By now, most of you have heard about #Cockygate. If not, let me catch you up to speed:
Romance author, Faleena Hopkins, filed a trademark on the word “cocky.” Once her trademark was approved, Faleena allegedly sent cease and desist letters to other authors who happened to have the word “cocky” in the titles of their books. There have been reports that she also asked Amazon to remove some of these books, though I’m not sure how many authors have been affected by this. Faleena has said she trademarked “cocky” in order to protect her series and her brand. She says her readers were getting confused because when they searched for her books, they stumbled upon books written by other authors.
Over the past several days, authors have been furious… and frightened too. What gives Faleena the right to trademark a commonly used word? A word, in fact, that other authors had used in titles on their books long before Faleena Hopkins had ever published? And, what if someone else decides to trademark other commonly used words?
In response to the chaos caused by #Cockygate, the RWA is looking into the matter. Yesterday, an indie author and patent attorney filed a legal petition to cancel the trademark. There is also an online petition circulating around the internet that many authors have signed.
Anyway, while there is a lot I’d like to say about this situation, most of it has already been said by others more knowledgeable and eloquent than me. Instead, I’m going to talk about what it means to be an author in these crazy and exciting times where news travels faster than my dog when she sees a squirrel and anyone with an internet connection can have their opinion heard (or read). I love the internet and social media, but there are definite risks associated when you “put yourself out there.”
As writers, we lay our souls bare when we publish our books. It’s depressing and upsetting when our books are criticized, but it happens and we have to accept it. Being an author is a risk. If we write something that offends someone, they have the right to criticize us or judge us. They can leave a poor review on our books, or they can write something on their own social media account or blog.
Now, the reason I bring this up in relation to the Faleena Hopkins situation is because she left a lengthy video on her Facebook page (which has since been removed) claiming that she has been terribly bullied. While I have no doubt that some people stepped over the line (as some people tend to do), I want to point out that Faleena took a risk the day she filed that trademark. No – she took a risk of being ridiculed and criticized the day she decided to become a writer. We all did.
While I would never condone threatening behavior or attacks on an author’s family and friends, there are some behaviors that are not considered “bullying.” A bad review is not bullying (though I do agree that using one-star reviews as a revenge tactic is pretty crappy). If someone says or writes something negative in response to something you did or said, it’s not bullying. If someone disagrees with you, guess what? That’s not bullying either.
Every word you write – whether it’s part of a published novel or a Facebook post – is subject to scrutiny by the people who read it. If you don’t want people to judge you by what you write, you really shouldn’t be a published writer.
In a world where people are so active on social media and where information is at our fingertips, it doesn’t take long for writers to find out what’s going on our community. When someone tries to game the bestseller list or trademarks a commonly used word, people find out about it pretty quickly. People have opinions and when it comes to writers, we don’t mince words in voicing our opinions on our various platforms. When we feel as if our fellow writers are being threatened, we speak out because we know bad things can happen to us too. Or, maybe bad things have happened to us in the past and it was our writer friends who stood by us and helped us through.
Being a writer isn’t easy. It takes a certain amount of confidence to query a publisher or to hit the “publish” button on KDP. It takes courage to contact a book reviewer or to sit behind a table at a book signing. Confidence and courage are excellent qualities to have if you’re a writer, but when you cross the line to “cocky,” that’s when you get yourself in trouble. Because no one is above a bad review or a critique. And, if we make a mistake, we should own up to it and try to rectify it because being tried in the court of public opinion on social media comes with a very steep price to our confidence and our brand.