Category Archives: Books

Well Played!

In the wake of this whole “cockygate” nonsense, it may be that one of Faleena Hopkins’ targets will have the last laugh. Hopkins sent a cease-and-desist notification to Jamila Jasper, another romance novelist who dared to “infringe” on Hopkins’ “cocky” trademark with a romance novel called Cocky Cowboy. Jasper was quoted in the original article about Hopkins, stating that while she thought this was bogus – like every other reasonable person does – she was not in a position to engage in any legal action of her own and would have to comply and change the title of her book.

Well, she did, and it’s hilarious. Cocky Cowboy is now retitled The Cockiest Cowboy To Have Ever Cocked. Note that the new title doesn’t contain “cocky” and the trademark only applies to that exact word. Also, the new title takes on a kind of Chuck Tingle-esque over-the-top quality that is legitimately funny, especially in light of this whole stupid “scandal” or whatever the heck it is. Jasper is getting a big sales boost over this, and according to her reviews she’s apparently a pretty good writer in addition to being delightfully snarky.

If you want to take a look at the new title and show your support for standing up to the writing equivalent of patent trolling, you can check out The Cockiest Cowboy to Ever Have Cocked right here.

“Cocky” Sounds About Right

faleena_hopkinsWe authors are going to need more than clown sex stabbings to sell books if we keep trying to eat our own. I understand that book sales are disappointing, marketing is hard, and making a living publishing books is basically impossible at this point, but trying to drag each other down fighting over the crumbs of an ever-decreasing pie is seriously not the way to go.

According to this article from The Guardian, romance novelist Faleena Hopkins filed a trademark on the word “cocky” back in April. She is the author of a series of books that use the word in the their titles. Since then, she has claimed to own the word and has threatened legal action against any other author who uses it in a book title.

Faleena Hopkins is the self-published author of a series of books about the “Cocker Brothers” (“Six bad boy brothers you’ll want to marry or hide under you [sic] bed”), each of which features the word “cocky” in the title: Cocky Romantic, Cocky Biker, Cocky Cowboy.

On Saturday, author Bianca Sommerland posted a YouTube video sharing allegations that Hopkins had written to authors whose books also had titles including the word “cocky”, informing them that she had been granted the official registered trademark of the adjective in relation to romance books, and asking them to rename their novels or face legal action. Records at the US patent and trademark office show that the registered trademark for use of the word “cocky” in relation to romance ebooks was issued in April 2018.

Self-published writer Jamila Jasper, who claims she was asked by Hopkins to change the title of her novel Cocky Cowboy, said she removed her novel from sale after she was contacted by Hopkins. “I have to admit I am intimidated because I don’t have many resources to fight this legally if she does pursue,” she wrote on Twitter. Pajiba reported on Monday that the author Nana Malone had been asked to change the title of her novel Mr Cocky, while TL Smith and Melissa Jane’s Cocky Fiancé has been renamed Arrogant Fiancé. Other writers claimed that Hopkins had reported them to Amazon, resulting in their books being taken down from the site.

Hopkins tweeted that the word was “a brand”, and that the writers she was contacting could “keep their books, rankings, reviews and their money by retitling which takes one day”. On Facebook, she said she was a victim of “cyber-bullying”, writing that she “applied for the trademark to protect the future of my series because it helps people. It’s filled with love, hope, and respect to all human beings.”
She added: “I receive letters from readers who lost money thinking they bought my series. I’m protecting them and that’s what trademarks are meant for.”

Others are not so sure. Chocolat author Joanne Harris punned that “such behaviour is considered a dick move” on her blog, adding more seriously that “if it were really possible to legally forbid authors from using a certain common word in their book titles, then the whole publishing industry would be down the drain in a matter of days”.

Seeing as this is totally not how trademarks work, and that it basically fits the definition of “utterly deplorable,” I’m left to wonder if this might be an attempt by Hopkins to employ the “being awful” side of the clown sex stabbing promotion method. If it is, I’ll admit it’s a clever variation on the theme that I have never thought of. It’s got to be getting pretty close to peak awfulness, and it remains to be seen if it boosts her sales like a clown sex stabbing would.

Surely I could trademark the word “Arcana” – the title of my first novel – and then file suit against all makers of Tarot cards! After all, they include a set of cards called the “Major Arcana.” There also are a series of music albums that use the title, and a couple of other things that use it as well. Or I could trademark “Guild” – after the Guild Series – and then threaten to sue every single author who has a guild of anything in their books. That’s even more awful, right?

Seriously, though, if you think this is as outrageous as I do, there’s a petition you can sign asking the patent and trademark office to strike down Hopkins’ trademark. It probably won’t work, because she’s allowed to trademark whatever she wants. She’s just not allowed to beat every other author out there over the head with it, and the courts should eventually make it clear that this behavior is totally not okay.

Awful But Effective

Zoe AdamsI keep reading accounts of authors trying to market books using all sorts of different promotional services, and the results are almost always described as “disappointing.” Marketing is tough, and as I’ve noted previously, it’s a lot easier to make money off authors than it is to make money by being an author. Promotions of whatever sort generally lose money and don’t even generate that much exposure.

Looking through the news lately, though, I came across something that appears to have worked. The trouble is that it’s not the kind of promotion that most of us want to go through. Kieran Bewick is a 17-year-old fantasy novelist with one ebook currently published. He made the news when, in a truly bizarre story that hit all the tabloids, he was stabbed during sex by his girlfriend Zoe Adams, who was dressed as a clown at the time (!). Adams was recently sentenced to eleven years in prison for the attack.

Adams shrugged off this evidence as a joke and claimed that she had no recollection of the stabbing. However, Judge James Adkin, dismissed her defense and said her “cruel and sadistic” actions were those of someone who deliberatly intended to cause harm, reported The Telegraph.

Adkin added that the attack was premeditated, citing the duct tape and knife that had been taken into her bedroom prior to the attack. “You had decided to cause serious harm to Mr Bewick during sex,” Adkin said. “I am sure that by that time you had already become disinhibited by drink and drugs and the more sadistic side of your personality had come to dominate.”

Bewick, an aspiring fantasy novelist, survived the attack but was left was life-threatening injuries, including a collapsed lung. In his victim impact statement, Bewick said he is going to be emotionally scarred for life and that the attack will further exacerbate his fear of clowns.

“I struggle with the knowledge that someone I genuinely cared about would do this to me. Just after I got out of hospital, this thought played on my mind a lot,” he said. “But having had time to think about it, I am convinced that she planned it. It wasn’t personal. She was going to do it to someone and it just happened to be me. Strangely, that makes it easier to deal with.

Checking the sales rank on Bewick’s book, I can confirm that with only one review and a two-star rating, it currently is outselling every single thing that I have ever published. Bewick lives in the UK, too, so he doesn’t have to offset his earnings against hospital bills. That alone would make the clown sex stabbing  approach less viable in the states, even though in terms of sales it seems to be working better than any commercial promotional service I’ve seen.

And I joke – sort of. To be clear, I’m not making fun of Bewick or his book, or this awful ordeal that he’s been through. My point is that this is one more piece of evidence that “going viral” is not a thing that happens due to simple word of mouth or individual people sharing posts. As I’ve mentioned here previously, according to a huge data set amassed by analysts at Yahoo!, the “viralness” of anything is directly proportional to the circulation of the largest media outlet that covers it. That’s the only metric that matters.

The upshot of this is that aside from massive publicity outlays that may finally produce a return on investment, but which no independent artist or writer can afford, outrage and incredulity are what make most popular artists popular. It has almost nothing to do with technical skill or quality of work. People telling you that you can become a bestselling author by focusing all your efforts on writing the best book you can? Flat-out wrong. Getting attention for your work is exponentially harder than doing the work in the first place, so if you really want to make even a meager living at writing that’s where you have to focus.

Because of the outrage and incredulity factors, the only shortcut is to be an awful person (to generate outrage) or, like Bewick, have something awful happen to you (to generate incredulity). And to be clear, the awfulness you need to cultivate is not just any awfulness. It has to be kind of mystifying and bizarre to anyone who reads it, a “man bites dog” kind of story, because that’s what will make major media outlets pick it up.

Guy gets stabbed by his girlfriend? Boring. Guy gets stabbed by his girlfriend during sex? A little less boring. Guy gets stabbed by his girlfriend during sex while she’s wearing full clown attire? We have a winner, folks! It’s whole clown thing that really pushes the story over the top and makes larger outlets want to report on the story. And the resulting media coverage sells books. But the problem is that this is a pretty difficult thing to do on purpose.

I’m a practicing magician, so I probably could come up with some occult-related stunt that at least fundamentalists would find awful. At the same time, so few people care about the occult that I doubt I could push anything like that into clown makeup stabbing territory. I don’t really want to commit a crime or wind up in a hospital, so that limits my options. And I think if anybody is outraged by what I say on my magick blog, Augoeides, I would know about it by now.

So at the moment I’m still standing here at the drawing board, trying to brainstorm an approach that fits all my criteria and is as sensational and weird as a clown sex stabbing. I think I’m going to need a lot of luck to pull that off. Truth be told, I’m probably nowhere near masochistic enough or messed up enough or surrounded by messed up enough people to do it. That’s by design and it’s the life I want to be living, but clearly the drawback is that it limits my potential marketing appeal.

To wrap up, this all makes me weep for the future of our art, and if there’s a hill I’m willing to die on, this is it: writers should not have to subject themselves to clown sex stabbings – or their equivalent – in order to sell books. A world where that’s the norm is a dystopian nightmare, and we’re already closer to it than I think any of us would like.

How did we ever get here?

 

Mastering the Thirty Aires Submitted!

30_aires_color_500
It took a lot longer than I ever expected, but my draft manuscript for Mastering the Thirty Aires has finally been submitted to my publisher. Editing and book production usually run around six months or so, which means that the book should be available sometime next fall.

Mastering the Thirty Aires completes my trilogy of books on the mostly-Dee-purist-with-some-additions system of Enochian magick that I have worked out over the last twenty-five years. It focuses on practical results, and uses what I consider the best interpretation of the material in the Dee diaries for attributions and powers of the all the spirits and other components of the system. It deals with how to use the Aires and Parts of the Earth to effect political change, and also includes some valuable and practical material on zodiacal magick.

I’m looking forward to making this final piece of my base Enochian system available to the public, and will keep you all posted when I have a release date. Thanks for your patience, and I think you will like the final result very much.

…And It’s Gone

BooksI took a look on Amazon today, and was surprised to see that the $713.52 copy of Arcana that I mentioned a little over a week ago is no longer posted. Was somebody really dumb enough to pay over seven hundred dollars for a copy when I normally sell them for under twenty bucks?

My guess is probably not. More likely, the seller came across my blog post and realized I was on to them. Like I said in the previous post, odds are they never had the book in the first place and were planning on ordering a copy at the under-twenty-dollar list price to ship to anybody willing to bite. Then, they could keeping the difference for themselves. I do know that Amazon is trying to crack down on that sort of “selling,” so if that’s what they were doing it would explain why they didn’t want the attention.

But it also occurs to me, on the chance the book actually sold, that maybe I should put up a listing to sell my own used copies for hundreds of dollars. It’s not like I don’t own a stack of them, and I could honestly pitch them as “signed first editions.” You know, because there’s only one edition and I’d just sign the book before shipping it out.

“Blade Runner” Was a Totally Different Story

Back in October I saw the new Blade Runner 2049, the long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s science fiction classic. I enjoyed it a lot, and I think that they did justice to the original – which is a pretty tall order. I will say that the reviews were mixed in part because you need to be familiar with the original film in order to fully appreciate it, and some of the perpetual fan questions like “Is Deckard really a replicant?” go unanswered – but I found it a nice counterpoint to the big, kind of dumb sci-fi action films that seem to be taking over the genre of late.

At any rate, no matter what you think of the original or the new film, here’s a question for you – what the heck is a “Blade Runner?” We know what it means in the context of the films – blade runners are essentially bounty hunters who track down rogue replicants, synthetic humans originally created as a slave labor force. The original Philip K. Dick story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is no help at all – the term “blade runner” is nowhere to be found in the text.

I recently came across this Slate article up explaining where the title came from, and it’s actually kind of bizarre and amusing. It just goes to show the in world of movie adaptations, nothing is anywhere near as straightforward as it appears. The story of the term “Blade Runner” starts with a doctor named Alan E. Nourse who also happened to be a science-fiction writer.

Whatever Nourse’s skills as a doctor may have been, they were outweighed in the scales of history by his other passion: writing about the medical profession and fantastical worlds of the future. Before he was even done with medical school, he was publishing sci-fi on the side: first came short pieces in anthology magazines like Astounding Science Fiction and Galaxy Science Fiction, then he started publishing novels with titles like Trouble on Titan (1954), Rocket to Limbo (1957), and Scavengers in Space (1959). In 1963, he retired from medicine to focus on his writing, but wrote about learning the healing arts in a 1965 nonfiction book called Intern, published under the intimidating pseudonym “Dr. X.” Sci-fi author-editor Robert Silverberg, who knew Nourse, tells me the latter book “brought him much repute and fortune,” but in general, he just “wrote a lot of very good science fiction that no one seemed to notice.”

That changed on October 28, 1974. Sort of. On that day, publishing house David McKay released a Nourse novel that combined the author’s two areas of expertise into a single magnum opus: The Bladerunner. It follows the adventures of a young man known as Billy Gimp and his partner in crime, Doc, as they navigate a health-care dystopia. It’s the near future, and eugenics has become a guiding American philosophy. Universal health care has been enacted, but in order to cull the herd of the weak, the “Health Control laws” — enforced by the office of a draconian “Secretary of Health Control” — dictate that anyone who wants medical care must undergo sterilization first. As a result, a system of black-market health care has emerged in which suppliers obtain medical equipment, doctors use it to illegally heal those who don’t want to be sterilized, and there are people who covertly transport the equipment to the doctors. Since that equipment often includes scalpels and other instruments of incision, the transporters are known as “bladerunners.” Et voilà, the origin of a term that went on to change sci-fi.

The Bladerunner had nothing to do with Philip K. Dick or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Nonetheless, it would become the title of the film that would make Dick and his work famous in popular culture. The story of how that happened was strange and serendipitous, to say the least.

But fortune smiled on Nourse, as did one of the finest writers of the past 100 years: the obscene eccentric William S. Burroughs. According to literary scholar Paul Ardoin, Burroughs somehow obtained a copy of the second printing of The Bladerunner around the end of 1976. Burroughs was in a transitional stage in his life, having kicked heroin only a few years before and having moved back to New York after a self-imposed exile in Europe. He was rebooting his career with the help of a new assistant named James Grauerholz, turning in columns for pop-culture mag Crawdaddy and soaking up the nascent downtown punk scene. On December 5, 1976, Grauerholz wrote a letter to Burroughs’s agent, Peter Matson, saying the scribe had “liked the book very much, and in fact has begun to consider a film treatment for it.” As far as I can tell, writing a film treatment was something new, or at least quite rare, for Burroughs, but he dove into it with fervent passion. Matson negotiated the rights with Nourse, got the go-ahead, and Burroughs wrote the treatment in less than four months, delivering it to Matson by March 1977. He called it The Blade Runner, adding a fateful space to the titular noun.

Burroughs’s take on Nourse is, to put it mildly, a wild ride. Indeed, it barely has anything to do with The Bladerunner and is as over-the-top as the original was buttoned-down. It’s written not as a screenplay, but rather as a novella-length explanation of the movie to someone named “B.J.” (Burroughs periodically included this mysterious figure as the recipient of his words in other works, as well.) Like many Burroughs texts, the adaptation is highly inscrutable, which is what makes it so entertaining. He doesn’t even get to the main plot of the movie until nearly halfway through, having spent the first portion just setting the scene with the difficult-to-follow backstory of how the world of the film got to be so screwed-up: Overpopulation led to government intrusion into the lives of private citizens, the state’s attempts to control the population begat multiple Health Acts that were received poorly by the populace and led to a bloody civil war in greater New York in which the white middle class battled the poor and people of color, and from the ashes rose a new America where “the unfit” have to undergo sterilization in order to receive health care.

The Blade Runner was patently unfilmable. Grauerholz reported in July 1977 that nobody they took it to was interested, and an alternative arrangement was made with Nourse, whereby the treatment would be published in book form and all film rights would be forfeited. In order to distinguish it from Nourse’s book, a title change was necessary, and although the adaptation would never be a movie, Burroughs and Grauerholz confusingly chose to call it Blade Runner: A Movie. It was first published in 1979 by Blue Wind Press and was never considered a major Burroughs work.

However, a copy of Blade Runner: A Movie found its way into the library of a struggling actor and writer named Hampton Fancher. In the early 1980s, he, producer Michael Deely, and director Ridley Scott were working on an adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and stumbled on a question. “Ridley, after a few months of us working on a draft, when he first came into the project, asked me a question that was so obvious I hadn’t really addressed it before,” Fancher tells me. “What is it that Deckard is, professionally? ‘He’s a detective,’ I said. ‘Well, that was obvious, but what kind of detective exactly, what should he be called?’ I didn’t have an answer, but I’d better get one fast.”

He turned to his collection of tomes. Per Fancher: “That night, I was looking through my books and came across a thin little volume by William Burroughs called Blade Runner. Bingo! Everybody liked it, then later, we needed a new title other than the ones we’d been considering and Michael Deeley, the producer, said, ‘It’s staring us right in the face.’” According to Scott, they approached Burroughs, he said yes, they bought the title of his book for “a nominal fee,” and Blade Runner — a work that otherwise had nothing to do with The Bladerunner or Blade Runner: A Movie — was released on June 25, 1982.

I don’t know if there’s any real takeaway from this, except that it shows if you come up with a really cool title for your story, somebody might decide to license it for a completely unrelated film. This isn’t the only case of that, either. The producers of the 1992 film The Lawnmower Man licensed the title of the Stephen King story of the same name not long after King became a household name, but the movie was actually based on an original screenplay with a working title of CyberGod.

The only similarity with the King story is that there’s one scene where a guy is killed with a lawnmower. King wound up suing the production company when they advertised that the film was based on his story – when all that the company had licensed was the title and the movie was entirely written by someone else. And by the way, before you tell me how terrible The Lawnmower Man was, make sure you’ve watched the director’s cut first. Compared to the theatrical release, which was awful, it’s like night and day.

So maybe that means if you come up with a really cool title, you should keep it to yourself until you know what the people licensing it are going to do with it. Then again, if your name isn’t Stephen King, I don’t know how likely it is that a film production is going to try and exploit your fame in order to drum up publicity.

Check It Out! I’m Rich!

arcana_screenshotWell no, not really. But this listing on Amazon was too good not to share. You can click on the image to enlarge.

Now to be clear, that’s a real listing, not something I whipped up with my mad MS Paint skills. You can check it out right here. Somebody has a used copy of my novel Arcana on sale for $713.52. Besides being an oddly specific number, that’s way more than it costs anywhere else. If one copy is worth $713.52, and I’ve got twenty of them in a box right here plus a few more on my bookshelf, that’s like fifteen thousand bucks. I’m sitting on a small fortune, right?

Amazon will even give you five dollars off your order. What a deal!

In fact, this listing highlights one of the more dubious practices I see on Amazon whenever a new book comes out. Somebody will put up a listing for a used copy – you know, before any copies have been sold and when I know that for sure – for some ridiculous price. Then, the listing just sits there for years. My working hypothesis is that it takes very little effort to list a book, and there are a few collectors out there dumb enough to pay those silly prices on the assumption that the book must be worth something if it’s priced so high and they’ve never heard of it. Then, on the off chance the vendor does make a sale, they buy the book at the regular price, ship it to the buyer, and pocket the difference.

It’s sure nice work if you can get it.