Though I’ve been known to write whole books about sex without ever putting much sex on the page (hello, repressed main characters!), I’ve been reading about #cockygate with interest.
If you don’t know, #cockygate is the name given to a blowup of late in the world of romance writing. By way of a brief summary, an author named Faleena Hopkins trademarked the word “cocky” for her own titles only, and has sent cease and desist letters to a number of authors who also use that word in their titles, even some whose titles predate her trademark. The Romance Writers of America association is preparing to battle to prevent Ms. Hopkins from claiming that very common word (what’s next? Duke? Devil? Bride? Night?), and litigation will no doubt ensue.
I doubt highly any book of mine will ever use the word “cocky” in a title, but the whole hullabaloo has made me think about writing as a profession, and how upsetting the whole #cockygate thing is, mainly because it is so unusual within the world of authors. As a rule, we don’t ambush and attempt to sabotage each other.
Publishing professionals frequently say on Twitter and elsewhere that publishing is not a zero sum game; that your book isn’t competing against others, that there is room in publishing for all books with merit. I’m not sure that is always true—it’s fairly unlikely, though not impossible, for two genderflipped Cinderella retellings set in Ancient Greece to get picked up at the same time, or ever, whatever their merit.
That said, though, publishing isn’t cutthroat like other professions either. Success of books, of publishing, of bookstores, of libraries, of school summer reading programs, of agents, of other authors lifts all boats. We all need this industry to do well. A kid who loves your book might then decide to read mine. An adult who looks for your book at the store might buy mine if it’s similar in feel.
I read a brilliant blog post lately that theorized that Faleena Hopkins, putative owner of the word “cocky,” must not have a group of other authors to bounce things off. Faleena has nobody to tell her that it’s okay if three (or ninety) books have the word “cocky” in their titles. They may attract each other’s readers. Just ask the other guy who wrote a book called Fire and Fury after the one about the president was published. Faleena clearly has nobody to tell her that sending cease and desist letters to other authors is at best futile and at worst, career-killing.
I have a group of writers who mean the absolute world to me. We all started this journey around the same time. Some are multi-published, some are not published at all. One is a NYT Bestseller. They are all fantastically talented, and better, loyal and caring. I couldn’t do this without them. They read my work and tell me when something makes no sense. They cheerlead when I need it. They tell me I cannot quit (and yes, if you’ve been at this any time at all, you know that the occasion for that demand arises a lot). I do the same for them.
At the end of my life, I’ll be happy to know that I left a book behind me (I hope more than one!) in the Library of Congress. But that’s not what this is all about. It will matter much, much more that I made friends, true, deep friends, with other authors.
We write books to connect with people. It’s sad for me to think that Faleena Hopkins doesn’t seem to understand that some of the best people and the most real connections are with other authors.