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If They Do Say So Themselves

Here at the Horn Book we are scrupulous about giving reviewed books their full titles, even when it’s Tigers & Tea with Toppy: A True Adventure in New York City with Wildlife Artist Charles R. Knight, Who Loved Saber-Toothed Cats, Parties at the Plaza, and People and Animals of All Stripes (by Barbara Kerley with Rhoda Knight Kalt, reviewed in the forthcoming September/October issue). But at least that is descriptive. Over in Amazon’s Kindle store, I’ve been seeing titles that goose themselves via subtitles that tell you just what you’re alleged to be getting:

Fire on the Fens: A Gripping Crime Thriller Filled with Stunning Twists 

A Fatal Obsession: A Gripping Mystery Perfect for All Crime Fiction Readers

Vanishing Girls: A Totally Heart-Stopping Crime Thriller

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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  1. Rather than contribute to your wonderfully witty list (and get off it with your beef about Daughter of Time, already), I want to defend the subtitles you see on Amazon. Editors and publishers, and especially people who self-publish, have been taught all about how Amazon algorithms work and that the first 25 words in any book description–including its title–are crucial. If you get a hook into your title, then people who type in “books that are heart-stopping” or “Gritty crime thrillers” are more likely to see your book in their search results. Editors of my era, who were trained for years to write copy that sells to librarians and teachers, who were the primary buyers of our books, are now learning to write copy for the internet-shopping parent, grandparent or teen. And those authors you list have clearly caught on, too.

  2. But, ok, I’ve got a few.

    Twilight: 650 Pages of Yearning
    The Salt Line: It’s Not as Good as Station Eleven, but It’s Something
    Moby Dick: The Chapters Are Really Short
    Northanger Abbey: Everybody’s Least Favorite
    The Little Friend: Ignore the Murder, it’s Just about a Kid
    Today Will Be Different: You’ve Seen this Before, as the Author’s Previous Book

  3. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    So can we expect this from trade publishing? Almost all the titles like these are from Amazon itself or small ebook publishers.

  4. No, I very much doubt that traditional publishing will go that way with subtitles. But our descriptive copy and the bolded tag lines that open Amazon reviews are going to be a lot more in your face and less discursive, at least if we are doing our jobs.

    Meanwhile, how about

    The Fountainhead: You’ll Wonder What You Ever Saw in It

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