Publishing Basics

“Hey, That’s My Idea!”: When Works of Fiction are so Similar You Want to Sue

This morning an interesting story showed up on my Facebook feed: Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and director of the Avengers movies, was hit by a lawsuit over alleged copyright infringement. In the lawsuit, an author by the name of Peter Gallagher (not the actor) alleges that Joss Whedon and the film company Lionsgate, among others, stole the idea for the 2012 movie Cabin in the Woods from his own self-published novel The Little White Trip: A Night in the Pines, which he first put out in 2006. Apparently both the book and the movie have similar premises (spoiler alert!): a bunch of teens go hang out for the weekend in an old cabin, they’re attacked by monsters, and they find out they’re subjects in a horror-film scenario run by a strange organization or group. Gallagher also says that several of the characters in both works have similar names and personalities. No word yet on what the defendants in the case say or whether the lawsuit will actually go through or be thrown out of court (for the full story, click here).

Strangely enough, something similar happened to me last year. I was on Facebook and I saw on my news feed that a movie company that produces really interesting horror movies was getting ready to release a new film and had just uploaded its first trailer online. When I read the synopsis of the movie and saw the trailer, I was instantly reminded of a short story I wrote back in June 2013, one with an eerily similar premise and which I plan to expand into a novel when I get a chance. I will admit, the thought to sue did cross my mind.

But I didn’t. This was partly because I’d never published the short story. I’d sent it to a friend who recommended I expand it and I did speak of it one or two times on my blog, but beyond that it’s been languishing on the shelf until I feel it’s time to start expanding it. It’s a little too much to suppose that they somehow found a single post on my blog back in 2013 or maybe even hacked my flash drive and used that material to create their movie. That sounds more like a conspiracy theory or something.

Not only that, but I felt that what I was going for with my story set it apart enough from the movie in question that I didn’t need a lawsuit. And finally, I’m just finishing up my undergraduate degree. I have no time and none of the expenses for such a lawsuit, even if I was inclined for one.

But just because I didn’t feel that copyright infringement had happened here doesn’t mean it never happens. There are quite a few cases where judges have found that movie producers or book writers or TV showrunners have owed someone money over a possible infringement. Some ways to prevent yourself from being caught in either the plaintiff’s or defendant’s side include, of course, to seek out every copyright protection you can get. For example, with every book I publish I make sure to send it to the US Copyright Office first. I know, technically publication or sending it to myself in the mail is considered copyright enough, but it helps to have federal protection.

Another thing to do is, if you suspect that someone’s infringed on your copyright, that you do as much research as possible. See if you actually have something to worry about. Also remember that there are plenty of stories that have similarities (like Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down have similarities, for example), so keep that in mind while you research. It could turn out your work and the work you’re researching only has a few similarities, and the ones there are just the kind anyone could come up with.

But if there’s enough resemblance that you can’t pass it off as just a few coincidences, then perhaps you might want to see if a few more people see the resemblances. If they see them too, then maybe you should consider consulting a lawyer.

Of course, I am no lawyer and I’ve never had to worry about this. If anyone has experience with this subject, please let us know your story and tell us what happened. We’d love your feedback.

In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on this Whedon-Gallagher story and see how it turns out. Because this could be our story. Anyone of us could go through this, as any one of us could have a copyright infringement lodged against our own properties simply to con us or someone could steal our works and sell them for their own profit. And we need to watch so we know how to fight it and keep it from happening to us.

Categories: Copyright, General Writing, Publishing Basics, Self-Publishing, The Writer & Author, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Where to Publish (For New Writers Who Are Looking to Self-Publish)

Below is a video Janet Syas Nitsick and I did on publishing, specifically self-publishing.  The question came in, “What places can an author publish his book?” In this video, we answer this, but I’ll include the highlights below so you can read it instead if you wish.

There are two main options you have when you self-publish.  

1.  KDP Select (which means you can only publish through Amazon).

Amazon has a program called KDP Select which is exclusive.  It means you can’t publish anywhere else.  (You can, however, publish your paperback in several places.)  This exclusivity applies to the ebook.  And you must be exclusive with Amazon for three months.  After that, you can upload your book to other sites.

When you enter Amazon Select, your book will be automatically put into Kindle Unlimited (KU), which is a subscription service that allows people who pay for it to borrow KU books.  If someone reads 10% of the book, that counts as a borrow.  Each borrow doesn’t earn the same as a sale.  For example, if your book is $2.99, you will make 70% off that sale.  When your book is borrowed, you get a portion of whatever Amazon has decided to put into the pot for the month.  So if Amazon decided the pot is going to be $3 million, it will divide up that $3 million with all the borrows that were made on Amazon that month.

There are pros and cons to the Select approach.

Pros include: Amazon gives preference to these books.  For example, the book will come up more easily in searches.  Borrows count toward sales ranking, which can also help toward better exposure.  It is only three months, so you don’t have to be locked in for a long time.

Cons: While some books do well in Select, not all of them do.  It’s not a guaranteed ticket to instant sales/exposure.  In my opinion, this is not a good long-term plan.  The best strategy for a career as a self-published author is to be diversified.

You have to decide which is best for you.

2.  You publish on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords, D2D, etc…

You can upload directly to Amazon (via KDP), Barnes & Noble (via Nook Press), Kobo (via Writing Life), and iBooks.  I believe you can publish directly to Scribd, too.

What I do is use Smashwords to publish my books onto the channels they offer.  I don’t use them for Amazon, but I do use them for Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Baker & Taylor, Library Direct, Page Foundry, Overdrive, Flipkart, and Scribd.   Now, I have published some books directly to Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

You can also use D2D (Draft 2 Digital) to publish to various sites, but I haven’t used them and have no experience with them.  What I do know is that unlike Smashwords, you can’t sell on D2D.  Smash words will allow you to sell books (and yes, it’s not a whole lot you’ll sell there).  But D2D is pretty much a middleman to get your books from your computer to the other retailers.

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No matter what option you choose, something to keep in mind is that the average author is not going to have instant success.  I understand it’s easy to think there’s some magic formula you can use and make a living right away.  But the truth is, for most writers it will take hard work and persistence to pay off.  You will need to improve your storytelling ability while you’re also improving your promotional techniques.

The self-published author wears many hats.  You’re not only writing a book, but you also have to take care of the cover, format it for ebook and/or paperback, publish it, and then promote it.  If you need help with formatting or covers, here’s a link at Smashwords to help you find people who can help you with these things.

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Are there any questions you have or experiences you want to share with publishing?  The more input we have, the better we can all learn.  There might be something I missed. :)

Categories: Publishing Basics, Publishing Trends, Self-Publishing

Following Up on Submissions

The last time I posted an article, I wrote about submitting a short story to a magazine. And as promised, I’m following it up…with an article on following up on those submissions when a lot of time has passed.

Most magazines promise on their websites that they’ll get back to you on your submission in 2-6 months. What they don’t tell you is that work and submissions tend to pile up, especially when the magazine may be an operation run by only a few or even just one person. And imagine getting several submissions at the very least every month for short stories, articles, art pieces, and just about everything else under the sun. Your submission could be lost underneath all that.

So if you find a magazine has been taking its time getting to your submission, it can be helpful to send them an email and ask politely if your story has been looked at yet. Here’s what I normally put down in an email when I’m following up on a submission:

Dear [Insert magazine name here],

I am writing to follow up on my submission [insert story name here] which I sent in [insert how long ago or date you sent it in] to see if it is still being considered for publication. If you could please get back to me when it is convenient for you, that would be great, and thank you for your time and consideration.

Hoping you are well,

[Insert name, pen name if applicable, and contact information]

It’s also a good idea to attach your short story to the email in case it got lost somewhere among the submissions.

Normally a magazine will get back to you pretty quickly after this sort of email is sent. Even then though, it may take some time for the magazine editors to get back to you on your short story. If that’s the case, it may work in your favor to send an email every month or so inquiring about the status of your short story. That way it’ll stay in the forefront of the editors’ minds.

Also, remember to always be courteous and polite in your emails. They could just send you a form rejection letter right away, so the fact that they are taking the time to actually look at your story, no matter how long that time is, to possibly publish it is worth staying on the magazine’s good side. And when the magazine finally does take a look at your short story, no matter what the result is, be courteous and thank them for the time they took to read the story you sent them. That way, if you send them something in the future, they’ll be inclined to work with you and show you the same kindness and understanding you showed them.

Do you have any tips on following up on submissions?

Categories: Business Plan, Digital & ePublishing, General Writing, Marketing & Promoting, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Publishing Basics, Short Stories, The Writer & Author, Traditional Publishing, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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