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Book Subtitles: How book subtitles are getting more ridiculous by the day


The Guardian was riffing on book subtitles this morning, and for good reason. Rarely do they add much that you couldn’t already figure out but they cause needless clutter on the front covers of an otherwise beautiful book. However as they rightly point out, with their William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies example, publishers are getting a little over zealous with their use..

Picture the scene at Faber & Faber. Carey’s manuscript has been delivered, and the book is in production. Then, at some routine sales meeting, the worm of doubt starts to creep in. Up pops some bright young spark. Excuse me, says the BYS, I’m not sure that some of our younger readers will actually know who William Golding is. I mean, he’s been, like, dead since 1993, and most of his books are out of print.

Consternation! All at once the majestic progress of a great literary biography from the teeming mind of its author to the tumultuous traffic of the marketplace is thrown into question. Perhaps the BYS is right. Perhaps no one does know who William Golding is any more. Suddenly Golding, the gilt-edged Faber stock, is the literary equivalent of a junk bond. Something must be done – and quickly. A subtitle must be applied like Band-Aid to the wounded cover art. And let’s have a subtitle, cries the marketing meeting, that advertises what’s on the tin. Thus is born “The man who etc”. Now at least the reps can hold their heads high when they go in to sell the book at Waterstone’s and Borders.

The Guardian are right on the mark with this but they missed one MAJOR point of contention that I have with the subtitle and that is the recent tendency for books to use the subtitle as a place to jam internet search keywords. Bloggers learnt long ago that no matter how important keywords are to your title you must never sacrifice readability for the sake of keywords. It seems though publishers are still ten years behind the search engine times.

For an example, one of the worst offenders is Fleeced: How Barack Obama, Media Mockery of Terrorist Threats, Liberals Who Want to Kill Talk Radio, the Do-Nothing Congress, Companies That Help Iran, and Washington Lobbyists for Foreign Governments Are Scamming Us … and What to Do About It by Dick Morris.

It boggles my mind, it really does.

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