Writing, Reading, and Smiling . . . It's Contagious.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Name the Baby

As you know, I've been busily writing my new novel and everything was going smoothly until. . . .

Hmmm . . . well, let me start from the beginning. 

Part I

With the exception of Dead Bird in the Weeds, every piece of fiction I've written has had a working title before the first word hit the page. Why? A piece of fiction without a title is like a newborn baby without a name. How are you going to point out your screeching bundle of joy to other parents (readers and writers), if it doesn't have a nametag on its crib? Will you say, "Oh, yeah, that's mine over there, 103 rows from the left, 500 cribs down"?  The reply will be "You mean the bald one with no name who's bawling and has its finger stuck in its mouth?"

Sound familiar? It shouldn't.

Without a title, your work is going to be lost in an imaginary garbage heap like the other million no-name works being written.  The time to interest readers is before the book is available. Give them time to wade in the waters of your creativity before asking them to cut off an appendage to read the work in its entirety. 

To clarify, consider the example below.

Which sounds better?
  1. The new book I'm working on is about a lost girl who finds her way home through the help of a stranger.
  2.  I'm writing a book about a lost girl named Marsha who finds her way home through the help of a ghost.
  3. Mystic Journey is about Marsha, a lost young woman who hitches a ride with a foul-mouthed supernatural being named Roger.

See what I mean? The more concrete you are with your description, the more interesting your idea becomes to readers.

Part II

Notice the name I've given this fictitious book: Mystic Journey. I created this title just now, but upon further investigation at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office,¹ I've discovered that "Mystic Journey" is the name of a bookstore. OK, so now I need to change the name of my book before I get so attached to it that it becomes nearly impossible to think of something else. After Henry has been Henry (possibly for years) can you call him Henrietta without feeling as if you've damaged him in some way?

And that, folks, is the reason for my dilemma this weekend. I didn't check the availability of my working title until I had become so attached to it that I now feel as if I'm murdering my own child.

My advice: name that baby before it's born, but make sure that another prospective parent hasn't beaten you to mailing the Social Security application.

1. On the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office home page, click option 2 "Search Marks," then click "New User Form Search (Basic)." Type keywords in the "Search Term" box.


As always, I love to hear from you.
If you’re in the cyber-neighborhood, drop me a line.

In the meantime, keep writing, reading, and smiling.
It’s contagious.


Levi Montgomery said...

Bear in mind that names and titles can't be copyrighted. They can be service marks and trade marks and all kinds of things, but I'm reasonably certain that having a book with the same title as a bookstore isn't really a problem, unless it's just the confusion factor that's bothering you.

As for mine, they all have working titles, but the title itself comes to me somewhere in the middle of the process, as the the themes and characters begin to come to life. For instance, Amarylla's Song is absolutely NOT going to be called that. I just wanted an apostrophe in the title for the typeface search. I've had a lot of working titles on the pattern of Somebody's Something.


J.E. Seanachaí said...

Thanks for your comment.

A published work can be trademarked, which protects its title, among other creative elements present within the body of the work. While many works are not trademarked, it is fair to say that one must tread wisely and carefully in pursuit of a title.

As for the case of a title utilizing a trademarked word or phrase belonging to a company, I would rather not step over that line. I believe it creates dissension, as well as negates the author's originality and creativity.

I would also like to add that in addition to checking the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/index.jsp writers may also want to perform other online searches at popular bookstores and reliable search engines in order to verify/negate previous use of a title.

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