|A book title can't be copyrighted, but duplication can be avoided.|
Some foolish publishers don't even try.
I was at Book Expo America in Manhattan's humongous Javits Center last week.
"BEA" is the American book industry's annual extravaganza where publishers and companies that service publishers tout what's new to publishers, booksellers, librarians and members of the press. One vital ancillary purpose of BEA is to provide autographed FREE BOOKS to people who are willing to waste their lives in slowly moving lines, and to provide Tootsie Rolls, pens, bookmarks (will they be the "buggy whips" of the future) and various other tchotchkes to people like me who roam the half-million square feet.
In a pleasantly progressive gesture, BEA treats lowly bloggers as well as journalists from more traditional media the same way. All reporters wore the same "PRESS" ID tags, shared one huge press room and had access to the same excellent chocolate chip cookies and too-sweet brownies and too-sweet lemonade. When I last attended the even huger Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, bloggers (who ironically use ELECTRONIC media) were regarded as second-class journalists and were restricted to an unimpressive out-of-the-way second-class bloggers' room, with less food, supplies and hardware. Because my own CES press credentials dated back to 1970, I was able to gain access to the 'adult' press room, along with the folks from 'real' media like the Wall Street Journal.
While heading for the corner of Javits where the press room used to be, I encountered a friendly, intelligent and attractive young lady who coincidentally was also trying to find the press room, also blogged about books, and also was from Connecticut. (If I was single, those commonalities would have given me the confidence to ask her out.) Fran Coleman writes Books and Beyond, which concentrates on young adult ("YA") fiction.
In her blog post on Saturday, Fran described me as "witty and funny." My own dear wife has seldom thought I'm amusing in 40-plus years, so I was very pleased to learn of Fran's impression -- especially in a public proclamation. If my wife frowns at one of my attempts at humor, now I can say, "But Fran thinks I'm funny."
Fran also gets extra brownie points (which, until recently, I thought were called "browning points," earned by brown-nosers [i.e., ass-kissers], not a reference to pre-green-stamps given to shoppers to reward loyalty with freebies) for not believing I am as old as I am. [If I was still an editor, I would scream at the person who wrote the previous sentence.] Sincere flattery merits extra coverage in this blog. Hi, Fran.
Since it's been many years since I've read Young Adult fiction, I was curious to hear what Fran had to say about the subject, and at what age one becomes a "YA."
I had assumed that today's teens read Harry Potter and books about teenage lesbian dystopian vampires from Mars -- but Fran explained that there were many more choices.
When I was a "YA" (heck, I'm not even sure that at age 66 I am ready to be considered an "A"), I was addicted to Tom Swift and his Diving Seacopter, Tom Swift and his Electronic Retroscope and other books in the series. My friends and I even came up with our own Swiftian titles. One of my best (from about 1957) was Tom Swift and his Ultrasonic Grandmother. I may have to write it some day.
Fran and I began our long march along the wall of shelves containing press releases and free books.
One of the first freebies I spotted was titled Caught in the Middle. It was impossible to contain my mirth and I quickly ignited my Kindle Fire to show Fran the illustration you see up above, in an e-book proof I had studied on the train. Before the new "Caught," I knew of at least TWELVE OTHER BOOKS WITH THE SAME DAMN TITLE, and I discuss the problem in my upcoming 499 Essential Publishing Tips for a Penny Apiece.
Many book titles are cliché phrases which seem to be absolutely perfect for a particular book. Unfortunately, many cliché phrases are absolutely perfect for lots of books, and a title can’t be copyrighted.
I met Deborah Burggraaf, the author of a very good Caught in the Middle, on a plane trip. If you like her title, you can use it, too — but please don’t.
Both Danielle Steel and Queen Noor of Jordan wrote books called Leap of Faith. At least five books are titled Fatal Voyage. At least four books, two songs and a movie are named Continental Drift. At least 24 books are titled Unfinished Business. You can write books with those titles, too — but please don’t.
If you want to call your next masterpiece Holy Bible, Hamlet, War and Peace, From Russia with Love or The Da Vinci Code, you can. You might get sued. You might win, but it won’t be a pleasant experience. You’ll probably also confuse and annoy a lot of people — so try to come up with something original.
An identifying term in a book series can be trademarked. If you publish The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Harry Potter, you’ll probably be sued by two publishing companies, and lose twice.
Coincidentally (and it was a day of coincidences), while roaming the BEA show floor I encountered a booth where Sirius XM radio was interviewing (drumroll, please) Danny Quintana, author of the latest "Caught."
I wanted to speak to him about the title problem, and flipped through a copy of the book while waiting for him to finish the interview.
I quickly realized that the book was published by Beckham, a pay-to-publish company that I have previously slammed for charging so much that it is extremely unlikely that any author could make a profit. A few years ago, Beckham proposed a publishing package to me that would've supplied 100 books for $4,555. I'd have to sell them for $70-$80 each. How many would you like to buy?
I was pleased to see that Danny was able to get recognized as a 'real' author by the satellite radio folks, and admired his drive for getting the interview. I sure hope he didn't invest a fortune in Beckham's dubious "joint venture" publishing process.
While company boss Barry Beckham knows a lot about the English language (he distributes a fine email newsletter about grammar), the company's website has shown some silly errors.The site misidentified Virginia Woolf as “Wolf” and Stephen Crane as “Stephan.” Virginia with the extra “o” was a writer. Virginia with just one “o” is a sculptor.
The Beckham website says, “Our editors are prepared to correct textual matters like grammar, punctuation and spelling.”
Sadly, they were not prepared to change "ordinance" to "ordnance" in Danny's book. It's a common error, but it should have been avoided — just like giving a book a title that has been used by many other books.
Danny told me he is "competitive" and not concerned about the shared title. He has written a fine book, and I wish him well. It's sad that his publisher did not do a better job for him.
Apparently Danny likes Beckham, because he has paid the company to publish three other books over ten years. Sadly, none of them has received even a single review on Amazon. I admire his persistence (but not his choice of publishers) and hope his new book receives a better reaction than its predecessors.
So, now I've met two authors of books named Caught in the Middle. Will I meet a third, or a tenth?
And one more coincidence: as I was leaving Javits, I got to see a humongous crane lifting up the space shuttle Enterprise to place it on the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid. It was a very impressive lift-off.