by Janis Patterson
Most of you know that I grew up in my parents’ advertising agency from the age of nine on, starting as a stripper (not that kind!) and progressing to doing product photography and writing copy before I entered high school, then doing international space buying several years before I graduated. One of the things that was drummed into me during those formative years was that my ad copy had to be truthful.
Apparently that is a virtue long gone extinct, at least in the book business. When I scroll through the online ebook vendors I am appalled at some of the titles. No, not the regular titles, though some of them are pretty grisly, but the subtitles. Now I will admit that personally I am sick to death of pun titles, but that’s just me. What I cannot stand is the subtitle, which sometimes appears to be as long as the book. For example (and totally fictitious) – The Leaving Tree – A Riveting Exercise in the Deliciously Lethal Discipline of Gardening, Where Each Plant Has A Story to Tell And No One Walks Without Fear. Or – Bedding the Lustful Billionaire – A Heartwarming Story of True Love Distorted by Money, Blackmail and Jealousy That Will Warm Your Heart and Give You New Hope For Romance. You get the idea.
Isn’t it the duty of the blurb to give an indication of what the story is about, not a lengthy and more often than not mendacious subtitle? When the subtitle proclaims the story to be ‘thrilling’ or ‘can’t put it down’ or ‘riveting’ or any of a hundred other descriptors, you can pretty much believe it isn’t. When I read a title/subtitle/blurb I want to know what the story is about, not something telling me how I should feel about it.
One example (again fictional) of a subtitle that is not overblown and offensive is a short, accurate piece of fact that a reader really needs to know, such as Flying High – A Jane Smith 1920s Mystery #6. It just tells you what it is, not what the writer wants the reader to think or believe or feel. The book itself should do that.
On the whole, these lengthy and overblown subtitles make me think of books printed during the Victorian era and before, where pretty much the whole title page was taken up with what is basically a long subtitle, usually with every line done in a different typeface. It may have helped sell books back then, but in today’s short soundbite society I don’t think such over the top description helps.
It shouldn’t. In my not-so-humble opinion, the book – and to a lesser extent the blurb – should be what says the book is. I mean, why read the book if the story is revealed in the subtitle? Shouldn’t the reader be the one who decides if (and hopefully leaves a review saying) the story is riveting, heartwarming or whatever?
Honesty, and a decision made by the reader. What a concept.