Book Titles 101

Some people don’t realize that a book’s author doesn’t necessarily choose his/her book’s title. I’ve been fortunate thus far in that the titles I suggested for my first 4 books (The Impersonator, Silent Murders, Renting Silence, and Murder in Disguise) were accepted by my publishers. My luck ran out with my upcoming book, which is the first in a new series set in the Roaring Twenties.

The background of the new series is Chicago; the year is 1924. The main character is a young mother whose husband has just been killed in turf war between Al Capone’s Outfit and Dean O’Banion’s North Side Gang. The only way she finds to support herself is as a shill for a fraudulent medium, sitting a the seance table pretending to connect with her late husband so as to convince others that the mystic is genuine. The other part of her job involves researching the backgrounds of the mystic’s customers through wills, newspapers, gravestones, and gossip, finding out those little no-one-could-have-known-that details the mystic can use.

So . . . I thought a good title for this first-in-the-series would be THE SHILL.

My publisher disagreed. In their view, the word is not sufficiently familiar to readers. I’ve conducted an informal survey at every chance I get and I’m afraid the publisher is right. More than half of the people I ask recognize the word, but that isn’t really enough. How about you? Did you know it?

Imagine my surprise when yesterday’s Word of the Day from the Webster Dictionary folks was my word–SHILL. They list it as a verb, not as a noun, but acknowledge its use as a noun. Here’s their definition:

1 : to act as a decoy especially for a gambler or pitchman

2 : to act as a spokesperson or promoter

Someone who shills today may very well be employed to simply extol the wonders of legitimate products. But in the early 1900s, when the first uses of the verb shill were documented, it was more likely that anyone hired to shill was trying to con you into parting with some cash. Practitioners called shills did everything from faking big wins at casinos (to promote gambling) to pretending to buy tickets (to encourage people to see certain shows). Shill is thought to be a shortened form of shillaber, but etymologists have found no definitive evidence of where that longer term originated.

See the full website here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/word-of-the-day/shill-2020-10-11

So . . . we dropped THE SHILL and replaced it with THE MYSTIC’S ACCOMPLICE. What do you think?

I’ve finished working with the editor to make some minor changes, changes that make the story much better, I might add. Next comes the cover art, my favorite part of the publication process.

Published in: on October 12, 2020 at 10:05 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well, I know what a shill is, but I’m in my 70s. I think the new title is better leaving out the word Mystic. The Accomplice is catchier and makes you want to find out more.

    • And I am partial to one-word titles. But as I said, it’s not my call.

  2. add me to the list of someone who doesn’t know what the word shill means and i’m also in my 70’s


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