Tuesday, October 31, 2017

This blog post: a blog post

What's the deal with this trend of novels announcing in the title that they are, indeed, novels? Currently on Amazon bestsellers: "A Tangled Mercy: A Novel", "The House by the River: A Novel", "Origin; A Novel", "Everything We Left Behind: A Novel", "Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel." I could go on, but I suspect you get the gist. What is the point of this? We don't feel the need to say "Pulp Fiction: A Movie" or "The Golden Girls: A Sitcom" or "Fruity Pebbles: A Cereal." Why are we hanging a lantern on novels being novels? It reeks of pretension. I hate it. Make it stop.

It's not new at all. And you're comparing apples to oranges here. If you'd said "To Kill a Mockingbird: a book" then it would be as ridiculous as "Fruity Pebbles: A Cereal"

But books are objects, and unless you know one of them is a novel you can be forgiven for not knowing that Star Wars isn't non-fiction about Reagan's missile defense system.

Uncle Tom's Cabin isn't about real estate.
Huckleberry Finn isn't about muffins

The Breach isn't about babies.
The Electric Church isn't about religion (or Jimi Hendrix)


Putting "a novel" on the cover helps the folks unpacking books at the bookstore to know what it is, without checking a packing slip.


Your cris de couer cri de coeur is a classic example of thinking that what you know should be obvious to one and all.  That can lead to disdain for people or ideas or practices that is unfounded and unwarranted.

A lot of agents fall prey to this when talking to writers at conferences. They fling terms and "rules" around like their audience should know what they are talking about. Well, none of us were born knowing Fruity Pebbles is a cereal; or a query letter is how to contact an agent; or, The Breach is a terrific novel.




46 comments:

kathy joyce said...

This post made me think about the branch of philosophy that has to do with categorizing things. I couldn't think of the word, so I Googled the concept. I found "the five main branches of philosophy," "the six main branches of philosophy," "the seven" (which only listed six), "the thirteen..." You get the picture.

Bottom lines: 1) All novels are books, all books are not novels. 2) It's too early for Kathy to be doing philosophy. (And I still can't think of the word I want. It was not in any list I found).

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Well, I for one, was devastated that The Electric Church was not about Jimi Hendrix. And then I enjoyed the book anyhow.

And I have real disdain for auto-correct on my phone. And I am super grouchy. Thank heavens Halloween is the one day a year you can murder someone and leave the corpse on your porch. Ok, where’s the coffee?

And no, I didn’t really kill anyone. I don’t have a porch for the body.

kathy joyce said...

Ontology. Thank you. Now I can go about my day in peace.

Steve Forti said...

Anybody else craving some Fruity Pebbles right now?

Peter Salomon said...

The publisher for my first book wanted 'Henry Franks' to be the title. I insisted on adding 'A Novel' so that readers wouldn't think Henry Franks was the author. Five years later I still receive emails addressed to 'Henry.' From people who have to actually type my real name as the email address. Some from people who have even read my second book which doesn't have 'Henry Franks' on it.

Also, I still prefer my original title but I'm pretty sure I'm the only one: The Memory of Henry Franks.

Amy Johnson said...

Wow, what an action-packed hour of learning! I now know why novels are specified as being novels, what a cris de couer is, and what ontology is. I also learned a little about Kant's Categorical Imperative.

Kathy, I asked my daughter-with-a-philosophy-degree something like, "Do you know something about some thing in philosophy that has something to do with categories or something?" I called the question through the bathroom door as she was getting ready for work. She said, "Maybe Kant's Categorical Imperative?" Then I heard the shower turn on. Glad you found the answer. :)

Robert Ceres said...

Not a new practice at all. I always bring it back to my fav, Jane Austen. Check out the first edition of Emma: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/emma-first-edition.jpg

Kregger said...

Not to pile on...but,

Does everyone know an F-150 is a truck?

Ford thinks otherwise. Google "f150"

I always figured Kant had OCD.

On Amazon there are so many "books" and searches done by title that "novel" as a keyword may shorten the list by a few hundred thousand titles.

kathy joyce said...

She's right. It's all part of the same soup.

Sherry Howard said...

Is everybody thinking of food today? Cereal. Coffee. Soup. All the trick-or-treat candy I hid from myself. Carry on!

Colin Smith said...

YAY! I'm at home today, eating CoCo Puffs (don't judge me by the time--day off=lie-in) which unfortunately don't mush as well as CoCo Pebbles, but I'll take what I can. I put fruit and yogurt on it, so it's healthy. Like I said, don't judge me. But I digress...

I knew the practice of putting ": A Novel" on books has a long tradition, and I often wondered if modern authors did it simply to give their novel that "classic" feel. But I get Janet's point. H.G. Wells didn't say, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS: A Novel, and JKR didn't put ": A Novel" after any of the Harry Potter books. I guess we were supposed to figure out they were fiction. :)

Peter Salomon: You have published work? WELL! I guess we need to add you to the list. Sorry if you're a super famous author I should have heard of... when it comes to famous authors I should have heard of, you're in good company. :)

Here's Robert's link linkified: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/emma-first-edition.jpg

And I have yet to read THE ELECTRIC CHURCH. Sorry Jeff. Christmas is coming, though... *ahem*... And I love signed copies of books... :D

Colin Smith said...

*Looks up Peter's published works. Blushes.*

Wow... you've been quite prolific! I apologize for my ignorance, sir. :)

nightsmusic said...

I see what you did there on that last sentence oh QOTKU...very clever! Then again, that's why you are Queen :)

BJ Muntain said...

I've seen enough novels and non-fiction books with similar names that the 'a novel' has come in handy. When I worked for a library in interlibrary loans (about 20 years ago - eek!), that really came in handy trying to find books patrons were looking for. When you get a request for "fiction novel by Miss Pelled Authorname about a metamorphosis", it's a lot easier to do a Boolean search for 'metamorphosis+novel' than simply 'metamorphosis'. While not all libraries will add the 'a novel' to the title entry, the government registries do, so you can at least get the proper ISBN to search for.

Fearless Reider said...

Just to be on the safe side, I'm going to name my new (and novel) novel Novel: A Fiction Novel. Can't be too careful!

For anyone who's interested in philosophy, or just interested in humans and the ideas they have, I'm putting in a plug for The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast with Peter Adamson. It's only taken 287 episodes to get up to the 13th century, and he has done fascinating work on Islamic and Indian philosophers. He always finds a way to work in Buster Keaton & giraffes, and I appreciate that in any academic.

You can find his website here: https://historyofphilosophy.net/ He's also a blast to follow on Twitter.

Joseph Snoe said...

Maybe they should clarify more and say it's a fiction novel.

By the way, today's Game 6.

(Don't mind me. I'm still half asleep)

Colin Smith said...

OK, Peter, I think I got them all:

Published Works of Blog Readers

Let me know if I missed any.

Any other published authors lurking that want to be added to the list? Email me!

Stephen King: Not you. I think we know where to find you. :)

Julie Weathers said...

"They fling terms and "rules" around like their audience should know what they are talking about."

Amen. I thought I had my pitch down pat for the Surrey conference and then made the mistake of taking the Pitch and Query workshop right before my pitch appointment. The agents disagreed with each other about what makes a good pitch and what they want to hear, what the "rules" are, how to present yourself, well, just about everything. Some didn't want to see anything, not even a business card, others wanted to see pages.

I was so confused when I came out of there the only thing I remembered was one saying he likes to hear what inspired the person to write the story. That's what I started with. He said that's fascinating. Now tell me about your story. I stumbled through that. "That sounds really interesting and today's your lucky day. I read Gone With The Wind twice. Send it to me." He didn't want to see a card, pages, anything. Just send it to him.

A friend who nearly backed out of her pitch appointment because she was so flustered by the rules and thou shalt nots. She got pushed into going and the agent said, "Do you have some pages?" He read them and loved what he saw except the lack of emotion. He told her to work on getting the characters' emotion on the page and send it to him.

Someone once said there are three rules to writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. I think the only real rule to writing is to keep writing.



Joseph Snoe said...

On today's new listings for Goodreads Giveaways is this title apropos of today's discussion:

"How to Be safe: A Novel"


Julie Weathers said...

Colin The Electric Church is wonderful. Scary, but wonderful. I need to write a review on it. I don't like writing reviews because I never know what to say that doesn't sound stupid or like a book report.

James Lee Burke wrote a book years ago called In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead that I bought simply because of the title. What the heck is the electric mist? Of course, I buy anything by Burke despite the language, so it was a flimsy excuse.

This was going somewhere in response to someone, but I have no idea what it was now as I got interrupted. Oh well.

Elise

"And no, I didn’t really kill anyone. I don’t have a porch for the body."

Do you have a tree? Someone hung their body from a tree like a Halloween decoration one year where it remained for three days before people realized it wasn't a decoration.

I don't care if they put "a novel" on The Rain Crow so people don't think it's a book about ornithology as long as it's published.

And now, I should get back to stitching it back together after I ripped it apart.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: My book reviews are hardly examples of literary erudition or scholarly insight. I treat them as if it's me telling y'all about this great book I read, as I might if we were talking books over a cup of tea. Or Shiner Bock (which I like, btw). :) I'm a fan of Jeff's so I don't need convincing to read it. But your review would be welcome.

Adele said...

Just a little light housekeeping:

Janet? "cri de coeur"

Mallory Love said...

I thought this too for awhile until I started teaching and realized what I thought of as common sense wasn't very common. I guess one person's "duh" is another person's "huh." I need to look into this "Electric Church" book. Sounds interesting.

Janet Reid said...

Thanks Adele.
I always get that wrong, I know not why.
I try to remember to google, but I didn't.
My cri de coeur: AIEEEEEEEEE

Lennon Faris said...

Perspectives! I love hearing other perspectives.

Sherry - did you mean to say, hiding the candy 'for' yourself?? Or am I the only one who buys Halloween candy 'for the visitors' and hides my fav pieces?

Mallory "one person's "duh" is another person's "huh" - that is hilarious. So many applications in life.

Barbara Etlin said...

My humorous poetry book is listed under humour and poetry. That didn't stop a Russian antique piano dealer from inquiring why I had an illustration of an astronaut playing a piano on its cover...

Bill D said...

And then you have "Beneath a Scarlet Sky" which is a novel but largely based on fact, including the names of the major characters.

As an aside on that book, which is the tale of a teenager in WWII, the first part is written in a YA style but the style changes to more of an adult style as the book progresses. I heard the author say that the styles and the style change were deliberate.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

In my very specific corner library land, we don't Dewey Decimal our fiction, so unless we're talking about some of our (recently reshelved) classics, a spine label with numbers on it is my library's best way to tell if it's fiction or non. Sometimes our books arrive without those levels, however. Or labeled incorrectly. And that's when I need to occasionally go digging into things like subject traces and WorldCat.


Colin, my latest is ready to add! Aground, Upon the Sand.

Thank you again for maintaining the treasure chest! It's an amazing thing to behold.

Craig F said...

To think of all of those books that caught my eye until I saw the word novel on the cover and put it back. I always thought it was some kind of literary notation. I don't usually do well with literary novels.

Time to go back to being on hold with FEMA. This will be the eighth time to be on hold until they hang up.

Colin Smith said...

Jennifer: You're welcome. 'Tis done. :)

Peter Salomon said...

Colin, I'm so very far from famous, but thank you, that's incredibly kind of you. In all my lurking here I wasn't even aware there was a list, sorry I missed it. Seriously, thanks!! That just made my day :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Is everyone in New York ok? My kid is right where this attack is going on. Is it over yet?

nightsmusic said...

EM, the perpetrator was shot twice by NYPD and taken into custody. Right now, it's over but they're reporting six dead and constantly updating the injured. The perpetrator shouted Alahu Akbar (don't know the correct spelling) when he got out of the truck holding two potential weapons in his hands which is why they shot him.

Janet, you can delete this if you want, but I wanted to answer.

Theresa said...

I also wanted to know about what was happening in NY, especially if all Reiders are safe and accounted for.

Colin, in light of today's specificity about titles, my book, Angels of the Underground, shouldn't be in the Novel section. I think it's subtitle should have been: A Nonfiction Story.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Nightsmusic Thanks. My kid is ok. She thinks getting home to Brooklyn might be a bit of hassle. But she is with friends so I think she will manage.

Sorry, Janet- came home to see this on news and I knew the kid was working in lower Manhattan today. I hope you are ok.

Colin Smith said...

Theresa: Excellent point, and my apologies for that oversight. I have corrected it. You have your very own section! :)

Peter: You are very welcome. :D

Anyone else need me to make corrections, changes, additions to the list?

nightsmusic: Thanks for the update. I was also concerned in the event other Reiders or loved-ones-of-Reiders were involved. If I recall correctly, New Leaf and many other agencies are in Midtown Manhattan, so they should all be okay... ? I'm glad your daughter is okay, EM. I hope she and her friends make it home swiftly and safely.

Theresa said...

And I'm packing my suitcase and reconciling myself to a kale diet: I'm with OP on this one. I understand all of Janet's points, but I share OP's aversion to titles with A Novel in them.

CynthiaMc said...

So Very Far from Famous is a great title.

bbluemarble said...

(Hello. I've been a lurker around here for years, but this is my first comment.)

What do you think about the books (mostly ebooks, but always self-pubbed) on Amazon that are listed or subtitled as novels but clock in at well under 10,000 words? It seems like either the authors are either misrepresenting their work or they lack a fundamental understanding of industry norms, but I could be misunderstanding their purpose. If there's something else behind it, I'd love to know what that is.

MA Hudson said...

You wouldn’t think ‘War of the World’s’ needed to announce itself as a fiction but the 1938 radio play sure caught a lot of people unawares...

‘Perhaps as many as a million radio listeners believed that a real Martian invasion was underway. Panic broke out across the country. In New Jersey, terrified civilians jammed highways seeking to escape the alien marauders. People begged electric companies to turn off the power so that the Martians wouldn’t see their lights. One woman ran into an Indianapolis church where evening services were being held and yelled, “New York has been destroyed! It’s the end of the world! Go home and prepare to die!”’

kathy joyce said...

Bbluemarble, welcome! I don't know what people are thinking, but 10k words is not a novel. If I'm wrong about that, I've written *way more* novels than I thought!

Janet Reid said...

10,000 words isn't a novel. It's a long short story or a novella.

Colin Smith said...

Hey, bbluemarble! I guess your question has been answered, so I just wanted to say hi, and welcome out of lurkdome! :D

AJ Blythe said...

Hi bbluemarble, welcome to the pool =)

Glad to see our NY Reiders (including Janet) & family members are all okay.

And I think Fruity Pebbles should be marked "a cereal" for those of us who have never heard of it before =)

Logan Daniels said...

This topic reminds me of another, completely different (yet similar) irritating trend I've seen coming from [what I believe to be] the self-publishing market.

Have any of you seen these marketing tags added to the titles of thrillers and suspense novels on Amazon?

"The Secret Mother: A gripping psychological thriller that will have you hooked"
"The Lost Child: A gripping detective thriller with a heart-stopping twist"
"Dark Houses: A gripping detective thriller full of suspense"
"Only Time Will Tell: A gripping serial killer thriller"
"Zoe: A mother's gripping story of her daughter's fight for life!"

Just search the word "gripping" in Amazon's Kindle store. It returned 2,467 titles.

I would guess this is some kind of marketing ploy. A tricky attempt to interject keywords into the book's title as a way of gaming Amazon's algorithms, but it seems amateurish to me. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

roadkills-r-us said...

I guess I need to add, ": An Almost Historical Fantasy Fiction Novel" to my Dragon Lord Chronicle titles. Now you tell me.