An unfortunate truth about experiments: they often end in failure.
Sure, I’ve heard the anecdote about Thomas Edison and his thousands of attempts to perfect the light bulb. And some might argue that failures teach us more than successes. But when one’s heart is inexorably tied to the experiment, the disappointment of defeat runs deep.
On December 4, 2013, my wife and I published a children’s chapter book, The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers. The titular character occurred to us when our daughter was yet an infant and the phrase “Pajamazon Amazon” was uttered in jest when it was time to put on her overnight onesie.
We jested about how donning magical pajamas transformed her into a superhero, and we thought the concept clever enough to entertain notions of writing a story about said heroine someday. After our son was born, we jokingly referred to the two of them as the Goofers Twofers, an idea we tucked away as a possible name for the Pajamazon Amazon’s nemeses.
It was roughly six years before Stephanie and I put pen to paper. It took us a handful of months to write the first draft and another year and a half to edit the book and prepare it for self-publication (more on that process here). Our daughter, now 8, contributed the interior illustrations; a friend and coworker, the cover art.
On December 4, 2013, we finally published our book.
Less than two months later, we removed all traces of its existence from online retailers and deleted Pajamazonamazon.com.
While ideas are free, words can be owned. More accurately, words—and combinations thereof—can be trademarked. And after receiving what boiled down to a cease-and-desist letter from the trademark owner of the word “Pajamazon,” we had a simple yet heart-wrenching decision to make: either fight for our family project (and pump potentially tens of thousands of dollars into the legal process) or fold.
Considering we sold only fifty copies and hadn’t even recouped our setup costs, reason dictated a prompt removal of our book and website from the public marketplace.
I can’t begin to explain the depths of my disenchantment. What began as a fun family project and then evolved into a medium through which we could share our collective creativity with the wider world has become a source of frustration and pain.
For the record, I harbor no ill will toward the legal owner of the word “Pajamazon.” That individual is protecting his own rights, and even if I don’t agree with every aspect of his objection—and even if I think our book poses little or no threat to his work—I can understand why he would want to protect his own endeavors.
Even though book titles cannot be copyrighted, the use of a trademark in the title or elsewhere in the book opens the door for legal objection. While I did embark on some research into the topics of copyright and trademark prior to publication, my due diligence apparently fell short of the mark. In all likelihood, I searched for other instances of the phrase “Pajamazon Amazon,” never imagining that the made-up word “Pajamazon” in and of itself could come back to haunt us.
(Some have asked whether our story could be salvaged if we substituted a different name for the superhero. In theory, yes. However, to change the alter ego of our protagonist alters the very nature of the story. The name was the foundation of everything—from the outlandish book title to the abilities her magical pajamas bestow upon her. If we were interested in pursuing commercial success at all costs, then we might entertain the notion of major edits. But at this point, such a compromise would feel like adding insult to injury.)
Like Edison implied, experiments are learning experiences. If I ever self-publish again, not only would I spend more time searching for existing trademarks, but also I would likely spend some time and money trademarking ideas of my own. There are other takeaways as well, perhaps fodder for future blog posts.
While I walk away from this ordeal with additional wisdom, I endeavor to leave any bitterness behind. Whenever my mind tries to play the What If? game, I remind myself that nothing can change the fact that my wife and I wrote a book together, that other people have read and enjoyed it, and that we will always have a hard copy to treasure.
Even if The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers’ (very) limited run could be construed as a failure, the fact that we achieved what we set out to do is an indisputable success.