Does that “Fictitious” Business Name in Your Novel Already Belong to Somebody Else?

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Hi Angela:

I read your piece about using email addresses, trademarks, etc. in books, and wanted to add something.

First of all, it seems like it would be more trouble than it’s worth to put email addresses in a book. If the writer is going to put the text of an email in a book, why not just have the characters’ names in the From and To fields? Or, if the character is described finding an email address that’s key to the story, why not just say something like “He came across an email address that was also used by so-and-so” rather than say “He came across xyz@someisp.com, which was also used by so-and-so”?

Second, if an actual email address must be used, writers should realize that addresses with Yahoo, Google, etc. can become defunct if they’re not accessed for a long time, so they’ll end up having to log into those accounts every six months or so just to keep them active, which would be a hassle. An easier solution might be to register one or more domain addresses and just use email addresses associated with them. That way, they only need to keep the domains active, which is fairly cheap to do, to ensure that no one else will get those addresses in the future. They can even establish that said domain is a provider of free email accounts, a la Yahoo or Google, in the story world, so multiple characters could have those accounts. (Or the domain could be a pretend business in the book, etc.)

As always, I appreciate the good info in your newsletter. Keep up the great work.

Brad Cook, Writer/Editor
AIM/Twitter: bradcwriter

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Dear Angela,

Thank you for reminding writers to check for “fictitious” business names they use in their stories and novels.

When beginning a mystery about a fictitious product manufactured by a fictitious company, I searched the Google and U.S. Trademark websites for the names and also the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website for the product. Many of the names I initially selected for the company were already listed as real organizations and it took about twelve tries before I found a truly fictitious name.

As a former FDA investigator, I periodically scan the website. Imagine my surprise a year later when I spotted a recall alert for a non-drug product with the same name as the drug product in my story. At the time, I was editing the second draft and had to change the product name.

It is not only important to check for fictitious names when starting to craft your manuscript, but double-check them before publishing as well.

Barbara-Helene Smith
Mystery Writer
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