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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. On one thread it was being said that the other authors are diluting her brand. That speaks volumes. But i’ll say this, in the indie world…it’s your fellow authors who give you the push, encouragment, exposure to get ahead. Just don’t get why someone would want to break that bond

    Liked by 9 people

  2. I love this response to all this madness and debauchery that has transpired over the last few days. I believe you have hit it on the head perfectly. Despite knowing she is in a specific group on FB. It’s the only one I know she’s in and she’s getting the same support she’s getting from fans. So I’m not sure what that says about the group or perhaps the enabling there. Regardless, because none of that is really important at this point, you’ve certainly shed light on this and I can’t agree enough that you have a very valid point here.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. What you said about having a tribe is spot on! And the empathy you’ve shown here is what I’ve always seen from the writing community at large which is why this whole situation was so confusing to me. I’m still in the aspiring stages of writing but I’d never want to take away from others to boost myself. The authors I admire and follow are all about uplifting their fellows, telling me I can do it, and echoing the sentiment that there is room for everyone.

    Liked by 9 people

  4. Absolutely spot on, Cassie. An insightful, supportive and level-headed post. I don’t know what I’d do without my FB writing group. We are all at different stages, all have different aspirations but we are all writers and understand that process. I hope Faleena gains some authentic peer support after this and finds her tribe. x

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Fantastic post. I think you captured everything quite well. I hope she reads it and gains some insight (and even humility) as to why this is not being taken lightly!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I can’t imagine getting into writing without a tribe. My tribe is made of people I met in my first writing group, members of RWA, former writers who still keep in contact, women I met through an AOL romance chat room twenty years ago, and newer FB friends. I have no idea how many times I’ve asked or answered hive-mind questions. Cause that’s what we do. This week a few members of my tribe finaled in prestigious contests, and they were flooded with congratulations. Cause that’s what we do. Writing is not a zero sum game. There isn’t a finite number of slots. When one of us succeed, it makes it easier for all of us to succeed. And it’s sad that Faleena doesn’t understand this.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Well written and very empathetic. I *do* write indie romance, though I’d never title a book cocky anything so it doesn’t affect me personally. It DOES affect the publishing industry as a whole. I don’t know what I’d do without my tribe.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I love how logical and honest this is.

    I wonder, though — she might see the problems that all authors deal with as “something to be fixed” and she’s fine with “being a guinea pig” for the change (she hinted at something like this in her FB ramble the other day). It’s a little frightening…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There is a line of logic and rationale that would have to go along with that, however. She can “fix” the cover art situation by not using stock photos, as she’s already discovered. She can fix the alleged reader confusion by searching her intended branding to make sure “Cocky” hasn’t already been used by other romance authors — then quickly realize she can’t TM cocky, but maybe “Cocker Brothers Series.” Otherwise, where does one draw the line? Should I petition to ban all other future books where a woman meets two men at once and is flustered with the choices she faces? Can I TM or copyright that storyline or use of the name Max? Of course not. “Fixing things” still needs sound reason underpinning it. That’s the part where her justifications make no sense to me at all.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Would it be too much trouble if I too ask for some FB writers’ group suggestions? I’m nowhere near publishing (still writing) but am shooting for later this year or next year to self-publish. Great and civil blog you wrote, by the way. You handled it like a pro. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I love this letter. So well said. And it made me look at her in a different light. I think you’re absolutely right. When I read the things she was stating, I thought ‘we ALL deal with that’, but I didn’t take the step into her head the way you did. I hope she reads this letter. I appreciate you writing it. I hope something good comes from all of this.

    Liked by 6 people

  10. This is excellent. It explains how she might have come to the conclusions she did in terms of thinking other authors were out to get her. I don’t know where I’d be without the writer friends I’ve met. There’s no way I could have survived without them.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Caddie.
    Like you with Fellema, I hadn’t heard of you until I read this blog post. We swim in different circles and simply woukdn’t cross paths. But from the horror and dark fantasy genre, I applaud you for offering your sage advice. I came to a similar conclusion about this writer, but on seeing her live post earlier today I felt that any words I might offer would fall in deaf ears. In short, I felt it would be a waste of time. So, I applaud you for your patience in trying, and being so very erudite in such a potentially high-intensity topic. I sincerely hope she finds this post… and listens!

    Your colleague

    Paul Flewitt

    Liked by 2 people

  12. This made a lot of sense to me. You’re totally right about having a tribe. It’s the only way we can keep some sort of perspective. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. From the beginning I mainly see the “who???” response when her name is mentioned. I truly feel she’s doing this to become more known, generate buzz about herself and have ppl look at her books to see what she’s all about. Too bad it’s mostly backfiring on her in an epic way.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Beautiful response. Well thought out and written. I have no idea what the outcome of Ms. Hopkins’ case will be, but it’s my hope that she’ll learn that she isn’t entitled to run roughshod over other authors.

    As a YA Fantasy author, I have to thank my fellow authors as well as the readers for supporting me. No, I’m not famous or wealthy–I wish!–but my books do sell. I would be NOWHERE without the support I’ve gotten from the people I know in the writing and reading community.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Cassie, what a very insightful letter. I hope she does read it. Like hundreds of other people I had never heard of her or her books. It is sad that she doesn’t have a tribe. I’m not an author, just a reader. But one thing about the indie community is that they DO support each other. When an author has a new release they invite other authors to their release party to talk about their books and share buying links to them, and have giveaways, while celebrating that authors new release. If that doesn’t show support, I don’t know what does.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I didn’t know anything about this until I read it here. It’s very interesting. I worked in a law firm once and learned it’s very hard to protect any product, even when someone has outright copied it. They may lose, but the person robbed often throws in the towel because they can’t pay the legal fees to get back what was stolen from them. What she is asking for sounds super unreasonable in the writing world. There’s some real ego showing here too that others are after her work. There’s too much already out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you. This open letter is my introduction to you and based solely on this post, I’d read your work. Thank you for laying it all out there and saying the things we’ve all been feeling over this mess.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. An excellent way to call out misbehavior, stand your ground, and still show human kindness. You have my respect, and thanks for modeling a different way to look at this.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. This was definitely well written by Cassie! I am an avid romance reader and often come across similar plot lines. I tell myself, “I like author A’s take on this better than Author B’s take (or vice versa) and move on. There are only a few romance authors who seem to (IMO) stand above the rest – Grace Burrowes, Julia Quinn, and Eloisa James. It is months between their releases. I may try new authors, but many times there is nothing new under the sun. As to Mommy Porn – when I’m reading, I tend to skip over those sections because really – who cares?

    Liked by 1 person

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