Literary Trend Spotting: Prepositional Phrases as Titles


When you get into mainstream publishing, everything functions on trends. When a title becomes popular, you start to see dozens of look-a-likes: similar titles, similar cover images, similar color schemes, patterns and more. These are the publisher’s way of saying “Hey, reader! You liked Gone Girl? Well you’ll love these 10 other books with the word ‘girl’ in their titles!”

The book publishing world is an interesting place. It’s a world in which you walk a very thin line of being avant garde, but not so different that readers and publishers won’t know how to categorize you or recommend you to readers. As an avid reader of a variety of genres and a writer, I often notice trends as I wander the stacks or scroll through Amazon or book lists put out by NPR and other organizations. As a blogger, I’ve started categorizing these trends when I see them.

Today, I’d like to discuss a niche trend I’ve noticed when it comes to titles. It is perhaps not as obvious as the ‘girl’ trend I mention above. But, it is something that has caught my attention and one I’ve been turning over in my mind for some time. What is it about the prepositional phrases that has drawn authors and publishers? Has anyone else noticed this, or is it just me?

prepositional phrases

Do you remember the mnemonic device we learned in middle school to identify a preposition? A preposition is anything Casper can do to a mountain (hence the image theme of the mountain for this post): Over the mountain, under the mountain, through the mountain, beside the mountain. You get the idea.

This is a bit of a quieter trend, a little more subtle unless you think frequently about grammar as I do. Everywhere I look, book titles seem to be written in the form of adverb clauses. It doesn’t to be constrained by genre or archetype. You find it in both fiction and nonfiction. Because of this, I don’t think this is a trend that authors or publishers are seeking to replicate in the same way they have sought to do so with other trends with the intent of latching onto the success of other titles and attract a particular book’s audience.

Instead, I think there is a cadence to these phrases that catches a reader’s attention because of how it sounds in your ear. There’s a bounce to the phrases that is almost poetic. Also, there is a subliminal hint of anticipation. There is no comma after these titles, but on many of them, you could almost imagine that they are the intriguing beginning to a beautiful line of text that invites the reader to know more, or sparks in them the desire to keep reading. What do you think of when you see a title crafted in this way?

Here is a list of titles I’ve read or come across in the past couple of years featuring this trend. As you’ll see if you look up these titles, they don’t really have much in common and they don’t create a category of literature either. But, the titles themselves whet the reader’s appetite and invite you to take it off the shelf and check out the first page.

  1. Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan (just googled this one)
  2. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (great book by the way!)
  3. In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond by John Zada (A sasquatch story? Just added it to my to-read list!)
  4. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (read this one for book club a few months ago)
  5. When Breath Becomes Air Paul Kalanithi and Abraham Verghese (beautiful and heartbreaking)
  6. Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund (the second book in a two-part series that I adore)
  7. When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger (haven’t read it, but she’s a classic)

What other trends have you noticed going on with the book publishing world lately? You can check out some of my other Literary Trend Spotting posts as well:

Literary Trend Spotting: Female Assassins
Literary Trend Spotting: Tough Women
The Unlikable, Off-Putting Hero

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels


Edit: Apologies for my grammatical oversight last week and thanks to the blogger who kindly pointed it out to me. Sometimes I just move to quickly and don’t check myself! So embarrassing..

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