Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing


Kris and I Talk All the Time About Branding…

Most writers only limit that word “branding” to how their covers look similar in series. How their name in a certain font looks from book to book, and so on. That is all important, but honestly just a tiny touch at branding.

When you are taking something out for license, like to a gaming company, or toy company, or anything like that, you detail out your branding on your project. Fonts, type of art, colors and a ton of details are all important to how a product overall looks when transferred from text to media of some sort. Clothing and styles of dress on characters for example. All has to be put out and arranged in style guides or brand books. Details, lots of details.

Now WMG Publishing has numbers and numbers of brands it owns, some more developed than others. Brands are protected by not only copyright, in some ways, but mostly by Trademark. WMG Publishings owns a bunch of trademarks on different products and brands. The longest-lived trademark we own is, of course, Pulphouse. We also own the brands of Fiction River, Holiday Spectacular, and so on.

Each series is also a brand, mostly protected by copyright, but as we settle into certain looks for the series, certain brand elements in a series, the series becomes a brand in and of itself, and thus also gains trademark protection if we are making money from the brand.

People use the term trademark totally wrong a lot. And they confuse the rules of trademark with copyright rules. Both are forms of IP, but with very different rules. For example, copyright exists as you create something and you do not need to register it or protect it if someone takes it. It never leaves your ownership unless you sell it by signing it away.

Trademark comes into existence with business and numbers of other factors. If you are informed of an infraction of a trademark, you must act to defend it or sanction it, or something, otherwise you damage or lose your own trademark. Trademark does not have to be registered either, and basically first in business wins. Also depends on the strength of the mark, meaning WMG is a very weak and useless trademark, while Pulphouse is very unique and been in business since 1987.

There is a ton more that goes along with that. I am being almost criminally general in this.

So I am thinking of adding the last advanced class spot for an advanced class on copyright and trademark for writers.  But both areas have good basic books from NoLo Press by Fishman. The trademark book is just called TRADEMARK. Read it slow and don’t move forward in the book if you don’t understand something. (Chances are that will be about page ten.)

I know of very few writers reading this who would not benefit from that advanced class and make money from it in the long run, but I also know that everyone thinks they will learn copyright or trademark tomorrow, they don’t need it now. (My response is always a sad shake of my head and a “snort” at the stupidity. You are trying to make your living from licensing IP, yet you don’t have the time to learn it. Okay… snort.)

Some of you really do need it. If for nothing else, to understand brands and the value of the brands you are creating. And to keep yourself out of trouble that you, at the moment, would have no idea you are getting into.

(A nod to the copyright issues on AI art right here. I make it a rule to never steal other people’s art and copyright. Until this gets settled on both the copyright and some trademark issues, I would not use AI art for anything commercial. Play with it, sure, but don’t use it. You don’t want to know how much the fine for copyright violations are for something that is registered. If you do want to know, go to: 17 U.S. Code § 504 – Remedies for infringement: Damages and profits)


  • T Thorn Coyle

    I’m super interested in all of this, and since you and Kris have doubled down on learning more because of your expanded understanding of licensing, you have a useful lens on it all that would help others.

    Not sure how many would be interested, though! It seems to be for folks wanting a deeper understanding of what we’re doing, and why, and what the potential is. I’m all about potential, and seeing how to reach more people.

    There’s a facet here that interests me beyond any legal rights: brand longevity or consistency as a marker of trust, or quality, or perceived relationship.

    As you know, I focus on connection and relationship. That’s what I try to foster in what folks call marketing (which is different from advertising. Ads are only a small subset of marketing).

    Warning, long ramble ahead:

    Six years ago, when I firmly pivoted to publishing fiction after trad pubbing non-fiction, I was advised to use a pen name, because I’d pollute my Amazon Also Boughts, and mess up the algorithm. I thought: why would I throw away all of this goodwill and connection I fostered for decades to bow to an algorithm? And that algorithm changes every six months. And sure enough, the Also Boughts feature soon went away.

    This has nothing to do with legal rights to my “brand” and everything to do with how people perceive a “brand” in the world and connect to it. They know my writing will have certain qualities and a voice, whether that’s non fiction, science fiction, urban fantasy, epic fantasy, romance, cozy mystery, or anything else. And yes, all those expressions have “sub-brands” that telegraph what people are getting, but they still all connect back to me, and my mission in the world.

    Just random thoughts, sparked by this post. Thanks for getting me thinking, Dean!

    And this is one small vote for a copyright, licensing, and trademark class. I know you’ve got other classes on these, but you’ve put a ton of thought and research into the topic since.

  • Michael W Lucas

    Ah, branding and copyright. Now THAT’S a post!

    For more than ten years, I’ve not only bought every new edition of the Copyright Handbook. And read it, cover to cover, with focus and intention. An invaluable work, and it answers so many questions writers have.

    My copy of Trademark has a bookmark about two-thirds of the way through. Every month I read a chunk, step away, and let it fester. It must be digested slowly. I have no intention of trademarking anything, but should the need arise, I want to be prepared.

    And branding? I’ve made a deliberate choice to push my brand as “omg, what has that lunatic done now?” So far, it seems to be working…

    • dwsmith

      Michael, and thus you used the word Trademark wrong. You don’t trademark anything. You can go and register trademarks, just as you register copyrights. But trademarks form from use, money, and other factors that determine value. You have brands. Seems to me those brands are protected by trademark. No need to file the trademark. In fact, I would highly suggest you not. That way lies madness. (grin) But because a trademark is not filed does not mean it does not exist.

  • Mike

    Funny I was just reviewing the Olympic Brand Guide today as I work through some branding items in preparation for publishing, websites, etc.

    Is, naturally, overkill for what most people need, but gives you an idea about some of the different ways your branding guides can be done and what is expected at the very highest levels. Very clear, very directive about what is / is not permitted.

    • dwsmith

      Wow, thanks, Mike. Yes, overkill, but great format for understanding branding guides and why they are needed. Take a look, folks.