Authors trademark so that consumers know that certain products were provided by a certain person. For example, Harry Potter is provided by J.K. Rowling.
Additionally, she does this so that no one can ride on her coattails of fame and notoriety. They can’t write Harriet Potter and the Sorceress’s Stone, for instance. No one else can tiptoe into her Harry Potter wheelhouse. Her brand is clean and clear.
That is what trademark is for.
The idea of a trademark is to tie your brand to your name. The idea here is to keep others from making money from your fame. Your fame belongs to you. The empire you built belongs to you.
But to do this, you must create an easy to recognize brand.
What Makes a Brand
A trademark ties the specific goods to a specific person. That’s it. Harry Potter isn’t Robert Louis Stevenson or George R.R. Martin. You hear Harry Potter, and you can almost hear the opening credits to the movies in your head, and you recall the stories of how many times J.K. Rowling had been rejected before she got her book published.
This is where understanding your brand—what sets you apart from the pack—matters. What can you brand exclusively to you?
Flying ships? Nope.
Whiskey Witches Universe? Maybe. That is a brand. I’ve crafted and honed it. I’ve created and shaped it. That is a brand.
Series Vs Titles
You might think that trademarking book titles is a good idea, but the thing to remember is the point of the trademark. It isn’t to lick every Oreo in the bag to claim them. It’s to make people realize that you made those Oreos and that they have you to thank for being able to eat them.
That’s the big difference here. You want your readers to be able to talk about your books and have others know that they’re talking about you.
And you want to keep other authors out of your branding wheelhouse.
That’s key and important. You want to keep other authors out of your branding wheelhouse. So, when people think Whiskey Witches, they think of “that Blood chick.” Seriously, one day, they’ll remember my actual name. But for now, I’ll take “that Blood chick.”
Product to name recognition.
I could probably trademark Whiskey Witches. I’ve done a pretty decent job of branding that series to my name. You go to any search engine and “Whiskey Witches” pulls up my books, though there are a few others thrown in there. Two Witches and a Whiskey by Annette Marie is before mine because she’s selling more right now. Okay. She’s always selling more than I am. Shayne Silvers’ and Cameron O’Connell’s Whiskey Ginger is in there, but those are both book titles, and neither of them are Whiskey Witches. The brand is solid. So, trademarking that series title wouldn’t be bad.
The reason I’m getting that name recognition is because I created a marketable brand name in the hopes of getting that name recognition. I didn’t care about trademarking at the time. I just wanted something that would be easy to market.
The series name is trademarkable.
However, I couldn’t trademark “witches,” even though that’s a part of the series and, apparently, part of my author brand. I also can’t trademark “whiskey,” no matter how much I drink. That’s not my brand. But Whiskey Witches is.
When you’re looking at what you can trademark, you have to look at what identifies you as the creator of the product.
People know “that Blood chick” as the creator of Whiskey Witches, but they couldn’t tell you who wrote Blood Moon Magick. When you remind them it’s Book 2 of Whiskey Witches, they’ll wax poetic about how it wasn’t their favorite and how they just wished “that Blood chick” had just skipped it and gone straight to the Texas book. They don’t even remember the name of the “Texas” book. They remember Whiskey Witches, “that Blood chick,” and Texas.
And that's the reason we trademark series titles over book titles. There are a few exceptions to the rule, like J.K. Rowland, but that's not me. I’m F.J. Blooding and I’m okay with that.
When and What Should You Trademark
Honestly, trademarking is expensive and it doesn’t matter a whole lot until you’ve become a bit more famous. When people start quoting your work in theirs, when they start mentioning your work without providing your name, when you become a pop culture reference, or when they start naming their stuff similarly to your brand in order to ride your success wave, that’s when it’s time to trademark.
The point of the trademark is to protect the connection between your product and your name, and to protect your brand, keeping it solely your own.
So, this business with Faleena Hopkins trying to trademark “cocky” doesn’t make sense. How could “cocky” make a reader think only of Faleena Hopkins? She applied for the trademark and managed to obtain it. However, that doesn’t mean it’s enforceable in the court of law, and that’s something you’ve got to take under consideration. She went to court after trying to enforce her trademark and lost.
Now, Christine Feehan is trying to trademark “dark” in reference to a series. However, it seems unlikely that she’ll win that one in court either. When I pull up “the dark series” on Amazon, I get Catherine Lee’s The Dark Series, The Dark Tower by Stephen King, In the Dark by Karen Rose, and Dark Illusion, A Carpathian Novel by Christine Feehan. She’d have an easier time getting “Carpathian” trademarked, even though there are other authors associated with that word as well.
She didn’t do a great job of creating a highly brandable and distinguishable name to trademark.
The scary thing for indies is that we might become the targets of their trademark enforcement. And that’s where we get the willies. What do we do when that happens?
I’ll discuss that in another article because that’s a pretty wide conversation that requires a lot more research.
Are we going to keep running into stuff like this? Yes. We probably are.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that while you’re looking at this developing situation, you should look at how you can develop your brand into something that could be trademarked as you gain notoriety. That’s what both Ms. Hopkins and Ms. Feehan had hoped to accomplish.
But did they? Really?
I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but after having read the trademark laws, I would have to say that they probably have not.