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Say I have a possible title for a novel I am writing, and it's a word or phrase that has been used in the title of quite a large number of nonfictional works, sometimes as the whole of the title. But I am not interested in those works, because I am only interested in novels. What I am interested in, first, is whether my possible title has ever been used as the whole of any other novel's title; and, second, whether any novel has been published which starts with my possible title and then contains one or more other words following it.

For example, the word might be the term "Literature", in which case the first question would be Has a novel ever been published called "Literature"? and the second would be Has a novel ever been published under a title containing two or more words of which the first is "Literature"? It is no surprise that many nonfictional works have been published with titles that are "Literature" or begin with that word.

Google's advanced search tool at Google Books, as far as I can tell, allows only searches for book titles that contain a specified phrase, regardless of whether they also contain other words and regardless too of whether they are fiction or nonfiction.

The British Library's tool for conducting an advanced search of its catalogue is more useful insofar as it allows you to search for items that have a given phrase as the whole of their Title field, but like the Google Books engine it does not assist with selecting only novels, or only fictional works, and a further weakness is that it cannot pick out only books and it will also return plays and musical works.

  • So, basically, you want to be sure that the title you give your novel has not been used for another novel in the past? – Galastel Feb 8 at 0:58
  • Or as the first part of a longer title of another novel. It's important that the title has been used for many works of nonfiction, either as the whole title or the start of a longer title. – edd Feb 8 at 1:08
  • I edited the title and body to be clearer. If you don't like my changes, please go ahead and change them back. – Cyn Feb 8 at 2:14
  • Thanks, @Cyn. I have rolled them back not because I think my version is perfect but because the known previous use of the phrase in many works of nonfiction is important and rules out the usual search techniques. The example of the word "Literature" is quite good insofar as the question Has there ever been a novel with the title "Literature"? is helpful and concrete after the necessarily long specification of the general question. – edd Feb 8 at 9:48
  • Absolutely, it's your question and you should write it as you like. I will suggest, however, that you shorten the title and put the longer version of your question into the body. Super long titles don't scan well when people are looking through lists of posts. – Cyn Feb 8 at 16:07
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Although it only has speculative fiction, The Internet Speculative Fiction Database could help. It's a start, and it's powerful enough to do exactly what you want (plus it can be downloaded and queried with SQL for even more power if you needed something more complicated). On this page), you should search:

  • Title | starts with | literature
  • AND
  • Publication Type | is exactly | NOVEL

(If the title of something is just "literature", then it will be found by this search.)


However...

From your description, it sounds like you're trying to use a title that's going to be very frustrating to search for, unless people remember your name. I very rarely remember the names of authors and I suspect that a lot of people are the same.

If you need a specific example of how frustrating this is, try searching for the book "Literature®" on Google. It exists and you'll know it when you see it (because of the "®" that's part of the title), but you probably won't be able to find it without resorting to ISFDB. (Since most search engines ignore special characters, it's basically the same as if the book was titled "Literature".)

Because of this problem, you should consider titling your book with something distinctive enough that people can find it when searching for only the title (and maybe a description like "book" or "novel").

  • Many thanks for this. I tried the ISFDB with the word Fiction too, and it found the 2018 novel with that title. – edd Feb 8 at 10:28
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After posting this question, I found that WorldCat allows its database of fiction and films to be searched for items with titles that contain or are a defined string.

A search on "Literature" brings up the one-act play by Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler that was published in English translation as Literature: A Comedy, as well as some anthologies - but not many, so they can be gone through manually quite quickly. A search on "Fiction" brings up an item by Martin Walser that seems to be a series of novellas, but not the 2018 novel by Ryan Lieske.

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Easier said than done.

I tried Goodreads. The good news is it allows you to search by genre. Not just fiction but also type of fiction, if you want. And by title. But you can not set it to just choose the titles that start with the keyword. And you can't alphabetize the results.

Then I tried my local library, and it works! I was able to set the keyword search for titles only and I could set a category. I chose "adult fiction." There are 60 results for "literature." Note that it also looked within series names and sub-titles.

It then allowed me to alphabetize them by full title. Drawback? A fairly small database.

The search engine company is SirsiDynix. Find a bigger library that uses it and you're in business.

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NoveList - This is a very good resource for finding books. You can use this resource for book recommendations. Your library may have subscription to this service, and you can access the database for free. Just type in whatever details, and search. You may also browse for books.

EbscoHost - This is just an extended version of NoveList. It basically allows you to find more than books. Type in what you want in the search engine, search by database, and narrow your search. Some stuff can be read online; others are retired.

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