Mistaken Identity: When Something You’ve Written Shares Its Title with an Infinitely More Famous Work

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Hard to believe but this is my 400th post! Where did all that effort come from? A little bit here and a little bit there. Thanks for reading!

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In 2004, I wrote a category romance novel (Harlequin, Mills & Boon, whatever you call them in your region) called Liberty’s Secret. It was the story of a woman named Liberty Freeman who had successfully reinvigorated a serious magazine from low circulation to being the talk of the industry. Now she was asked by the publisher to do the same thing for a publishing company he had just bought with the help of a financial whiz named Quinn O’Connell. Cue pounding hearts, stolen kisses and Liberty’s insistence that she wasn’t interested despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. And her secret was the reason why.

Liberty’s Secret was the last romance book I wrote. By the time I finished writing it, I knew I didn’t want to continue writing romance or be known as a romance writer. So I shelved it. I put it aside, choosing not to publish it, and I have barely thought about it since.

When I started writing Single White Female Writer, I was constantly trying to figure out ways to repurpose all of the many, many things I have written. So when I wrote a blog post about writing sex scenes for fiction and admitted that this wasn’t a strength of mine, I also posted the sex scene I had written for Liberty’s Secret to prove it was true.

Since I posted it, the sex scene from Liberty’s Secret has averaged one view per month. Like I said, it’s not great. And because it’s just that one scene, completely out of context from the rest of the missing novel, that makes sense to me. Also, because it was an example of something I didn’t think I did that well, I didn’t mind that much.

So imagine my surprise when WordPress notified me of the following: “Your stats are booming! Single White Female Writer is getting lots of traffic.” And when I checked to find out why, it was all because of the sex scene from Liberty’s Secret. In one month, my average views from that post had increased significantly. And in just one week, the average views had increased 4,100%!

What the heck was going on?

I knew there had to be more to it than the sudden popularity of a sex scene I had posted two years ago and had written over a decade previously. And, of course, there was. In 2016, a film also called Liberty’s Secret had been released. It’s the story of Liberty Smith, an all-American daughter of a family values preacher who is selected as the running mate of a conservative in an attempt to save his floundering presidential campaign. But when she falls in love with a woman, all hell breaks loose on cable news. (I haven’t actually seen the film; I got all of that from imdb.com. Apparently, it’s a girl-meets-girl musical in the vein of La La Land and it was partly funded by an IndieGoGo campaign.)

Since I haven’t seen it, I can only guess that there’s some kind of sex scene in it because there seems to be an awful lot of people Googling “sex scene in Liberty’s Secret”. The only problem is that when you put that in your search engine, the top result is my completely unrelated blog post. And from what I understand about search engine results, the more people who click on my blog post – even though it’s not what they were looking for – the longer my blog post will remain the top result when that phrase is searched.

A similar thing happened to my debut novel, Enemies Closer. I chose the title in 2005 when I first started writing the book (it was almost the very first thing I came up with) and when I published it in 2012, I didn’t find anything else with the same name. But in 2013, the Jean-Claude Van Damme film called Enemies Closer was released. And in 2015, Ava Parker released her second book, also called Enemies Closer. Of course, the Van Damme film comes up first in search results on Amazon for works called Enemies Closer. My book comes up second and Ava’s comes up third.

So why am I telling you all this? Mostly as a lead in to advice about considering carefully what you decide to call your book or film or any other piece of fiction in case someone else has already used the same title. In my case, I chose the titles Liberty’s Secret and Enemies Closer well before they were used again by the films and in the case of Liberty’s Secret, the filmmakers chose to use it at least a couple of years before anyone knew it was the title of an old novel I had written. When I published the initial post, I didn’t even bother trying to find out if someone else was using it as well because I was using it for educational purposes, not commercial ones. Even when I decided to post my old romance novel in full on my blog, I didn’t think it was worthwhile spending a lot of time coming up with a different title. After all, I was pretty sure I’d come up with it first and besides, I was really only posting it to fill a gap in my blog schedule.

But if you’re planning to publish a novel and you haven’t researched the possibility that there are already creative works out there with the same title, then you could really be doing yourself a disservice. While titles can’t be copyrighted and you are legally able to call your book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone if you want to, you’re probably going to struggle to compete against JK Rowling’s well-established novel and you’re probably going to confuse a huge number of people.

When I was preparing to release Project December: A Book About Writing, I did my due diligence to discover if there was already anything with the same title. There was. One was identical and the other was close enough that I needed to consider it. The identically titled creative work was an album by Endy Chow. I didn’t and still don’t have a clue who Endy Chow is but I figured the fact that his Project December was music and my Project December was writing was enough of a difference not to worry too much about it.

The other work was a book called The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life’s Greatest Mystery by Sara Davidson. While the use of the title in Sara’s book had a similar meaning to mine – The December Project is about preparing for the end of your life while, of course, Project December is about preparing for the end of your book – the subject matter of both is completely different. Again I felt that there were enough differences to be able to get away with it. But discovering Sara’s book did inspire me to add the subtitle, A Book About Writing, to clarify exactly what the book was about.

The key with choosing your book’s title, as with so many other things in writing and indeed in life, is to make the choice with a full understanding of what it means. If there’s something out there with the same or a similar title, if you know it and if you’re still determined to continue using it when you release your book, that’s entirely up to you. But doing it fully informed with your eyes open will make your writing life a lot easier than discovering it afterwards when it’s too late to do anything about it.

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