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Stormy Weather: Cockygate Hits the Indie World

On Friday I watched as Twitter exploded with something that has since come to be known as #cockygate. I suspect by now most serious indi-authors already know about it. In fact, one popular writer’s group with over 21K members closed its virtual doors by putting up a Taking a Break sign and informing members that they were shutting off all postings for the rest of the weekend and suggesting its members all write, edit and spend time with their families. While all those are good suggestions, #cockygate was still a thing when Monday arrived. Maybe even more so.

For those who haven’t been on social media and ask what is cockygate?

It’s about a romance author named Faleena Hopkins who has trademarked the word “cocky.” I know she has at least two trademarks for the word. One trademark is for the word when written in a specific font style (a font she didn’t have the right to trademark according to its creator). The other is simply for the word cocky. According to Hopkins, her trademark means the word cocky cannot be used in any romance book title or series.

Already there is a petition being generated to ask the United States Patent and Trademark Office to revoke her trademark. The last time I looked it had over 16K signatures. Including mine. I know of at least one attorney who claims he has submitted a request to have her trademark revoked, and RWA and other big hitters in the publishing industry are reportedly looking into the matter.

Online, Hopkins has been called a bully for the letters she sent fellow authors, demanding they change book tiles or face serious legal action, and some authors are having their books removed from Amazon based on Hopkin’s claim. On the other side, Hopkins is calling her many distractors bullies, in their treatment of her.

Hopkins’ trademark may not directly impact me, yet that doesn’t mean I’m not paying close attention to this case. While book titles can’t be copyrighted (in fact it is very common to have a number of books with the same title), it seems it might be possible to trademark a common word and prevent other authors from using that word in their book titles. If that is true—well, the possible ramifications are troubling. If an author publishes a book not knowing one of the words is trademarked—or about to be trademarked, it can cost that author significant time and money retitling the book. And if Amazon pulls the book—which seems to be happening—and disables the author’s ability to edit the book to bring it into compliance, it can be a devastating loss of income for the author.

I cringe at the thought someone might decide to claim ownership of Haunting or Ghost when it applies to book titles in my genre. Before #cockygate that seemed like a silly notion. Not so much now.

I suspect most authors have no problem with Hopkins trademarking an original logo or multi-word series name. It’s the fact she’s claiming ownership over one common word, and she’s not even the first romance writer to use the word in a title or series. Other romance authors used cocky before her.

I can understand an author’s desire to protect his or her work. I can even understand the resentment an author may feel when they believe other people are stealing their ideas. However, some authors go too far and get over-possessive, even a little paranoid. Take for example book covers.

Some over-possessive authors need to realize it’s simply the nature of the business. BookCover 101 teaches us that it’s not about having a unique cover as much as a cover that fits with the genre—a book that screams to the reader, this is the type of book you are looking for! It’s the reason Fabio was on so many romance covers back when trade publishers ruled the industry.

It also drives me crazy when an author gets possessive about stock images he or she has used on a cover. The reason those stock images are so affordable is because you aren’t purchasing exclusive use rights. In my opinion, an author has no right to jump on another author for using the same stock image.

If an author wants a unique cover, then hire an artist to create one. The house on my Haunting Danielle series was created by my cover designer; it’s not a stock image. I have the exclusive use rights. If you don’t want to see the images you purchased showing up on another book cover in your genre, then you need to pay a photographer and models to create something unique.

Authors can also get possessive over character names. Considering there are millions of books out there, and even more characters, I find it silly to get territorial over a first—or even a last name. I’ve heard of some authors contacting other authors and demanding that they change their character’s name because it’s the same name they used in one of their books. I can’t help but shake my head at the overblown ego of such a demand.

However, if an author has a right to be annoyed, it would probably be the bestselling author Janet Evanovich. And who could she could be annoyed at? Me.

When I named one character Joe Morelli, (Joe for my son-in-law and Morelli for a family friend) in the first book in my Haunting Danielle series, I was unaware of Joe Morelli of the popular Stephanie Plum series. To make matters worse, both Joes are cops.

It’s not something any reasonable author would intentionally do. If a Stephanie Plum fan happens to read one of my Haunting Danielle Books, it could very well piss them off. Readers get attached to their favorite characters. Why would I intentionally do something that could annoy potential readers? Why would any author?

Had I known about the original Joe Morelli before I had more than two books out in the series, I would have changed my character’s name. But it was too late by then. I’ve come to realize this sort of thing happens. It’s simply the nature of the business. And seriously, if I wasn’t aware of Evanovich’s popular character, then it’s a little absurd for other less-known authors to imagine someone is looking over his or her shoulder, waiting to grab a character.

In this business of self-publishing I think we need to be building our bridges, not burning them. Unfortunately, there seems to be a major bridge fire burning out of control on social media.

 

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Is successful self-publishing just a matter of luck?

The other day I looked in on a writer’s forum I used to frequent. One of the new authors was expressing her disappointment over her lack of sales. Apparently, she had published a book three months ago and had only sold three eBooks. She asked if any of the other writers had ever felt like calling it quits but stuck it out and ended up successful. She was looking for success stories to boost her morale.

What she got in return were a number of comments citing the depressing odds against any self-published author. Only a small fraction of self-published authors are actually making money. The dismal doomsday comments were coming from fellow self-published authors.

Basically, I felt they were saying—it’s not your fault—it’s not our fault—that we can only make a couple dollars as an author. The odds are just against us.

Not necessarily. Sometimes it is the author’s fault. I’m not suggesting making a living as a self-published author is a sure thing if you follow specific steps; it isn’t. Like any entrepreneurial endeavor there are risks and challenges. Yet, sometimes the reason for a lack of financial success has nothing to do with the odds being stacked against you—sometimes it’s simply because the author failed to recognize what it takes to be a successful self-published author.

After reading that author’s post I started asking myself—what does it take to make a living doing this? After all, I have been doing it for six years now.

I came up with the following list:

  1. Ability to Write Something Others Want to Read
  2. Business Plan
  3. Hard Work
  4. Stacking the Deck in Your Favor

Ability to Write Something Others Want to Read

The old cliché “putting the cart before the horse” comes to mind when I think of some aspiring self-publishered authors. They have failed to hone their craft yet are anxious to push the publish button.  Mastering your craft might involve: writing classes, involvement in critique groups—yet most of all, writing. And more writing. Once you’ve learned how to properly string words together the next challenge is finding the story readers want.

I remember when Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series was all the rage. I recall reading some posts from aspiring authors harshly critiquing Meyer’s writing ability. Instead of accusing those authors of suffering from a severe case of sour grapes—I would suggest it isn’t sour grapes they should be ashamed of, but the fact they completely missed a valuable writing lesson.

Perhaps Meyer’s prose needed some work. But the fact was, she had the story readers wanted to hear. And I don’t care how polished and perfect your prose may be, if you don’t have the story, you have nothing. Those authors would have better served paying less attention to the technical imperfections of Meyer’s writing and more to her storytelling ability.

Business Plan

When you are a self-published author you have two jobs. It isn’t just about the writing. If you hope to make money as a self-published author this requires you to treat the endeavor as a business.  That author who was complaining about her lack of sales, she obviously had no business plan. She had published a 61-page book of erotica, overpriced it, and then sat back waiting for the money to roll in. That is not a great business plan.

Hard Work

Like anything worthwhile it takes hard work. One of the more successful self-published authors I know is Russell Blake. Russell spent so many hours in front of the computer, hammering out one book after another, that he decided to invest in a treadmill desk. It was either that or fall over at the desk from lack of exercise.

Russell didn’t start making money on his first book. He didn’t publish one book and then sit back and wait for the money to come flowing in. No, he kept writing. I know of only one self-published author who hit it big on her first book, yet even she invested hours of hard work in the project.

One author friend told me he didn’t start making money until he had published the tenth book in his series. While I’ve had an amazing year, I also have more than twenty-five full-length books published.

Early on, I was taught by successful self-published authors that one essential ingredient for success in this business is to regularly publish. One book isn’t going to do it, and writing and publishing four or more books a year takes a lot of work.

Stacking the Deck in Your Favor

When I say stacking the deck in your favor I am thinking of four things.

  1. Get the book professionally edited.

Even if the author is a professional editor, I believe he/she needs another set of eyes. Since I published my first novel in 2011, I’ve worked with six different professional editors. I’ve had some of my books edited three or four times. Even then, there have been mistakes and reviewers who have pointed out my errors. I shudder at those writers who hit publish without sending their manuscript through an editing process.

  1. Get a professional book cover appropriate for your genre.

I checked out the book cover of that author I mentioned—the one who was discouraged over her lack of sales. To be blunt, her cover was horrid and obviously homemade. And it went horizontal instead of the standard vertical format. Perhaps if it had been a stunning cover, the horizontal look might have signaled to the reader that this author had something special and different for them. Instead, it simply shouted, I have no clue what I am doing.

  1. Polish your blurb. This is the summary potential readers read to determine if they want to read your book. It’s what they normally read after the book cover catches their attention. You need a hook to reel them in.

To be honest, I hate writing blurbs. I kind of suck at it. Fortunately, there are other writers out there who are very good at writing blurbs and are willing to help.

  1. The final item in stacking the deck: re-edit the preview.

After the cover catches a reader’s attention, and the blurb reels them it, it is the preview that has to clinch the deal.

Double and triple edit the first part of your book—the section that will show up in preview. Because if your book has typos or other errors, you don’t want them to show up when the potential reader is previewing the book. That author I mentioned—well I didn’t just look at her cover, I read her preview. There were glaring typos in the first paragraph.

Of course, she is not alone. The first word, in the first novel I published—Lessons—was supposed to be Alexandra, the main character. Yet, it was typed Alexander. That book went through at least three editors before that error was discovered. And guess what? None of the editors found it—I did.  But for a long time that glaring error remained in the preview—and the book.

I suspect I would not be doing as well as I am now if I had ignored my mistakes, never re-edited, wrote less, refused to do those publishing tasks I disliked, and had ignored  the advice of some of my earlier mentors.

There are no guarantees an author will make anything by self-publishing. But I do believe, for a serious author who is willing to make the commitment and put in the hard work, it is within the realm of possibility.

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NookPress closing author accounts?

This morning I received the following email from Barnes & Noble’s NookPress:

Dear Publisher,
We have determined that many of your titles available for sale are in violation of our Content Policy. Accordingly, the offending titles have been removed from sale and your account is being terminated. We will pay out any and all outstanding royalties during the next payment period. If you attempt to publish similar content under a different account, we will terminate that account as well and withhold royalties from those sales.
The NOOK Press Team

Umm…okay…please explain which of my titles currently for sale are in violation of their content policy. I would love for them to answer that question for me. Unfortunately, NookPress doesn’t have a contact phone number, and they keep sending me form letters in response to my email inquiries.

While I have published erotica in the past, I unpublished my erotica TWO YEARS ago. And even if it was still for sale at Barnes & Noble (which it isn’t) I don’t see how they would have violated any of the terms at the time. After all, they did allow erotica back then, and I tend to play by the rules. (I am a bit of a compulsive rule follower.)

The majority of my books on sale at Barnes & Noble are books in the Haunting Danielle series—a very G-rated paranormal cozy mystery series. I have four very light romances under my Anna J. McIntyre pen name, and several nonfiction. Nothing smutty in the bunch, and all with registered Copyrights—so no violations there.

I know it isn’t a phishing email, because when I log into my NookPress account, it has a notice that the account is on hold. It is always possible this is some kind of a glitch. A few months back they sent me an email claiming there was a new payment pending—one they didn’t owe me. A few days later I received an email claiming the payment message had been sent in error. However, I am hearing from other authors that Barnes and Noble has been sending similar emails to erotica authors.

Funny thing, my titles are still live at Barnes & Noble, at least they were a few minutes ago—telling me none of them were the offending ones. (So what exactly have they removed?) While my books are still there, according to the email, my account is about to be terminated.

Ironically, many of my fellow authors have tried talking me into putting my Haunting Danielle books on Amazon Select. To do so means I have to first un-publish from all non-Amazon sites. I have been reluctant to do this—in spite of the extra money the authors claim I can make—because many of my Haunting Danielle fans like to buy their books at Barnes & Noble, and I don’t feel right about making them exclusive to Amazon, in detriment to my fans.

However, even if I wanted to put them on Select right now I can’t. Why? Because NookPress has my account on hold, and I can’t make any changes—not even to un-publish. So, on one side they claim I can no longer sell my books on their site—and on the flip side, they continue to sell my books, not giving me a way to remove them, therefore making them ineligible for Amazon Select.

Annoying….

 

 

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