Tag Archives: E L James


Recent chatter about copyright infringement concerning music (see Spirit’s “Taurus” vs. Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” or Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams “Blurred Lines” vs. Marvin Gaye’s “Gotta Give it Up”) has reignited discussion of copyright issues in the literary world.

According to the Berne Convention (the international source for copyright law), your original manuscript is protected by copyright as soon as it is fixed in tangible form. That is, the moment your great American novel is written—on paper or your computer—you’re copyrighted. For how long, you ask? In the USA and much of Europe, it’s the creator’s lifetime plus 70 years.

But here’s the funny thing; book titles are not protected by U.S. copyright laws.

grace 4To qualify for such protection, a work needs to possess “a significant amount of original expression” and the courts have ruled that expressions as short as book titles do not qualify. (That’s why, when my book club pals had heard about a great book with the words “Ordinary Grace” in the title, we had to get more specific; there are almost 2,500 books to choose from!)

This doesn’t mean, however, that you can name your book Fifty Shades of Grey. Some titles qualify for trademark protection (series titles like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Twilight, etc.) if the grace 3books become successful enough to be considered recognizable brands. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs that identify the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguish them from others.

So, while it would so clever to title your new cookbook, The Hunger Games, you can’t. But if you name it, A Place at the Table, nothing’s stopping you, except for the fact that 6 other writers have already done so. (Our book club read the version by Susan Rebecca White, if you’re interested.) I’d recommend coming up with some other imaginative wording – it avoids confusion. What if your fans buy the wrong book? Why help someone else have a best seller?grace 1

By the way, our book club chose the Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. Thumbs up.



Filed under books, English language, literary terms, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, writing

From Book to Big Screen

Like becoming a teacher, most writers do not go into the profession of authorship for the big bucks. We write (or teach) because we love it, because we have a story to tell, because we can’t help ourselves …

elBut perhaps we also covet the crazy idea that our story will become a bestseller and maybe even catch the eye of a Hollywood producer, and that our characters will come to life on film. Then the fun begins! Who will play our heroine? Who best to portray the villain?

A recent skit on Saturday Night Live took on the challenging task of casting for the upcoming big screen version of Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m not sure author E.L. James had this in mind.



Leave a comment

Filed under books, English language, grammar, literary terms, publishing, writing

Fifty Shouts of “I Don’t Get It!”

I’m not a fan of the romance novel, but as an editor, I’m always interested in literature (I use this term with trepidation here) that break through and become bestsellers. Think Twilight.

So, for the sake of RESEARCH, I borrowed a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey from my friend (who may or may not choose to remain anonymous) to uncover the mystery behind the madness. Unfortunately, after wading through – or rather, tiptoeing – I’m no closer to understanding why E L James’ tome made it to the big time. In fact, from an editor’s point of view, it shouldn’t have.

The over-abundance of cliche’d phrases (I want to #@*% you, Oh my!), the predictable romantic character names (Christian, Anastasia), the outdated reference to Mrs. Robinson for the “older woman/younger man” relationship (aren’t they cougars?),  the ridiculously trite conversations (“Would you like some tea?” “Yes, please.”), and the almost comical name of the publisher in the story – Mr. J. Hyde – don’t add up to blockbuster to me.

True, the proven “formula” – rich, handsome man meets young, beautiful virgin – is something romance fans count on – and publishers count on for profits. Like the mystery formula – with clues, red herrings, multiple suspects – readers come to expect certain elements. I get that. But I still can’t comprehend why this particular book (yikes, trilogy!) stands taller.

I thought, perhaps, that there was more sex or more explicit sex in this story than is typical in other romances, but my friend (yes, there really is a friend who loaned me the book; I did not buy it under an assumed name) assured me that this is not unique. I thought, perhaps, the fact that the entire story is in present tense (He takes me into his playroom as opposed to He took me into his playroom) was more appealing, but it turns out my friend (and other friends) did not even notice this!

Is it that this story – based on a dominant/submissive relationship – is one that women secretly desire? That the glass ceiling we have fought so hard to break through, the academic shackles (I did not say handcuffs!) we have struggled to release ourselves from, the kitchen (and bedroom) we have escaped from are all for naught (please, do not think “naughty”).

Obviously, the advice I give to aspiring writers – be unique, don’t be repetitive, etc. – does not necessarily guarantee success either. My new mantra? Submit manuscripts using initials (EL  James –  JK Rowlings) Hmmm.


Filed under books, English language, grammar, publishing, reading, writing