About Copywriting Ideas and Titles…

October 30, 2012

…um, yeah…you can’t do that. Let’s say you think up a great idea about a race of inverted bellybuttons whose diabolical plan is to overtake the world, but you never get around to writing it. Then you happen to walk past a bookstore and see a book that SCADS! has your same title and a story about a race of inverted bellybuttons creating havoc on Earth. Guess what? You have no claim over that idea, or the title. None, whatsoever.

The discussion of copyrighting ideas and titles comes up from time to time whenever a flap arises that challenges the patience of those in possession of a brain, and the latest bruhaha is a doozey. It’s over a Scottish cat. The Tobermory Cat, to be more specific. If you’ve been living under a rock, you may not have heard about this incredible story of an artist who lays claim to what, clearly, doesn’t belong to him, but nonetheless has launched a vicious attack against the author and her publisher who produced a book about…you guessed it; The Tobermory Cat. The sordid details can be read in The Guardian article.

The gist is that an artist had been trying to make a go of his paintings and such of this cat. A publisher, who had spent many years visiting Tobermory on the Scottish Isle of Mull, discussed the idea of a children’s book about the small town’s famous little cat with a local bookstore, who encouraged the idea. He went so far as to suggest the publisher and the newly-signed-on author visit the local artist and see about including advertising his paintings at the back of their book. It would be a win win for all parties. Except the painter didn’t agree.

He insisted the publisher and author were infringing on his rights because he was convinced he had made the cat famous via his Facebook page – which he hadn’t – and he would have nothing to do with the publication. Ok, so end of story, right? Wrong. The painter then enlisted the help of all his FB supporters to launch a gynormous smear campaign upon the publisher and the author. The details are horrendous.

Here’s a fact:  For all this artist’s bloviating and simpering, he can’t prevent anyone from writing and publishing a story with a vaguely similar idea, nor can he prevent anyone from using the same title. All one need do is let their fingers do the walking in Amazon, and they’ll see plenty books that have the same title. Sure, it’s a pain in the rumpus, but it’s also perfectly legal. That’s why publishers usually check titles first so they can avoid title confusion.

So what is protected? You can copyright a character in a series. Just try writing a skanky missive involving Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and you’ll have Disney breathing down your collar so fast, your neck will melt because they are trademarked. However, if you write a famous character who happens to be a mouse at a famous make-believe tourist attraction, then you’re on safe ground because there is no copyright violation.

There are specific laws regarding copyright, and before you go off half-baked like this very confused artist, you need to be sure that the law is on your side. Regardless of your feelings as to who is the wronged party, we have laws for a reason, and it’s to protect the innocent from being harangued by the simple-minded and emotionally-charged. The toll on the publisher and author come through very clearly in the article, and even though they are on solid legal ground, I’m sure they wish the idea had never come up. Such is the way of bullies.

A very sad case, indeed, and my heart goes out to the publisher and author.

*For great legal advice for writers (also includes an excellent breakdown of copyright), I suggest picking up a copy of lawyer extraordinaire, Donna Ballman’s book, Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers.


Query Letters: “Hello, Dr. Freud?”

September 21, 2012

This goes in the Insane Stuff That Sometimes Fills My Day file:

I received a puzzling query letter yesterday that left me scratching my head. I’m not sure if the author was A) Serious, B) Mocking, or C) Attempting to be clever

I’ll let you be the judge:

Dear Ms. Benevolent and Kindly Editor:

Are you finished boasting about yourself? Now, it is my turn.

Some answers:
(1)  About 75,000 words.
(2)  I don’t make pitches. Just throw the flickendoodle letter away if you are too great to peek at what I wrote. I’ll survive.

(3)  I wrote the book to become famous, to get accolades and to make money.
(4)  The audience I am after is the world.
(5)  The book’s unique quality is that it is about me. I am large and cannot be contained.

(6)  You want “a smattering about” me? This is bul- sh-t. [Fill in the blanks, if you can.] But, hell, if it is only a smattering that you want, I’ll oblige. I’m an old fashioned tough guy who rose up from the streets of [redacted] to become a pretty well known [redacted]. The fact that I spent my life as an [redacted] does NOT mean I can’t write. Nowadays, (since I retired), I write and edit two blogs that are viewed by a few thousand people. Take a peek, if you must: [redacted].
(7)  I expect to be dead before I have time for another book. So much for my future plans.

See what I mean? It’s obvious the author read our submission guidelines and even went so far as to read our sample query letter (as evidenced from the salutation), so why, after all that, would the author choose this particular style of communication? Makes me wonder if Sigmund shouldn’t be taking notes on this author, with his counterculture, anti-query query…

Sig (adjusting glasses and posing pen over notepad): “Ja, ja, vere you dropped on your head as a child? Or vere you raised by volves?”

I would have passed this off as someone who’s a sandwich shy of a picnic, but he included his websites…all quite legit It’s a bit unsettling that anyone would expose themselves in such a manner and expect to be regarded with any modicum of respect…but we do see them. Every editor and agent does. This is just one of the more oddball of the bunch. Sadly, this gent’s name will be forever etched in my cerebral hard drive as one to be given a wide berth.

But what I really don’t get is; why bother? Surely he can’t have expected to be taken seriously after insulting me. The logic eludes me. He had to actually sit down, research, write the un-query letter and hit the Send button. At some point, there must have been some thoughts that rambled around his brain, like, “Gee, you really want to be published, so is this the most appropriate way to appeal to an editor?” or was his intent to simply irritate and insult? Either way, I’m an editor, and I have kids, so he has stiff competition.

The idea that anyone would waste an opportunity is tantamount to shooting one’s own foot with an Uzi. For the record, I simply hit the Delete button, so Mr. GrouchyPants accomplished little, other than to put a name and face to brain-addled.


Ultimatums – a double-edged sword

June 18, 2012

From an agent: “A publishing contract has been offered on this manuscript, so please get back to me soon if you’re still interested.”

It’s a common enough  occurrence in our world, and when these come in, I drop what I’m doing to take a look at the submission to see if I want to jump into the fray. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking about the other publisher in terms of who can provide a better publishing experience for the author. But there are times when I wonder if that other publisher actually exists, and this is merely a ploy to get editors to respond more quickly.

It’s effective, to say the least, but it’s incredibly irritating if I suspect it’s a ruse. That happens when I get the “hurry up, or you’ll lose out” email, I express interest in the submission, and suddenly, we have all the time in the world. Instead of mere hours or days, I’m granted weeks to read and respond. In response, I apologize for my tardiness and express hope that I’m not holding up “the contract offer.” Oh no, the agent gushes, we’re good…take your time.

Hmm.

All’s fair in love and publishing, but it irritates me because I detest dishonesty. The agent is basically saying, “I’m not willing to wait my turn for an answer, so I’m going to jump to the front of the line by any means.” Hello, fake contract offer.

I get it because agents are looking out for their client’s best interests. But what does it say about them if they unintentionally expose their hand? I will remember them, and I will distrust them immediately. And where does that put you if they are your agent?

I had a recent experience where an agent sent me the ultimatum email. I looked at the query and was only quasi interested, so I decided to let it go. I emailed the agent explaining that I had only received the query two weeks before and hadn’t had a chance to read it yet. I closed by wishing her and her client best of luck with her new contract. The agent wrote back almost immediately giving me an open-ended time frame to review the work. What about the other publisher, I asked? I mean, surely they won’t hang on forever. I certainly won’t – not without an explanation. No worries, the agent replied.

Either the agent is dumber than a box of rocks, or the other contract offer is abysmal – or there is no contract offer. What’s worse, is the agent doesn’t realize these thoughts are running through my head and, therefore, doesn’t realize she’s weakening her position with me. Yes, it can be a silly dance, and there’s nothing you can do about it, unless you’re aware of it.

But I’ve been seeing agentless authors doing the same thing; they sing the “get it while it’s hot,” only to grant me endless weeks of review once I express interest. So sure, the ruse works, but it leaves a sticky film on my tongue because I wonder what other lengths you’re willing to go to get what you want. Does this portend someone who will be difficult to work with?

Thankfully agents I’ve suspected of pulling this trick aren’t the respected, top-notch agents. Rather, it’s agents who are new or don’t make many solid sales. If they act like a used-car salesman, how can they expect to climb to the top? If your work is achingly fabulous, it’s going to attract attention, and you (or your agent) need not resort to parlor tricks. Instead, just hang in there. One thing editors don’t have a lot of is time, and we appreciate those who are patient.

Besides, Karma is a beast just aching to dangle your participle. Be honest. If you’re going to deliver a fake ultimatum, you need to be prepared to suffer the consequences that the editor will see right through you.


Be Writer Safe – Look Both Ways Before Crossing the Street

March 26, 2012

A woman is mighty mad at her doctor because he used her as the subject of his book, THE ADDICT: One Patient, One Doctor, One Year, published in 2009 by William Morrow, without her knowledge or, obviously, her permission.

In reading the article, two glaring thoughts bump around in the cavern that poses as my brain:

  1. Why did he do this?
  2. Where was William Morrow’s editor in all this?

As one who specializes in nonfiction, I am achingly considerate of a couple things:

  • Content. Is it real (hello, Greg Mortenson and James Frey)? If I can’t get satisfactory verification, then I walk away. Who needs the aggravation and possible lawsuits?
  • Permission. If someone comes to me with a biography or a story that involves someone other than the author, I need to see proof of permission. Again, who needs the aggravation and possible lawsuits?

I’m surprised the editor went to submission committee without having those permissions in place. And who knows? Perhaps the good doctor did provide “permission” and the editor didn’t follow through by contacting the subject of the book. I took note that William Morrow isn’t included in the lawsuit, so I dearly hope the editor covered her asterisk.

However, this lawsuit could adversely affect sales, which would make William Morrow, and the doc’s editor, ready to mainline cheap gin. I know I would. To be honest, this sort of thing really takes the jam out of my jelly doughnut because dishonesty is so destructive. The fact that this doctor would break the HIPAA Privacy Rule is beyond stupid, and could end up costing him his medical license, or at the very least, a healthy fine and swift kick in his dangling participles.

But this goes to an even deeper level, and that’s the fervent desire to be published. I use the analogy of crossing the street. Back in the Early Jurassic Era, when I was a wee bairn, I was standing on the corner with my sister – who is infinitely wiser and nine years my senior. I saw something across the street…a candy store…and made ready to dart out like a heat-seeking missile.

My sister grabbed my hand. “What? Are you barking mad? That truck almost smacked you!” She was right. Barreling down the boulevard was a huge garbage truck. I reflected upon the ignominy of meeting The Great Cosmic Muffin at his Pearly Gates and telling him I’d been wiped out by a garbage truck, of all things. Surely, some better demise awaited me…and when I was old and feeble.

My fervent desire for a sugar fix put blinders over my eyes, to where my sister had to save my sorry ass. So who is the one who saves your hide in your never-ending dream to cross the street to Published Land? Are you willing to be smacked upside the head by garbage trucks, or are you more careful about your safety and wait for the Crossing sign to light up?

This doc/author facing a lawsuit (and probably a “go stand in the corner” edict from his editor) didn’t have anyone holding his hand, telling him to wait until it was safe to cross the street, and he was like my six-year-old self who couldn’t wait, or didn’t care, to do things the right way.

Make sure you take better care!


Why I will never stop imbibing in the drink

February 8, 2012

"Rahhrrrr...I'm an angry beagle"

Jim, our PO guy alerted me that I had a package to pick up. Since I don’t accept mailed queries, I knew it had to be something else. A gift from an admiring author? First class tickets to the Bahamas? Those adorable Toms I’ve been lusting over for the past couple months?

No.

It was a book. Now before you get all soft and chuffle out an “aww, how sweet,” let me just say that it was a query. Of a book. If this had been a bumbly type of thing, I’d possibly conjure up a smidge of sympathy. But no, this person knew exactly what he was doing because in very large font, he wrote, “WAIT! Don’t feed this to the beagle!”…which makes me sorta laugh considering my own beagle was the first photo on “angry beagle” google images. Sounds like it sound be a game, right? Angry Beagle? Ah, I digress.

He goes on to say two pages worth of nothing – no synopsis, just description that tells me nothing about the plot of this book – and ends with a plea that I take the time to READ HIS BOOK. In a word, no. In two words, HELL no.

Does this person believe I sit on my lower forty while the beagle peels me grapes, and my entire raison d’etre is to await his tomes of brilliance? Okay, I exaggerate – I do that when I’m irritated.

Words fail to do justice to my frustration over idiocy of this nature. He knew he shouldn’t send me a published book (from Xlibris with ISBN and all), yet he felt himself above it all and did it anyway, and then expected absolution. No, no, no, a thousand billion times, no. This is worse than being plain clueless. And you know where this book ended up? Straight into the trash right outside the PO, along with his business card and bookmark. I didn’t even crack the cover. It never even made it back to the batcave.

So what this person did was waste good money. He may as well have flushed that money down the toilet. And, okay, I admit that I’m peeved because I wasted my time picking it up. This is normally the beagle’s job, but she has a suspended license for failing to pass a breathalizer test. I really hate to waste my time on dumb things. And this was dumb. Dumber than dumb. It was dumb times a million.

Folks, don’t do this. Just…don’t. I have repeated this plea so many times I’ve lost count. I see the same plea on other editors’ and agents’ blogs all the time. And still, the willfully stupid try it anyway. “I know I’m being bad, but I’m so cute and I write sooo well that you won’t mind that I’m bad. In fact, you’ll thank me because I’ll make you a millionaire.” Makes me want to mainline bad gin.

Submission guidelines aren’t there for the tourists. You ARE the tourist. And yes, I will allow the beagle to rip it up and make dootie on books that wend their way to my mailbox.


Have email address, will abuse

December 29, 2011

Lots of people had new releases coming out in time for the Christmas season, and many writers went no further than their email address book to alert those unassuming victims.

Come! Buy! Attend my party! Blah, blah, blah.

Now before you accuse me of a mind meld with the beagle, hear me out. My business email address ends up on a lot of address books for various reasons – and it’s not just authors. The book announcement I received the other day came from a small POD publisher…how and why she had my email address remains a mystery.

Sure, I could just roll my eyes and delete the email…and I do. But since November on, the invitations to signings and launch parties have increased to ridiculous numbers. What’s worse is I don’t know A. Single Person.

Folks, this is NOT an effective use of your address book. We aren’t in there so you can abuse us at your whim. Instead, may I recommend some common sense and suggest that you only send email announcements/invitations to those you actually know? I realize common sense invariably goes out the window because authors are so wrapped up in their book that they don’t realize what a nuisance they can be.

Yes, it is exciting to see your book all prettied up in a cover and pages, and your friends and family will be just as thrilled for you. But I don’t know you, so my excitement levels will be in direct proportion to my “Who’s that?” comment. To you, it’s advertising. To me, it’s spamming.

No one likes spam. I mention spam to the beagle, and she snarls for days and makes lousy margaritas, so I keep it on the down low. And really, do you want to be known for being a spammer and abusing those in your address book? And this goes for parties and any other social gatherings. How many times have you been locked in a corner gripping your glass of Chardonnay as if it was your last vestige of sanity because some author had just published their book and HAD to tell you every last nuance to the plot?

Before you let your excitement overtake the rest of your firing synapses, stop and consider what the polite, classy thing would be. Then temper your thrills and chills by not hitting the “Include All” in the address line of your book announcements. Otherwise, I can’t be responsible for the beagle and her roving band of leather-wearing Dobermans.


What gives here? Does no one read anymore?

December 4, 2011

I’m not sure if it’s the Christmas season that has people in a bigger rush than normal, but since my entering the hospital last Tuesday to coming home on Thursday, I’ve received NOT. A. SINGLE. PROPER. QUERY.

No, I don’t mean they’re poorly written, they aren’t anywhere close to my zipcode – meaning nonfiction/memoir/biography. I received a 325,000 fiction novel – instantly deleted, historical fiction – also instantly deleted, romance, paranormal romance, young adult, and fantasy.

I’m starting to get a bit cheesed off (for which I could blame the Vicodin, except I quit taking it) because I’ve never seen such a huge clump of silliness. I’ll admit that I don’t suffer fools well and tend to let my impatience get the better of me, but this is over the top. In my relative infirmity, am I channeling my inner hose baggery because even a spec of navel lint is currently more active?

It’s not like my submission guidelines aren’t prominently displayed, so what is it? Chutzpah or the elusive Missing Brain Syndrome? I have had plenty queries that start out with, “I know you don’t publish YA paranormal romance murder mystery historical fiction, but I’m taking the chance you’ll be so wowed with my writing that you’ll reach for a contract.”

Dude. Really?

Only thing I’ll reach for is Pepsid.

I know this is the season to be more charitable, but isn’t this also the season to be mindful? After all, I’ll toss the offending query and say rude things about the author’s lack of reading comprehension. OTOH, the author will awaken the next day and be just as clueless as they were the day before. And the day before that.

And sure, it’s irksome for me because I open each query with a sense of anticipation and excitement. Will this be “the one”? And instead, I match growls with the beagle and hit the Delete button. Since there are a finite number of hours in a day, I get a case of cranky pants over having my time wasted. Likewise, I would think these authors wouldn’t get a thrill up their leg over wasting their own time, either.

One went so far as to contact me a month later, which was this past Friday, to inquire if I’d read their paranormal romance query. I deleted it, unanswered. They called me. CALLED ME. They were pretty snippy about it, too. “I queried you, I emailed you, and nothing. How RUDE!” Ok, I admit that I had popped my last Vicodin and my patience wasn’t where it could have been, but I gritted my teeth and asked if they’d taken the opportunity to read our submission guidelines.

“Huh?”

“Sub-miss-ion guide-lines,” I repeated very slowly.

Click. *facepalm*

So how ’bout you? Have you experienced a continued irritant that makes you want to climb on top of a bar stool and scream, “What the h-e-double hockey sticks are you thinking?”


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