A novel

My impression is that recently a greater percentage of the fiction books I read have the words “a novel” on the dust jacket. (Presently Karl Marlantes’ Deep River. Excellent read, BTW.) Yes, I realize that some percentage of novels have always advertised their nature, but the trend seems to me to be increasing.

Has anyone else noticed this trend (or am I just noticing it more now for some reason?

Whether the practice is increasing or not, why would a fiction producer feel the need to advertise the book’s nature on the cover? Are there a lot of situations where someone would pick up a book and be disappointed or confused to learn that what they read was not fact?

I’ve certainly noticed it, and I approve. I’m the unofficially official librarian of my church’s free library (same concept as a Little Free Library; take books or leave them as you will, except this is a whole room), and I like to keep the books at least somewhat organized. Fiction and memoirs go in different places, and it’s not always easy to tell at a glance which is which. But when I see “A novel”, I know that it goes in the fictions section.

For the same reason, I like it when books self-describe their genre, “A thriller”, or “A mystery”, or “Romance” or whatever.

Hmm - I guess I didn’t think of how it might aid someone in your type of situation. I would assume that most libraries/bookstores would have an idea as to what came in, and once it was shelved, the nature would be apparent to a patron.

I understand what you say about "“at a glance”, as I was thinking that pretty much any novel has - at the very least - the “This is a work of fiction…” disclaimer.

I’ve read in the past about the thought and effort that went into designing covers - it sorta surprised me to see this sort of text appearing so prominently.

The vast majority of my reading is nonfiction, so I appreciate it being there. For some reason, many bookstores and big box stores that sell books don’t clearly separate the two except for cookbooks and self-help.

The use goes back a long way. In a very quick search I found it on Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, from 1935, and Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, from 1948. It’s not on early Hemingway, but it is on his later books. I’d say it stopped seeming new and different after WWII and became the norm by the 1960s.

The industry uses it for two reasons. One is prosaic. If you, the reader or potential buyer, pick up a book, you want to know immediately what it is. A box of cereal and a box of laundry detergent may have the same dimensions and you may want both on your grocery list, but you don’t want to confuse them. Titles can be ambiguous or straight out misleading. The two above could easily be applied to a non-fiction book.

A novel is also different from a collection of short stories by one author, or an anthology of stories by many authors, or two novellas bound together, or humorous essays, or a spoof, or an outright parody.

The second reason is more insidious. “A Novel” is code. In the publishing industry, “A Novel” always means a literary novel. Literary novels have been traditionally the highest level of publishing. “A Novel” is like USDA Prime beef. Choice and Select are mostly what you find in stores, and the grading goes all the way down to Canner. Publishing has a similar, if unwritten, grading.

The industry has always been split between top-level literary novels and regular novels that typically sold a lot more copies. Neither Gone with the Wind nor Payton Place had the designation. James Patterson doesn’t get it today. There aren’t many literary trilogies, either, and none would ever rise to that level. However, each of John Updike’s Rabbit books is labeled “A Novel.”

Just as important as separating literary novels from bestsellers is distancing “real” novels from genre novels. Only a very few genre novels ever get the “A Novel” designation, and that generally appears only after the writer has ascended into the rarefied atmosphere of critical acceptance. Raymond Chandler didn’t get it until 1954’s The Long Goodbye. Ursula K. Le Guin didn’t get it on The Left Hand of Darkness but did on The Dispossesed.

Most fiction today is published without the “A Novel” designation. Nevertheless, you may indeed be seeing it more often. The industry is panicking, like all other print industries. It’s trying to make certain books prestigious, “must” reads, that will be talked about online. Those books and those authors will certainly be favored on their front covers. You’ll probably read more reviews of them in more places as the publisher pushes them into the spotlight. And then you’ll forget they ever existed, because most of them will never sell and be remaindered. Because readers of “A Novel” are a tiny minority of readers.

Codes like that only work if they’re enforced. If there’s any segment of the market that associates “A novel” with quality, then it won’t take long before every novel says so on the cover.

Then explain why the usage has been consistent since 1935.

I’m a library bookstore volunteer. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell from the title, blurb, and especially author if a book is fiction or non-fiction, and that not only helps us, it also helps people who are looking for a certain genre.

This is especially helpful for fiction books written by (or with :o ) an author who usually writes NF.

Thanks for the insight Exapno. I’m going to start paying more attention to see if this is just something I noticed.

I get nearly all of my reading from the library. I read about 50/50 fiction/non. I pick what to read from reviews or recommendations - but also just go into the stacks and read spines. Depending on my mood, I’ll just pick a random part of the alphabet for fiction, or one of the nonfiction sections I tend to like. My daughter - a librarian - says that practice is quite weird! :wink:

But what I’m saying is, I could pick a recent release or a “classic.” I already keep a list of the titles I read. Will be easy to ass an asterisk for books that designate themselves as “a novel.”

You say Patterson (whom I don’t read) lacks the words, but ISTR Lee Child will say “A Jack Reacher Novel.” (Or is it thriller?) Odd when you just become aware of something you must have been seeing for some time.

Yeah, there are a lot of ways “novel” can be slipped in. That’s one. “A new novel by the author of” is another.

But that’s code, too. Updike doesn’t get “A Rabbit Novel.” Jack Reacher is a genre character. Mysteries have had phrases like that for a century, touting the detective or author.

It’s the pure and simple “A Novel” that’s the one and only designation. Think of it as the mark of a luxury brand. Only the best. Not to be sullied by books of low quality. I remember when Stephen King got it for the first time. The whole writing community buzzed about it, and this was before Twitter.