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.







Have you tried Kindle Unlimited?


Last month Amazon grabbed the attention of its independent authors with the rollout of the new Kindle Unlimited program. For $9.99 a month Amazon customers can now read all the books they want (that are included in the program). Amazon also offers a 30-day free trial. This means you have 30 days to gorge on books for free—just remember to opt out of the program before the renewal date if you don’t want to pay for the service.

For an independent author’s book to be included in Kindle Unlimited’s library, it must be in Amazon’s Select program. This mean the independent author must exclusively publish the eBook on Amazon’s platform—it can’t be offered on other sites like Barnes & Noble or iTunes. The author is paid each time the book is downloaded AND read past 10% (as of now). If you download an author’s book and don’t read it past this point, the author doesn’t get paid.

How much an author will be paid is the big question. For the first
month the amount came in at $1.81 per borrow. Depending on the book’s cover price, that amount might be significantly less or more than what the author earns with a traditional sale.  Of course, the theory is there will be far more borrows—since theoretically it cost the reader nothing to download the book (aside from the flat monthly fee)—so the author might see a considerable spike in readers which means bulk will be the key to making this a financial win for authors.

Or will it? If members of the program gorge on books, this means the amount paid back to authors will dwindle in size.

I see this program as possibly great for readers—and great for authors. But only if it works out like medical insurance. In medical insurance, the insurance company banks on most of its customers not ever using the policy. Each month customers pay the premium, yet what the insurance company pays out is considerably less.  But then someone actually uses the insurance, like we had to in June when my husband ended up in the hospital. It will take more than five years for our insurance company to recoup its money from our premiums—and that is assuming we never see the doctor again during that time.

The Kindle Unlimited program might work out great for both readers and authors, providing a majority of the members don’t gorge on books.

As a reader, I signed up for the free trial, and when it came up for renewal, I didn’t opt out. One of the reasons was the non-fiction books in the program—books I have wanted to read yet couldn’t justify buying.  For example, when exploring the possibility of buying an RV, I found a slew of books on the RV lifestyle that were in the program. Instead of figuring out which one I should spend my money on, I just tried them all out. Yep, I gorged.  Read one after another.

As an author I might be tempted to start writing shorter books that might fit well into this program and earn some serious buck. But the fact is, who knows where this program will go? It is too soon to tell, and imprudent for any author to spend too much time developing a project exclusively based on KU.

A case in point—eHow.  Back in the day eHow allowed anyone to write short how-to articles and then earn monthly revenue based on what eHow brought in from ads. I wrote some of those articles, and was quickly earning over $500 a month—passive income that came in each month without me writing another word.  There were a number of writers who devoted their time to building their bank of articles. I remember one author who was making over $2000 a month. But then as quickly as it started it was over, when the people behind eHow shut down the program. Some lucky writers—like me—were offered a chunk to sell their articles to eHow. I took the money and didn’t look back. Of course, my nice monthly passive income stopped.

My point being, before authors get too excited about the possibilities, don’t get carried away by devoting all of your time building a product based solely on an untested platform. I am not saying not to write books for the program, just don’t make that the only reason you are writing the books.

As for me, as a reader I will stay with Kindle Unlimited for a few more months and see if I continue to borrow enough books to justify paying the monthly fee. I will continue to pay full price for eBooks—buying something I want to read that isn’t in the program.

As for me, the Indi author I have a couple books in the program, just to test it out. At the end of 90 days I’ve the option to pull out and republish at the other sites, or renew with Select. Way too soon to tell how this will all pan out. Even if it looks like a winner at the end of the year, who knows what 2015 will bring. One certainty about self-publishing, the rules are constantly changing.

(Photo: Havasu Palms, A Hostile Takeover — the eBook is currently in the Kindle Unlimited program. If you’ve signed up or have the free trial, you can download the book for free.)