Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion

There's a discussion going on on the Dorothy L listserv about puns in titles. It was started by someone who said she hated puns in titles and would never read a book with a pun in the title. This sentiment has been shared by others.

I have puns in my titles, as you can see from the book covers over to your right. They are tattoo shop mysteries, so they play off the word INK.

I did not want puns in my titles, I'll be totally honest here. Puns in titles worried me, because I associated title puns with books about knitting needle toting amateur sleuths who knocked the bad guys over the head with an old copy of Jane Eyre. Having a pun in my book title would mean I was not a serious writer, that the words underneath the cover would be fluffy and light.

I write tattoo shop mysteries. They are not fluffy and light. They have an edge to them, and I felt the titles should reflect that.

I sent 50 title suggestions to my editor when I wrote the first one. I even had First Offenders readers make suggestions. I got some good ones, too, and none of them were puns. My editor hated them all. Every. Last. One. I was almost done with the book and it had no title. My husband then made a suggestion: THE MISSING INK. It was so stupid I knew my publisher would love it. They did. And there I was, writing a book with a pun in the title.

But you know, that book isn't any different than the one with the title WHAT DIES IN VEGAS. It's the exact same book, but with a different title. It's still a little edgy, and it still has murder.

There are other mysteries out there with puns that are remarkably good. For example, Julie Hyzy writes fabulous books about a White House chef who solves crimes, with titles like EGGSECUTIVE ORDERS and HAIL TO THE CHEF. Roberta Isleib's golf mystery series have titles like FINAL FORE and SIX STROKES UNDER. And Kate Carlisle's bibliophile mysteries are titles HOMICIDE IN HARDCOVER and IF BOOKS COULD KILL.

So I ask you to keep an open mind. The publisher wants the puns because they think they can sell more books. It doesn't have to be a reflection on what's between the pages.

Are you an anti-pun snob? And if you aren't, what's the best book title pun you've seen?


Rob Walker said...

Great fun, Karen! Enjoyed this today. Think Outside the are filled with puns as well and people do REACT to them.

I need to rename my Killer Insticnt perhaps to Kill That Instinct.

Rob Walker

Chris said...

Cool post. I like puns generally, so long as they don't beat you over the head. One of my favorite titles is a book about vampires by Christopher's Moore, called "You Suck." Ha! I guess a title is supposed to hook you and stand out, so a (good) pun is an efficient way to do that.

Sara J. Henry said...

I'd originally planned to name my series with a play on words on the main character's name. It would be catchy, I thought, and the books would be easily recognizable.

Then it very successful writer told me I had to change the title - he said my proposed title sounded like The Bobbsey Twins. I'm not even sure what he meant, but I ditched the title. (Thank you, Michael Robotham.)

So it went out to publishers under the title LEARNING TO SWIM (which doesn't sound at all like a suspense novel or thriller), and that's what it's going to be. Now trying to figure out title for next book ...

Anonymous said...

I am a sucker for puns! (I think I may already have mentioned that here, but it's true.) I can't say that they translate into sales, as I purchase based on story versus title. And while puns may not be suitable for all books (or authors), they can be quite catchy--and even clever. Still, I can understand not wanting to send the wrong message about your book. Fortunately, yours have not reached the point of absurdity, and the brillinat cover art hints at the edginess within. (As for favorites, all I can think of is this silly birthday card that I got for Chelsey's dad that had a potato on the front. The punchline was "I know I yam," though I can't remember the set-up. Still funny...)


Anonymous said...

I don't mind puns in titles.

I've read some of the Jill Churchill books (Jane Jeffry series)and get a kick out of the titles--Silence Of The Hams, A Quiche Before Dying, Fear of Frying and War and Peas are a few of my fave titles.