Monday, July 7, 2014

Title Here

By RS Mellette

First of all, hi again everyone.  I've been away working on Dances With Films.  Also, if you haven't heard, our own Matt Sinclair's Elephant's Bookshelf Press is putting out my novel Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand in December – so that's kept me busy, too.  But I think about this place a lot.  I feel like all of the contributors here are my friends, even though I haven't met most of them.

Enough of that.  To the point of this article.  Titles.

I've been seeing in Agent Query Connect a lot of writers posting queries for manuscripts with the same title as other famous books, or movies, or songs.  Sure, there's nothing illegal about that.  No one can copyright a title.  In some cases (especially with movies) the owners may have trademarked their titled.  Should your book show up on their radar, you might get a cease and desist letter.  Then you could either fight it out in court or change the title voluntarily.
But all of that is a moot point compared to how it makes you look in the eyes of the agent you're querying. 
Consider what it's like to read thousands of query letters from strangers.  You know nothing about these people.  As time goes on, you realize that a majority of the letters come from writers who couldn't buy a clue at a Mystery Writers of America convention.  Your trust for a submitter's ability to craft a professional story is whittled down to nothing, and all you're left with is the hope that you're wrong.  Then along comes a book with a title like Dynasty, or All In The Family.  Your first impression of the writer, which started out as low, now becomes, what?  Do you trust them with your time?
I understand that if you're 25-years-old, you might not get my point.  So take the time to do a little research.  If you, as a writer, are querying an agent over 40-or-so-years-old, and your book is called Dynasty, then the agent is going to spend the first 50 pages getting the image of big hair and big shoulder pads out of their minds.  They'll be reading the book waiting for the crazy diva fight.  If it's All In The Family, then every character is going to sound like Edith or Archie Bunker.

Do yourself a favor.  Research the title you're considering.  Just because your characters are named Mario, and they are brothers doesn't mean you have to go there. 

I had an actor friend whose real name was something long, Nordic and unpronounceable.  He changed it to the short first name his friends called him and an abbreviated version of his last name.  I asked him if it bothered him to have changed his name.  He said, "Are you kidding?  The first time I used my stage name in an audition and they didn't ask me to repeat it three times, or spend the entire time looking at it on my resume as I was acting, all I thought was, 'Why didn't I do this sooner?'"

So, if you tell people the title of your book, and people keep saying, "Oh, you mean like…?" or anything other than "that sounds interesting," why wait?  Change it now.

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers, The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse, and Summer's Edge anthologies.  Look for his new book, Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand in December from Elephant's Bookshelf Press.

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