This question has crossed my path twice in the last week.
You’ve found the perfect title for your book. But then you search Amazon and discover that there’s already another book with the same title.
Should you use the title or not?
Well, the answer is…
(Don’t you just hate me for being so vague?)
You can use the title legally – titles aren’t copyright, unlike the content of the book itself. This was reinforced by the Cockygate case last year, in which a romance novelist attempted to copyright the titles of her novels, or more specifically, to copyright the word Cocky. She eventually lost, but not before a major twitter storm.
So, the good news is that copyright law says you can use a title that’s already been used by another book. I’ve certainly done it.
But should you?
Before you rethink your title, consider these questions:
1. Is the other book similar to yours?
If your book is similar to the other book with the same title, it will lead to confusion among readers. This is something you want to avoid.
This also applies if the title isn’t identical, but is similar. This is something I’ve seen cynical publishers (I won’t call them writers) do on Amazon. For example they might call their book Girl on a Train, knowing that a proportion of people searching for The Girl on the Train will type in the wrong words and end up buying their book instead. Especially if the cover is similar (I said this was cynical).
That’s no way to build an author career. So, if your book is similar to the other one, find a different title – one that doesn’t look like you’re copying the bigger title to make a quick buck.
Which brings me to…
2. Is the other book a blockbuster?
If your book has the same title as a major bestseller, your book will be eclipsed by that one.
This happened to me. I released a book called Exile (my first book, I was very green) in January 2018. I soon had lots of people pointing out to me that James Swallow’s Exile was a bestseller at the time. I’ve since retitled my book and it’s much happier for it.
If for no other reason than to avoid your friends taking you aside at parties and whispering that you’ve copied a book’s title, its a good idea to avoid this. (OK, maybe not parties…we’re writers after all.)
No one will remember your book if it’s got the same title as the book that’s currently on everyone’s lips.
Time to think of a new title. Unless…
3. Is the title perfect for your book?
Before saying Why yes, of course, there can be no other title, stop and think.
Right now you think you’ve come up with a nugget of pure gold. Sleep on it. Ask a few friends who read in your genre. See what the reaction is.
If the title is indeed perfect, then stick with it. Unless you answered yes to question 1 above, stick to your guns.
If the title works for your book, legally you can use it. Just be aware of the potential pitfalls, and make sure its cover is distinct from any other books with the same title.
So the answer is…
It depends. Of course. You didn’t expect me to tell you what to do, did you?
But the good news is that legally, there’s nothing stopping you from using a title that’s already been used. Just make sure you’re aware of the risks and that you know what you’re getting into.