Tag Archives: titles
I collect books. I don’t mean in the sense of stalking garage sales or funky antique stores in search of rare tomes, though I certainly have and appreciate my signed first editions. I’m talking about collecting books whose titles have randomly caught my eye, reviews that have piqued my interest, or ones that friends have recommended. I have amassed a list — and pile — of books that will keep me occupied for a very long time.
But here’s the problem, and I’m guessing I’m not alone: I anxiously await the moment I can dig into a new book that I’ve been coveting only to discover that I don’t really like it. The “digging in” becomes a chore. Thankfully, I discovered Nancy Pearl, librarian guru, whose 2003 book, Book Lust: Recommended Reading For Every Mood, Moment, And Reason gives permission for us to stop torturing ourselves!
Unlike the mantra we probably all heard—clean your plate, there are children starving in Africa—Nancy offers a formula for reading that relieves me of my guilt. As she explains in the book’s introduction, her “rule of 50” says that those under fifty-years-old need to read 50 pages of a book before calling it quits. Those over 50—who, she gently reminds us, have less time to squander—need only read the number of pages that is their age subtracted from 100.
She also admits, and I wholeheartedly agree, that while we might not be able to slog through a book now (and can quit according to her formula), we might actually love the book at another time when we are in a different frame of mind. Case in point: I struggled with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road… the first time … and had to put it away. Six months later, I loved it.
With that, I am formally putting a few books on notice. I don’t want to identify them—to avoid hurting “their” feelings, or more importantly, influence anyone who might be swayed by my inability to lovingly devour a book that was rated 5 stars on Amazon or Goodreads. Being the optimist, however, I am hopeful that I will eventually embrace them. And if not, there’s a mountain of reading material to choose from waiting patiently by my bed, on my bookshelf, in the closet …
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.
To 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 books 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?
By the way, our book club chose the Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. Thumbs up.
Choosing a title for your literary masterpiece is not easy. That is, choosing the best title … the right title is not easy. How do you capture the emotion, the theme, the personality of your work in just a few words?
Think of your manuscript in terms of real estate: like selling your house, you want to sell your manuscript. And like any real estate agent will tell you, it’s all about curb appeal. That means you need to create a welcoming, inviting entrance to your “home.”
Your title becomes your front door. Just as a plain, hollow door does not encourage potential buyers, unimaginative titles might not grab the attention of potential readers. Conversely, verbose, meandering, cumbersome titles can be intimidating, like having a drawbridge and gates at your home’s entrance.
That’s not to say a blatantly obvious title—like a solid wood front door—can’t be appealing. Robin Cook has made a name for himself with one-word titles: Brain, Coma, Contagion, Fever, Toxin, to name a few. Monica Holloway’s Driving with Dead People is about … well, let’s just say it does involve a funeral home. Or that a brazenly outrageous title (think purple door) like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime or Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics won’t attract readers. They both got my attention.
Yet before you settle on a title that you think is just right—not too short, not too long—do a little googling, Goldilocks! Check out Amazon or Barnes & Noble or other online bookstores. Since titles are not protected by copyright laws, it’s perfectly legal to use one that’s already been taken (unless it qualifies for trademark protection, like blockbusters Twilight, Harry Potter, for example), but why not be unique? With almost 300,000 books published (2012 statistics – not including ebooks), it makes sense to do anything and everything possible to open that door. Your door.