King of the Hill:
Is debut novel Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill the "Publishing Event of the Year," as publisher William Morrow claims on advance review copies just sent to book critics? We'll have a better idea on Feb. 13, when the book comes out. But who is Joe Hill? Take a close look at his photo. Look familiar? He has a famous dad who sometimes wears a beard: author Stephen King. Hill's real name is Joe King, a fact Morrow says it didn't know when the acquiring editor was dazzled by the manuscript. The novel is a contemporary ghost story with a heavy-metal musician as the main character; Warner Bros. has bought film rights. Hill, who also has published a collection of stories, uses a pseudonym, says William Morrow's Seale Ballenger, because he did not want to ride on his father's coattails."
Raise your hand if you believe that Morrow didn't really know who the author was. They certainly figured it out somewhere along the way. To be shipping review copies out now, when the book is coming out in February, is incredibly early, and a sign they view this as a breakout book. I haven't gotten any review copies for anything earlier than January, and only one or two of those for very big names.
In 2001, I published a mystery called, you guessed it, Heart Shaped Box. My series all had shapes in the titles, my husband gave me a heart-shaped box for Valentine's Day, and I looked at it and thought "hm, what evil thing could happen with a box like this?" Probably both Joe and I took the title from the Nirvana song. And someone could put out a book with the same title anytime they wanted, because titles can't be copyrighted. I could publish a book called To Kill a Mockingbird tomorrow - if I could find a publisher willing to put it out under that title. But they wouldn't, due to the fact that the two books would get confused. I guess Morrow wasn't worried about that situation with my book, which is now out-of-print. In fact, HarperCollins, which owns Morrow, put out my HSB. When I told them the title back in 2000, I thought the house might bring up Nirvana, but nobody did. For all I know, the people who worked on my book were the wrong age group to listen to Nirvana.
Titles get used by different authors all the time. I've seen three or four books called Flashback.