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Posts tagged ‘professionalism’

Think before hitting enter

For the longest time, writers were told there were several things you didn’t talk about in public: politics and religion. Publishers and agents didn’t want you to for fear you might alienate potential readers. Going hand-in-hand with that was the unwritten rule that you didn’t attack or criticize another author in public. After all, the time might come when you and that author shared an agent or a publisher. Then there was the potential of alienating fans of that author, fans who might have become your fans. In other words, writers were expected to basically act as if they were sitting down to Sunday dinner with the family when it came to what face they presented to the reading public.

I’m not going to talk about writers and politics, except possibly as a side issue today. This post is about stopping and thinking about how what you do will impact fans and potential fans. Why? Because over the last few weeks, I’ve seen more examples of writers behaving badly than I want to think about. The last few days especially have been rife with examples. Several, unfortunately, stood out because they can negatively impact not just the authors involved but all indie authors.

Let’s face it, as indies, we face an uphill battle until we start making a name for ourselves. Even then, we have to continue working hard to not only court our readers but put out a quality product. I daresay most of us don’t want to be labelled as the next Norman B., an author who will take exception to anything he feels is a negative review of his work. We don’t want to be painted with the same brush as those who plagiarize work by other authors or those who don’t believe an editor and proofreader would help improve their work.

We have to not only put out the best work possible, we have to worry about making sure we have cover art that is 1) duly licensed or purchased and 2) reads well for the genre and in thumbnail. We have to make sure our blurbs are the best they can be. We have to promote our own work as well — something traditionally published authors also have to do because traditional publishers aren’t spending as much per title on promotion as they used to.

If you go to Amazon and browse through the various genres, you will sooner or later come across covers that are the same or close to the same. This happens because most indies license their cover art elements from sites like Dreamstime or Adobe Stock. It’s a cheap way to find good art that fits the genre. The danger is you are only licensing the artwork and not buying it. That means others can license it as well.

Even so, there are restrictions on how that artwork can be used. This is from the Adobe Stock standard license language:

With a Standard license, you may not:

  • Create more than 500,000 copies of the image in print, digital documents, software, or by broadcasting to more than 500,000 viewers.
  • Create products for resale where the main value of the product is the image itself. For example, you can’t use the asset to create a poster, t-shirt, or coffee mug that someone would buy specifically because of the image printed on it.

You also can’t post the image in such a way that others can use it without first licensing it. If you do, you are in violation of the license and the copyright holder can come after you for damages and Adobe Stock can revoke your use of their site.

So, what about book covers? When can we post a cover? If it’s one for artwork you’ve licensed, you can post it or use it in promotional material as long as you aren’t in violation of the license. In other words, you can do it up to half a million times — including each time your book or short story is sold. So you have to keep an eye on that. You can print flyers and postcards, digital or hard copy, describing your book and showing the cover. Reviewers can post a copy of the cover image as part of their review. If there is a book you want to recommend to someone, you can post that as well.

Where the line blurs and you need to think twice before hitting enter is when you start using the cover image of another author’s book in promotional materials and say “If you liked this, you will like my book.” The problem with this sort of promo is that you are using someone else’s work, specifically the cover art, for your own financial gain. To get around that, you need to ask the publisher for permission. Many publishers even have a handy link so you can do just that.

Please note that the problem isn’t in comparing your work with another author’s work. The problem is in using copyrighted material for your own financial benefit.

Now, before anyone jumps the gun and starts yelling about fair use, I’ll remind you that fair use is limited. For a very good discussion of it, check out this post by Nitay Arbel.

But there is something else to consider, something beyond the potential legal headaches that can come from using someone else’s cover in your promo materials without permission. You, as an author, are saying something about yourself when you do that. To other authors and publishers, you are telling them that, at best, you are too lazy to do your own homework and research if what you’re doing is legit or not. Falling back on “but so-and-so does it”. To readers, you risk alienating them, especially if you are the one making the comparison between your book and one of their favorite authors.

If you use another author’s book covers in your promo materials, especially well-loved books, and then mock the books or the author in the comparison to your own work, well, that’s a keg of explosives you really don’t want to light. It doesn’t matter if you think the books are inane or stupid or that they “sparkle”. What matters is that tens of thousands of readers loved those books and you have just insulted them as well as the books and the author. Do you really want to go there?

And, if you have done so without getting permission to use the covers, you have opened the door to the publisher saying you have cast a negative shadow on their product. If you’re like me, you don’t have the deep pockets required to fight them and force them to prove damages. Sure, they’ll probably send a cease and desist letter first but they might also take a page from some music publishers’ book and go straight for damages.

In other words, stop and think before hitting the button. Yes, you can in your promo material say your book is similar to another author’s book. You can even say how your book is different from another author’s book. But you need to ask permission before using the cover of that book, especially if you are using it in a negative manner.

If you are an indie author, you have to use common sense. You have to do your homework. That homework needs to be done BEFORE you do something, not after. Why? Because your actions impact more than just you. They impact your fans. They also impact every other indie author out there. Think about it. We fight against the image that we are all hacks who can’t get past the traditional gatekeepers. We fight against the image that we don’t have our work edited and proofread. We fight against the image that all our covers suck and stick figures would look better. Don’t add that we have to fight against the thoughtless, or at least the lack of thought, actions of our fellow indies.

Now, go read the licensing agreements you have committed to with regard to your cover art. Re-read — or read for the first time — the terms of service for each of the sales platforms you work through. Check to make sure you have licenses for the fonts you use not only on your covers but for your interior text file. Be a professional where your work is concerned.

//end rant.

 

Think like a pro

This is a quasi-follow up to last week’s post. In this case, I’m not necessarily saying to think like a “pro” writer but think like a business pro. This means sitting back and considering how what you just wrote as a blog post or FB status post or Tweet or whatever the social media platform of the day is called — and doing so before you hit the enter button. It means looking at the long term as well as the short term benefits of any action you are considering when it comes to your career. It also means doing what is best for you in this ever-changing career of ours.

So let’s start with the elephant in the room: social media. Almost every author and editor, publisher and agent, has a Facebook page. They Tweet and Reddit and whatever else is out there. Because is it an election year, our feeds are filled with a number of political posts. Some are thoughtful and well thought out. They look at the issues and the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. In short, they are the sort of posts where debate are encouraged and personal attacks aren’t tolerated. Then there are the ones where the pro in question starts out by condemning — or worse — anyone who doesn’t fall in line with their political beliefs. They ridicule those who don’t think the “right” way. They will instantly block or unfriend those who aren’t as liberal or conservative or whatever as they are.

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy discussing politics — or just about anything else — with people who are willing to discuss and debate the issues with me. I also remember those who dig their heels in the sand, put their fingers in their ears and try to shout me down. In other words, online behavior can and does impact my decision on what books I buy.

But it goes beyond political discussion or diatribe. It is behavior in general. As noted in last week’s post, if a writer takes to social media to do a hatchet job on an agent or editor and doesn’t back up what they are saying, well, that author comes across as a prima donna and only does himself harm. When an agent or editor take to social media and make fun of an author, especially someone trying to break into the business, they are no better than the prima donna author. They go on my little list (that is getting longer with each month that passes) of folks I don’t necessarily want to do business with.

Then there are the authors — or anyone else, for that matter — who look at social media as their own private promotion train. You know the ones I’m talking about. Those authors or agents who Tweet constantly about their books. Every other Facebook post is about this book they have written or that book they are about to publish. They fill your feed with what are nothing but ads and, all too often, poorly written ones. I get the need to promote your work. Everyone in this business does. But there is a reason why folks love using their DVRs. They can fast-forward through the commercials and when you social media feed is little more than one ongoing infomercial, folks are going to do the FB version of  fast-forwarding. They will block your posts on their feed or unfriend you or both.

Even worse in some ways than the constant informercial postings are when authors (or others) create Facebook pages or groups and add folks to it without their permission. Guys, I can’t stress highly enough what a big no-no this is. I know it is easier and less time consuming to just add folks and let them then decide if they want to stay in the group or not but it isn’t cool. Instead of doing that, add a few folks you know want to take part. Ask them to help spread word about your page and then grow your fanbase that way. Most of all, when someone you have added without their permission calls you on the carpet for it, admit you screwed up and apologize. Don’t then be a dick about it and attack them. Man up — or woman up — and admit you made a mistake and ask them to hang around because you will do everything you can to make it worth their while.

There is more when it comes to social media but it all basically comes down to this: If you were talking to someone face-to-face, would you say to them what you are about to post on social media? A second question you need to ask is if you would say it to them in a crowded room where everyone can and will hear you say it? Finally, ask yourself if you would say it in front of your mother or grandmother, priest or pastor, or how about your child? If you answered “no” to any of this, you might want to seriously consider whether you want to put it out on social media where the world can see it.

Always remember, your social media presence is the only interaction most of your fans and potential fans will ever have with you. This is your chance to win them over to your side, not alienate them because you are being a douche.

Social media isn’t the only thing you need to keep in mind when it comes to acting like a pro. Some of us are more than happy to take the risk of indie publishing. We know we face an uphill battle getting our books into brick and mortar stores. We have to decide if we want to put all our e-book eggs into the Amazon basket or spread them far and wide with different online vendors as well. We have to deal with our own bookkeeping and making sure our work is edited, etc. However, we also know we can get our work out at our own schedule and not be limited by the number of slots a publisher has or working our way through slush piles. The indie route isn’t right for everyone just as the traditional route isn’t the only way.

However, there is a quote that caught my eye this morning that I’d like to share with you. It comes from an interview with agent Molly Friedrich. She has been in the game for some time now and represents such authors as Sue Grafton and Frank McCourt, among others.

When asked if ebooks and they way they have changed the industry has impacted her, Friedrich responded:

Ebooks have been very healthy for publishers. They have not been healthy for authors. Publishers are making a load of money — very little of which is going to the author’s statement.

I know that doesn’t surprise most of us, or it shouldn’t. We have seen publishers trying to claim they have to re-edit ebooks or redesign covers, etc. They have tried double-dipping on their so-called expenses to lower the monies they have to pay out to authors. Then we have the debacle of the price-fixing attempt some of them did with Apple in an attempt to hurt Amazon. The only ones hurt then were the authors and readers. It has become clear that publishers either don’t understand the economics of ebooks (or of customer demand and price points) or they don’t care.

At a time when most folks balk at paying cover prices for books, hard cover or soft, why do publishers think we will pay $12.99 for an ebook? When they should be realizing that more units could be sold if they would lower prices (even if it was simply to $9.99) why are they continuing to raise prices? New ebooks by J. D. Robb and David Baldacci are now listed at $14.99.

$14.99

Nope, this reader is not going to pay that much for a book, no matter how much I like the author. The only exception might be for research books but not for fiction. Not now and probably not ever. That is especially true when I can and have found indie authors and small press authors who sell their books at half that price or less.

The lesson from this is to recognize that even a pro on the traditional side recognizes the fact that the publishers are not working in the best interest of authors when it comes to ebook pricing. That means you need to take this into consideration when you are contemplating whether to go indie or traditional.

I guess what I’m saying is that, no matter whether you are looking at promoting your work or trying to decide which route is best for you, approach it like you would anything else in business. Look at the strengths and weaknesses. Look at what will best serve your needs and help you reach your goals. Then go for it. Just remember that this is your profession and you need to always remember that.