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PastTense
10-29-2011, 05:35 PM
I know that a book title is not something you can trademark. I have had two good book titles stolen by agents (yes, I know as fact because I wrote pitches for both to the agents and the titles showed up on deal announcements two months later.).

I have a good book idea but the title is really strong. I am reluctant to get this title stolen, but at the same time, I'm not sure a working title will capture attention as well.

Any thoughts on whether my experience is typical? Any ways to avoid it?

Wisteria Vine
10-29-2011, 06:00 PM
The same thing happened to me not long ago. In fact, not only was the title the same, a lot of the concepts from the story were the same. It happened not once, but twice. In one instance, it was the AGENT who published a book I had pitched her three years ago. She took the full MS and rejected it after complimenting me on the story and the writing. Said it just wasn't for her. Three years later, she published a similar story in the same type of setting.

I would like to think that the motives on all parts are pure because accidental crossovers do happen. I accidentally used an idea for a scene in my WIP that was very close to a critique partner's work in a different WIP. I didn't do it intentionally, but the image must have been floating around in my subconscious and appeared on the page. As soon as I read it through, I realized the similarity and changed it.

I'm sure that the pool of available titles narrows even more than plots, and if multiple authors are writing about similar themes, the pool narrows even further. But it does make me scratch my head and wonder how much is coincidence and how much is accidental transference. I would hate to even consider a third option...but maybe that's just me sticking my head in the sand. :Shrug:

Jennifer_Laughran
10-29-2011, 06:07 PM
Do you know how often I get queries with the same (EXACT SAME) titles as my clients books, both published and not yet published?

Weekly, at least.

It's especially funny when the book is already out, and the person surely must have at least GLANCED at my website, blog, list of sales on publishers lunch, etc - but they will still query me with books called THE REVENANT or MAGIC UNDER STONE or whatnot.

Like, "I see you like books called THE REVENANT - perhaps you might like my book, THE REVENANT. It's about a revenant."

I... already have a book like that?

But indeed, this even happened before that book was published, and I often thought, welp, this person is going to cry when this book comes out, and think that I "stole their title" -- but in fact, the book has been in the works for two years already, before I ever heard of their query. Sigh.

The thing is -- titles, even great ones, can be come up with by the dozens. I could sit at my desk and write a hundred titles at once - - a handful would be phenomenal, and fully half of them would be FINE and COULD BE BOOKS. (the other ones would be cracktastic and atrocious - and even most of THOSE could be books!)

Some of those probably already exist by someone, at some time in history. So what? Provided your book is different enough, nobody will confuse them.

In the past few months / year the following books have come out or are scheduled soon: ASHES by Ilsa Bick. ASHES by Kathryn Lasky. ASHES by Laurie Halse Anderson. ASHES ASHES by Jo Treggiari. ASHFALL by Mike Mullin. So what? Nobody is irate about it, it's just the zeitgeist. All the books are different, look different, and it is highly unlikely that there will be any confusion for consumers.

What I am saying is - if you have an awesome title, that WILL help your query get looked at more closely. It just will. But titles change all the time - until the book is published, and even AFTER the book is published (check out the Robin Wasserman reissues that came out this month, each one with a new title!) Sooo.... don't stress about it. Putting a crappy or boring title on your query will not help you.

ChaosTitan
10-29-2011, 06:33 PM
The same thing happened to me not long ago. In fact, not only was the title the same, a lot of the concepts from the story were the same. It happened not once, but twice. In one instance, it was the AGENT who published a book I had pitched her three years ago. She took the full MS and rejected it after complimenting me on the story and the writing. Said it just wasn't for her. Three years later, she published a similar story in the same type of setting.

Agents don't publish books. Agents sell books to editors.

Wisteria Vine
10-29-2011, 06:42 PM
That agent was both - she is a writer and a part time agent with an agency. So she's accepting queries from authors, repping them, and also publishing her own work.

Jamesaritchie
10-29-2011, 07:37 PM
I know that a book title is not something you can trademark. I have had two good book titles stolen by agents (yes, I know as fact because I wrote pitches for both to the agents and the titles showed up on deal announcements two months later.).

I have a good book idea but the title is really strong. I am reluctant to get this title stolen, but at the same time, I'm not sure a working title will capture attention as well.

Any thoughts on whether my experience is typical? Any ways to avoid it?

Agents don't decide what title a book gets. Writers do, and publishers do, but not agents. But according to new writers, agents steal titles, plots, characters, and even entire novels. It's nonsense.

The titles on the books you complain about were absolutely set in stone months, maybe years, before you even queried the agent in question.

"Two months later" makes your claim impossible.

Determination
10-29-2011, 07:47 PM
As has already been pointed out, lots of books have the same or similar title. It doesn't make that much difference. Usually when I'm trying to come up with a title I'll check on Amazon to see if any other books are out there with that title already and if so I'll change it. But I also keep in mind that the title I choose may not be the title the book would end up with if it ever makes it to print. I think titles are a bit like the 'darlings' in your manuscript. Don't get too attached ;)

Cyia
10-29-2011, 11:20 PM
This is an extension of the "will an agent steal my work" fear many / most new writers have at some point. It's not going to happen.

Titles are mainly placeholders to begin with. They help you set a certain tone in your query letter that goes along with the query itself.

Once the book sells, then a marketing department (who knows nothing of who you've queried, nor do they have access to agents' slush piles) will try and figure out what's best to put on your book. They'll weigh it against similar titles and how many books from a given house have similar wording in the title. They'll decide if it fits the scope. They'll decide if it would make people turn up their noses and walk away because people don't like books titled [insert offensive title here].

An agent did not steal your title.

If an agent did suggest a title that was the same as yours to a client as a placeholder when the book goes on sub, he/she still did not steal your title.

An agent did not steal your title.

IceCreamEmpress
10-31-2011, 01:00 AM
None of this makes any sense. First of all, lots of titles get changed by publishers, even ones that writers think are "really strong."

Second of all, very few agents are also writers, so even if what you say happened happened exactly as you say, the chances of that happening again are vanishingly small.

You're worrying about getting struck by lightning twice. Just write the best book you can, and the publisher will probably change the title anyway.

J.Reid
10-31-2011, 01:24 AM
Publishing contracts have a clause that gives them (publishers) complete control over the title of a book. Even if the agent was aware that the title had been used before (a VERY small chance) s/he could do nothing about it in the face of "marketing loves this title" "major accounts love this title."

I know this isn't much comfort, but it's how publishing really works.

robertbevan
10-31-2011, 04:07 AM
"... perhaps you might like my book, THE REVENANT. It's about a revenant."

thank you for my first laugh of the day.



Putting a crappy or boring title on your query will not help you.

will it hurt me?





Publishing contracts have a clause that gives them (publishers) complete control over the title of a book.

in my case, that's a big relief. i'm going through a revision of an MS that i'm really excited about, but the one thing i can't seem to come up with is a good title for it. my working title blows, so i take some comfort in the fact that it's probably going to get changed.

Corinne Duyvis
10-31-2011, 04:12 AM
A boring title is unlikely to hurt you, but I figure a crappy one might make it hard to take your book seriously from the get-go.

A good title, on the other hand, might make an agent sit upright and pay more attention. If you have a particularly catchy title, it stands out in the agent's mailbox, and she might read your query faster than she might've otherwise because it piques her interest.

quicklime
10-31-2011, 09:22 PM
past, wisteria,

even if you decide everyone who chimed in here (including a couple agents, I see) simply doesn't know what they are talking about and decide to discount out input (yes, I'm in the "they didn't steal it" camp), what do you propose?

"(Untitled yet because folks steal my titles otherwise) is an 80,000-word young adult thriller" will make them think their possible future business partner wears a tinfoil hat and is extremely difficult to work with, which isn't a promising part of any sales pitch.

it needs a title. give it a title. if yours is taken, move on; at a guess, less than half of all books subbed come out as finished copy with their same title. Janet, Jennifer, can either of you shed any light on your take on that number?

kaitie
10-31-2011, 09:44 PM
For what it's worth, I tend to check Amazon for books with similar titles when I'm picking, and I can usually come up with a few that are either the same or very similar. Titles usually aren't as original as we think.

Wisteria Vine
11-01-2011, 12:46 AM
Actually, I wasn't "proposing" anything. Nor did I ever indicate that I disagreed with any other poster here. I was merely sharing my own experiences.

M. Scott
11-01-2011, 03:46 AM
Similar titles and concepts come out all the time. Back in High School, I was mapping out a story called Eulogy...then a movie with that title came out. I had a concept that reminds me of Cabin Fever far before that movie came out. If you see ideas similar to yours popping up in other books or films, just take it as a compliment that your ideas line up with what is working in the market. After that, maybe focus on stepping beyond the current and making something truly unique.

Donna Brown
11-01-2011, 05:26 AM
As has already been pointed out, lots of books have the same or similar title. It doesn't make that much difference. Usually when I'm trying to come up with a title I'll check on Amazon to see if any other books are out there with that title already and if so I'll change it. But I also keep in mind that the title I choose may not be the title the book would end up with if it ever makes it to print. I think titles are a bit like the 'darlings' in your manuscript. Don't get too attached ;)

I too have done the check on Amazon thing because I know there can be many books with the same title (or very similar) and I'd rather change my title than have my book confused with someone else's.

AND, I honestly don't think agents, or anyone else for that matter, make a habit of "stealing" titles. Even if it is a most awesome title, why would anyone want it if it didn't fit the content of his or her book?

shaldna
11-01-2011, 02:33 PM
I have had two good book titles stolen by agents (yes, I know as fact because I wrote pitches for both to the agents and the titles showed up on deal announcements two months later.).

This means nothing. No matter how good a title you think you have, or how unique it is, trust me, there will be at least ten other people who have queried the same agents with exactly the same book title.

And those deals which have been announced would have been with the agent for months or even years before they got a deal with a publisher, so chances are they haven't stolen your title.

And titles really mean nothing anyway as they frequently get changed during the publishing stages. I've had two of my titles changed, one of which I thought was really original and that I searched for ages to check that it wasn't already in use. It wasn't, but my publisher was already in the process of publishing another book with EXACTLY the same title, in the same genre and everything. So my title had to be changed. It happens.

gothicangel
11-01-2011, 02:42 PM
I have never stolen a book title.

What has happened was I started planning my next book, and gave it the title The Praetorian. Then to my horror, I discover Simon Scarrow's new novel called The Praetorian is being published in November.

I was gutted. But then thought, damn it, I like it. If a publisher wants to change it, they can. This does not make me a thief!

Anna L.
11-01-2011, 03:01 PM
Titles are marketing tools. You try to pick one that will interest an agent, then your publisher's marketing department tries to pick one that will interest the public. Don't get attached to a few little words, it's ridiculous.

ReflectiveAcuity
11-14-2011, 03:05 AM
I don’t understand at all why anyone would be worried about title-stealing. These are authors, for crying out loud. Where’s the imagination process that goes into creating a title. I am currently submitting queries for a 123K-word historical-fiction manuscript, and while I do offer my chosen title to the agent, I know that I could think of 20 other great titles for my book, if I had to.