Publishers and bookstore owners: do you wonder why sales have dipped and are struggling to catch up to last year’s numbers? Take a moment to review your lists and displays from viewers’ and visitors’ perspective. Dedicated readers, who once considered these resources and destinations a haven, now find some sections equivalent to an assault.
For those of us who enjoy reading publications with book review sections and bestseller lists, the pleasure of discovering a few lyrical works comes to a screeching halt in the presence of titles filled with vulgarities. Similarly, a happily anticipated visit to a local bookstore quickly takes a wrong turn when centrally placed and unavoidable tables prominently showcase stacks of books shouting obscenities with angry venom.
While a well-placed colorful word can pack a punch when used sparingly, resorting to vulgar titles is actually an easy, mindless, and lazy knee-jerk marketing approach. In an attempt to reach and speak to the masses, these word choices continue to dumb down book titles and subjects while discouraging any effort to strengthen thinking, meaning, or purpose—let alone a sense of integrity for authors, marketers, or the industry.
Like many worthwhile experiences in life, a good book often requires readers to exert some effort. Instead, many glutted categories with crude titles invite them to succumb, without thought, to the call of a naughty siren.
Perhaps pejorative and jargon-filled titles are a reflection of competitive markets and desperate efforts to grab attention. However, is the raunchy mangling of language and thought worth the cost?
While scanning book lists, reading reviews, and walking around bookstores, the following offenders alienate in their screaming abrasiveness:
•Bad A** and F*** Collections: Bookstore tables overflowing with these popular but unappealing phrases have even started to encroach on the religion section. This serious head-scratcher is a clear sign of mauled language and values, resulting from frantic attempts to increase sales. The asterisks in the titles don’t soften the crass blow or cloaked attempts to veil negative curse words, which have oddly become a compliment. Is this message the one to convey to or shape the next generation of so-called leaders?
•Nasty B**** and Slut Titles: Adding to variations of the “baddest” bombs, some proudly self-defined feminists have taken to smearing their work with the big B and S words. These titles are prime-time insults, even when personally professed. In any delivery, they diminish women, who have worked for decades to earn respect, while setting the bar low for young girls struggling to form their identities in a confusing world.
•Aggressive Hustlers: This glutted group of books—with variations on the same title—has roots in the concept of prostitution. The pounding titles urge the need to walk the streets, aggressively grab action, and climb on top at any price. Is achieving goals in questionable ways a cause for celebrating prostitution?
If book titles reflect our times, then we are definitely in serious trouble. Though writers, publishers, and bookstore owners need to stay in business, profanity and jargon are misguided marketing techniques. Rather than fortifying the publishing industry with classy, clever, and thoughtful advertising, this unwelcome trend in the degradation of language will lead to further declines and threaten implosion.
The overuse of vulgar titles suggests that authors, publishers, and marketers are scraping the scraps in their toolbox. This plea is an urgent one to those who care about the health of the industry to reach for higher ground.
Andrea Karen Hammer, a freelance writer and editor who has worked for academic and commercial publishers, is the founder and director of Artsphoria Events & Media Group.