either the store or website, I look at clever or punny titles and cute, colorful covers.

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    1. Same! A funny title will hook every time.

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  34. Thanks so much to all the Jungle Red Writers for hosting us and to all the readers who've taken the time to comment!

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    1. [ I might've had a "fan girl" moment or two about being hosted by authors whose stories I love! ]

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    2. Thanks for stopping by, Cathy! it was out pleasure!

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    3. Interesting article. I think a great title and cover really help sell a book. They make me want to pick up the book and read the blurb about the book and helps me decide if I want to read the book.

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  35. I'm very late to this conversation today, but want to add my two cents' worth: If I'm browsing in my favourite independent bookstore, then the title and cover are very important -- especially for a new-to-me author. If I'm on my Kindle, however, then it's the author's name that leads me, as I'm searching them out due to a recommendation. In the e-book world, covers are irrelevant to me.

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    1. Good point, Amanda. With e-books, titles are now more important than ever before. (Ugh. Now I'm even more nervous about coming up with my next title...)

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  36. Title and cover are important to me. They draw me to the book and make me want to read it. The cover of the book especially draws my attention.

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