Monday, March 21, 2011




I’m Dana Warryck, author of science-fiction romance and paranormal vampire romance. I’m guest-blogging today in Paranormal Wire’s TUESDAY TIPS AND TIDBITS spot. Since Pat Morrison of Penumbra Publishing started off her post last week with a quote from Shakespeare, I’ll do the same...

“A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.”
–Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Paraphrasing here, Juliet is telling Romeo that no matter what his name is (Montague or something else) he would still be the same man, the man she loves. While the comparison I’m going to make isn’t exactly the same, I think it’s close enough. I’m referring to novel titles. A book would still be the same, even if the title were changed – but it might not be as marketable, just like Romeo and Juliet weren’t a likely couple because of the issue of their names prompted by the ongoing feud between their families.

Titles aren’t normally copyrighted (except in the case of the ‘for Dummies’ books, which are actually trademarked). What does this mean for the typical fiction writer in regard to naming a book? Say you’ve spent days, weeks, maybe even months trying to come up with a great title for your book. Something catchy, something that sounds familiar, but with a special twist that makes it absolutely perfect for your particular story. But then, to your horror, you find that someone else has used the same idea and published a book with the exact same title!

Case in point, I have a book titled The Dead of Wynter, which I started about three years ago and, for a variety of personal reasons, haven’t finished yet. Foolishly I posted the ‘coming soon’ info on my web site. (Let that be a lesson to you. Don’t ever leak information about your next book until it’s in production for publication. Why? Because ideas can’t be copyrighted either. And if you give away the heart of your book, or even a great title idea, some other author hungry for new ideas could conceivably take what you’ve got and run with it.)

So, now I see there’s a recent book out with the title Dead of Wynter. The storyline for this book is nothing like mine, but the title is almost exactly the same, playing on an alternate spelling of ‘winter’ that harks back to the familiar saying, ‘dead of winter.’ The author has even named the family of characters ‘Wynter,’ pretty much like I did my main character in my novel.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am certainly not accusing this author of anything. It could very well be a coincidence, because if I came up with the idea, it’s a sure thing someone else would think of it eventually. Take the invention of the telegraph, for example. Or the light bulb. Or the radio. Whoever gets the patent filed first wins, no matter who came up with the idea first. But with book titles, it’s a bit different – no copyrighting, remember? I admit I should not have allowed life to get in the way and stop me from finishing my book three years ago, because now this puts a ding in my spiffy, shiny idea for a book title and attendant story. But I’m not going to let that stop me from getting my story published eventually, with the exact same title I originally came up with – even if somebody else beat me to the punch.

But in regard to choosing a title for a published book, not every author can make that call. The real test comes when a publisher offers you a contract on your novel, and your book’s got a great working title until – dang! – some other publisher releases a book with a title so similar, your publisher doesn’t want to make it look as if they’re copycatting the competition. So now you and your publisher have to come up with a different title that is hopefully just as good. But you’re set on that original title because it was so perfect for your book! What are you going to do? Well, if your book is not in the same genre as the other book, and yours is going to come out sometime later, maybe you can convince the publisher to just go with the original title. But really it’s up to the publisher at this point. (Marketability, and all that.)

So, what happens when you come up with a great catchy title, but it doesn’t fit the tone or genre expectations of your story? That happened to me too with my novel The Protectorate: Patriarch. Originally when I started that novel, with the idea of a suave and sexy vampire having to take care of a human baby, I intended for it to be a humorous story and came up with the working title Vampire Daddy. Well, by the time I finished that story, it turned out to be a dark erotic romance. The baby was still there to provide a bit of humor, but not in the way I originally intended. So, when it was accepted for publishing, the publisher naturally wanted to change the title and came up with the much better title that the book now has. The point of this is, if your title doesn’t fit your story or do it justice, you’re simply going to have to pass on that title and come up with something different. The whole point of a book title is to elicit interest in your book – not unintentionally mislead the reader.

Speaking of that, what if you have this really long title that has a long subtitle attached to it, mainly because you couldn’t come up with a really good short and catchy title, so you just sort of used the paraphrased short summary line of your book as the title? (You know, kind of like that big ol’ run-on sentence I just laid on you.) Well, in that case, the common advice is to dump that title and come up with something else. Or use part of the main title as a series title (if you plan on doing more books of the same type, or with the same characters in the same world you’ve built). The thing is, if you’re going for humor, and you want your title to be a funny run-on sentence that makes people scratch their head and laugh, then your title can be as silly and long as you want. (Example: Jamie Wasserman’s just-for-fun ebook series, Night of the Guppy, Book 1 in the series, Sylvia Chesterton, Vampire Guppy Hunter.) But if you’re trying to attract a traditional readership in a genre where titles are within the common parameters of five words or less, your best bet is to go with the shortest possible title. That way it’s probably going to be easier for readers to remember. (Example: Amanda Hocking’s series volume titles like Switched, or Fate, or Torn, etc.) And use the same pattern in your titles. If you use one-word titles, make them work by picking a word that is a perfect summary of your book’s storyline.

In closing, I’d like to stress a few important points...

First, the title of your book is important for marketing reasons, so don’t take the choice lightly. Put as much thought and planning into your title as you do the actual writing of your book (and then the marketing of said book).

Second, if you’ve got a really good idea for a book or a book title, don’t tell anybody until it’s in publishing production with an expected release date – then you can tout it all you want. The reason for this is twofold. You don’t want to give away your ideas, and you don’t want to promise a book to your readers if you’re not sure you can deliver.

And finally, if you’re going to be a writer, WRITE. Stick with it, no matter how hopeless your dream of becoming a successful author may seem at the moment. Finish your writing projects and do what you have to do to get them published. Don’t put it off, because you never know what life’s going to throw at you next. You may not get another chance to finish that project you started so long ago...

Dana Warryck
Crystal Clear: Storm Ryder
Lucifer’s Last Lover
The Protectorate: Patriarch


Natasha Larry said...

Yay, another great post. I'm a total, title nutcase, not only with book titles...chapter titles. I always feel that if I can come up with a great chapter title, the writing will follow.

Vamchoir said...

This really is a great post. I'm curious about your statement that "ideas can’t be copyrighted." Before I released my book I registered the title and copyrighted everything, even the name Vamchoir. My understanding was once your ideas are posted on a blog they're published too ... protected by copyright laws?

Natasha Larry said...

Tami, from what I understand about copyright laws you're right, although I must admit...whenever I read about any law I fade in and out =)

Penumbra Publishing said...

Your writing is considered copyrighted the instant you put it from your head into words in handwriting, typed pages, or electronic file on any retrievable storage medium. It is YOUR WORDS that are copyrighted, and the specific sentence-by-sentence ideas that those words represent. This means that someone else cannot read your book in any instance and then decide they like the way you worded a particular passage or paragraph and LIFT it out of your book to put into their own work.

Other authors may also not write spinoff books using characters you created. At the very least, they’d have to change the names and change locations to make it obvious that their characters are not pale copies of yours. The test comes when their work is published and made readable by other people, and recognizable similarities are evident, including character names.

While popular-selling titles like TWILIGHT may have extra legal protections filed to prevent other authors from publishing teen vampire romance novels with the exact same title, the IDEA of teen vampire romance cannot be copyrighted to prevent anyone else from writing their own version of one. Nor is there any law that I know of that prevents other authors from using the word TWILIGHT as a title for a murder mystery or other genre offering. Again, the test comes when money’s involved. If author Bitty Snopps writes a teen vampire romance and chooses to call it TWILIGHT, she might get away with it, but if she sells very many copies, she also might get slapped with a lawsuit claiming that her usage of the title applied to a book with similar subject matter causes enough confusion among readers that her sales are infringing on the sales of author Stephanie Meyer’s first book in the popular series.

I’m no legal expert but that is my take on it. There are so many nuances that can be argued when it comes to legal matters, I think even copyright lawyers must get stymied once in a while!


P.I. Barrington said...

I know that you cannot copyright titles but when you speak of spinning off characters, what about the "fan fiction" writers that popped up several years ago? Would that be copyright infringement or is "fan fiction" allowed by law or general consent?
("Fan Fiction, fyi, is when fans write new stories, series, usually short, about characters and/or actors)Are those considered original works such as those who wrote fan fiction about characters & actors from the LOTR and POTC? Dont' they qualify for infringement?

Penumbra Publishing said...

Most authors or corporations that own franchises like Star Trek (a popular fanfic subject) don't really mind fanfic as long as nobody tries to make a profit from it, and what the fanfic authors do is strictly for personal use. Actually fanfic writers sometimes learn how to write for franchises by first cutting their teeth writing fanfic for private groups.

The INTENT of copyright is to protect the author's (or copyright owner's) right to make a profit from the property. This includes merchandising, movie rights, and all the spinoff products that borrow from the likeness of movie tie-ins. Fanfic usually has little or no effect on that profitibility so it goes largely ignored.

Piracy (illegally duplicating and selling books or DVDs or whatever) is a whole other ballgame...


P.I. Barrington said...

So profit is the difference then! Thank you for clearing that up! Also, I would think that all the franchise parties involved (actors, film houses, etc.,) would love the free publicity and possibly a bigger fan base! Thanks again Dana!