Have you ever noticed how a lot of erotic romance novels have similar titles? For example, Fifty Shades of Grey spawned titles like 12 Shades Of Desire, and after the publication of Beautiful Bastard and Manwhore a ton of books came out with increasingly profane titles? For the last couple of years, the word “cocky” has been popping up on romance novel covers. A lot of them.
Author Faleena Hopkins certainly likes to use the word in her book titles. See, Hopkins knows the importance of a brand, as she discusses in her blog post about being the first self-published author to ever photograph her own cover models (she is definitely not). Other authors were copying her on purpose. By…using stock photos that she had coincidentally also used:
My readers were starting to get upset when they saw the Cocker Family on other authors’ covers and/or advertising. I began getting messages. My readers posted on Facebook, on my Fan page, my personal page, and in my group.
“Isn’t this Gabriel? Why is he on this author’s ad? Is that legal?!”
“Look at this! They’ve got Jaxson on their book, same photo. Who do they think they are?”
I told them about the licensing, because most readers don’t know about the biz.
But their instincts that some – not all, but some – of these authors were copying me on purpose, were founded in truth.
Anyone who reads erotic romance can look at a stock photo and tell you exactly which twelve books it’s on. There are some very popular stock guys out there. For example:
- Blond Guy With An Untied Tie Around His Neck Unbuttoning His Shirt
- Guy With Head Down, Face Obscured By Shadow, Wearing An Open Hoodie With Nothing But Abs Underneath
- Guy In A Suit Facing Windows, Definitely Not Inspired By The Fifty Shades Of Grey Movie Poster
- White Guy In White Tank Top Biting His Thumb And Pulling Up His Shirt To Reveal His Abs
- Headless Tuxedo Man And His Headless Pink Dress Girlfriend
and many, many more. But Hopkins knows everyone is copying her, despite the fact that very few authors or readers had ever actually heard of her and despite the fact that her allegedly original and striking covers are indistinguishable from hundreds of other erotic romance novels that predate hers.
But Hopkins decide that she needed to protect her brand. Since her Cocker Brothers series all have titles that start with “Cocky,” the next obvious step was to actually trademark the word “cocky.”
Because no one in their right mind would think, “I need to monitor all the notices and postings about potential trademarks in case someone tries to pull some shady bullshit and trademark a common adjective used on erotic romance novel titles,” no one had enough notice to challenge it. She now owns the word “cocky” and it’s no longer usable in any romance novel title.
The issue came to light when authors suddenly received copyright violation notices from Amazon and Audible informing them the word “cocky” was trademarked and therefore could not be used in their titles. Now that she owns “cocky,” she’s dead set on forcing everyone to remove the word from their book titles…even if they were published prior to her own series or prior to the application date of her trademark.
On social media, everyone weighed in on whether or not the trademark is enforceable or if she can retroactively enforce the trademark for books that predate her application. But I don’t believe it was ever Hopkins’s intent to actually enforce the trademark. She knows for a fact that threats work because authors have already changed their covers and titles out of fear of a lengthy and expensive legal battle. And she’s not shy about openly threatening the work, promotion, and royalties of other authors:
Except, retitling doesn’t take “one day”. And it impacts authors in countless ways. For an author to change the title of their book, they must:
- Change the text file of the book to reflect the new title
- Change the text files of any books that contain the title in an “also by” section
- Acquire new cover art
- Upload the retitled book as an entirely new work on platforms that don’t allow title changes
- Assign a new ISBN
- Change the text file of the paperback version
- Change the cover file of the paperback version
- Repeat the proofing process on the paperback version
- Dispose of any paperback copies on consignment through brick and mortar stores and re-stock with the new paperbacks
- Change keywords on all listings
- Published audiobooks will be subject to all of the above, but they’ll also have to be edited with the title re-recorded, and unless the book is selling really well, chances are the audiobook publisher will simply pull the book from their catalog and call it a loss
- If the author paid for the recording and production of their audiobook on their own, they will also have to pay for the re-recording and production or pull the book
If you’re an indie author trying to write and produce your next release, all of these changes can impact your schedule. They are time-consuming and potentially expensive. Those are just issues affecting the actual product. Consider it from a promotional angle:
- Any book- or series-specific printed promotional items from bookmarks to t-shirts are now garbage
- Ads purchased on websites or for print publication must be taken down or cancelled
- Banners and signage printed for book expos and events? Also garbage
- Author websites have to be updated with the new cover and title
- Any reviews received from blogs now have the wrong title and, depending on the platform, the wrong buy links
The timing of this move is especially cruel considering that it’s now conference season. Romantic Times, Reader And Author Get Together, Romance Writers Of America, and Literary Love Savannah, plus other local conventions, happen throughout the summer. Authors may have already purchased series and book specific advertising on banners, elevator wraps, videos, and programs, as well as printed promotional items for swag bags, baskets, and promo “alleys” at these events. Some will have already bought cases of print stock for signings, which they now cannot sell and must replace with the retitled versions of their books.
In the same blog post linked above, Hopkins describes her financial situation at the time of the publication of her first novel:
Originally I did begin writing it for money because when the idea for Cocker Brothers came to me, I was flat broke and $50K in debt. Not from shopping, just from living and trying to get a self-published, authoring, business off the ground.
As you can guess, self-publishing is expensive. A single book can cost me anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 dollars to publish. That’s an impossible sum for a lot of authors. Hopkins clearly knows the financial hardship of the business and how expensive things can be, yet she’s seeking to obliterate other authors through financial ruin or the threat of it. There are going to be indie authors that can’t afford to publish after they deal with the mess, possibly never again, let alone fight a legal battle. Hopkins knows this and is banking on it.
She’s also threatening to pursue all royalties earned by any of these authors for the life of their books, as she did to Jamila Jasper:
Yet, in that same blog post linked above, Hopkins claims:
The reason I write this series isn’t for money anymore.
I believe her. I don’t think she’s out to get money from her series. I think she’s out to get everyone else’s money. But she picked a stupidly short-sighted way to do so, as she now faces a potential legal battle with Romance Writers Of America, who quickly involved an IP attorney. She’s also probably not going to make bank off her series now, either; many people have put her on their Never Buy list.
You can find more information about this case from Legal Inspiration! and Kayleigh Donaldson for Pajiba. Author Bianca Sommerland covered the story in video form:
Before I end this blog post, Faleena, I have some words for you that are original, not copied from anyone, and straight from the heart:
You are a nasty piece of fucking work, lady.
Nobody was ever copying you. Nobody knows who you are. The most common reaction seen on social media when your name started coming up was, “Who?” followed by “Who does she think she is?” We had to ask these things because we legitimately had no clue you existed. But boy howdy, do you exist now. See, you’re not famous, but you’re infamous. You probably thought all publicity was good publicity. That is not the case if the publicity you’re getting is just making people become more and more furious and fed up with you. I haven’t seen anyone say they planned to read your really interesting and unique books as a result of your Highlander mentality. I’ve seen a lot say the opposite.
You have burned a bridge the size of the Mighty Mac, Faleena. Not just burned. You blew a bridge up, but you didn’t quite get off it in time and you’ve blasted yourself into the ravine below. No one is going to invite you to their signings. No one is going to include you in their anthologies. If you have the courage to show your face at an industry event, you’re going to find yourself sitting alone at the bar. You might get a drink thrown in your face, soap opera style. I hope someone gets a photo.
Professional organizations will likely not allow you to join. Traditional publishers aren’t going to waste their time on your books now that you’ve shown your entire ass. You have poisoned yourself with your own bile.
I know you said in that blog post:
We indies work in the grit and grime of the biz, so we see more than an author who is protected by a big publishing house, one that does all that grit/grime work for them.
But I wouldn’t trade positions with a trade-pub author.
I have never submitted to a publisher, nor do I want to. Even when judgmental friends or people in the industry assume that if you self-pub, you must have been rejected.
Um…how about if you never sought approval in the first place, dinosaurs?
Readers are an Indies only judges. If they don’t like our books, they don’t buy them. And they happily leave one-star reviews telling you what a pile of horse manure it is.
Give me that over, “Please sir, will you publish my manuscript?” any day of the week.
but no, sweetie. You’re not indie because you’re above it all. You’re indie because you’re too insecure to try. You’re afraid that you’ll be rejected. You’re afraid you can’t hack it when compared to other authors. And that’s why you’re trying to sabotage them. Because you’re afraid that you’re not good enough to succeed on your own merit.
You’re not, by the way. I picked up one of your books. Congrats on being the third overall Kindle return I’ve ever made. Jesus, you’re not even good enough to be first at that. How embarrassing for you.
So, you think if other authors can’t afford to publish, if they can’t promote their books, if you hit them where it hurts, you’ll be the only one out there. You think you’ll get their readers. You won’t. And you won’t ever receive support from anyone in the community. Ever. You’re pretty much universally hated, so…there’s the door. Bye-bye. You can’t sit with us.
PS: your “cocky” series debuted a year after Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward’s Cocky Bastard became a huge hit. So, who’s copying who, you busted ass bitch?