Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Truth In Advertising - At Least, Sort Of

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.

12 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I agree with you. As they say in architecture: less is more. Book blurbs need to be brief and clear as window glass.

Darcy Flynn said...

Nice post and well said!

Jeanne Estridge said...

For what it's worth, seeing a subtitle like that is an automatic 'no' for me. It must work with some readers, though, because it doesn't matter how high you show up on search results if the searches don't buy your book.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I think it is mainly an Amazon phenomena. I notice the same folks who push pieces on how reviews can be short (it can just be "I liked it") and other such nonsense, push writing advice pieces on using keywords in titles and such. I heard folks holding fourth in the bar at Bouchercon on how important it was to use keywords in the book title. Maybe because I had been alerted to that crap, I then noticed when I was back home and online, hat folks were making that same case on FB in the various Amazon writing groups and those catering to getting the word out about your self published book. There was a definite uptick in review queries that did that in the weeks since.

The subtitle that says the variation of A Jane Smith 1920s Mystery #6 works for me. The ones such as-- Title: A Mystery Thriller Adventure Novel of Crime and Romance-- do not.

Kevin
(who thinks he is not a robot and is sure that is what a robot that was not fully self aware would think)

Patricia Kiyono said...

Well put! Loved your fictional examples. I think people are confused between taglines, back cover blurbs, and synopses. There's a purpose and a place for each.

J.D. Faver said...

Thank you. I really needed this. I was just asked for back cover blurbs for some projects and I was a blank. Now, tackling the project with a clear insight as to what to create.

Morgan Mandel said...

Exactly right! Blurbs don't belong as part of the title.

Kara O'Neal said...

Totally agree!

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Yeah I agree too!
It's all for the sake of keywords and trying to beat algorithms though now days

great post
Good luck and God's blessings
pamT

Alina K. Field said...

What a blessing to have been exposed to the concept of writing copy at such an early age! Great post!

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Excellent Post!

Unknown said...

satta king
play bazaar nice sites