Grossly Generic: “Can I mention brand names in my novel?”

canstockphoto18799595Hi JC,

Is it legal to mention places like Starbucks or sites like Facebook in a fiction novel? I’m writing a book about a couple who meet on Facebook, then later in person at Starbucks. Right now, I’ve been referring to these settings as “the coffee shop” and “the Internet site,” but I’d like to be more specific. Do I have to invent a new social network and coffee shop name?

Grossly Generic

Dear Generic,

It’s okay to use brand names in your story, as long as those brands are treated with courtesy and respect. In other words, you don’t want your couple to meet at Starbucks to talk about their horrible experiences on Facebook while drinking coffee that makes them both sick. In fact I think that a book that drops a few brand names lends a little more reality and relatability to the story.

The area that probably trips-up most works of fiction is “Trademark dilution.”  This is when a writer confuses a brand name with the service and product it represents. Ever read about the office temp “xeroxing” documents on the copier? Xerox® would prefer that we describe that worker as “photocopying” rather then diluting their brand. And the guy with a head cold doesn’t blow his nose with a kleenex; though he may blow it with a Kleenix® tissue. Mom doesn’t put a band aid on her daughter’s skinned knee; she puts a Band Aid® bandage on it. And the sleuth isn’t googling that clue on the Internet, although she may use the Google® brand search engine for searching the Internet.

For more information about using brand names in fiction, check out Mark Fowler’s blog “Rights of Writers.” Fowler is a New York Attorney working with book and magazine publishers. His article “Can I mention brand name products in my fiction” lists four areas of law to consider when naming brands in your work.

Good luck and keep on writing,



Got a question for me? Hit the contact button at the top and send me an email. Or do you disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments. How would you respond to Grossly Generic’s problem?



Mail Bag Mondays: How can I get my friends to read my novel?

canstockphoto18799595Hey JC,

I’ve written an edge-of-your seat adventure novel and published it on KDP, Nook, Smashwords and several other sites about a year ago. But only a few of my friends bought it and virtually no one has told me that they read it or left any reviews. So I posted a question to all my friends on Facebook, asking them to share the reasons they haven’t bought my book yet. I made it crystal clear that this had nothing to do with guilting them to buy it. The question was for marketing purposes only. Of course I would take their money if they did feel guilty enough to buy it. But I really want them to read it and not just buy it. 

So what should I do? Do you think this will work?

Iced Out By My Friends 

Wow Ice,

I think you may have a few less friends on Facebook in a few days. Not an approach I would have taken.

But, what’s done is done. Now moving forward, you’ve got to ask yourself: who did you write this edge-of-your-seat adventure novel for? Your friends and family or for people who read adventure novels?

If you’re like me, you have some friends who are readers, and a lot who are not. Then, out of those friends who read, each has a specific genre he or she reads. For most of my personal friends, they have little to no interest in murder mysteries. That’s okay. I’m not interested in everything they’re into either. So cut them some slack.

It’s time to focus your marketing efforts on readers of the adventure genre. There’s a million ways to do that, and just as many books out there to help you get started. If you’re not a member of, then start there. Sign up and join a few groups in your genre. You’ll meet some readers as well as other authors that are in the same boat. Get involved. I would recommend reading “Goodreads for Authors: How to Promote your Books on Goodreads” by Michelle Campbell-Scott.

Next, search for local writing and critique groups in your area. This will connect you with other writers and workshops in your city. You’ll make new friends who share this common interest. I’m not saying you may need to find all new friends after posting that question on your Facebook page, but you know what they say: “If you can’t change your friends, change your friends.”

Good luck and keep writing.



Mail Bag Mondays: How should I respond to a negative review?

canstockphoto18799595Hi JC,

Hope you don’t mind me asking you a question, but I’ve got a mystery novel on Amazon that’s got over 25 four and five star reviews. Then last week this troll gave me a one star. It was a really negative review that was really uncalled for. I don’t even think it’s a real review. How should I respond?

Ambushed on Amazon


YOU ARE SO LUCKY! You have a hater. All successful people have haters. It’s a sign that you’ve arrived. The more you put yourself out there and the more visible you become, the more haters will follow you. But you’ll have die-hard fans too.

So, take the high ground. Don’t respond. Don’t notify Amazon. Don’t lose sleep over it. Just let it ride. If you look at any popular novel from Stephen King to Dean Koontz to James Patterson to Peter Cook, they all have a mix of stars. It’s the way our business works. And, it will hardly affect your points with 25 four and five stars already counted. I honestly believe a critical review or two helps give your book credibility anyway. Otherwise, readers may wonder if all those glowing reviews are from friends and family.

Good luck and keep on writing.