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Don’t Skip the Title Research

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Check any best-seller lists and you’ll find that many of the top-selling books have great titles. They are memorable, catchy, engaging, and distinctive.

Copyright protects the text, not the title. One reason book titles can’t be copyrighted is there are too many books (more than 120,000 annually) and too few words (25,000-30,000) in common use in the language. There are just not enough words to go around. Consequently, we all have to use the same words, but the best plan is to use them in different, original combinations.

To avoid confusion with books already out there as well as legal wrangles over titles that may be legally protected even though not copyrighted, study the titles of competing books in Books in Print and Forthcoming Books in Print. Both publications are likely to be available at your public library. Also, search for competing books in the online bookstore databases at sites such as Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Sometimes two books with the same title are launched in the same year. In 1978, for example, Harper and Knopf both published books titled Continental Drift. And in 1984, St. Martins and Knopf both published books titled Pearl. And right now, there are at least a dozen books, besides the one by Charles Dickens, that are called Great Expectations.

Both identical and similar titles create problems, as Nora Wallenson, the librarian at the Baltimore Public Library, reports. “Almost every season, there are two or three popular titles that are similar to one another,” she says. “This leads to scrambled-title requesHIkx26quot;

Make sure your title does not even sound like the title of an existing book. You do not want other publishers’ orders or returns. And you certainly don’t want your promotional efforts to result in sales of the other book.


Dan Poynter is the author of “The Self-Publishing Manual” and a past Vice-President of PMA. His company, Para Publishing, provides valuable guides on book publishing. Visit http://ParaPublishing.com.

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