Thursday, January 16, 2014

Should your books have your own brand name on them?

Brand names are very important in business. They connect a product with its maker, and take advantage of -- and help build -- a reputation.

If you are thousands of miles from home, you know that the Big Mac and Coke you order at Mickey Dee's will be just like the ones you're used to. While you may not experience gustatorial ecstasy, at least you won't have an unhappy surprise. The McDonald's brand name, and the Big Mac and Coca-Cola names, mean something.

Books bear brand names. Some of the names are those of the publisher, especially if its a small publisher or a self-publishing company. Larger publishers have multiple imprints -- brand names (or "trade names")  associated with a specific genre or editor or even an important author.

When one publisher buys another, the name of the formerly independent publisher may become an imprint of its new owner. Sometimes there are imprints within imprints, or brands within brands, or imprints within brands within brands. Doubleday was sold to Bertelsmann and became  part of the Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, and then became a division of Random House. Doubleday itself has had multiple imprints, including Anchor and Crime Club.

If you use a self-publishing company, and don't do otherwise, your book will bear the brand name of that company. This can cause trouble in at least two ways:
  1. If you choose a terrible company with zero standards, like Publish America, people who recognize the brand name may assume your book is crap.
  2. If you choose a better company, people in the book business -- including reviewers and retailers -- will know you paid to publish, and may reject the book even without seeing it. (Most readers probably don't care about a book's publisher, and don't know the difference between Xlibris and Simon & Schuster).
It's easy to establish your own brand name if you form your own small publishing company -- like my Silver Sands Books. You can also use your own brand name with some self-publishing companies, including the dreaded Outskirts Press.

Perceptive Juliet Capulet told Romeo Montague, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

It's not that simple in book publishing. One of the worst mistakes that self-publishers make is choosing the wrong name. Avoid the following bad choices:

  1. A name that sounds insignificant, like “Joe’s Books.”
  2. A name that limits the type of books that can be promoted, like “Galactic Press” or “Heartfelt Publishing.” (Several books about publishing were produced by KCS Basketball Enterprises.)
  3. A name that can be confused with another company, like “Random Publishing” or “Toyota Books.”
Regardless of merit, self-published books are suspect. They just don’t get the same respect from reviewers, booksellers and libraries as do even bad books published by the big and venerable publishing houses.

One obvious way to fight this discrimination is to write and design a really great book.

Another way is to make the book seem like a book published by one of your huge competitors. One dead giveaway of a self-published book is an amateur-sounding name for your publishing business.

DON’T use your personal name as your business name. “Stevie’s Bar” implies personal attention and friendliness. “Stevie’s Publishing Company” implies an amateur enterprise.

A more professional-sounding name may make a reviewer think your company is a new imprint from a major publisher or a small “indie” press she never heard of before -- not a self-pubbed book that should be ignored.

Your imprint or brand name is a trademark. The Feds say: "A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others."

A trademark is not the same thing as a registered trademark.

Again, from the Feds: "You can establish rights in a mark based on use of the mark in commerce, without a registration. However, owning a federal trademark registration on the Principal Register provides several advantages, including:
  • Public notice of your claim of ownership of the mark
  • A legal presumption of your ownership of the mark and your exclusive right to use the mark nationwide on or in connection with the goods/services listed in the registration
  • The ability to bring an action concerning the mark in federal court
  • The use of the U.S. registration as a basis to obtain registration in foreign countries
  • The ability to record the U.S. registration with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Service to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods
  • The right to use the federal registration symbol ®
  • Listing in the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s online databases
If you claim rights to use a mark, you may use the “TM” (trademark) designation to alert the public to your claim of ownership of the mark, regardless of whether you have filed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). However, you may only use the federal registration symbol “®” after the USPTO actually registers a mark, and not while an application is pending. You may only use the registration symbol with the mark on or in connection with the goods/services listed in the federal trademark registration."

You can hire an attorney to handle a trademark registration or do it yourself. CLICK for info.

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