reusing a book title

Reusing a Book Title: Should You Do It?

Ann O'Brien

Ann O'Brien

April 6, 2023

Some authors write their books having a title in mind from very early on, while other writers pen the final pages of their books before settling on just the right phrase to title their work. But once an author has chosen the perfect title, it can be disheartening to discover that you a reusing a book title from another author.

And even if the title seems like the ideal way to capture the contents of your book, is reusing a book title a good idea? Let’s look at the legality, copyrighting, and trademarking of book titles to help you navigate reusing a book title.

Reusing a Book Title: The Legality of Titling a Book

Developing all aspects of a book, from the concept to the character names and personalities to the title of the book is a creative work that every author spends untold hours getting just right.

And while it’s possible that two writers that do not know each other may come up with the same plot for a book or the same cast of characters without realizing it, it’s highly unlikely that their independent work will result in identical stories or books. But it is likely that two unacquainted writers may both come up with the same exact title, especially if their books fall into the same genre.

Surprisingly, though, no specific law prohibits writers from reusing a book title that another author has used before unless its use breaks copyright law or trademark regulations.

What Is Copyright?

The legal protection granted to creators like writers is called copyright. This legal protection covers all types of works like art, books, movies, music, software, and intellectual property of various other types. Authors benefit from copyright protection because it keeps others from benefiting from their own intellectual property so no one can use their book’s contents, stories, or other derivatives of their work without express permission.

This copyright protection lasts for the lifetime of the author plus an additional 70 years, after which the work becomes part of the public domain and the work can then be used by anyone without the author’s permission. And while copyright law gives authors the right to reproduce their own work, distribute it, and create variations of that work, the one thing copyright law does not encompass is a title.

Copyright covers tangible work, so once a book is written, it is covered. But titles are too short and are not protected under copyright laws although some are protected by trademarking.

Reusing a Book Title: Trademarking and Book Titles

Trademarks are different from copyrights because they can be applied to words and phrases that identify and distinguish them from the words and phrases of others. Brand names are trademarked so other companies cannot use their likeness on another product or service, but a singular book title cannot be trademarked since those words or phrases may be too commonplace to be restricted from use by anyone else.

However, a series title can be trademarked since each book in the series contributes to the uniqueness of the series title. But trademarks are not automatically provided like copyrights are. The minute a book is written, it can be declared copyrighted by the author and ultimately will receive the full protection of the copyright from that moment on. Authors can apply for a title to be trademarked but typically it will only be granted if the title has become an identifier for the book, the author, and the brand.

A simple book title may not be accepted as a trademark, and therefore can be used by other authors, but a title that has a larger presence and represents both the author and a larger concept (like a series title does), may be granted a trademark.

Problems with Reusing a Book Title

So if a title you want to use isn’t copyrighted and has not been granted a trademark, does that mean you are free and clear reusing a book title? The answer is more complicated than a simple yes.

Same Title – Same Genre

When two books share not only a title but also a genre, the late-comer is put at a disadvantage to the previously-titled book. Readers may look at a new book reusing a book title as a copycat book, especially if the first book with the title falls in the bestseller category.

When readers see your book as a knockoff of another book, even if that is an incorrect assumption, the effect will minimize your book’s audience. Readers that may have checked out your book if it had been titled differently now see it as a potentially poorly written copy of a more popular book and skip over your book altogether.

Mistaken Identity by Reusing a Book Title

Reusing a book title for your book can lead to a case of mistaken identity. Readers might be searching for the other book and snag yours instead. While this may sound like a benefit since perhaps your book will be read, the more likely result is that the reader may end up with a negative feeling about your book once they realize the title mix-up led to the wrong book.

Instead of gaining a new fan, it is more likely that the reader will generate a negative feeling about the writer who contributed to the confusion by reusing a book title.

Boosting the Other Author’s Sales

Probably the worst outcome that could happen from reusing a book title is that readers could buy the wrong book, picking up the other author’s work instead of your book.

Not only will you miss out on the sale, but you also risk missing out on building your fan base. If your potential readers can’t find your book even when they have the “right” title, they may lose interest and decide not to pursue your writing in the future.

  • Title Tip to Avoid Confusion: If reusing a book title is the only one that works for your book, one way to minimize confusion is to add a subtitle to your book. This secondary tagline will help readers differentiate your book from another with the same name and keep your fans and potential readers from picking up the wrong one. Another way to avoid confusion is to visually distance your book from the other similarly named book by using a completely different cover design and color scheme. Readers will be able to see at a glance that these two covers emblazoned with the same name are promoting two totally different stories from different authors.

A Checklist for Choosing the Best Title for Your Book

Maybe you have your heart set on reusing a book title or perhaps now you are rethinking the idea of a used book title. As you debate what would be the best way to catch your reader’s attention, make sure that you choose a title that follows standard best practices so that potential readers will be more likely to love the title and as a result, pick up your book.

Compare your potential titles against our simple checklist to see if the title you are considering might be the right choice for your next book.

  • Does It Reflect the Book’s Contents? A catchy title is great but if it misleads potential readers into thinking your book falls into a different genre or subgenre, then it may actually work against you as an author and the book’s sales. Writers quickly lose credibility with readers who are disappointed when a title doesn’t accurately reflect the contents of the book, wondering if this case of mistaken identity will transfer over to any other aspects of the author’s writing.
  • Is it Easy to Remember? Titles with tongue twisters or complicated phrasing may be hard for readers to remember. Your title should be memorable and catchy so potential readers can easily recall the title when they are looking for a book to read.
  • Is the Title Simple to Pronounce? Don’t use words or phrases that are challenging to pronounce in the title. Your title should be easy to say so potential readers can recognize and remember it.
  • Is Your Title Too Long? Long titles can get cut off, losing their effectiveness on book lists and thumbnails as well as making covers hard to read at a glance. Consider using a longer subtitle while shortening your title to 3-8 words.

Bringing Your Book to Print

Choosing a title is just one part of completing a book but the title plays a critical role in catching the eye – and ear! – of potential readers. Crafting a genre-appropriate cover featuring your compelling title can encourage readers to pick up your book, so be sure to engage a design expert to help you create a gorgeous cover for your book, too.

Working with an experienced printer like Publishing Xpress will ensure that your book makes the transformation from a manuscript to a beautifully bound printed copy, ready for the hands of your readers.

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