You’d have to have colossal stones to name your book after a famous one like The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, or The Great Gatsby. Technically, you could. While authors can copyright the content of their books, they can’t prevent someone from using their exact title, a title that is like theirs or close to theirs. Hence the rip-offs you’re seeing right now that are capitalizing on the success of 50 Shades of Grey.
How important is to an author to choose a book title that is highly original? I guess, these days, it’s becoming more and more important. The more distinctive the title, the more likely that an online search will turn up that book and that book alone. Recently my book Jersey Heat got its first review. I was excited to see that it was a four-star review:
Not the most descriptive review, but still nice. Only thing is, my book isn’t about the city streets. It’s about corruption and endangered wildlife in a small town in rural New Jersey. Judging from the previous reviews this reviewer has left, I’m pretty sure he or she meant to review this sexy-looking book, which is also entitled Jersey Heat.
It’s easy to screw this up on Amazon, I guess. You type in the name of the book you just read, intending to give it a review. A bunch of candidate books pop up in your search. You click one without thinking carefully, and you—what?—scroll past the cover art that doesn’t match the product you bought, but then leave a review for that product anyway?
This sort of thing makes me want to resolve to come up with better, more distinctive titles. It’s a particularly sore point with me because I’ve always had trouble dreaming up good titles. When I had to come up with magazine headlines back in the day, I was terrible at it. And I think I’ve brought some of that awkwardness into my fiction writing. Jersey Heat is an okay title, but heat is an overused word in the crime genre, especially crime film dramas. Ideally, going forward, I’ll more carefully research whether a title has been used—and how—before I commit to it.
As much as I’d like to turn over a new leaf, I think I’m going to have to live with my decisions for a while. One of my indie titles is called The Mesmerist. It’s the story of a charismatic madman who’s killing people in an alt-1970s New York. Here’s the cover:
Yet I fully expect readers who like my book to leave reviews for these products instead: