Tag Archives: Fifty Shades of Grey


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.



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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.



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Eradicating Rave Reviews

Did you see the recent New York Times article by David Streitfeld? The one about Amazon “cracking down” on the abundance of five-star book reviews? I don’t know about you, but I’m thrilled… but also in a bit of a predicament.nytlogo379x64

As an avid reader, I’m always on the prowl for new books to devour
(when I’m not buys editing and proofing manuscripts that are going to hopefully become those books that other avid readers will want to devour!) and I often look to Amazon book reviews to get a feel for what others think. NOT that I rely on what others think or assume that because it’s a five-star bestseller it will be for me. (Case in point: Fifty Shades of Grey – but then, I’ve already expounded on this in another post!)
starsjBut still, it doesn’t hurt to know what people are saying – IF what they’re saying is not a rubber-stamped, don’t-want-to-hurt-the-author’s-feelings kind of review. Unfortunately, most reviews (as the article points out) are just that… especially if the author has recruited friends and family and former English teachers to review his or her book.

As an editor, though, I’m often asked to write those very reviews for writers – having worked on their books or because as a friend of an author, my professional status will carry some weight and hopefully will influence purchases. But how do I write an honest review that might actually be critical and less than five stars? How do I say that, “Well, I did the best I could with the story, but it still isn’t great?” Or how do I tell writers whose works I had not worked on, but think maybe I should have – that they might want to ask someone else?

I can always find something nice to say, but it doesn’t seem to be enough; so many reviews have only everything nice to say. So I hem and haw, and shuffle my feet, and carefully edit my reviews so that I don’t really lie – but I don’t tell the whole truth.

So, thank you Amazon, for being tough – and giving me the courage to be tough, too.


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Fifty Scents of PINE SOL

Unless you’ve spent the last four months sequestered on a jury or living as a cloistered nun, you have probably read, talked about, or at least heard of Fifty Shades of Grey.

And as I’ve mentioned before, in the name of research, I’ve done all three … actually, four, since I am also writing about it.

Though most of my friends and I do not understand the reason for such wild success, we do wonder if the tables were turned (so to speak), would the story appeal to us; that is, if the characters and the room and the rules were written from a different perspective.

What if Christian was the Submissive and one of my friends was the Dominant? If she had a playroom, what would it hold? How would she want Christian to “willingly surrender yourself to me, in all things … to please me?” (Fifty Shades of Grey, pg. 100)

So I revisited Chapter Seven of above-mentioned book and think …

The moment Christian walks into her fantasy room, he notices the smell of Pine Sol and Windex – with a faint citrus scent. Instead of a large wooden cross, a broom and mop are fastened like an X to the wall. Instead of ropes, chains, and shackles, scrub brushes and rubber gloves are suspended from the ceiling. And rather than paddles, whips, and riding crops, plungers, vacuum hoses, and swiffers hang from curtain rods.

Forget the stout six-foot-long table with ornately carved legs and matching chairs. Replace them with a pedi-spa chair and accompanying stool from which Christian can gloriously paint her ticklish toes.

Dominating the room is no longer an enormous late-nineteenth century bed, but a massage table with pink satin sheets and goose down pillows. The suede feathery flogger? The belt to a plush silk-lined robe.

She will, however, keep the large oxblood chesterfield couch, piled high with books on her favorite subjects and by her favorite authors that Christian will happily purchase for her without complaining how much she spends on them, and will interrupt her reading only to ask if she’d like another latte.

(Next blog: The 50 PINK rules and incentives)

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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.


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