September 19, 2007

Book Trend: A Novel

Sure, I’ve seen book covers that identify the book as “A Novel.” But I never realized just how ubiquitous it is until a recent visit to my local brick and mortar bookstore. It’s on practically every novel! All of the below images are details from the covers of books currently on the New York Times Bestseller Lists for hardcover or trade paperback fiction. You can click on each image to see what book it’s from:

I guess just being a work of fiction isn’t enough anymore. You have to emblazen your book with a category on the cover so the book superstore employees know where it belongs. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha wind up in the religion section.


How about the disturbingly cheesy use of the tied on tag on the last three? Is it just one lazy cover designer or is it a lazy trend of many designers?

Also, if I ever get a novel published and am asked to follow this trend by my publisher, I at least would do it ballsy and make them print “The Novel”.

Lastly, do you think there was Spaceballs The Novel to go along with Spaceballs the Movie and Spaceballs the Toilet Paper?

There was a novelized tie-in edition of Spaceballs, but I believe it was called “Spaceballs: The Book.” I owned it… The reason they are all “A Novel” is that authors (and publishers) feel like there HAS to be a colon and vestigial subtitle for the book. The only thing worse is “A Novel In Stories”, because they’ve written, like, a bunch of little connected stories, that, like, taken together make one big story. It’s called a novel.

Someone should identify their book as “a cliche.” Now that would be funny. And novel.

I was complaining about this back in my pre-blog Berkeley days, when I had to do it face-to-face with bookstore employees.

So, is anyone up for a banner that you can put up in your blog template proclaiming that it is A Blog?

It’s all James Frey’s fault.

Mr. Wisdumb, those last three are on books by the same author with similar covers and subject matter.

Anyway what I was going to say is looking at all these “a novel”s, I totally got that thing where you see a word so many times that you start to wonder if it’s really a word at all.

I think somebody should write a book entitled “A Novel” and see what the publishers come up with to put below it on the cover.

I read a comment on, the reason being, novel generally does better than short stories.

I recall someone telling me that the trend started when Carol Devine Carson at Knopf started pushing for full-bleed photos on the fiction covers, and marketing wanted ‘a novel’ added to distinguish them from non-fiction. Hm.

And yes, a novel generally does better than a short story collection. Instead of putting ‘short stories’ on the cover, perhaps just leave it off and have the reader figure it out? Might help sales….

But I never realized just how ubiquitous it is until a recent visit to my local brick and mortar bookstore…

I guess you don’t visit bookstores very often, because this is nothing new.

I once saw Joyce’s Ulysses shelved in the Biographies section at a chain bookstore.

Damon Knight’s 1996 novel Humpty Dumpty was subtitled “An Oval”.

Mr. Cordoba,

Actually, what David meant to say was:

I never realized just how ubiquitous it is until my graphic designer wife pointed it out at the local brick and mortar bookstore.

Though I’m sure that there was once a meaningful purpose for the whole thing, my theory is that it’s become one of those things that publishers and designers do for tradition’s sake (of all things!)

Mike: How about The Afterword?

Actually, the “A Novel” tag is not so the book superstore employee knows where it belongs, it’s to help the customer avoid those boring old “non-fiction” books.

It goes hand-in-hand with the Three Full Names Author rule. You can’t be Jon Foer, you have to be Jonathan Safran Foer; plain Joyce Oates becomes Joyce Carol Oates, and likewise for Bret Easton Ellis, etc — you’re just not a Very Serious Person otherwise ;)

Actually, the “A Novel” tag is not so the book superstore employee knows where it belongs, it’s to help the customer avoid those boring old “non-fiction” books.

Actually, it’s there to let customers in the fiction section know that the book is a novel, not a collection of stories (which, as any bookseller will tell you, often sell poorly).

Look, it’s called ‘convention.’ Same reason titles on spines read from top to bottom in the US, bottom to top in Europe and Latin America: it’s just the way things are done on this side of the pond. To invest critical energy on it seems rather pointless.

There have been a few convincing arguments here for having “a novel” dropped into the design on all those book jackets, but so far no one’s mentioned the particular reason I read somewhere. I remember getting it from some sort of authority, so I’m guessing it was in a Chip Kidd, Carol Devine Carson, or John Gall interview somewhere. It was said that “a novel” on the cover is supposed to signify a more ‘literary’ book as opposed to pop fiction in the Tom Clancy/John Grisham vein. But I feel like i’ve seen the “a novel” dropped onto the covers of those books, too, which doesn’t make me too confident with that answer.

I noticed a similar thing recently. All non-fiction books have a title AND a sub-title. I don’t know if it’s always been that way, but it seems to be an unbroken rule these days.

Maybe they’re all ghost written, by A. Novel?

I just like the collection of all these images of “a novel”. Maybe make a postcard of them?