Ouch! Just when I think I’ve seen all the crazy, bad marketing mistakes out there – along comes another one. These are gold to me. I’m actually teaching a workshop at a writer’s conference in September about cultivating the online writer persona — and THIS will be one of those situations that serves as a bad example of what authors shouldn’t do when marketing themselves, their work, or their brand in the world of online.
So this week, a bunch of authors with a certain WORD in the title of their novels were targeted by an indie author who was SO worried that her readers couldn’t tell one book series or author from another, that she trademarked a single WORD in the title of her series. I won’t be more specific here because my point isn’t to involve myself in a race wherein my horse is not entered, but rather to illustrate a point. While I can understand trademarking an ENTIRE series name, like Harry Potter, for example, trademarking a single WORD in a series name is ridiculous.
So let’s look at what this author did wrong and why we shouldn’t run around trademarking a single WORD in a series title just to screw over every other author out there. In trademarking the WORD, the author made a statement about the following things and showed us a few things about herself:
- She clearly believes her readers are so idiotic that they can’t tell her books from someone else’s, nor are they capable of returning a book when they realized they bought the wrong one. smh. Readers are pretty damn smart. If they think that every book with said WORD in the title is by one particular author, despite the fact that author’s name is not on the book… that’s on them. MOST readers can tell authors and series’ apart based on reading the cover.
- She assumed any author who used the WORD in their title was copying her, despite the fact that some of said titles were published BEFORE hers. That’s just histrionic hubris on her part. Don’t be a Diva author. Not everyone who uses a common WORD in their title (or even their series title) is out to copy another author. This particular author needs to graduate from adolescent egocentrism and realize that not only does every other author’s world NOT revolve around her, but that there is room in the world for MANY titles and even series names that include said WORD.
- She views all other authors as her competition. This is the insecure writer’s biggest mistake. Even the most prolific authors can’t put out enough books in a single year to keep the most fervent readers reading nothing except that author’s books. Avid readers read A LOT of different authors. They follow multiple series. This particular series just happens to be one of them. Authors SHARE readers with other authors. That said, other authors are an author’s allies, not their competitors. If said author had stopped for a moment to make friends with other authors and had not viewed them as competitors to begin with – she may not have gotten herself into this pickle.
- The author does not understand that a trademark on a WORD in a series name is not the same, and cannot be enforced when the same WORD is used in a regular title. Last I heard, you can’t trademark a book title. A series name is a BRAND (the whole name, btw, not just a word in the series name) and can be trademarked – but as a SERIES. Basically, said author needs to learn what the heck she’s talking about before she bullies the wrong person and ends up getting her ass handed to her in court. I have a feeling said author is going to start seeing the legal teams of big publishers and writing organizations stepping in to kill this little “let’s trademark a word so no one else can use said word on a cover – ever” experiment before this is all said and done.
What can other authors take away from this mess?
- Your readers are not stupid. Give them some credit for intelligence. If they’re fans – they can remember your name and your series title. If they’re new to your work, chances are they find it via a link shared somewhere.
- Other writers are not your competition. When we work together – we lift each other up.
- Make sure you are actually justified and check your jerk-o-meter before you start running around threatening lawsuits, or you could get burned. Also, a lot of us authors keep an IP attorney on retainer, so pick and choose those IP battles carefully and make sure they’re legit.
- Don’t piss off large groups of authors or you will be blackballed by the writing community – which can mean lost speaking engagements at conventions geared toward writers, and loss of support from other writers (and THIS is huge, folks!). Remember that all of those authors have readers, too, and when word gets out that you wronged a lot of readers’ favorite authors – readers will start to blackball, too. I’ve seen a fair number of authors go down this way and it’s not pretty.
- Basically – play nice and don’t try to bully or jerk around your colleagues by trying to trademark common words. We’re all in this tough gig together.
Feel free to share your thoughts below.