Why don’t novels have subtitles?

“What’s it about?” is one of the more difficult questions for an author. A novelist wants to reply with a summary of the plot, while a non-fiction writer is tempted to launch into a lecture.

Coming up with the right flash reply is a blessing.

My elder daughter, for example, pointed me to the “recovering from deep personal loss” theme of What’s Left. Yes, that’s what it is ultimately about.

Finding an appropriate – and hopefully catchy – title is hard enough. One or two words, if you can.

And then there’s the cover design – another long consideration regarding a quick impression.

For books on paper, there’s the back cover and the spine for added impact.

Ebooks have the blurb on the screen beside the cover.

A related challenge comes in giving a potential reader a good welcome to the volume at hand – a sense of what to expect. Is it playful or tragic, insightful or superficial, emotional or witty?

I’ve often flipped a book open and sampled a sentence inside, which has often been all that I’ve needed. Not an option with an ebook. You first have to download a sample of the book itself.

~*~

Over the past month, something that should have been obvious all along has finally come to my attention.

Novels don’t have subtitles. Non-fiction usually does, as you know all too well if you’re doing scholarly citations.

So why doesn’t fiction?

I’m sure there are exceptions, and maybe mention of being part of a series could be considered one of them. But none of what I’m pulling off the bookshelf parts from tradition.

Still, I started playing and realized a subtitle would be a big boost.

Rather than redoing the covers or the blurbs, I decided to put the subtitle on the title page inside as an extra touch in easing the reader into the text.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

~*~

  • WHAT’S LEFT … Within a daughter’s own living Greek drama
  • DAFFODIL UPRISING … The making of a hippie
  • PIT-A-PAT HIGH JINKS … Of housemates, lovers, and friends
  • SUBWAY VISIONS … Along the tubes to Nirvana
  • YOGA BOOTCAMP … Welcome to Big Pumpkin’s ashram
  • NEARLY CANAAN … With an enduring promise of snowy mountains
  • THE SECRET SIDE OF JAYA … A vagabond’s surreal and fantastic encounters
  • HOMETOWN NEWS … Reports from Trump country

~*~

What do you think? Do the subtitles help?

And by the way, how do you settle on a title? As a reader or as a writer?

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