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Why Do Self-Help Books Have Profanity in the Titles?

December 21, 2019

Putting profanity in a book title is lame, no matter what genre it is.  A few years ago, some guy I’d never heard of wrote a bestselling book called Sh*t My Dad Says.  This was lame because the author’s dad said all the funny stuff and the author got the bestselling book.

On the other hand, if the dad had written the book and called Sh*t I Say, then it probably wouldn’t have sold as well.  If you say sh*t, it’s better to say somebody else said it.  If the sh*t is funny, you still get credit, but if the profanity backfires, you can blame somebody else.

I’m not a prude about profanity.  I put profanity in my own blog posts.  I even put it in a few of my blog titles.  When I use profanity, I even spell it out.  I don’t replace any letters with an asterisk to hide what I’m saying.

Anybody who reads my blog Dysfunctional Literacy knows that f*ck means fuck.  Even kids who aren’t supposed to say fuck know that f*ck means fuck.  The only people who don’t know that f*ck means fuck are the people who don’t know what fuck means, so using f*ck is meaningless.

Anyway, I can understand why an unknown author would put bad words in a book title because a struggling author has to do something shocking to get attention.  It’s still lame, though.  The worst is when a celebrity puts profanity in a book title, like when celebrity film writer Kevin Smith put out a book called Tough Sh*t.  Kevin Smith proved himself to be selfish when he used Sh*t in his book title because he’s diluting the shock value of profanity, thereby stealing from lesser known authors who might need it.

Now a bunch of self-help books are resorting to the use of bad words in titles.  Just this week in a brick and mortar book store, I saw the following titles:

F*ck Feelings by Michael I Bennet and Sarah Bennet

F*ck Love by Michael I Bennet and Sarah Bennet

Stop Doing That Sh*t by Gary John Bishop

Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop

Find Your F*cking Happy by Monica Sweeney

Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight

Calm the F*ck Down by Sarah Knight

How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t by Andrea Owen

Self-help books haven’t always been like this.  When I was a kid in the 1970s, the big self-help book was I’m Okay, You’re Okay by Thomas A. Harris.  Even at my young age, I knew that was a lie.  I figured I might be okay, but I knew most other people weren’t, and the book title was lying.  I refuse to read books that lie in the title.  but at least there was no profanity in the title.

That’s why I refuse to read You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero.  A true badass isn’t going to read the book because a true badass doesn’t need any advice that might (but probably isn’t) in the book.  A true badass would see the title You Are a Badass and think, yes I am, and keep walking.  The title is lying and also uses profanity.  I can’t trust the author now.  And her last name is Sincero.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by  Mark Manson also a lie because the author obviously gives a fuck.  If the author truly didn’t give a fuck, he wouldn’t have censored the title.  Maybe it’s the publisher who didn’t want fuck fully spelled out, but in that case, an author who truly didn’t give a fuck would have found a publisher who didn’t a fuck.  Either way, the title is a lie.

A few years ago, I wrote my own book called Crap Is NOT a Bad Word!   I meant it as a joke because I’m always complaining about profanity in book titles and then I wrote a book with profanity in the book title, except I claim it really isn’t profanity.  I even convinced myself that crap isn’t really a bad word.  I convinced myself so convincingly that I still get mad when I think of the times I was punished for saying crap.

Even though I wrote Crap Is NOT a Bad Word! several years ago, I think it’s still relevant, and I spell out all the bad words in the book.  There are a lot of bad words, but it’s not really a self-help book, except maybe for polite people.

Anyway, if you’re going to put profanity in your self-help book title, go all out.  I don’t trust self-help gurus who are desperate enough to put profanity in their book titles.  And I really don’t trust self-help gurus who lie and use profanity in their titles.


Sometimes I’ll ask a question in a blog title and answer it, but this time I have no answer.  I’m curious.  Why do so many self-help books today have bad words in their titles?  What do you think?

  1. Anonymous permalink

    Wow there are a lot of those! I never like those titles for self help books because I think they’re going for humorous but they come off aggressive and also like they don’t take their own topic seriously.

  2. The trouble is: When you spell it out, filter algorithms will censor you. Amazon censored me a book for containing profanity after it had assigned the ASIN “2Y4FUCKN53” to it.

  3. You ask why they use profanity in their titles – I’m guessing but it might me that they think it makes the author look cool and hip….. To me it just sounds desperate, as if they couldnt think of anything better

  4. I agree with BookerTalk. The authors think they sound edgy. By the way, I’ve decided that Sincero just has to be a pen name. It sounds made up and invokes an automatic eye-roll response.

  5. Ugh. I will never read any of those. I can’t decide if I hate titles like that more than I hate Kevin Smith. Probably Kevin Smith.

  6. I was gifted You are a Badass from a friend. It actually is a really good book. I do get your point though, and as some of the other comments said, it just sounds like these authors are trying to be edgy and cool. Great post!

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