Long before the prevalence of internet keywords to help people narrow down a search, the concept applied to book titles. To be more accurate, it applied to books in popular fiction. Literary fiction has its own thing going. You pretty much know if you see a book with a title like As Grow the Wild Tulips, or A Garden in Antioch, you’re probably looking at literary fiction.
With popular fiction, the keywords become genre-specific. You can be pretty sure if you see words like heart, song, secret, or forever that the book is a romance novel. As with all rules, there are exceptions. Other keywords also play a role, so Cannibal Heart might not necessarily be a romance. Neither is this short list all-inclusive. I’m sure there are romance titles that don’t include any of the keywords I mentioned, but those words are strongly representative and indicative of the romance genre.
In the horror genre, the same considerations apply. Words like dark, dead, evil, and blood abound in horror titles. Stephen King, the dark lord of horror, himself has never really observed this convention. That’s probably what’s held him back all these years. (ahem)
If you see the words dragon, crystal, sword, or quest in a title, you can be pretty confident the book is of the fantasy genre.You don’t have to be a detective to figure out the words murder, case, files, and missing usually go with the mystery genre.
Science fiction is a little trickier, but you can still pick them out. Lots of sci-fi titles have numbers in the title (2001 A Space Odyssey; Fahrenheit 451; Slaughterhouse Five; 1984, etc.). Another common feature of sci-fi titles is to use a made-up word that is the name of a planet or alien race, but it has to sound distinctly sci-fi and not fantasy. Nebulac or Kremulon would be good ones. Finally, the words chronicles and space are often used in science fiction.
So, what can we learn from this? It seems to me that if the use of one keyword is good, more would be better. Let’s face it, while lots of authors can write a lengthy manuscript, they run into trouble when forced to economize words. This is why so many book descriptions either ramble around aimlessly or are so vague as to be pointless.
Titles are another trouble spot. A lot of people are just bad at this. So, why not make use of the extensive research I just made up for this article? If you’re writing a science fiction novel, consider titling it The Space Chronicles of Zagnog Seven.
Are you a fantasy author, but nobody seems to know it? Grab Quest for the Crystal Dragon Sword for your next title. Nobody will tuck that baby into the wrong section of the bookstore.
Did your last romance fall flat? You’ve got a guaranteed winner with a title like, Secret Song of the Forever Heart.
Sorry, but I’m calling dibs on this title for my horror epic: Dark Blood of the Evil Dead.
What? I haven’t helped enough already?