Are romance readers unsophisticated?

The newest twist in the Cockygate saga is author Faleena Hopkins’ recent legal filing for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order. If you want to read the filing, check out Kevin Kneupper’s twitter page @kneupperwriter. He is the retired attorney and author filing to have Hopkin’s trademark cancelled, and he is one of the parties mentioned in Hopkins’ filing.

One of the passages in Hopkins’ recent filing has gone viral on Twitter. It states: “Romance Novel Series Consumers Do Not Exercise a High Degree of Care. Unsophisticated consumers aggravate the likelihood of confusion.”

It goes on to explain that these unsophisticated consumers are basically confused by similar covers and end up buying the wrong book—hence the reason for the trademark, to protect those hapless consumers.

One trademark attorney pointed out that the only way to infringe on a trademark is to argue the “likeliness of confusion” in the mind of the consumer.  Another lawyer friend mentioned this to me when I expressed annoyance at what appeared to be Ms. Hopkins disparaging romance readers.

But, even if it was nothing more than a legal tactic by her attorney, and she had nothing to do with the wording, the assertion is ridiculous and false.

At one time I was a voracious romance reader. This was back when Fabio romance covers were the rage. For several years I would read three to four books a week. I wasn’t much for television, and during the week my husband was away at work, so on my way home from work I would stop at the used book store or library and pick up a book. This was before eBooks.

All those Fabio covers never confused me. But, they were a clue. I knew that if I was in the mood for a “certain” type of romance I’d look first for Fabio. We called them bodice rippers back then.

But it was mostly about the author. I would find a favorite romance author and then read all her books—one after another. Authors like Judith McNaught, Julie Garwood, Jude Deveraux, Johanna Lindsey, Mary Jo Putney, Kathleen Woodiwiss, and others.  When I finished all the books I could find written by the author I enjoyed, I would then look for a new author. If I wanted a similar read to the author I had finished, I would look for similar covers. I would then read the blurb on the back of the book before making the purchase.

If I liked this new author’s book, I would then buy all her books. Did I find them by the covers? No, by the AUTHOR NAME.

You see, romance readers use covers as a clue to the type of read they enjoy. And they are fully aware authors within the same genre may have similar covers. THAT is how it is done. THAT is how it has been done for over 40 years. I know, because I have been reading romance books for longer than that.

Romance readers KNOW their authors. This is especially true in the age of the internet. Romance authors now have Facebook pages, Instagram, online fan groups, newsletters, and other forms of social media. Readers seek them out, not by cover, but by their name. I find it odd that Ms. Hopkins is using the cover confusion factor as a reason for her trademark, when she herself has her own online fan group and claims to receive fan letters from readers. How does she think they are finding her?

To insinuate romance readers just look at the cover and pay no attention to the author’s name—well that doesn’t say romance readers are stupid. But it does make the attorney (or his client) who made that argument look clueless in regards to his/her knowledge of romance readers and how they make their purchases. To be honest, that claim is utterly cringe worthy.







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.