Can “I Use 50 Shades Of…” in My Book Title?

Here’s a question I am frequently asked:

“If I decided to write a book inspired by ’50 Shades of Grey’, and called it ’50 Shades of X’ – the only similiarity being a similiar sounding title – is that possible without a big law suit, or would it be better to write ’69 shades of Y’?”

The answer to this applies to all ‘spin-off’ books you may wish to allude to.

First of all check if the phrase is trademarked. If it is, then the answer is clearly: “No, you can’t”.

If it isn’t then, yes, you can go ahead.

Perhaps more important though is the next step. Check to see how many OTHER people have also thought of your idea.

A quick bit of market research reveals:

50 Shades of Nylon
50 Shades of Dash Diet
50 Shades of Green
50 Shades of Gravy
50 Shades of Classical
50 Shades of Red Riding Hood
etc etc etc

These titles cover everything from books to DVDs to MP3s. The topics range from Irish songs, to dieting, to social media marketing, to cookery. So there is very little scope here to establish your own special brand or unique selling point.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ‘piggy back’ off another author’s great idea – especially if you can put your own unique spin on the subject.¬†In fact, imitation of an already successful brand is in many ways an incredibly smart move. Someone else has already tested the market before you and proved a formula to be successful. There is a clear readership and a clear target market – a publisher’s dream. So in many ways, it makes sense to mimic what other successful authors have done before you.

If you’re the very first person past the post, or you have something new or original to add, then I take my hat off to you and so will everyone else. Such a step may also prove incredibly lucrative.

However, when too many others have trodden the path before you and the market is already overcrowded, then you are veering into the territory of cliche – the world of outworn words and phrases which lose their impact. In this case, it may be time to rethink.

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