When you own a business, branding is very important. You want to create a look/icon/symbol that instantly make the consumer think of your business. Everyone knows what brand the swoosh represents. I don't even have to put a picture of it up. You know who and what I'm talking about from a simple word.
Over the past few months, I've been working on my own brand. You might have noticed that blogspot is no longer my primary website. I've got a beautiful new page at www.kathrynrbiel.com. I've been working on my graphics as well (mostly because I needed new business cards and signs for upcoming book signings). I had a tagline ("Telling stories of resilient women") that I've been using, but it's slowly evolved into: Telling Stories of Resilient Women with Humor, Heart, and a Happy Ending. My husband thinks I'm giving away the ending to all my books. I want the reader to know what to expect (i.e., while there may be some tears or two, my books will not gut you). But anyway, I think I've finally got a look. I hope eventually, if you see my font or those colors or that heart, it reminds you of me and you come looking for a good read.
That's the way it's supposed to work.
Except one author has taken it too far. This past week, an author in the romance community trademarked a very common word used in romance books (cocky). Although she was just granted the trademark (April 2018), she had it retroactively reinstated to the date of her first publication (June 2016, I believe). She is sending Cease and Desist notices to every romance author who uses the word "cocky" in their titles, for all books published after June 2016. She is also lobbying Amazon to have these books removed because they "violate" her trademark.
This is what the author claims (copied directly from her Twitter feed): "I receive letters from readers who lost money thinking they bought my series. I’m protecting them and that’s what trademarks are meant for."
Because here are three main things that I find problematic with her statement:
- Books (and e-books, much to my chagrin) are returnable. That's right. You can purchase and download and e-book and then return it. People do it. ALL THE FLIPPIN' TIME. (There are some exceptionally douchey people who buy the book, read it, and then return it, but that's a post for another day.) If this author's readers purchased a book in error, they could return it and not lose money.
- This author is under the assumption that the other books with cocky in the title are no good and therefore equate to a loss of money. That may or may not be true. I'm willing to bet there's at least one good cocky book out there by a different author. And a good book, regardless of the author, is not a waste of money.
- This is the important one. Ready? If this author's readers KNEW WHO SHE WAS, they would search by NAME not TITLE. Think about that. It's a heck of a lot easier to remember that I want to read the next Penny Reid book or the next Kristan Higgins book or the next Courtney Milan book than what the book titles are. Even after I've read them, I sometimes have trouble recalling the title. I have to look them up. How do I search? BY AUTHOR NAME. This author has a very unique name. Her fans should have no trouble remembering it. If she had been successful in her branding, she wouldn't have to stoop to this low.
Her "reasons" don't hold weight with me. Her responses on social media are unbelievable. And now she's claiming she's finally received a movie deal that she's backing (turns out, it was crowd funded). She's attacking other authors on social media (including Goodreads) accusing them of not only violating her trademark, but of plagiarism too. I've seen screenshots of the letter this author sent to other authors threatening with a lawsuit and financial damage if the other author doesn't change the title.
Unfortunately, she's another example of "Authors Behaving Badly." It's under the larger heading of "People Behaving Badly," or as I like to call it, "WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU?" Several groups, including the Romance Writers of America, are working to help the authors affected by this one bad apple. If you're active on Twitter or other social media, you may have heard about all of this.
Normally, I find the author world, especially romancelandia very supportive. I hope this is an abnormality. A blip in the radar.
Oh, and thank you Jessica Biel for not trademarking your last name. In all honesty, you had the name first. I married into it. I won't trademark it on you either.