Thursday, September 6, 2018

Did You Catch the Name? by Leah St. James

You know how you hear about a good new book or movie you’d like to check out but you can’t quite remember the name? For me, something like this will run through my head: “I’m looking for the new book by the author who wrote that other book that was about a man and woman...”

You get the picture.

I’m terrible with names, whether I’m trying to remember the names of new acquaintances, or books or movies, or naming my own books. (For some reason, I don’t have a similar problem naming characters, just the books themselves.)

I was thinking about my naming-challenged situation a few months back while reading the list of best-sellers in the Sunday paper, wondering how they all came up with the names.

I’ve never published a nonfiction book, but it seems fairly easy.  You have a specific expertise or point of view you want to share, then you stick on a colon and a bunch of explanatory words after. Here is the list that printed in my paper this past Sunday. Take a look at No. 1:

“Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant To Be” by Rachel Hollis. Okay, so I presume that first phrase has a special meaning to the author, maybe an expression she heard over and over growing up. The rest, after the colon, is all self-explanatory. Easy, right?

Why can’t naming fiction be like that?

Why can’t we title a book something like “Raven: A story about a woman with black hair and how she meets the man of her dreams”?  (Yes, I just came up with that. Catchy, huh? :-) I kind of like the Raven bit though....)

Fiction authors aren’t that lucky. We have to come up with a catchy title that somehow, in some way, conveys what the story is about, without giving too much away. And we have to be somewhat unique. With literally MILLIONS of fiction titles currently published, that’s not always easy.

To me, Margret Mitchell’s classic “Gone With the Wind” is a perfect title, one that – if memory serves me correctly – borrows from a phrase in the book itself.  None of my titles have come that easy, but then I am not a world-famous best-selling author!

Seeking guidance, I took a look at the current list of fiction best-sellers and discovered  something interesting. It seems the trend is to tack a colon after the title, followed by “A Novel.” 

I’ve seen that before, and not just recently, but it seems more and more book titles are following that naming model. Five of this week’s top ten sellers have done it.  Another two have “novel” stuck in the series title, like “Feared: A Rosato & DiNunzio Novel.”

The latter I understand perfectly. You want readers to know the book is part of a specific series. But I don’t understand why you would add “A Novel” to a book title that everyone pretty much knows is a novel.  Do we really need “A Novel” added to Stephen King’s “The Outsider” to know it’s a novel?

 Is it a way to assist with searching? So if I can’t remember the book title (which is probable for me), I pop “A Novel” in the search field and I’ll narrow the field down by 50 percent? (That’s presuming I remember there’s “A Novel” in the title.)

I tested that theory by searching for “A Novel” in Amazon’s book section, but it pulled up every book with the word in the title or description. So that can’t be it.

Next I theorized it’s a device meant to indicate a certain type of novel, a certain intellectual level, maybe literary versus genre fiction. But then I saw the King novel. Stephen King is a brilliant novelist on so many levels, but he doesn’t write literary fiction.

Do those simple words add a mystique? Would “Gone With the Wind: A Novel” have sold more copies? Doubtful.

Whatever the reason, it annoys me. It feels pretentious, like the author is saying, “Hey, look at me. I wrote A NOVEL!” But then I remember the publisher usually rules the title, so the publisher is saying, “Hey, look! He/she wrote A NOVEL!”

None of these thoughts seem to make sense, so I figured I’d toss my question out to this group.

Any idea why so many current book titles seem to include “A Novel”?

Does this annoy anyone else, or is it just me?


When not frittering away her writing time obsessing over things like book titles, Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the power of love. Learn more about her books (not necessarily the titles) at, or visit her on Facebook or Pinterest where she occasionally posts about life, writing and her favorite things.


Margo Hoornstra said...

I don't know if I find it annoying. Frustrating maybe. So many people today seem to want to be spoon fed all of their information without having to search for it. (Right up there with everyone gets a trophy IMHO.) Maybe putting the word Novel in the title helps them navigate better. Avoid disappointment. My take, anyway.

Leah St. James said...

Maybe that's what it is, Margo. I should probably just let it go! :-)

Jannine Gallant said...

I'm horrible at remembering names, too. Seconds after I'm introduced to someone, the name is gone. They used "A Siren Cove Novel" as my series name for those books. As opposed to "Born to be Wilde" or "Who's Watching Now" maybe because "Siren Cove" seemed to short for a series name? I don't mind it in that context. It seems weird in an actual title.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Annoys me as well...especially if the title doesn't 'look' like a non-fiction book. I'm playing with titles right now...exhausting! Good topic Leah...these problems/nuances are always on our minds!

Andrea Downing said...

A comment: thanks for today's big laugh. My trouble: also remembering names. It was a very novel post, Leah!

Alison Henderson said...

I've noticed the trend too, Leah, and I think it's just plain pretentious. Anyone smart enough to read your novel knows it's a novel. (Note: I might be feeling just a tad ornery these days. lol)

Mandy Moore said...

Always enjoy reading your blogs....I am going to go back and read some of the past ones....I forget sometimes that you write them and don't look! I feel stupid asking this, but is there someway (or where) it can come up in a regular feed or email or something? Feels like something I should know. You should make a book of your blogs...Title something like this "Upon Musings of a Writer: A Novel"....HAHAHAHA

Leah St. James said...

Same here, Jannine. I always try to come up with something to trick my mind to remembering, like repeating it x-number of times (so unique!), but then I miss what the person is saying! I think I'm a lost cause. :-) I get why they would do the "A Siren Cove Novel" thing to indicate a series, but the stand-alones make no sense to me.

Leah St. James said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one annoyed, Rolynn! Coming up with book titles is exhausting. I try writing down lists of words and phrases, mixing and matching to see if anything pops. I'm just not clever that way. Sigh.

Leah St. James said...

Thank you, Andi. :-)

Leah St. James said...

It is pretentious, Alison! Like the phrase "a novel" should carry some special weight or significance. And yes, I'm feeling ornery today. Guess I'm in good company. :-)

Leah St. James said...

Hi, Mandy - Thanks for your kind words! And I like your book idea. :-) You can subscribe to the posts by adding your email to the "Follow the Roses by Email" box on the left-side of the screen, below the list of guest dates. We appreciate it!

Brenda Whiteside said...

Mandy has a great idea..."All of My Posts...a novel". Who knows? I've given up trying to figure this business out. But it made for a good post. And what was your name?

Diane Garner said...

It certainly seems unnecessary, but maybe it's a secret handshake sort of thing among publishers. I do like using "novel" to identify the book as part of a series. Great post.

Leah St. James said...

Thanks for the chuckle, Brenda. I'm done trying to figure it out, too, but this "A Novel" thing perplexes me! Maybe it's like The Emperor's New Clothes. One person did it for a specific reason, and other people figured it was cool so hopped on the train!

Leah St. James said...

I like the series indication, too, Diane. It helps me when I'm reading books in series, especially for those authors (not me!) who have multiple series! I get mixed up and the indicator helps. Thanks for stopping by!

Diane Burton said...

I can understand the Bill Clinton/James Patterson book being titled a Novel--otherwise, we might think the president missing actually happened. My cover designer (sort of) set my title for me--Number Never Lie, a romantic suspense. What the heck. I went with it. So label me one who spoonfeeds the reading public. Same with my Alex O'Hara Novels.