Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Rock and a Hard Place

As it says in my blog intro—and has since it started in 2007—this spot on the Internet is intended to be positive and fun. I believe in the concept that a high tide lifts all boats, which is why I post about the good things I see/read/hear, like sharing a book discovery that thrills my reader’s heart, or talking about what I learned from tackling a new challenge, as I did in my latest blog. I figure that if something I’ve learned is useful and/or uplifting, it’s worth sharing, and I hope that my readers will do the same.

I stay away from publishing industry talk in this particular forum because this is meant for readers.  However, today I find myself between the proverbial rock and hard place, and feel I need to address it here.

Last week, I filed an application to trademark “Royal Scandals,” which is the specific two-word name of the romance novel series I’ve published since November 2013. To date, there are six full-length novels and three novellas in the series. There are also three different collections of these stories. More stories are in the works.

I have spent a great deal of time, effort, and money to build the “Royal Scandals” brand. Get a group of authors talking and they’ll all nod along when one mentions the difficulty of building a brand. There’s a great investment of time learning the craft and establishing a unique story world that readers can rely on and embrace. When readers see “Royal Scandals” and associate that with a particular author and particular series that has run for many years and many books, they should be confident that when they see that series name on future books, it meets their expectations.

I filed a trademark application to protect that “Royal Scandals” brand as it applies to romance novels, because to not do so makes it easier for another publisher to use a confusingly similar series name for unrelated books—books I did not write—and market those stories on the same websites/through the same distribution points, on the same page(s) as my Royal Scandals books, and potentially damage the goodwill and—frankly—the truly wonderful readership I’ve spent many years and a lot of heart to build.

As I said, positive and fun. I’ve worked hard to create that.

The decision to file a trademark application was about clarity. I want my readers to easily find what they want. I also want to ensure they aren’t frustrated or angry when they get a “royal scandals” book and it isn’t what they expect. That hurts them, and that hurts me. It’s why—from the beginning—I made an effort to have cover art that looks similar across the entire series, to use the same fonts and crowned Royal Scandals logo on each cover, and even to use the same narrator for all the Royal Scandals audiobooks.

With that in mind, I truly mean it when I say that I believe a high tide lifts all boats.

I did not file this trademark application to stifle other writers. I love being an author, and to that end, I put my law degree high on a shelf years ago. It’s incredibly dusty and will stay that way, so this isn’t legal advice/a legal opinion. However, it must be said that a trademark does NOT prevent anyone from titling a book however they want or from using certain words in their books. It does not stop anyone from writing about a particular subject. Frankly, if contemporary royalty stories are the rage it helps all authors penning tales of princes and princesses, of kings and queens and their scandalous secrets. Me included.

Trying to prevent other authors—many of whom are my friends—from writing romances about royalty would be cutting off my nose to spite my face, both professionally and personally.

The key to a healthy publishing industry is to have a wealth of stories, but to differentiate them for readers so that everyone gets exactly what they want.

For readers of cop thrillers, maybe it’s the knowledge that they’re picking up one of John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport titles versus a Harry Bosch title by Michael Connelly. Readers can love and read both series—I certainly do—but it’s good for both the authors and their readers when those series are branded to make it clear to readers which book(s) they’ll receive when they click a button to either purchase a title or put it on hold at their local library. Readers who enjoy Davenport probably enjoy Bosch, and vice versa. Sales of one very likely drive sales of the other, because readers want more and more quality cop thrillers when they read one quality cop thriller. But no one wants to go on a Davenport page on Amazon, think they’re getting the next book in that series, and click on a button that gives them a Bosch book. And as long as the series are differentiated, that shouldn’t happen.

That was my goal in filing the application for the specific series name “Royal Scandals.” Clarity for everyone.

Recently, an author filed a trademark application for a single word—cocky—and it was granted. For discussion of how this is now being handled, and why it is problematic and harmful to other authors, check Twitter for the hashtag cockygate (#cockygate.)

“Cockygate” became a “-gate” because it wasn’t a filing about clarity. It has drawn a massive amount of attention over the last few weeks and rightfully so, both over the fact the trademark was granted and over the manner in which the author has attempted to apply it. However, because it has drawn so much attention, there are huge misconceptions floating around on social media about trademark and its proper use.

Many of those misconceptions—and inaccuracies—have been directed toward me in regard to the filing for “Royal Scandals.”

So there you go. I find myself between the proverbial rock (clarity for a brand, a fictional world, and a readership I’ve spent years to build) and the hard place (“Cockygate”-driven worry that a “Royal Scandals” application will impede authors’ ability to write about royal romance, much the way “cockygate” has hurt other authors’ rights.)

From a legal and a business perspective, I believe this application is the correct action. It does not impede other authors’ ability to write royal romances, nor would I want it to.

However, given the immense fear created by Cockygate, at this time I’ve decided to withdraw the application for “Royal Scandals.” It’s a fire that needs no fuel.

It is my hope that Cockygate shakes out in favor of authors and readers. In the meantime, I will continue to do my best to ensure that readers looking for one of my stories get what they want by making conscientious decisions regarding what I write, how it is presented, and how it is sold. I urge publishers—whether New York, indie, or something in between—to do the same. When launching a new series, take the time to look carefully at the way the series is packaged. Consider what else is in the marketplace. Think about reader expectations and the likelihood of confusion.

Authors should not be forced to choose between the rock and the hard place. Readers should have an abundance of choice and clarity in those choices.

As both an author and a reader, that’s the robust, uplifting book world in which I wish to live.

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