Cocky-Blocked: How to Nuke Your Brand From Orbit
Call me cocky for even weighing in on this issue (at your own peril). But, seriously, folks. It’s rare to run across something so epically wrong AND foolish and…ironically, cocky. As an author branding expert, I’d be remiss NOT to say something about Cockygate (though I seriously hate having to).
Yes, folks, it’s a real thing. A subject—cocky—we’ll touch on today (with gloves).
I’ve dedicated over ten years, three branding books and close to thirteen hundred blogs to help my fellow authors. Why? Because this job is brutal. We take crap from countless vectors.
For instance, even though our culture spends the lion’s share of their disposable income (and free time) consuming entertainment…apparently creating this entertainment is not a ‘real job.’
Writers are often paid last and the least (if at all) even in legacy publishing…which is why we need agents. Regardless of pedigree, most writers write for love not money (though we universally agree money is AWESOME).
Why I’m Cocky Enough to Care
I didn’t set out to become a branding expert or blogger, but I tend to have a crusader personality. Which is why my coauthor mocks me and calls me a Griffendork. And I’m cool with this because I know what it feels like to have the world against you and feel (or even actually BE) all alone.
When we step out to become novelists, it’s normal to get pushback. When I announced I was leaving sales to become a writer, my family made the natural assumption I was joining a cult.
Then didn’t talk to me for two years.
Writers deal with a lot of BS, so I’ve spent YEARS stepping into protect other authors from said BS (especially the newbies). Like a fluffy middle-aged superhero, with yoga pants covered in cat fur.
When one adds up the BS from Goodreads trolls, regular trolls, sockpuppets, algorithm scams, piracy, plagiarism, and ‘reviewers’ who fail to appreciate there might be an ACTUAL HUMAN WITH FEELINGS on the other side of the review, you know what you have?
Enough stress to turn Tommy Chong into a cutter.
Then there’s the rampant (and unrepentant exploitation) from MEGA MEDIA BRANDS all using the ‘Exposure Dollar Ponzi Scam’ to rake in millions using creatives as free labor and yeah….
I’ve had a full dance card.
Writers are incredibly brave. They willingly endure an incredible amount of cruelty and sacrifice time and their own money to do what? To entertain. To ideally make some stranger’s day just a bit better. That’s a hell of a noble goal.
And this is precisely why I’m so rabidly protective.
In fact, I am so protective of my fellow authors, I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and stop this author, explain to her how branding really works so I might have saved her from herself. This gal wrote and published seventeen novellas in two years. That’s a hell of a work ethic and there’s a lot about that to be admired.
It’s just the next part that puts me in a weird position.
While I do possess a modicum of compassion for this singular author, her ill-conceived and poorly thought out actions have done untold damage to countless others. Damage that will take months to even fully realize.
And, FYI, for anyone who thinks I’m mean? Calling out a dirtbag move, mocking what deserves mocking, and using a$$hattery as a cautionary tale is not ‘trolling.’
Kind of like when those Olympic swimmers in Brazil claimed to have been robbed and held at gunpoint? Only for us to find out they were piss drunk (literally) and vandalizing a store? And that the ‘evil men with guns’ were not robbers, rather security guards and police?
When the public openly denounced this behavior?
Anyone who threatens legal action to confiscate honestly earned royalties from innocent authors doesn’t get the victim card, any more than a drunk Olympian urinating all over a gas station then filing a false police report does.
What’s the Deal with Cocky?
Funny, I asked the same thing. In fairness, a lot of other bloggers have done a WAY better job explaining what’s come to be known as Cockygate (like Jami Gold’s Branding: The Right Way vs. The Wrong Way).
But I’ll give the Spark Notes of the scandal we never thought we’d see, let alone be discussing.
In a nutshell, indie author Faleena Hopkins trademarked the word ‘cocky.’ Yes, a word commonly used since the 16th century. A word very commonly used in the romance genre.
This might not have been a big deal, except the author then used her newfound power to threaten and bully fellow authors who’d used ‘Cocky’ in their titles.
I WISH I Were Joking
To make this worse (if it could be worse) Ms. Hopkins took it upon herself to personally e-mail her competition with her ‘reasonable’ demands and spell out the legal consequences for those who failed to comply.
Let’s take Jamila Jasper, for instance…whose book The Cockiest Cowboy to Have Ever Cocked I just bought on a) principle and b) to show actual-money-spending-support for the wronged Jamila Jasper and c) to express my gratitude for her sharing THIS with my other new hero Jenny Trout ,whose post on this entire cock-up is sheer GENIUS…
How benevolent! Makes me all misty-eyed. Wait, no…not seeing mist. Seeing more like…red?
To threaten to sue, forcibly take another author’s hard-earned royalties and also make said target PAY for being screwed…then follow it with how seriously you take your victim’s hard work?
What’s next? Car-jackers demanding gas-money in polite thank you cards? Hand-delivered by large ex-cons with tire-irons and a thing for breaking kneecaps?’
Ms. Hopkins isn’t the first person to NOT ‘get’ how the whole trademark thing works. We can pay and apply to own the trademark on pretty much any word. If you want to own the word ‘snollygoster’ because it’s a super fun word that should be used more often and this word makes you (okay, me) laugh every…single…freaking…time?
Knock yourself out. You just kind of can’t do anything with it other than maybe brag you own the word snollygoster.
If memory serves me from when I applied for a trademark, you fill out a bunch of forms, wait ninety days and if no entity, person, organization raises a fuss and files to contest? TM granted!
In fact, one might imagine the aforementioned attorney name-dropped in the threatening letter could be rather miffed with how this Cocky TM has played out (though this is total supposition on my part).
One can hire an attorney to TM a word. Since attorneys like money, they go, ‘Um, okay. Cocky? Sure you don’t want to own snollygoster?’
Then they file the paperwork and make their money. Done.
Could be wrong, but I’m fairly sure this firm never anticipated anyone weaponizing the word ‘cocky.’ Or using their name and BRAND to do it. I have no way to know for sure. But logic dictates this firm didn’t consent to being the brute squad used to terrify honest hard-working writers into dismantling their livelihoods out of fear.
*makes weird ‘pondering’ face*
Never seen a law firm rufied.
Well, Cockygate is proving there is a first for everything.
Then since the Federal Trademark Office and Amazon have an act-first-then-sort-this-crap-out-later policy, they’ve also been rufied/weaponized. I can’t imagine the FTO or Amazon being very thrilled with being wielded to kill off competition for one author’s personal gain.
Oh to be a fly on the wall….
But I OWN ‘COCKY’, and here is my TRADEMARK!
Hmm, yeah owning the trademark for a word doesn’t mean as much as this author apparently hoped (mainly because there are no permanent legal teams in place defending every word in the dictionary against BS trademarking for profit).
See, if writers (or anyone else for that matter) could rampantly trademark common words then sue anyone who used the words they ‘owned’ and take their money by force? Publishing would pretty much implode.
Besides, if this sort of plan worked? Go big or go home! If making money by ‘owning’ words were a legit business plan, I’d totally TM all conjunctions…and y’all just lost ALL FUNCTION 😛 .
But I wouldn’t do that, namely because that would be a jerk move and also, one only has to war-game this out about three steps to see it wouldn’t ever work. To be certain though, I consulted MY attorney.
Hey, Mr. Eight, can I go TM all the conjunctions? Then sue anyone using compound sentences?
Mr. Magic Eight Ball Esq. gives pretty amazing legal advice.
But It’s NO BIG DEAL
This author, instead of backing off and apologizing, keeps insisting this is no big deal. Yes, but it IS. It is a VERY, VERY BIG DEAL for all authors (which is why I’m talking about this).
As an author who’s self-published two out of five books, myself, I was astonished that someone who’s self-published seventeen titles would claim these changes are no big deal.
Just get a new cover *hair flip*.
Seriously? Covers can run hundreds of dollars. The authors would need a cover for paperback AND e-book. Then you need whole new ISBNs (not cheap). You’d have to trash any inventory, swag, ads, promotions and pull and then pay to reproduce any audio books.
If this is a SERIES with ‘cocky’ the costs of Ms. Hopkin’s ‘minor’ changes just made ME want to cry…and I don’t even write romance.
And demanding these changes literally right before CONFERENCE SEASON?
*breathes in paper bag*
The ripple effect of Ms. Hopkins’ demands are way bigger than what little I just laid out. For the aerial view of the Cockygate devastation, go read Jenny Trout’s post for the full run-down of what Faleena keeps asserting is ‘no big deal.’
As a wise man once said,“You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”
She keeps insisting no authors are being harmed, because retitling only takes ONE day.
*bangs head on table*
You know what else takes one day? Tanking a brand. Where’s a Hot Tub Time Machine when you need one?
Part of why I’ve worked my tail off to create author communities is so we can support each other, give advice, and even act as designated drivers…only for dumb@$$ ideas. Instead of taking away car keys, we lovingly mock our friend’s stupid plan until this friend wizens up.
Which is why I don’t own a full-sized trebuchet.
My writer friends all know me. Which means they also know I’m highly unlikely to use that power for good.
Being part of a group of fellow authors who care has benefits. They’ll do anything short of break the law (or break the law without getting caught) to save us from evil bright idea fairies. Educated, loving groups could’ve explained how it’s simple to protect a brand…without nuking it from orbit.
Beyond the Social Media Mess
Anyone who uses the FTO and Amazon to kneecap competition, has more than social media backlash to contend with. Authors guilty of nothing more than using an extremely common word in their romance titles are now embroiled in a legal nightmare, some possibly facing financial ruin.
Yep, that’s gonna come back to bite.
This ‘Cocky’ plan also has awoken RWA to take legal action and protect innocents caught in the cocky cross-fire. I could almost hear the collective voices of romance authors crying, Release the Kraken!
*backs away slowly*
Making a Cocky Contribution
I find it vastly amusing that Switzerland has spent roughly thirty years and $6.5 billon for what? To build the Large Hadron Collider. The goal of the LHC? Possibly create a small black hole.
Just a teensy singularity.
CERN has long been searching for ‘The God Particle.’ They also longed to be the first to create a spot of infinite density here…on Earth. In a bizarre twist, more than a few misguided authors have already done this. One can look HERE, HERE, and DEFINITELY HERE.
Multiple black holes.
***No Hadron Collider required.
Granted, these authors didn’t create ‘The God Particle,’ only the slightly-less-sexy-and-yet-far-more-perplexing ‘I Think I’m God Particle.’ The bugger of all this, was how preventable all these incidents were.
Count the Cost
It really pains me this is even a discussion, but is what it is. I know, some discussions we never thought we’d need, like why teenagers shouldn’t eat Tide Pods.
Trust me, I was hesitant to even weigh in on this issue but crucial conversations are called crucial for a reason. Not all writers have been around since AoL was cool, and may be unaware that, in the social media age, branding has evolved. Sometimes it can feel like juggling nitroglycerine.
Or maybe just this post feels like that.
Suffice to say, there are a lot of ‘things’ we writers CAN do, just it’s wise to stop and ask if we should. Better still, ask other friends who are unafraid to lovingly call us an idiot. Writers, overall, are some of the most helpful, selfless, and supportive friends we can make.
Which might explain why we can go a tad psycho when one of our own crosses what should be an obvious LINE. You know, like setting a legal precedent that could collapse our entire industry faster than Kanye West’s fashion line.
My heart goes out to authors impacted by this…this….I don’t even know what to call it. If there’s any way I can help, I’d be happy to do what I can.
For those romance authors who’ve been cocky-blocked? We are on your side and rooting for you. You shall prevail!
What Are Your Thoughts?
Other than most common thoughts like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ ‘Is this for real?’ ‘Can people DO this?’ Though, you know? Feel free.
I do love hearing from you because it’s how I learn and grow as well.
Meanwhile, I’m going to go do something productive, like work on my comedic screenplay about a struggling male exotic dancer who ‘loses his shirt’ and determines to win back his fortunes by becoming a professional boxer.
And, of course, it’s called…COCKY.