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Open Letter to Faleena Hopkins

Faleena,

This is not a hate letter.

This is not a public shaming, or a “stoning.”

Now that that’s out of the way, we can move on. So, who the fuck am I, and why the hell am I writing you a letter? In short, I’m Cassie Sharp. I am an indie author. I do not write romance. I feel like I need to make that clear, so you aren’t thinking this is a plea for you to do anything. I will not personally be affected by your TM of the word “cocky.” I write mystery/suspense/thrillers, so unless I want to title a book, The Cocky Detective Who Almost Doesn’t Catch the Psychopath, and somehow categorize it in a romance genre, your TM isn’t going to deter the titling of any current or future works of mine.

Because I’m an author, I’ve been following this madness closely. In my mind, the thought of someone having the capability to TM a word and prevent other authors from using it in their titles, sets a scary precedent. We’ll get back to that later. This letter is not about me. It’s about you.

I’ll preface this with saying that this letter may never reach you. I’m sure you’ve gotten tons of messages and notifications over the past few days, and chances are, you’ve decided to ignore most of them. I’m only posting this on my blog in hopes that maybe someone in your corner will see it and lead you to it. And I’m only writing this to you because I feel compelled to. It’s not going to win me any brownie points in the community. But sometimes we have to do what we feel is right, consequences be damned.

As I said above, I’ve been following this since it began. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve probably called you a couple different names in the past few days. Some…not so nice names. I was shocked, you know? Like the rest of the indie community. Last night, I decided to do something I’m obsessed with doing, which is trying to understand why people do the things they do. Humans fascinate me, and getting to the bottom of our nature is a study I’ll probably always be a student of. So, I did a bit of…stalking. I read through feeds and more feeds on social media. I looked at your website. I went to your author page and made note of all the screenshots you posted there. I searched for the few people who have stood up for you and read what they had to say. I examined your reasoning and compared it to all the other things I’d already seen. And here’s what I came up with…

…keep in mind, this is hypothesis that leans heavily on the optimistic side…

You don’t have a tribe. I’m not talking about your friends, former colleagues, family, and readers. I’m sure you have a lot of people on your side on that front. I’m talking about a fellow-author tribe. And maybe you have a few author acquaintances here and there that you’ve swapped newsletters with or done takeovers with, but that’s not what I’m talking about, either. I’m talking about a true tribe of fellow indie authors who feel the things you do. Who go through the same bullshit. Who deal with all the ups and downs that you do. Who talk you through it all. I’m talking about relationships so intimate, you trust them with your planning stages, with your plot, with chapters as you write them.

Why do I think this?

All of your reasoning.

You think other authors were out to get you. You think this because:

  1. You got one-star reviews on Goodreads for books you haven’t written yet.
  2. Other books were published with the same cover models and similar titles.
  3. Other books had the same character names as yours.
  4. Some of your books showed up on iBooks that you didn’t put there when you’re in KU.
  5. There was similar content in some of your books in other author’s books.

Those are all the reasons you gave. Those are the reasons your readers gave. And when I closely examined these things, it hit me. You don’t know. You have no idea. These are problems that almost every author I know has. It’s part of the business. I’m part of some AMAZING author groups on FB. We talk to each other. We share. We vent, we yell, we rage. And you know why it works? Because we all have the same problems. Because these are common problems in this business. Hell, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered something crazy or a problem, did a search in one of the groups, and BAM here are a list of people who’ve talked about the same shit…and now I have answers. These relationships are invaluable. I have no reason to lie to you. I have no reason to exaggerate or fabricate. Straight up. Every. Single. One of those things are common. You would know this if you had a tribe of authors. If you were an active part of the community of indie authors. You aren’t alone. I can’t provide you with the dozens upon dozens upon dozens of examples of these, because we don’t do the screenshot thing in those groups. It’s our safe space. And nobody fucks with the safe spaces.

I can’t tell you how many authors I know who’ve had one-starred GR reviews on books they haven’t even started writing yet. It’s some GR system readers use to decide what they want to read and when. I know it doesn’t make sense. But GR is not for authors. It’s for readers. So we sigh, okay…curse, and move on.

Same models and similar titles? Meh. There are stock photos that are more popular than others. And whether you want to believe it or not, “cocky” is something authors other than you use to describe their men. Readers dig it.

Character names? Well, I mean, come on. How many Jennifers have you met? There’s probably not a single name you could use on a character that hasn’t been used in books before you. We all deal with it. We all laugh it off.

As for the iBooks thing, that is also becoming increasingly common. You know those assholes who pirate books? This is their new thing. They target KU authors, steal their work, throw it up on another retailer and reap the rewards. I can’t tell you how many authors I’ve seen who had to deal with this shit. It sucks. It’s not fair. But it happens. A lot.

Similar content? Hell. There’s nothing you can write that hasn’t been written before. We, as indie authors, just tell ourselves that nobody has written it quite like we will. And we write it. And we go on.

Now, I’m going to tell you something you have heard over and over in the last few days. You probably took them as barbs, as insults, but I’m going to tell you the truth. Nobody I know has heard of you. You’ve obviously done well for yourself. You’re obviously selling books. That is not me or anyone else telling you that you’re a nobody. What I mean by this is simple: authors don’t read a shit ton. We don’t have time to. Back in the day, I was pushing 300 titles a year. That was before. We talk about this in our author groups all the time, too. We don’t read as much as we used to. Not by half or more. Hell, last year, I probably read ten books. TEN. And I can’t tell you how many other authors have similar habits. Shit, there are some NYT Bestselling authors who I haven’t heard of or read, because…I just don’t browse Amazon like I used to. Because we aren’t avid readers, we typically don’t subscribe to KU. I don’t think I have any authors in my close circle of friends who do. I don’t think I know of more than three or four who have subscriptions, period. Out of hundreds. KU is designed for people who knock out a book in a day or two. I’m lucky if I get one done in two weeks now…just ask my friends who I’ve betaed for. Oy. Because of this fact, and because you don’t belong to any of the groups we hang out in (some with numbers in the high hundreds, some with numbers in the thousands) we don’t know who you are. That’s not an insult. That’s just a fact.

Are you still with me? I hope so. Because it’s important you read this next part, as I’m going to put myself in your shoes.

According to your bio on your website, you’ve lived a pretty eventful life. Dabbled in various professions. Looks like you’ve acted…which is, I imagine, a pretty competitive business. Cutthroat, even. Then there’s the photography. You said you were pretty successful in that venture, so I imagine that’s a hard road to climb to the top full of competition. Then, one day, you were watching a show and in it, one of the characters wrote an ebook, and that’s how you found out about self-publishing. Most of the indie authors I know found out about it because we were obsessively reading the newest titles from founding indie authors like Tarryn Fisher and Colleen Hoover. Most of the authors I know followed these authors on social media, met them at signings, and finally one day had the courage to try their own hand at their dreams. It seems it was more of a business move for you. I’m not saying you haven’t always been a writer, as you claim. I’m not saying you hadn’t dreamed of being an author. But what I am saying is your road to the discovery of the self-publishing industry was not a usual one, which is to say, full of knowing about the business because you followed, got to know, and loved the authors already in the business.

So, your start as an indie author seems like it was a bit of a lonely one. I’m putting myself in your position there, and trying to think of what it would have felt like to write my first novel without knowing or confiding in anyone in the same place as you. I find that very hard to imagine. In fact, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that the only reason I ever had the courage to hit “publish” was because of the fantastic support I had from the network of indie authors in the community I’m blessed to be part of. So, seriously, kudos to you for that accomplishment and the courage it takes to get there. Especially on your own.

You wrote a few books that did okay, probably building a bit of a fan base, but that really took off when you released your first Cocker Brothers (TM) book. By that point, I imagine you gained a nice readership, you had some people (as you say in your bio) in your corner outside of those readers, and some people who joked at the “mommy porn” you were creating. All the while, still not having that strong tribe of peers to have your back. To tell you they were dealing with the saaaaame shit.

Then, as you wrote more Cocker books, you found yourself selling more and more. Then, you saw it…the similarities we talked about earlier with cover models and titles. Hell, maybe even some of your readers pointed that out. Perhaps you talked to some of your friends or family about it, and (not being in the publishing industry) they were like…what the hell, man? Then came the dastardly one-starred GR reviews on shit you hadn’t written yet. Then came a reader or two telling you they read a book that reminded them of yours. All the while, you’re probably venting to your people, as you should. And they, being your people, are like damn, girl, that’s fucked up. People are trying to copy you. Look at how many pages read you have daily. Who do those other authors think they are, trying to capitalize on your accomplishments? Then came the pirated books and the ones that showed up on other retailers, and by this time, with all the shit that came before it…with all the people in your corner (who had no idea this is all quite common) wanting to go to bat for you, raging for you and telling you not to take that shit, you’d had enough. I can see that. I can put myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t interact with other authors daily, who doesn’t watch in groups as my peers talk about all this bullshit and what needs to be done about it, and I can say, I get why you were pissed. I get how you could have taken all these unfortunate coincidences and roadblocks and woes and thought these people are against me. They’re trying to mess with me. They’re trying to take my business. LOOK AT ALL THIS EVIDENCE.

You had friends and former colleagues in the cutthroat entertainment business (who assumed the indie author business was the same, which it’s NOT, there’s room for us all) giving you advice.

You had family telling you it’s your right to protect what you’ve created.

You had your readers see the same coincidences you did and tell you they support you, because they didn’t know any better, either.

And you had no tribe of authors to help you see any different.

I get it. I get why you reached a breaking point. I get why you felt you had to protect your business.

Would I have trademarked? Sure. I would have trademarked The Cocker Brothers Series. I would not have trademarked “cocky.” Not in a million years. But we’re not the same person. I think what took you to that point was a mixture of ego, balls, and ignorance. I can’t do anything about the ego or the balls. But, I sincerely HOPE I’ve shed some light on the ignorance. This isn’t to say I think you’re an ignorant person. You’re obviously intelligent. The ignorance is that you had no idea that those things you felt were attacks against your brand were not. They are just part of this business. But you didn’t know. Because you didn’t have people to tell you otherwise.

This is not me making an excuse for you or trying to help you out or helping your case. The things you have done since you decided to pursue this trademark are inexcusable. I cannot stand a bully. And I think I now know how you got to that point, but there is no excuse to hurt others. To bully them. To try to take away a common word from an entire genre of authors. I don’t get that. I never will. But I do get your journey to that point.

By now, I have serious doubts your trademark will hold up, so please know that this is not a call to action. This is not me begging you to change your mind.

This is one flawed human reaching out to another flawed human to try to set you straight. To try to help you understand that though I understand WHY you thought the romance indies were against you, and though I understand WHY you felt your brand being infringed upon…THAT WAS AND IS NOT THE CASE.

I hope you’re able to read this with an open mind. I hope you don’t doubt the things I have said here, or think they’re bullshit. I didn’t have to spend an afternoon away from writing in one of my three works in progress to try to explain things to you, I chose to because I think it’s important for you to understand. And I think it’s important that you know that someone can put their self in your shoes. Nobody asked me to write this. Hell, I’m sure some of my tribe will think I’m wasting my time or even dislike me a bit for trying to understand you. And that’s okay.

If, by a slim chance, you read this and you get what I’m saying. If, by some miracle, it gets through to you and you realize what you’ve done is wrong, then know that you can try to make amends. You could take down your TM, stop enforcing it, pay back the authors who’ve been affected and the lawyers who’ve rallied with the indies. But I’m not asking you to do this. I’m not asking you to do anything other than take what I’ve said here and think about it. Just…think about it.

Cassie Sharp

 

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89 thoughts on “Open Letter to Faleena Hopkins”

  1. Cassie, I watched Fallena’s rant last night that someone posted to YouTube and had the same feelings. I tried to see what it all looked like from her side and truthfully there were moments that I felt bad for her but I couldn’t put my finger on why. Thanks for your perspective. I think it has merit and that makes me feel even worse for her.
    I own a bookstore that sells only indie and small press authors and I’ve never heard of her. That’s not unusual because of the sheer number of professional indie authors out there. I also don’t read romance so I wouldn’t have tripped over her looking for a good read. I write children’s books and marketing workbooks but I belong to several indie groups on social media and, even though we write completely different genres, I can’t imagine being on this journey without their support and insight.

    So thank you, Cassie, for saying what some of us were thinking. I don’t know where Fallena’s goes from here…

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I didn’t know Faleena had been up on Youtube about this. Weird. I also never heard of her before this came up either. What’s the name of the store, if you don’t mind my asking?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Based on this alone, I’ll buy your books. You nailed it. Now I have to go out and see if my titles are available on iBooks. Good grief.

    If we indies don’t help each other, nobody’s going to. That’s the solid truth. Thanks for putting it so succinctly.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I’d agree EXCEPT she’s a moderator in the 20booksto50k Facebook group which is a huge author community. These topics are constantly discussed in there. So yeah, while I can see your reasoning to give her the benefit of the doubt, I still feel that she’s simply being a greedy bitch, a trademark troll, who thought she’d get away with it. No more, no less.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That doesn’t mean she actually has a tribe, as in people looking out for her best interests. Big groups like that can still be full of self-serving people that may even encourage things for their own personal gain. My tribe would talk me out of doing something stupid and come to defend me with weapons drawn if I were attacked. Does that make sense?

      Liked by 4 people

  4. So well written, Cassie…compassionate, honest, and –maybe I’m grasping at straws?– I think may have a positive impact on FH if/when she reads it; which is to say, she calls off the whole TM thing, apologizes, and makes amends (especially of the financial nature) to the writers who’ve been most directly impacted. I’ve seen a couple folks post this letter on FB today, and I’m tweeting, stat. Word is being spread! Thank you for taking the time.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you, Cassie, for the compassion and for taking time to write this, and regardless of the outcome of this whole debacle, please know this, you have a new fan-for-life.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I like to rationalise people too. Maybe you’re right, I don’t know (who does, really?). All I know is that I had a C&D a long time ago over the title ‘Eden’, and along with a few other authors with the same title (you’re right about the tribe bit!) we decided to fight back.

    We won, the C&D, er, ceased and Amazon put our books back on the cyber shelves!

    Hopefully, this will all blow over too but in indie world we have long memories and WE STICK TOGETHER!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Hello and greetings from Mexico! (Yes, the #cockygate came to Mexico). It just draw my attention this morning all this trouble about TM-ing a common use word. I’ve read all I could from both sides (the affected authors and the author’s twitter ones) and, lastly, your letter. Even though I didn’t know about that lady and about some of you (one day I will read one of your books, btw), I found it laughable because, come on!, who in its own mind would trademark a simple word?

    Even if it’s just some publicity to get herself known in the bookish community, like the gentleman Paul Flewwit noted, I find her procedure ridiculous and a big shot to the head for her writting (and acting) career.

    As for myself, a hobbyist author who is the hard process of writting her book, I can relate about the tribe. Without a group of fellow author who can give you advices about some neccesary things, you will do a lot of mistakes like her. I know by first hand that it’s difficult to publish as an indie author since you don’t know so much about the industry, even if you investigate it. So, after reading about all this cockygate, I think I’ll learn valuable lessons about it, specially after reading your open letter to that person.

    Hugs and greetings!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Completely well put together. I believe you’ve opened our eyes to the issues behind her actions. I will confess I’m still angry about this, though it doesn’t affect me directly. I feel she could have gone a better way about this, but lacked the ethics to do so. She didn’t hurt just hersef, but many many authors, and that’s why there is an outcry. I hope she sees this letter.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thanks for this Cassie! Very kind and evolved. I didn’t know that she took all those little annoyances we all go through as personal attacks. Hey, there’s a Goodreads troll who gives one star reviews to at least 20 books a day. She’s never given any other rating and she never reviews. Just one-stars everything. And pirates? Arghh. 🙂 They’re everywhere. But if you didn’t know that? It could feel personal.

    Faleena may never read this, but it helps the rest of us to understand. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I tend to go through life with my head in the sand, but even I have read about this ridiculous trademark and having read this letter, it seems the author who filed for it is narcissistic in the extreme.

    There was once a poster on a forum I go to who was getting her knickers in a knot because she thought someone else on the forum was using her designer’s photos on her cover. ‘My designer has paid for those,’ she declared. ‘You need to take them down, or else’.

    I actually saw a book on Amazon with the same premise as one I had just published. I was miffed to start with, then I thought ‘there is no such thing as an original idea’.

    Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi, I’m a romance author. I have been in China for the past 5 weeks (where there is no Facebook) so when I got back online I was horrified by this whole #cockergate thing.

    I guess it comes down to social isolation. Since she’s on Facebook, I think that isolation has grown from her holding herself above everyone else and it’s not the first time (but definitely the worst time) I’ve seen authors go this way. Some people seem to just lose all sense of reality and if they only stepped back and recognized that, they could come back from it. We are all tiny fishes in the ocean. I’ve shared your blog post on Facebook because I think you’ve brought some fabulous analysis to this whole thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’d just like to add to my previous comment. Cassie says one reason this FH has believed all the little coincidences were personal attacks was because she had never followed other indie authors or groups. I have to say, that’s no excuse. When I first discovered kdp it was via an email from Amazon which included a book about self publishing. I immediately dug out my novel, written 30 years before, went through it, retyped it (it was a carbon) and uploaded it, with terror in my heart. I had never followed any author and had no idea about groups.

    That didn’t make me think everything was a copy.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. LOVE THIS. Kudos to you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful post. We all need our tribes! We also need to remember compassion when we feel attacked, so good on you for finding that as your inspiration here.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. *waves*…I’ve read almost all of Feleena Hopkins books. Coming from that perspective…I am glad to have read your letter. While believing it’s kinda dumb to tm such a popular word…I did not think of the bigger picture in what it would mean if she succeeded. Just kind of assumed she wouldn’t succeed. I do believe she doesn’t have a tribe of authors. That isn’t an excuse. I think if her fan base reads very many letters on this issue…she will lose them. She portrayed herself as a victim of bullying. After reading a few letters such as yours…I don’t believe this to be true.

    Short version…thank you for educating those who are ignorant on this issue(like myself) and doing so with class.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I’m an avid romance reader and also a speed reader. I will often read 3-4 books in a week. I have beta read books for an old friend who is an indie author. I love KU and I have read most of the Cocker brothers series. Cocktales came up under “recommended for you” on my kindle. I read the forward for the book when I downloaded the sample and read Cassie’s blog for more information. It is very well written. After learning more about “cockygate” I will no longer read books by FH unless she reverses her TM request and reimburses those affected. Who does that? If this is allowed to stand what word is next? I suggest ballsy. That should be in more titles don’t you think? I’ll stop now before I go deep down the path of sarcasm.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Just learned of this today. Unbelievable. As others have already noted, while the lack of a tribe might play a hand of ignorance and a consequent motive, thinking a world that doesn’t even know who you are is out to get you (except now more are learning who this person is though not in a good way) it is really extending a generous hand to allow it as an excuse.
    Heck, I don’t have a tribe and I’d never ever ever go so low. I burned down a whole day catching up on this controversy. Could’ve been sniffing for a tribe.

    Like

  17. Cassie, I am an avid reader of 3-4 books a week. I enjoy all kinds of genres and I follow a lot of indie authors, book blogs, and a number of online and “real life” bookgroups. I had never heard of FH, and I had never heard of you either. You may be right about her not having a tribe and basically being ignorant of the business. As other commenters have mentioned, this is no excuse. You have shown your character through the reflections you make on this open letter: you are kind, compassionate, decent and prepared to show a willingness to understand others, to try to put yourself in their shoes. This is not something she has done. She obviously does not care about those her insane behaviour has hurt. I am a psychologist by profession and probably not as nice a human being as you are, because I have been so outraged by the whole #cockygate lunacy, that I am not prepared to cut FH any slack. This nasty piece of work of a woman shows a number of traits that are consistent with a personality disorder, malignant narcissism. But Karma is a bitch of epic proportions and I really think she has shot herself in the foot and her antics will put a nail in her career’s coffin. Just by following #cockygate and starting to read Cocktakes, my own actions about this have been to so far to buy ten books yesterday by authors affected by this BS and by other authors supporting those affected, including yours too. On the other hand, I realised I had two books by FH in my kindle (because they were free on bookbub), even m when she was not “under my radar” at all, and I have deleted them without reading. There, she has lost me forever with her attitude, not even with her writing. And I buy about a thousand books a year (my own very particular addiction). You, on the other hand, have a new fan.

    Liked by 1 person

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