Policy and Legal Matters

 

It seems that you can’t do anything these days without the lawyers getting involved. But they exist for a reason of our own making, and if you’ve kept abreast of the changes going on in this new world of publishing you’ll understand why I’ve created this page.

I think policies are good things to have. Even if you’re just starting out in a chosen field I think it’s wise to get everything out front before you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. They let everyone know where you stand early on. It tells them what you stand firm on and what things you may be flexible with. It also gives you the chance to be gracious and polite about it, before there is reason not to be.

That said I’m expressing my views on Blurbs, Reviews, and FanFiction here. These are my views alone and they may change as the year’s progress, but for now, this is how I feel.

Blurbs:

Blurbing strikes me as a double-edged sword. When you’re first asked to blurb another author’s book you’re flattered. Someone has implied that your name has some weight, that your opinion counts, that you have some influence on the reading decisions of people. It feeds your ego as blurbing is traditionally viewed as something done by an established author to help an up-and-coming scribe.

You’re tempted to say YES immediately. “Sure, love to, send me a copy.”

The book arrives and you sit down with a pencil and paper handy and dive in. You make it to chapter five before you simply can’t go on. It’s just that bad. What do you do? You’ve somehow ended up in a conflicting situation. If you turn them down after you’ve already said yes, you’re now impolite. They will of course wish to know why and any answer will no doubt be a lie. If you write a neutral or artificially favorable blurb you’ve now lied in public, in print, world-wide.

You’re tempted to do the latter. You can’t deny that there is something in this for you to gain. As the blurber you’ll be getting your own name on the book cover in a manner that suggests that you are an established author, someone whose opinion counts. One could argue that it’s better advertising than if it was your own book. Are you really willing to give up such a platform just to maintain a little integrity? After all, it’s only a short sentence, a little white lie that’s surely worth the return you’ll get.

But then the author volunteers to blurb YOUR next book. After all, he owes you one, right? Is this offer one that you’re willing to accept? Do you want his name associated with you and your work? Is this the classic you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours routine? Is this something you want to get caught up in? Are you ready to be labeled an asshole by turning him down?

If one were to swallow the blurb pill without carefully considering these things first the situation could quickly take on a life of its own. Blurb leading to blurb and so on until it snowballs and you need a spread-sheet to remember your blub score. Before you know it you’re using cliché blurbs and not even reading the books you’re attaching them to. At your next book signing you get asked about a book you just blurbed and you have no idea what the person is talking about.

It’s at this point that you feel the double-edged blurb sword sticking out your back. I’d just as soon not have that feeling.

If I was ever offered a blurb from an established peer, and it came without any solicitation on my part, or for that matter any strings attached, I would consider taking it. But I doubt that such a creature actually exists. That’s a shame as I’m sure there are honest blurbs from honest people out there. I just don’t know how anyone can spot them and know it for sure. How will people spot one written by me?

I can’t imagine a writer, at least an ethical one, wanting what amounts to bullshit associated with their book. So I intend to avoid that path. I think it’s too easy to get good blurbs from independent sources without resorting to unethical means.

Which brings me to my next subject…

Reviews:

A quick Google search on the internet will provide a writer with several sources for paid reviews. One can gather a quick dozen from friends and family alone. There’s nothing stopping anyone from writing them for themselves and posting them anywhere they can under assumed names. A search of the major news sources will reveal numerous articles about successful authors who have purchased hundreds of reviews. Others have been caught posting unfavorable reviews about books written by rivals. Some reviews use the star system and authors seek out five-star reviews for their books at every opportunity. Business groups have been caught reviewing each other in an effort to logroll for each other. Some have been caught, but I’m sure most don’t. The more this happens the more worthless reviews become. I’ve seen countless books get a one-star review based solely on the price, something set by the publisher and completely out of the hands of the author.

There are too many authors and publishers out there trying to game the system. They team up with friends for AdSense clicks. They insert keywords into reviews of books in their genre that point back to their book. They find their competition and give them several anonymous one-star reviews in an effort to move them off the top of whatever best-seller list they are trying to climb. Most reviews don’t require a certified purchase to write. It’s estimated that 40% of on-line reviews are phony.

But an author needs reviews to help drive sales. Word of mouth is still the best way to sell a book.

So how does an author obtain quality reviews from readers who have actually purchased and read their book?

Simple; just ask them.

Idea: On the last page of the book place two things; a link to your next book and a request for an honest, and constructive review. If they bought the book themselves ask them to clarify that. Welcome all reviews, but gently point out that a review that doesn’t express why the reader felt that way about the book is of little use to anyone, reader or writer. And thank them, good or bad, ahead of time.

I feel that if this is done then the reviews will come, and within those reviews will be blurbs. Good blurbs, the kind that were obtained in an honest way. As such there should be nothing wrong with using them.  

I think if an author were to follow these simple guidelines, and the book was good, sales would follow. And the author could still look themself in the mirror and know that the success of the book was based on the story they slaved to write, and not some gimmick designed to trick the reader into purchasing it.

FanFiction:

The success of Fifty Shades of Grey has caused a lot of attention concerning fan fiction. The author, E.W. James, admitted that her work was originally fanfiction based on the popular Twilight series by Stephanie Myers.

50 Shades went on to be one of the bestselling books of all time, surpassing even the work it was based on. Ms. Myers, who owned the copyright to the Twilight series, chose not to take any legal action. Evidently she felt it was doing her no harm and that she had enough money already.

Well, good for her.

So let me say two things right away; (i) I don’t have millions of dollars, and (ii) I write for a living.

Why should I care you ask? After all, my characters aren’t real. They won’t get their feelings hurt if someone were to use them in a story of their own.

Your right, I shouldn’t care and I don’t. If you want to write a story of your own featuring my characters then please feel free to do so. There is nothing I can do to stop you if you should take that route. Have at it.

But please know and understand this.

I will never read your story.

For these simple reasons.

One, I have plenty of ideas for stories; I don’t really need any suggestions, thank you.

Two, there have been instances where a fan (allegedly) showed an author a work of fan fiction, this author then wrote a book with a similar plot, and the fan ended up sueing that author for plagiarism. Don’t believe me? Just Google Dan Brown or JK Rowling.

If for some reason I am being told that I really-really need to read your fanfiction, there will be lawyers and waivers involved before it happens. No exceptions.

Again, I have no problem with people writing fanfiction, if you enjoy it than please do so. What I do have a problem with is you selling fanfiction. This interferes with me making a living.

If you wish to write a book, make a short movie, write a screenplay, what-have-you, based on my characters, you can, but it stops being okay with me the second you try to sell it, as that stops me from doing those things.

So please don’t. I’m fortunate enough to have some lawyers in my family; I can litigate for beer money.

A couple of exceptions would be any commercial ideas that we could both benefit from. Check with me. I’ll forward it to my lawyer, and if he gives it a thumbs-up, I’ll read it. The other would be charitable causes; if you can somehow benefit a charity by using my work then give me a call. Unless your charity is a hate-group in disguise, a terrorist training camp, or the Snooki fan club, I will most likely give it the go-ahead.

So that’s it. I hope. Just want to say this to close;

 I hated having to write this.