A couple of years ago, I had the bright idea to write a book. I’d been living in Indianapolis long enough to learn the sorts of things I wished someone had told me when I was visiting from out of town for Gen Con, the huge gaming convention that descends upon Indianapolis every summer.
So I wrote that book, and self-published it through Amazon, DRM-free. I set what I figured was a reasonable price of $5.99, and also made it available through Kindle Unlimited. I even mentioned it on TeleRead at the time. That was when my troubles began.
At the time, I had naively assumed that the theory of nominative use—the idea that I could use trademarks as long as I was using them solely to describe a particular thing—would protect me. Plus, there were about a zillion other products on Amazon that mentioned “Gen Con” or “Gencon” in their titles—for example, this video, or this one—that it shouldn’t be a problem to mention it on the cover of my book, right?
Apparently not. It wasn’t too much later that I got a lawyergram from Gen Con complaining about my use of the “Gen Con” name on the front cover. So I quickly took the book down. I had the bright idea to enter into talks with Gen Con LLC to see if I could license the Gen Con trademark, and get them to give the book some promotion. We talked it over for months, but eventually we reached something of an impasse.
As a condition of licensing the trademark, they wanted me to remove all the affiliate links I’d put in the guide—links to various products on Amazon, or various other businesses such as food delivery or coupon services that offered a fee or other benefits for referrals. I figured that by serving as not just a guide but a list of bookmarks, the guide would be even more useful to people who had it on their phone or tablet with them when they got to town. And I’d put a lot of time and effort into rounding up and inserting said links, and the idea of going through and taking them all out again irritated me.
It also occurred to me that if I pegged the guide to someone else’s approval, I might have to consult with them every time I wanted to update it—which would pose a problem to keeping it current. I’ve had to go back in and make changes whenever I found out a business I’d written up had closed, or when businesses changed the services they offer—or when I discovered new businesses or other things that should have been in the guide. In fact, I make a regular habit of uploading revisions to Amazon, in the interest of keeping it as up-to-date as possible, and I mention major ones on the Facebook community I set up for the book so people know when to delete and download it. I couldn’t constantly go back and forth with the Gen Con people every time I needed to update it.
So eventually I consulted with an old friend of mine who also happens to be an intellectual property lawyer, and we sent the Gen Con LLC people a note explaining that I intended simply to take the Gen Con name off the front cover and description of the book on Amazon, and that I hoped that would be sufficient for me to republish it without them getting mad at me. Apparently it was, because they never replied—nastygram or otherwise. And so I did, a couple of months ago.
Since then, I haven’t made very many sales, nor have I seen many people reading it through Kindle Unlimited. But then, I haven’t really been trying to promote it very much either. I suppose I’m still halfway afraid the Gen Con people might notice it and decide they don’t like me talking about the convention after all—even though, if they do, I suppose I could always simply search and replace every mention of “Gen Con” in the book with something generic like “LARGE INDIANAPOLIS GAMING CONVENTION” and it’s not as if people who read it wouldn’t know what that was.
But then, making a huge amount of money was never really the goal from it. I just want to have the book available and out there for people to read and refer to if they want. I want to be able to point people to the book and tell them that my best advice for visiting Indianapolis and attending Gen Con is right there. I’ve even got a handy custom shortened URL I can easily scribble on a note for people: http://bit.ly/geekindy. (You’re welcome to give it to people, too!)
I’m not really sure where to go from here with it, apart from plugging it in Facebook threads when people ask for new-convention-goer advice. I would like for more people to find out about it and read it, but I still have that worry about stepping on toes. And moreover, I really don’t want it to become a point of contention that spoils my convention-going experience every year. I just want to help people discover the best features of my new home town, and pass on some advice for what to do at the convention the way dozens of blog posts every year also do.
In any event, if anyone does read it, and likes it, positive reviews would always be appreciated. But please only do that if you really mean it. Positive word of mouth would help, too!
Hopefully I won’t end up having to take it down again. But we’ll see.
If you found this post worth reading and want to kick in a buck or two to the author, click here. Or buy his book!
Interesting (and sobering) anecdote. The good thing is that your promotional material, ads and book description can target (and even reference) GenCon without creating trademark entanglement issues.
Theoretically it could, but they made threatening noises in their emails that I shouldn’t try something like that so I haven’t really worked up the courage to directly mention “Gen Con” in the book description.