I shouldn't do this. One of the unspoken rules of being an author is you shouldn't pick on your fellow authors.* (see exceptions to rule below)
But no. I can't let this go. The other day I was browsing on Amazon and I realized that almost EVERY SINGLE NOVEL on the site has a subtitle, and most of them are bad. Really really bad.
I mean, what the hell? Have we reached the point where people can't buy a novel without seeing an annoyingly cliched subtitle summing up the book in the most trite way possible? Are readers lost without someone telling them that this is My Story: A Novel of Discovery in an Age of Love and War, Book 1?
Before you think I exagerate with that intentionally bad subtitle, do you know how many novels have the subtitle "a novel of love and war"? Check out the list. Since Amazon returns four pages of results with that subtitle, let's simple agree that it's quite a few.
Now don't get me wrong: subtitles can be a great thing, and Lord knows I've used them in my time. Two anthologies I've edited — Million Writers Award: The Best New Online Voices and Million Writers Award: The Best Online Science Fiction and Fantasy — both sprouted their titles in the fertile fields of subtitle land. After all, subtitles can be a useful way to both brand your book and convey added information to potential readers.
In my case, I needed to let readers know the anthologies were tied in with the annual Million Writers Award while also helping readers tell them apart. And for some genres — such as with nonfiction — subtitles are a vital tool to help potential readers quickly determine a book's subject matter.
But that doesn't mean most novels need subtitles. And if they do, novels certainly don't need the cliches which most publishers and authors believe qualify as subtitles.
In many ways we're living in the literary landscape left by J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. He'd originally wanted his epic fantasy story to be published as one massive novel, but his publisher balked at the cost of doing that. Instead, they released the novel as a trilogy, resulting in bastardizations such as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
When other authors and publishers realized the payoff which could result from successful series, we began to see increasing numbers of subtitles proclaiming the series and book number. This trend picked up even more steam when mega-blockbuster films like Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope tricked a new generation of authors into believing subtitle land was the only place to write.I'm probably fighting a losing battle against this trend, but such is life. Still, where logic and literary analysis don't succeed, there's always humor and snark. Below are the worst subtitled novels I've discovered on Amazon. I know there are many more out there — if anyone finds a jaw-droppingly bad fiction subtitle, add it to the comments below.
- ME: A Novel of Self-Discovery by Thomas T. Thomas
- The Return of the Mayan: A Novel of Discovery by J. Albert Rorabacher
- Chasing Fireflies: A Novel of Discovery by Charles Martin
- No self-pub excuses here. A major publisher ran with this subtitle.
- Winona's Web: A Novel of Discovery by Priscilla Cogan
- I'd love to discover a subtitle which isn't a novel of discovery.
- Blight; or, The Novel Hater: A Tale of our Own Times, Volume II by Rose Foot
- He Loves Me Not: a novel of suspense (Lily's Story, Book 1) by Christine Kersey
- Rav Hisda's Daughter, Book I: Apprentice: A Novel of Love, the Talmud, and Sorcery by Maggie Anton
- Rashi's Daughters, Book III: Rachel: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France by Maggie Anton
- Maggie Anton dearly loves her subtitles. Check all of them out on her Amazon page.
- Beyond The Blue, The Blue Series Volume 2 Part 1 by Josephine Dillon
- Crazy For You (A Controversial Romance)
- The Superuser: A Grisham Stark Murder Mystery Novel (Action Suspense Thriller) by Collin Moshman and Katie Dozier
- WIRED (The NY Times Bestselling Novel) by Douglas E. Richards
- Because once you crack the combined NY Times print and e-book bestseller lists, naturally that must become your novel's subtitle. I should also note that the subtitle was recently dropped on this novel, but that's how I originally found it. And the book's cover still shows the subtitle clearly.
- The Worst Horror Novel: Night Vigil by Dallas Releford
- You have to give this author credit for reversing the title and subtitle, and for truth in advertising.
* Exceptions to the author-picking-on rule. Authors are not supposed to pick on fellow authors unless:
- You can do it anonymously. Because oh yeah baby, authors love a nice anonymous flame war built on the bonfires of each other's books.
- The author being picked on is successful. If an author makes the best-seller lists and becomes a household name like J.K. Rowling then the knives come out. Because dang it, when you're an author sometimes you're only reward in this world is extra-heavy envy of those who are more successful than you.