Book Front Cover Question

Not sure if this question belongs here or Cafe Society, but here goes: I recently finished up Stephen King’s latest novel, “Revival”, and after I closed it, noticed that at the bottom of the front cover it says, “A Novel”. Why is this put on the cover in the first place? It’s obviously a novel. It’s not a brochure. It’s not a technical manual. It’s not even a leaflet on Famous Jewish Sports Legends. Is there a reason why publishers insist on this?

There are non-fiction books too, you know.

I realize that. Is it so the people stocking the shelves in bookstores or libraries can simply take a glance at the cover and store it appropriately?

It just seems akin to buying Toyota Corolla and on the side is stamped: A Car.

Maybe because SK has done short story compilations and serials?

Probably just a marketing trick. People interested in reading fiction are more likely to pick up a book with a somewhat ambigous title if it’s identified as a novel. I recently had to re-sort the books on my Kindle into collections, and I noticed a lot of them identified this way:

The Celebrant: A Novel
Cloud Atlas: A Novel
Day for Night: A Novel
Fight Club: A Novel
The Girl on the Train: A Novel
Learning to Swim: A Novel
Life After Life: A Novel
Life Among Giants: A Novel
Remarkable Creatures: A Novel
Sellevision: A Novel
The Tiger’s Wife: A Novel

It seems to me that “Revival” is ambiguous enough that adding “a novel” to the cover would increase sales.

It’s a common element in the covers of books. Partly it’s to differentiate between novels and other forms of writing. Someone may see a title and think it’s nonfiction, for instance: a reader might see the title “Revival” and think it’s a nonfiction book about a revival meeting.

There’s also a certain amount of cachet in using the word.

The term is almost always used today as a marker of class. Genre books are not novels. Literary books are.

Though King had the reputation of the king of horror and other genre books, he’s been fighting to remove the stigma that genre has. His last few books have been attempts to reconcile his style with literary style, especially 11/22/63.

Though this new one is a mystery, he presumably wants it to be taken more seriously than the literary world does James Patterson, whose covers never say “A Novel” on them. Other authors of similar serious popular culture are doing the same thing. Neil Stephenson’s *Anathem *carries the marker, although his earlier works didn’t.

The use of “A Novel” has a long history in this way. It’s code to a certain type of reader and buyer. (And used to be a signal to reviewers that they could review it without having to relegate it to the genre book section. I don’t think that happens as much anymore, but no doubt persists somewhere.) The vast majority of readers and buyers of fiction are not in this literary in-group and probably never think twice about it. The 1% who do - who carry enormous, disproportionate influence in the publishing world - need to see it.

Moved to Cafe Society.

General Questions Moderator

… A Forum

It’s not the case with Revival, but in a lot of examples (particularly in the old days), you would often see title pages laid out something like this:

Insert Clever Title Here

A novel

by John Q. Bookwriter.

Think of the phrase “a novel” less as part of the title, and more as a part of the authorship statement: “a novel by Ernest Hemingway,” “a novel by Joyce Carol Oates,” etc.

I suspect that was the original usage. That it was meant to be part of a phrase that both identified the type of work and the author, but that over time the arrangement of information on both title page and cover has migrated, but “A novel” appearing as a sort of subtitle has stuck around.

well done, sir!

Just a bit of pretentiousness, I think.

Updike did it best:

I’m sure [del]Bech[/del] Updike was aware of what he was satirizing, especially if you look at some of his other covers.

Some of these make a lot of sense. I can see someone picking up “Learning to Swim” expecting it to be an instructional book, or thinking “Cloud Atlas” would be a meteorology book, or “Remarkable Creatures” about unusual animals. I’m reminded of a Jim Davis Herman cartoon panel in which an angry customer is trying to return a book, saying “This ‘wildlife’ book you sold me has nothing in it but animals!”

I think people in this thread really should take a browse through the literary section of a bookstore.

As a librarian, I’d like to mention that the full title (including any subtitles) of a book is usually what’s going to show up in a catalog search. We have King’s Revival in our collection, and sure enough it’s listed in the catalog as Revival: A Novel. Someone searching for non-fiction books about revival meetings could immediately tell that this book was irrelevant to their needs without even clicking to view the full record.