Friday, November 30, 2018

Why Romance Novels Should Leave The Stigma Behind And Be Seen For The Progressive Reads They Are - Thursdays With The Author - November 29, 2018

Why Romance Novels Should Leave The Stigma Behind And Be Seen For The Progressive Reads They Are

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5000 Trashy Romance Novels by Thedra Cullar-Ledford
I recently saw a post on a Facebook post about a piece of art made from romance novels. It was a giant cube made from the novels mostly facing outward with amazing colors, and it was absolutely gorgeous. But the title of the piece really bothered me. She had named her art '5000 Trashy Romance Novels'.

Now don't get me wrong, there are a few romance novels I'd call trashy. There's a few books of other genres that would fit that description too. But the idea here was that there were 5000 books, of different titles and authors, but all in the romance genre, that were all deemed trashy.

I write romance for a living. Even when I try writing a different genre, my brain and writing is stuck firmly on the happily-ever-after. I can't help myself. It's apparently hard-wired into my DNA.

So to see romance novels labeled as trashy, really got under my skin. The stigma of trashy novels has been around as long as romance novels have been written and published. Women would hide the novel they were reading under the dust jacket of a more conservative or non-fiction book, or behind a magazine. If someone asked what they were reading, they'd hide it away, or say 'Oh, it's nothing'. 

As a romance writer myself, I find myself instinctively leaning towards ashamed when someone asks me what I write. I'm not ashamed, quite the opposite, but society has raised me to think that writing about love is some guilty pleasure, a subject that shouldn't be taken seriously, a thing you do but don't talk about. And that's some Grade-A bullshit right there.

I fell in love with reading at a very young age and went through all the age appropriate books at the library well before I should have. I was BORED. So I started exploring the adult sections and found a lot more interesting reads. I read my fist romance novel, a well worn title by Nora Roberts, at the ripe age of twelve. I didn't even understand half of the scenes but I LOVED IT. I was hooked for life after that. I remember slinking to the checkout desk with my hoard of books with half-naked people on the cover, hoping the librarian wouldn't tell me to put them back, or worse, tell my mom what I was trying to check out. Instead, she smiled, and showed me where the newest romance releases could be found. I was lucky to have such a progressive librarian. 

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A classic romance cover featuring a (normally) shirtless Fabio
I grew up in a tiny town of 400 people. Everyone went to church on Sunday. There were no gay people, no minorities, no one that spoke anything but English. You were required to get married, and only have sex after the fact. That's the life I grew up living. I was sheltered. I was ignorant. I would have been trapped... if not for romance novels.

Those 'trashy' reads that no one wanted to admit they read, introduced me to an entirely new world. I read about sex, before marriage, during marriage, after divorce. I read about relationships. I read LBGTQ stories. I read stories featuring minorities. I read stories where characters spoke other languages. I read stories with women who didn't fit the 'norm' and men that weren't the same-old-same-old. I was reading about real life, only I didn't know it until I was much older.

Really, the only thing that could be considered fiction in a romance novel is the guaranteed happily-ever-after. Because we know in real life, that's a lot harder to get and sometimes we never have it. But everything else? Real life.

I read a blog post not long ago titled 'Why Romance Novels Should Be Part Of Your Regular Feminist Reading' and one section that really got me was when the author was describing a conversation with her mother about trashy romance novels. 
“I know they’re not the most intelligent reading,” my mother said, in a tone that could only be described as apologetic, referring to her love of writers like Nora Roberts and Julia Quinn as a “guilty pleasure.”
“Of course you’ve been taught to feel guilty about reading romance novels," I told her. “They’re practically the only books in which women get exactly what they want, all of the time, and aren’t asked to feel bad about it.”
After reading that article, I started thinking about all the things romance novels taught me that I would never have learned otherwise. Things that pushed the boundaries. Things that challenged stereotypes. Things that pushed for change. Things that made love in any form, fashion, and time completely normal and right. Romance novels changed my world and continue to do that for anyone that reads them.

Homosexual relationships? Romance novels. 

Casual and consensual sex without marriage required? Romance novels. 

More than one partner in your adult life? Romance novels. 

Exploring your own body? Romance novels.

Not putting up with bullshit from a man? Romance novels. 

Educated and empowered women? Romance novels. 

Questioning authority and ‘the way it’s always been done’? Romance novels. 

Women ahead of their time? Romance novels. 

Expecting and demanding open communication and emotional connections in relationships? Romance novels. 

Great sex where both parties were satisfied? Romance novels. 

The female orgasm, how it’s natural, how it happens, how to get there? Romance novels. 

Sex education including SAFE and responsible sex? Romance novels. 

Dating? Romance novels. 

Happily ever afters? Romance novels. 

Handling breakups? Romance novels. 

Moving on after divorce and even death? Romance novels. 

Bad-ass women and powerful women? Romance novels.

Men unafraid to be sensitive, emotional, nurturing? Romance novels. 

The list is endless for what romance novels taught me growing up. 

The overall rule I learned as my love of reading romance morphed into writing it, was the relationship came first, sex was second. 

Trashy that is not. 

Think about how young people, particularly boys, learn about sex and relationships. From their parents, from other family members or friends,  from porn. The first two can be great, as well as horrible examples. The last is nothing but horrible. Even the actual mechanics of sex can be wrong in a lot of porn. And there’s no relationship, nothing resembling real life.

Now if they read romance as a primer for relationships and sex, they’d have a much healthier understanding. Talking to each other, connecting on a personal level, striving to make each other happy, and having really great, really descriptive, really wonderful sex.

Foreplay, oral, sex, orgasms, kink. They’re all well-detailed in romance. 

But it’s never just about sex. 

The relationship, before, during, after, is the key component. 

Which would you rather your kids learn from? Which would you rather learn from?

I’d pick the ‘trashy’ romance  every time.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Your Brand - What is it and How do you Protect it? - Monday Musings

Your Brand - What it is and How do you Protect it? - Monday Musings - June 11, 2018

For pretty much everyone not living beneath a rock, the viral hashtag #cockygate has crossed your ears, computer screens, or phones in recent weeks. In the extreme off-chance that you don't know what I'm talking about, I'll try to sum it up quickly. You can also see my previous blog post, How to Alienate Your Readers and Tank Your Career - Monday Musings for a more in-depth explanation.

A romance author named Faleena Hopkins, who began publishing a series called The Cocker Brothers of Atlanta on June 16, 2016. The first book was Cocky Roomie, and all the subsequent books (there's 18 so far) have Cocky something as the title. Not too many people had heard of this relatively new author, until in early May 2018 when another author with a Cocky-something titled book, received a cease and desist letter from Faleena, stating that the WORD cocky was now copyrighted. Not the entire title, not the name of her series, but the single word, cocky. The trademark office should never have granted such a broad application for such a commonly used word but that's not the point. The point is, she copyrighted a single word on the excuse that she needed to protect her brand. The whole thing has since blown up in her face, she's shut down most of her social media sites to avoid confrontations with legions of authors and readers, and has actually sued and tried to set restraining orders on people. Specifically ones that she has a personal grudge against, and the author/retired IP lawyer that is petitioning for the trademark cancellation. The court date for that was today, and the judge shut Ms. Faleena down. The trial for the cancellation of the trademark is at a future date.

So now that you're up to date on what caused such a god-awful stink in the writing world, we'll move on to the Pandora's box it opened. Since Faleena's trademark, MULTIPLE authors have followed her misguided steps, and filed their own trademarks for single-use words. #RebellionGate, #ForeverGate, #DareGate, #ShifterWorldGate and many others have come to light, angering the writing community further and proving why the box that Faleena selfishly opened, should have been left alone, and preferably hidden in the 7th layer of hell. 

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The going excuse for all these misguided authors keeps coming back to one recurring explanation: I'm trying to protect my brand. That's all it really boils down to. But all these authors are missing one glaringly important fact. Your brand isn't your title.

That's right. Your title has pretty much nothing to do with your brand. Your name and the content you create... THAT'S your brand. IT'S YOU. If the title or series name was so important, JK Rowling would have trademarked the title Harry Potter and it's very specific font. (She didn't btw, she trademarked the CHARACTER of Harry Potter), Stephanie Meyers would have trademarked the Twilight Saga and it's unique font, EL James would have trademarked the 50 Shades series. Yet NONE of those huge-name and very successful authors did that. Because the title didn't make the difference. People knew what to expect from each of those authors based on their names and the type of stories they had already delivered. 

EVERY author has to deal with crooks and scammers stealing their work and pirating it elsewhere. It's a universal problem. Basic copyright laws apply to everyone that's published to stop people from stealing their work, as long as they can prove they had it first. They can't sue for damages with a basic copyright, but they can stop someone from profiting further off their work. Authors can go a step further and pay to register a copyright. This allows someone to sue for damages if their work is stolen. Trademarking is the next step. Companies like Apple, Pepsi, GE, have all purchased trademarks for their logos and names, in specific fonts and for specific products. For example, Apple owns the trademark for the word in reference to electronic products. They aren't going to sue someone who writes a book called The Apple of Adam, or an Apple Juice manufacturer, etc. These companies have VERY specific TM's that are obviously protecting their very unique brands. 

If an author wants to trademark their series name (trademarking single titles is currently illegal), their series name needs to be unique and specific. In Faleena's case, she SHOULD have trademarked "The Cocker Brothers of Atlanta" (The original series name and still showing up on her covers as well as a 'Cocker Brothers' logo and all over her social media), or even "The Cocky Series" (Which, I'd like to add, she didn't start using until this spring AFTER she filed for the trademark.) But by trademarking just the single word 'cocky', she prevented a lot of authors from using it in their titles, forced some to change their already published titles containing the word (with a big expense also forced on them), and started a legal battle with previously published cocky-titled books.

So other than applying for a very expensive and possibly legal battle-inducing trademark, how can an author protect their brand?

Well let's start with what a brand, for an author, is. A brand is a consistent promise to a customer about what they're going to get. For an author, that means the content you deliver. To be clear, your brand is NOT your title. It's what's between the cover. The content. The STORY. 

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Harry Potter's title might be recognizable, but it wasn't the title that got people to invest in JK Rowling's brand. It was the story of a young boy, who'd already had a rough start to life, finding out he's actually a wizard and might just hold the fate of the world in his hands. Her brand follows the journey of that boy as he grows and becomes powerful and eventually saves the wizard and muggle world. 

As readers, we invested in Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, Dobby, Hagrid, and more. We delved into life at Hogwarts, imagined receiving a letter from an owl, practiced spells with homemade wands. We spent hours reading those pages, going to the movies, buying merchandise, writing our own wizard stories. The title had nothing to do with that. The brand she created by writing a hell of a series kept us with her, years after the first book was published. 

Even if Harry had been a Michael or Peter, the story wouldn't have changed. The first book could have been called Samuel Piper and the Philosopher's Stone and the story wouldn't have changed. The brand wouldn't have changed. Because it wasn't the title that made the brand, or even the names of the characters. It was the story that made the Harry Potter brand what it was and continues to be today.

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So how do you protect your brand?

You write unique, original, and amazing stories. That's it. Yes, scammers will try to steal your work and sell it on iTunes. Thieves will try to copy your story and sell it as their own. It happens... to EVERYONE. But the stories you write, throughout your career, will create your brand and keep it safe. Readers will come to know your series characters, your style of writing, your voice. They will keep coming back, again and again, even when you write different stories, or start a new series. Because they know that YOU will give them an amazing story that they will fall in love with. They know YOU will write characters so real, it's like they were sitting next to them, characters they will get to know and keep thinking about long after they read 'the end'. Readers will know YOU and the quality of books you'll put out. A single title or a series will draw them in, and the content you deliver will keep them as fans as long as you have books. 

So the moral of this blog post is, don't be a grade A asshole and start trademarking words that are commonly used. Trademark an entire series title if you feel you must but it won't make a difference to your readers. As long as you're writing amazing stories, they won't care what your titles are or who else might be writing something similar, they'll care about YOU and what you're writing. A trademark won't protect that. YOU protect that, by being an amazing writer.

Monday, May 7, 2018

How to Alienate Your Readers and Tank Your Career - Monday Musings - May 7, 2018

How to Alienate Your Readers and Tank Your Career - Monday Musings

So over the weekend, there was an unholy uproar in the romance writing community that spread not only to every other writing genre, but to readers and the general public as well. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Bloggers, and more were all involved and the topic became instantly viral.

Said topic centered around a particular romance author named Faleena Hopkins, who also writes by the pen-name Sabrina Lacey, and has used the name Alicia Burton on social media. This particular author has published thirty titles, 17 of them part of the Cocker Brothers of Atlanta (occasionally written 'of Georgia') series which all feature a 'Cocky Something' title. She began publishing this series in 2016.

Cocky-something titles in romance and books have been around for a while. For example: Cocky Jock, a mm porn novel from 1974, Cocky Crew, a mm erotica from 1984 with a completely x-rated cover, Cocky Duke, a romance from 2003, Cocky Prince, a romance novel from 2004, Cocky Stepbrother, a romance from 2012, all the way to Cocky Bastard, a romance novel from 2016, among many others. The word 'cocky' has been around far longer, tracing its roots way back to the 1500's and used often in the Victorian Era and onward.

So, now that we've established that cocky titles are a commonplace in romance, and cocky is a common-use word, I'll get to the uproar from this past weekend.

See, Friday evening, word got out that an author was sending Cease and Desist letters to other romance authors, claiming she had trademarked the word 'cocky', to be used in a romance novel title, and that they had to change their titles immediately or she would file suit and win. Not only win, but have her lawyer fees paid for by the 'offending' author and be awarded all the profits they made from that title. She only targeted self-published, indie, and small-press authors, who wouldn't have the funds or a big publishing company behind them to fight the trademark claim in court. The alarm went up, thanks to a few authors who received C&D letters.

There's a few reasons why this caused such an uproar in the romance community.

1) You legally can't trademark common-use words. Not in the way the author was claiming. Take Apple for example. They trademarked the word only in context of electronic products. They couldn't trademark the word in a general sense. She managed to be granted the trademark for the common word when used in any romance title. This never should have been granted. Most of the writing community is assuming that the clerk(s) that granted it are now unemployed.

2) She sent C&D letters to authors who published cocky titles BEFORE her trademark was granted, which should have been 'grandfathered' in so the trademark wouldn't apply to them.
2A) SHE is sending out C&D letters. Not her lawyer. Which is unheard of. There's questions if her lawyer is even aware that she's sending out unprofessional C&D's in his name.
2B) She is claiming that when she sues she will be awarded all the author's profits and that the author would have to pay her lawyer fees. This is just being arrogant here. NO good lawyer guarantees a win. Because it's all up to the judge and which side presents a better argument. Even in open-shut cases, the unexpected verdict is common. So they don't ensure a win. They hope for it, but never expect it.

3) She sent letters to authors claiming they needed to change their titles and that it would only take them a day to do, not cost them any money or profit loss, and that they would be able to keep their ratings and reviews on Amazon, all of which are lies. Changing a title after publication is a big deal. Covers cost money, anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. They can take days, weeks, or months to create. If they had any promotional material printed: banners, bookmarks, t-shirts, etc. they'd have to throw them in the trash and pay for new ones. Bought $300 worth of print copies for a book signing? Well that's some expensive kindling because now you need to re-order them. You can't change a title post-publication on almost every publishing site without creating an entirely new edition. It's a completely new book and you lose all your ratings and reviews.

3A) The same author filing C&D's and claiming changing the title was easy had one of her own books with a title mistake. The book in question is 'Cocky Soldier', and features a Marine. The author discovered during research that Marines are NEVER referred to as soldiers, always a Marine. So her title was not only incorrect, but insulting to Marines. She was made aware of this, before publication, but refused to change her cover. There's even a forward in the novel stating she knew about the mistake but because it would cost her money and she'd lose all her pre-orders changing the title, that she decided it was too difficult and kept the title as-is. So this author, who is now demanding others change their titles and claiming it's an easy feat, couldn't even do the same thing herself when shown an actual mistake in titling her novel.

4) She claims her readers were 'confused' by other titles with cocky in them. She basically said that her readers are too stupid to be able to read HER name, also clearly stated on the cover, and were accidentally buying other author's books. Even if her readers are this stupid, all buying platforms have return options for such cases. The author has stated that this was her primary reason for filing for a trademark: her readers are too stupid. Or so she claims.

(I'm just going to pause right here and say what utter bullshit #4 is. Readers are far from stupid. Hell, they're usually smarter than the authors. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, and all sorts of professionals read romance. Even men read romance. And they are all intelligent. Don't insult them.)

5) Her second trademark was to register the word 'cocky' in the stylized form she uses on the titles in her series. This one doesn't bother anyone, as specific fonts end up being a logo and well-recognized part of such a big series. Take the Harry Potter font as an example. The only problem in this particular case is that the style she trademarked BELONGED TO SOMEONE ELSE. The font was designed by an artist, belongs to a company, and was already copyrighted and trademarked. The owner of the font has been notified and will be contacting his lawyer when he returns from vacation. Someone failed to do their research.

6) When some of the C&D letters failed to get her desired responses, she began to leave 1 star reviews on the 'offending' author's books, only to leave another C&D request as the actual review. Then she had her 'most faithful' readers begin leaving 1 star reviews saying the authors were stealing her work. Here's the thing: reviews are about the book. Not the title. Not the drama between authors. It's about the content and always should be. Tanking an author's ratings over a title spat is the lowest of lows. Encouraging your fans to do the same is even worse.

7) On another side note, related to #4 and #6, she claims that author's are stealing her entire covers by using the same looking cover models, or the models being in the same pose, etc. Even though she's published 30 books, she still has NO idea what publishing is about. I learned on my last book, Chase for Love, that millions of stock photos that authors, and even publishing companies use, are made in batches. The cover model or models in varying state of dress, same pose but head turned slightly differently, etc. They do 20+ shots of the same pose and sell them all. I had designed a cover for my book with a perfect historically accurate cover model and showed the cover on social media to gauge my reader's thoughts. A few came back with, I've seen that picture before. And sure enough, there were at least three other titles with the same model and pose with only very slight differences. That's how it is in publishing. Unless you're doing a completely original photo shoot, you have a good chance of using the same kind of pose as another author. So to claim another author is copying you is asinine.

7B) This author also claims on her website/blog/social media that she shoots all her own original covers herself. Well come to find out, she was totally lying, as most of her covers use stock models that other authors are able to purchase as well. Oops.

So, that's the basics of what began one of the romance world's most spectacular uproars. Once word got out of the situation, romance authors and readers began doing their research, discovering the sketchy legal grounds and the sketchy actions of the author. They began gathering evidence and support against the author. Lawyers, who also happened to be authors, began building cases against her. The RWA, the romance world's biggest organization, began investigating. The big 5 publishers caught wind and set their very expensive lawyers on the case. A writer/lawyer filed a petition to revoke the trademark today. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Here's a few reasons WHY it's such a big deal.

1) Being granted a trademark for such a generic and commonly used word sets a horrible precedence for writers everywhere, and not just in the romance genre. What happens when someone decides to trademark the word 'his', 'love', 'surrender', 'heart', etc. There won't be any titles left. Authors will be suing each other left and right and the entire industry will collapse.

2) Authors don't go after each other. We just don't. We're all in this together, especially indie authors, who don't have the money or resources that traditionally published authors have. To have another author blatantly go after colleagues in such a bullying, selfish, and illegal way is disheartening and upsetting. And we band together and fight for it, as the #CockyGate author is learning the hard way. You mess with one, you mess with them all.

Am I saying "Don't buy books from this psycho author?" I wish I could, but that's setting myself up for a defamation lawsuit. Feel free to buy her books, you might even enjoy them. But remember that she went out of her way to impact the entire writing world because 1) She thought her readers were dumb, 2) She wasn't confident enough in her own work that she couldn't share even a partial title with another author, 3) She used shady legal practices with questionable legality to accomplish her goals, 4) She's lying out her ass to her readers and the rest of the world and just expects everyone to be stupid enough to fall for it. So if that's the kind of author you want to buy books from, feel free.

The author has effectively derailed her career with her antics. Readers, not appreciating being called stupid, deleted her books. Publishers, writing groups and conferences, news outlets, etc. began dropping her as a member and speaker. She tried claiming that she was being bullied by the writing community for trying to protect her brand but the writing community and readers weren't having it. And after Monday night's antics, she's setting herself up to be counter-sued for defamation and loss of revenue.

A brand isn't a title of a series. A brand is what people come to expect from you and/or your series. A brand is content. And it doesn't need protected, because a brand is YOU. 

I wouldn't be surprised if her name disappears from publishing, as well as all her cocky books that caused such an uproar to begin with. But time and the legal system will be the judge of that.

So here's a list of all the current #Cocky titled novels that are being affected by this author's trademark. Some have even already changed their titles and I'll post those below. 

❖COCKY DUKE by Sara Forbes:
❖COCKY by Sean Ashcroft: πŸŽ§
❖COCKY BASTARD by Penelope Ward & Vi Keeland: πŸŽ§-$1.99
❖COCKY CAGE FIGHTER Series by Lane Hart: (Series, some πŸŽ§)
❖COCKY ROOMMATE by Claire Kingsley:
❖COCKY PRINCE by Jules Barnard: πŸŽ§-$1.99
❖COCKY CHEF by JD Hawkins:
❖COCKY FIANCΓ‰ by TL Smith & Melissa Jane: (Already had to change the name!) πŸŽ§ -$1.99
❖COCKY CLIENT by Whitney G:
❖COCKY DOCTORS by Tara Crescent: (Removed by Amazon)
❖COCKY FIREFIGHTERS by Tara Crescent: (Removed by Amazon)
❖COCKY AF by Katie Ford & Sarah May:
❖COCKY PRICK by Tessa Thorne:
❖COCKY THIEF by Mallory Crowe:
❖TURBULENCE: A Cocky Pilot Romance by Whitney G: πŸŽ§
❖COCKY F@#KER by Misti Murphy:
❖HER COCKY CLIENT by Bella Love-Wins:
❖COCKY NERD by Kayley Loring (already changed to Sexy Nerd):
❖COCKY CAPTAIN by Kelly Moore:
❖COCKY BOSS by Juliet Woods:
❖COCKY COWBOY by Jamila Jasper (Already changed to The Cockiest Cowboy To Have Ever Cocked):

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This is one author who was directly contacted and threatened by the #CockyGate author. She responded with some ninja-level smartassery in response.

Update as of Tuesday morning: The #CockyGate author, who has incidentally sparked the #ByeFaleena  #FaleenaWho and #FreeTheCocky hashtags has stopped sending her personal C&D letters to authors as a warning, instead, sending them straight to market outlets. Authors are waking up this morning to Amazon notices that their titles have been removed. Which means they couldn't change the title now if they wanted to. 

*Sigh* The bullshit continues. Faleena has decided she couldn't get out of the hole she'd dug and that perhaps digging further was the best option. Maybe she thinks she'll pop out in China where they haven't heard of #CockyGate yet. 

Author Tara Crescent, from the list above, had two of her books removed by amazon. Amazon is also threatening to completely close her account, affecting ALL her book's sales, if the issue isn't resolved. Here's the link to Tara's website 
I encourage you to purchase some of her books as she's now going to have to hire a lawyer to fight for her own work.  

Stay tuned for updates on #CockyGate and the further demise of an author who liked shooting herself in the foot so much that she decided to shoot the other foot as well.

Update #2 As of Wednesday morning, #CockyGate took on a whole other level of crazy. #ByeFaleena posted a nearly TWO HOUR long video on Facebook in the early morning hours yesterday, that included every crazy topic under the sun, a lot of complaints about being bullied, some fake almost-tears, some come-at-me-bro BS, some really dumb explanations to her choices, what seemed like paid advertising for Master Class, and a whole bunch of other certifiably crazy things. 

But what stood out the most in nearly two hours of drivel were:

1) Her comparisons to #autism and stupidity... This got a whole other community pissed off. You don't compare disabilities of any kind with stupidity and it's generally assumed that everyone knows that. Well #FaleenaWho didn't get the memo. Disability groups and autism moms have now brought their righteous anger straight to Miss Hopkins. And it's wholly deserved. She quickly backpedaled on this one via FB, throwing her own readers under the bus, saying her fans had made the comparison and she was just trying to correct it. No one believes you anymore#Faileena and you just lost even more of your readers. 

2) Her declaration that she's not racist because she's the descendant of slaves. Faleena apparently decided she hadn't shot herself in both feet good enough and needed a hand grenade to finish the job. Miss Whiter That Most White People was being called a racist by some because she was mostly going after authors who were also women of color. I'm pretty sure Faleena wasn't refernecing Irish slavery, which would have made more sense, but using slavery in any context as a buffer for your behavior is beyond wrong. And has pissed off another entire community, people of color. Congratulations, almost the whole world hates you now. Still digging to China Faleena? I think news of #CockyGate has reached them by now.

On a slightly happier front, author Tara Crescent was able to get Amazon to reinstate her books. Thanks to help from the RWA (who has graciously asked for all authors, members or not, to come to them for assistance in #CockyGate), The Authors Guild (an advocacy group for author's rights), 

Kevin Kneupper, a retired trademark and patent attorney turned author (more on Mr. Kneupper next), and Marc Whipple, a trademark and patent attorney. They were able to convince Amazon to stop taking down titles with the word cocky, at least in Tara's case, while a trademark cancellation petition is reviewed.

Now, for Kevin Kneupper. This man took it upon himself to be the first to file a petition to have the #cocky trademark revoked. It cost him nearly $1000 to file and he didn't want ask for money from anyone. He's all over Twitter giving free legal advice, answering questions, and wholeheartedly supporting the writing community. Be like Kevin people. He's not asking for compensation, so lets all support him by buying one of his books! Here's the link: Amazon

Another author summarizing #CockyGates legal aspects is lawyer/author Courtney Milan. I've actually read some of Courtney's books and had no idea she was a lawyer. She's been infinitely helpful on Twitter as well so support her while she supports the entire writing community!

So another bombshell yesterday was the discovery that reviews were disappearing that had the word #cocky in them. Readers and writers all began to discover that Amazon was pulling reviews in mass quanities and the only common factor in all of them was the word cocky. It wasn't even for titles with cocky in them, just using the word as a descriptive adjective within their review. So now #CockyGate is effecting authors that had nothing to do with #Cocky in the first place. 
*Insert epic eye roll*

By the end of Tuesday, Twitter itself had erupted in loathing for the #CockyGate author, and thanks to her FB video, Facebook was in a dither as well. Faleena took down the video, but as the internet and people never forget, it's available at other sources now, including the YouTube link above. By evening, Faleena had taken down her Facebook page until 'everything calms down'. When hell freezes over, #Faileena. Her Twitter account remains active as of today and she's still playing the victim in that forum. Okay Faleena.

I have a feeling that this blog is going to be open-ended with updates for some time. But it may get long enough that I'll have to start a new post just to keep up with all the updates and changes!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Making Money - How an Author Does It and How YOU Can Help - Monday Musings - Monday, April 16, 2018

 Making Money - How An Author Does It and How YOU Can Help - Monday Musings

There's a common misconception that authors make a good chunk of change selling their novels. That assumption couldn't be further from the truth. Most authors have day jobs, and for good reason. It's very hard to be financially successful as an author

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I'm going to give you a financial example from my newest release, Chase for Love. The financial and royalty specifications for my newest book are a pretty close average for most authors, especially self-published ones. So get ready for a glimpse into how an author actually makes money on their books.

So far (in the week it's been available), I have one print book order for Chase for Love. Most of the sales so far have been through eBook sales. Let me crunch the numbers for you:

A Chase for Love print copy retails for $10.99
After manufacturing costs, Amazon and CreateSpace take their cut, and I get the rest. Every print copy I sell of Chase for Love, I make $2.60. I make less than $3 for a print book that sells for $11.

Chase for Love eBook copy retails for $4.99
Kindle and Amazon take their cut and I’m left with a payment of $3.43 for every eBook copy sold. I make just under $3.50 for an eBook that costs $5

If I’m selling print copies at a book signing or in person, I pay $3.99 for a direct-from-printer copy with a $3.59 shipping charge (For one book, mind you. Shipping costs go up significantly for each additional book I order). If I sell my books in person for $10 (I always lower the price for in-person sales), I make $2.42 for each in-person sale. 

Royalties the author receives depends on the length of the book (bigger the book, higher the manufacturing cost, less revenue for the author) but most authors receive 50-70% of their book’s cost AFTER paying the companies and publishers. I get 70% for both versions of my book and the above revenues are all I make from each sale. 

Another thing authors have to deal with is what print companies, like Createspace, set as minimum purchase price. They calculate pages, manufacturing costs, everyone that gets a piece of the pie, and tells you, before you publish, what your absolute minimum price must be. The cheapest print minimum I've ever had was over $8 and it was for my shortest book. EBook publishers have the same stipulations for minimum prices. With Kindle, for example, if you want 70% royalties, your eBook has to be AT LEAST $2.99. Want to sell a book for .99 cents? You can, but you'll only get 30% of that.

So when you see a print book price or eBook price and wonder what made the author set that particular price, it's usually only a $1, give or take, over the minimum price they are told they HAVE to sell it at.

Keep that in mind when an author releases a book, or when readers complain that it isn’t .99 cents, or even free. An author is making, if they’re lucky, a few dollars from each book sale, on a novel they might have spent six months to a few years creating for you. If the book is .99 cents, the author might be getting .20 cents from each sale. If the author has their book listed free for a promotion, they receive absolutely nothing. 
The author might have spent thousands of dollars of their own money on an editor or cover designer, as well as money on any promotional materials. Unless the author’s name is John Grisham, Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, etc, the author is likely not even recouping what they put into their novel to get it published. An author would have to sell over 500 copies of a book, if not more, to recoup what they put into it. So when you buy that $5 eBook or $10 print book, remember, that the author is only receiving a few dollars from that sale. 

Another way an author makes money is by you doing something that is completely free. The more books an author sells, the more money they make. The best way an author can sell more books, is if YOU, the reader, tells someone else to buy it. This may come by word-of-mouth, or sharing a Facebook post, but most come from reviews left on Amazon and Goodreads. Both sites generate a lot of readers for an author so if you leave a review on one, try to leave on on the other as well. Reviews can be anywhere from a few words about how you liked/loved it, to a complete rundown of what made the book appeal to you. Reviews don't cost anything but a few minutes of your time. But they can have a huge affect for an author. 

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Using my own novel's royalties on, say, an eBook, costs you $4.99, giving the author $3.43. Add the few minutes you put into a review and two more people decided to give the book a try. You just helped the author make a total of $6.86 (plus what the author made from your sale) from your review. Your review could get 10 more people to buy the book. That's $34.30 you just helped the author make. Imagine if one or two of those ten people wrote a review with the same results. 

It's a domino affect that is all up to you, the reader. You have the power, in just a few words, to make or break an author. You have the capability to change an author's life.

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Here's another breakdown of how reviewing works. The average book only receives 1.5 reviews for every 750 (or so) books read. That's a lot of books read with hardly anything to show for it. And a lot of potential readers that never know what they're missing.

Amazon has made it doubly hard for self-published, indie, and new authors to gain a foothold with new readers already. We've all logged onto Amazon, looked at the book department, and been bombarded with top sellers/new releases/recommended for you adds in each category on the home page. But did you know that in order for an author to even be allowed on those lists, they have to have 50+ reviews on their novel? Fifty reviews is extremely hard to come by without paying a company thousands of dollars to write them. My novel, Dark Mountains was published in 2013, has an average rating of 4.3/5 stars, and still only has 36 reviews. Unless you're a big-name author, those lists seem unattainable.

But even worse for self-published authors, Amazon itself seems to be out to get them, by removing reviews based on a perceived bias. All authors have family and friends that will read their book and leave a review, most of the time, a favorable one, but sometimes, not so much, as was the case for me on my debut novel. See my post: Handling Negative Feedback for proof that a family member's review doesn't guarantee anything positive. But Amazon doesn't agree.

Amazon has, in recent months, begun deleting user's reviews if they get any hint of a connection between the author and reviewer. It isn't just family members and friends feeling the heat from Amazon. Even perfect strangers (to the author) that have liked their Facebook page, or followed them on Twitter or Goodreads, are feeling the burn. Amazon is currently on a witch hunt for any connection, regardless of how remote or above reproach it is, and is removing reviews from author's books. 

Currently it's a big scandal, as Amazon seems to only be removing favorable reviews and not negative ones, even when they are found to be an author's competing rival or vindictive family member. Amazon has also been having major issues with some authors cheating the system but purchasing reviews, creating fake accounts and writing their own reviews, padding books with extra pages to gain more revenue from KDP select/Amazon Prime, etc. It seems an uphill battle for self-published authors trying to be successful in the right way, with so little options given to them.

My advice for leaving a review is to make sure you don't link any of your social media accounts to your Amazon one. Even with Goodreads, it's best not to link accounts. Goodreads itself is not at all strict with its reviews and ratings, but Amazon will check the reviews on Goodreads to search for author/reader connections.  Don't mention that you know the author personally. But be honest about the book. If you didn't like it, say it. If you loved it, tell people, and let them know why you loved it. 

There is a silver lining to Amazon's review process. Amazon currently offers reviewers to 1) vote whether the review was helpful or not and 2) let the reviewer comment on other reviews. What's so great about that? 

If you took a peek at my Handling Negative Feedback post, you'll see that my debut novel, Dark Mountains, received a 2 star review (from a family member) because it had cursing and described sex scenes, although it is categorized as a romance novel and clearly states on the book's sale page that it's recommended for 18+ due to mature scenes. The reviewer also went as far to point out how my personal beliefs made her judge the type of book I had written. (My author bio page said I liked singing at church.)


I also have a one-star review from someone who was shocked at the graphic sex scenes halfway through the book. To be fair, there are some fully explained sex scenes (though I wouldn't consider them graphic... they're a lot more tame than erotica books, and even Shades of Grey), and they are about halfway through the book, but the story centers on two kids and their journey to fall in love as they grow up. Obviously two kids can't have sex in a novel, and as the story progressed to them being adults, so did their physical relationship with each other. Beneath that review was two comments thankful to be warned about the sexually graphic content.



Of course, I'm glad that potential readers are being warned of what they're getting into before they start a novel, as I'd likely have a few more bad reviews if they hadn't been made aware. But having a romance category that points out on the purchase page that it contains adult content and recommended for reading over 18, should have been clear enough. 

This is where the reviewer and Amazon account holder can save the day. A reviewer that had enough common sense to know what the novel was going to be about before starting it can comment and rebut a negative review. A reviewer that knows an author's personal beliefs shouldn't be held in account to the fiction they write, can defend an author's work. You, the reader and reviewer, can save an author's day.

So being a successful author isn't all about writing a great novel. Having readers and reviews plays a huge part in whether an author has financial success, or even breaks even, with the novels they spend so much time and money on.

My favorite analogy to use is this:

Most people would go to a coffee shop, say a Starbucks, and spend $5 or more on a cup of coffee. A barista takes a few minutes to make it and you shell out the money without batting an eye. You might even tip the barista for the few minutes of coffee making. There are some people that do this multiple times a day.

Yet a lot of readers complain that a book is too expensive, or even that the book isn't free. 

An author spends a bare minimum of six months on a book. Usually a year or more perfecting it for publishing. They spend hundreds or thousands on cover art, a cover designer, an editor, someone to format it, on ordering copies. Thousands of hours on a keyboard, researching, editing, rewriting. 

An author's book is that cup of coffee that makes you sigh on the first sip, that warms you on the inside, that makes you smile, that gets you through the day, that helps you to escape the world for a little while. An author's book is a one-time purchase for you, but one you can come back to and enjoy over and over again without having to pay any more money. As if that coffee kept magically refilling itself for you. And the review you leave is the barista's tip for a job well done. 

So please, don't shy away from buying that author's book and make sure you don't forget to tip your author.

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