Thursday, 15 October 2015

Book Title Trends

Thirty years ago, my very first book was published. It was called Sweet Temptation and was written under the pen-name of Caroline Standish. I hadn’t spent long agonising over that title. The publisher wanted something that sounded passionate and sexy and this was the first one I suggested. However, thinking about it now, I can see that it has no relevance at all to a historical romance set in the 1820s. I have renamed the revamped version The Earl’s Captive, which is much more relevant to the storyline and it should be up on Kindle soon.

Titles go through phases. In 18th century Britain, the fashion was to name a book after the hero or heroine, hence Clarissa (Samuel Richardson), Tom Jones (Henry Fielding) and Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe). In the last few years, there has been a fashion for long titles that almost tumble off the cover: The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Nighttime; After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings and Flew Away (Joyce Carol Oates). However, this is nothing new. I remember my shock, back in 1976, at seeing the unwieldy title, If You Meet Buddha On The Road, Kill Him (Sheldon Kopp). Of course, I read it just because all my friends had their noses stuck in it, and it was debated avidly after a few drags of wacky baccy. Well, it was the Seventies!

What is the purpose in choosing such long titles? Were they picked for shock value alone, to make the random browser intrigued enough to pick the book off the shelf? When I see a lengthy title, my innate book title prejudice kicks in and I think, ‘If the title is so over-wordy, I bet the contents will be, too,’ and I am instantly put off. Or I decide that the author is showing off.

There have been titles I’ve hated so much that I nearly didn’t read the book, even though the reviews were good. One example is Gone Girl, which struck me as being so ungrammatical that I expected the content to be lazily written. It wasn’t, of course, it was just my title prejudice at work at work again.

I have just been scanning recent book releases (once, it was only records and the odd animal that were ‘released’) and the fashion seems to be for descriptive titles that reflect the contents. There’s Vanessa Curtis’s amazing, heart-wrenching The Earth Is Singing; Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling, which I can’t wait to start; Peter James’s The House on Cold Hill; Kate Morton’s The Lake House; Bernard Cornwell’s Warriors of the Storm. Good, strong, unpretentious titles that lure you in by their very simplicity.

I wonder what will come next, in 2016? Titles containing foreign words and phrases? Kathy Reichs has already set this trend with Déjà Dead and Death du Jour. Literary quotes? Psychobabble titles? Computer-term titles? Ooh, The Keyboard Killer! I feel a plot coming on.

No comments: