The Incredible Tweeness of Titling

May 2, 2012 § 2 Comments

As I was idly composing a list of words in titles that put me off adult novels, I was surprised to realise that many of those same words would also appeal to me in children’s picture books. I like all most of these things on their own (and see how so many of them are concrete nouns), but not with a pastel cover and a pretence of wholesome honest goodness. I have no idea what this says about me, but it did get me wondering how often publishers (i.e. marketing departments) influence the wording of a title. I think there’s a pretty clear demographic emerging from these off-putting words, and yet I have on the TBR pile five intelligent-sounding books with one or more of these words in the title (and have, in the past three months, read eight books with at least one of these words, some of them very good). It’s another angle of my “why do so many publishers insist on marketing everything they possibly can to unadventurous, suburban, middlebrow female readers” complaint, I suppose. I’m sure this often hurts literary writers more than it helps them: they might get good sales on an attractively mismarketed first novel, but then do badly on a similarly packaged second without ever having the opportunity to reach their real target readers.

Offputting words that appear frequently in adult fiction titles

Book. Letter. Love. House. Secret. Mother. Father. Son. Daughter. Widow.

Orphan. History. River. Lake. Sea. Dream. Sleep. Magician. Pen. Forest.

Water. Chocolate. Food (especially any fruit). Sugar. Sweet. Ending. Tree.

Flower. Wind. Whisper. Dance. Island. Heart. Nobody. Pie. Night. Bird. Owl.

Wing. Library. Postman. Market. Seller. Reader. Tea. Beginning. Song.

Wonder. Joy. Sadness. Music. Grief. Animals, esp. monkey, elephant, lion, tiger.

With apologies to the authors whose books inspired these spoof titles:

The Beautiful Grief of the Chocolate Postman

When Widows Sing of Remarkably Tedious Animals

The  Tiresome Incident of the Owl at the Night-Time Pie Market

Island of Infantilised Readers

What words put you off books?


§ 2 Responses to The Incredible Tweeness of Titling

  • Greg says:

    No specific words, though I will confess to a guardedness when faced with novels bearing very long titles tending towards whimsy. I feel more strongly about popular non-fiction (especially history) with the words “…that changed the world.”

    Great post.


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