Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Unnecessary Appellations

Time for another blog post and this time I'm trotting out the big words. $10 words as my husband calls them, words that are big and fancy and almost never used. Appellation, however, is the perfect word for what I'd like to talk about today. It means the title, tag or nickname we attach to something. In this particular instance, I'd like to talk about the phrase 'a novel.'

Walking through a book store, checking out book covers and lightly running my fingers over the spines of favorites I've already read, I can pick out at least a dozen books that have "a novel" tacked onto the title. KICK-ASS WARRIOR NINJAS - A NOVEL. TEN MINUTES TO PURGATORY - A NOVEL. WORDY & PRETENTIOUS - A NOVEL. Yes, I'm making all of those up but there are tons of real world examples.

Why do authors and publishers feel the need to tack 'a novel' onto their book titles? I'm not just questioning publishers here, because self-published authors seem to do this as well. Most book sellers, whether dedicated brick and mortar stores, online only or the airport newsstand, shelve books according to type. Non-fiction and fiction books rarely share self space. The same is true in libraries and schools. Thus it's hard to imagine that 'a novel' needs to appear on a book cover so the reader doesn't assume they're picking up a non-fiction book. I think there are some cases where 'a novel' is warranted, for instance if the title or cover could be misinterpreted as non-fiction or memoir. However, the majority of times its use seems utterly unnecessary.

The trend toward using 'a novel' also seems especially skewed toward literary fiction books as opposed to genre fiction. Though there are cases of the phrase appearing in all fiction areas. Traditionally, when novels first began appearing, the phrase served a very necessary purpose because the majority of published works were not novels. That's not the case today, however.

In the present context, in the here and now, in publishing today, why do so many books have 'a novel' added to their covers? Do the words grant an extra degree of literary merit to a book? Does the phrase increase sales? Does it make Oprah more likely to pick a book for her book club? Do we really think the general reading populace is wandering about looking at book titles and saying things like "Thank God, they put 'a novel' on that cover, I thought it was a cook book." Or is this just a left ever bit of minutiae from centuries ago?

Is there a good reason for 'a novel' to appear on any cover today? In a few cases yes. In most, probably not. I want to nod my head and say, "yes, I know" each time I see the phrase. So if you're an industry professional in the know or just a smarty pants who's figured this all out and would like to clue me in, please do so. Inquiring minds want to know.

Thanks for reading. This has been "Unnecessary Appelations - A Blog Post."

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