Posts Tagged With: Self-Publishing

“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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Submitting Short Stories to Magazines

Have you ever written a short story and tried to get it published in a magazine? Chances are you have. Many authors, both traditional and indie, write short stories and try to get them published in print magazines, on e-mags, or in anthologies. I’ve been published in a couple of magazines and I’m hoping for more in the future (though with my writing schedule these days, it’s hard to make time for short stories). And there are benefits to doing so, including:

  • Short stories are a whole different beast to tame than novels, so writing and sending out short stories lets you know what works and what people look for in a good short story. Sometimes magazines will even give you feedback if they decide to reject your story, so you get an idea on how to improve it.
  • At the very least, you’ll get some exposure from having your work published in a magazine. At the very most, they’ll pay you some money for a nice dinner out.
  • For those critics who accuse indie authors of trying to skirt around hard work and just put any old book out, this is a way of saying “Hey, we can do it your way too.”

If you haven’t ever sent a short story out to magazine, this might give you some help in going about it. If you’ve already done it before, then maybe this’ll be a useful reminder. And like I said, you should try it. You never know what’ll happen if you do.

1. Find a publication. Once you’ve written a short story and edited it to the utmost perfection, it’s time to find a magazine. Publications like Writer’s Digest’s Short Story & Novel Writer’s Market contain may useful listing of magazines in all genres, as well as contests and agencies and conferences. You can also get info from friends or family members who write. Another blogger told me about a magazine she published a short story in, and I think that I might have a short story I could submit to them, I just have to make sure it’s ready before I send it out.

Also, it’s helpful sometimes to read the short stories they publish. This generally gives you some idea of what they tend to publish, so you’ll have a better idea of what might be accepted.

2. Read over the rules. Every magazine has its own set of rules about submitting to them and the terms you’ll get should you be accepted. They may want the short story sent in a particular attachment, or they may prefer the story in the body of the message. There may be restrictions on length, subject matter, or a hundred other things. And being published by them might mean signing over all rights to the story to the magazine, or only first North American publishing rights. So know what you’re getting into when you decide, “I’ll send it to this publication.”

3. Write that query letter. A query letter is a letter stating who you are, what you’re sending, and why you’re sending it. Once you’ve done your research, write up a query letter and send it along to the magazine with your short story. Here’s an example of me sending a query letter to a fictional magazine:

Dear Darkness Abounds magazine,

I am submitting my manuscript “Hands” (5,732 words) to your publication for your consideration. I decided to submit to your magazine because your website said you were into “dark, creepy fiction with an interesting twist on old stories” and I thought my short story matched your description.

I am a self-published novelist with two novels and a collection of short stories published, as well as short stories published in Mobius Magazine, The Writing Disorder, and the Winter 2011 issue of TEA, A Magazine (now The Daily Tea). I also write for two blogs, Rami Ungar the Writer and Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors. I am also a senior at The Ohio State University double majoring in English and History and expected to graduate in May 2015.

I look forward to hearing from you and would like to thank you for your time and consideration.

Hoping you are well,

Rami Ungar
[contact information, including address, phone number, and e-mail address]

Make sure to include the word count of your story (that’s an important factor in many publications), why you’re selecting the magazine, and any relevant publications. Also, don’t make your biography too long. Just keep the relevant stuff and don’t give them your life story. You can save that for your memoirs.

4. Wait. Every magazine has its own quoted turn-around time, so you might as well be patient. However, it’s not uncommon for a magazine to let work pile up and miss your short story entirely, so if you find two or three weeks have gone by and you haven’t heard anything, it might be helpful to send an email asking politely if you are still being considered for publication (I’ll write a post about that another time).

5. How to handle the reply. Assuming the magazine didn’t lose your work in the pile of submissions they get and you get a reply, the important thing is to be grateful one way or another for their reply. If you’re accepted, that’s wonderful. Talk terms with them and then decide if you want them to publish you. If you get rejected, possibly look at getting published somewhere else, and take into account any feedback you might receive on your short story as a possible way to improve the story.

What tips do you have for submitting to magazines your short stories?

Categories: General Writing, Marketing & Promoting, Publishing Basics, Short Stories, Traditional Publishing, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Taglines

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

“In space, nobody can hear you scream.”

“Who you gonna call?”

Hopefully not the grammar police. Especially not for that last one. That’s a class-A spelling felony.

The statements above are recognizable to plenty of fans of science fiction and comedy-horror. They are the taglines for famous franchises: Star Wars, Alien, and Ghostbusters. And just saying them brings to mind billions of images, along with associations with and overwhelming emotions of heroism, friendship, screwball comedy, terror beyond imagination, and the possibility that anything is possible.

Based on all that, one could say that taglines are a great promotional tool. and if you aren’t lucky enough to have a publicist, coming up with the tagline for your novel or other creative work usually falls to the author. And it’s important to come up with a great, memorable tagline for your story. Doing so accomplishes two things.

  1. Before the book is even read, it intrigues the reader enough to find out more. Hopefully their investigation to find out more means they’ll ultimately read your book.
  2. After the book is read, the tagline (hopefully) evokes memories of flipping through the pages, wanting to know what happens next; of heroics and romance and terror and joy and characters so vivid, you’d swear they were real.

So with that goal in mind, here are some tips to creating a great tagline that will (hopefully) pull in more readers and create great associations with the book for the fans. And if nobody objects, I’ll use the tagline for my upcoming novel Snake: “How far will you go for love and revenge?”

Short, simple statements are the best. The tagline for Snake, as well as the ones I used at the beginning of the article, are all one sentence. This works to the advantage of the book, because it is easy to remember and easy to repeat. And if it’s easy to remember and easy to repeat, it’ll be more likely to be remembered and repeated. Look no further than “Who you gonna call?” for proof.

The statement evokes something in the mind of a reader. When I was writing the back cover blurb and the tagline for Snake, I wanted it to at least get potential readers interested. However, a novel where the serial killer is the main character can be…a little frightening. Somewhat off-putting. I wanted to emphasize that the main character had good intentions, even if his methods were reprehensible. So I asked myself what would I want to emphasize about the Snake in just a single statement? Well, he’s doing what he not out of any awful desires for murder. He’s doing it to save the love of his life, as well as get revenge on the ones who kidnapped her. How can I use that? Well…maybe I can phrase it as a question.

It worked. “How far will you go for love and revenge?” struck me as thought-provoking. It makes you think, “Well, I might go so far. Is the novel about someone who will go farther?” It’s why it’s the first sentence in the back cover blurb, the first image you see in the book trailer I created for it, and what I’ve been using in most of the advertising I’ve done for Snake. Hopefully it entices a few people to read it.

Get a feel for taglines. Most of all, one has to get a feel for taglines, see what works and what doesn’t work. What taglines make you excited, scared, weepy? What just make you feel disappointed? Ultimately, coming up with a tagline, just like creating a story and everything else in the business of writing and publishing, is taking in the work of those before us, and practicing and practicing until you get a feel for what works for you.

Now, you don’t need to have a tagline for your novel. As far as I’m aware, Harry Potter, anything by Stephen King, and the Bible never needed taglines. Their names and authors are enough to get their stories to millions and millions of people. But taglines are helpful. They’re great marketing tools and in some cases they can become a part of our culture and part of our fondest memories (ask any Trekkie about the phrase “Boldly go where no one’s gone before”). And the best part of being a self-published author is that you, as the author, get to create your very own tagline.

What is your favorite tagline? What are some you’ve created for your own stories?

Categories: Author Platform & Branding, Book Promotion, Business Plan, General Writing, Marketing & Promoting, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Self-Publishing, The Writer & Author, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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