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Archives: Etiquette

You’re a Professional, START ACTING LIKE ONE!

You’re a Professional, START ACTING LIKE ONE!

Dear Indie Authors,

It is acceptable to make Tumblr collages in which you cast Lucky Blue Smith as Draco Malfoy. Nobody will come after you for putting song lyrics on a photo of Jennifer Lawrence to express all your feels about Peeta on Instagram. Fair Use protects these exercises in fan art because you’re creating commentary without profiting or interfering with anyone else’s ability to profit off of their work.

But as soon as you slap a price tag on your work, it’s no longer fair use. As soon as you are selling your book on Kindle (even for 99¢), you don’t get to use copyrighted work to promote it. It’s illegal to rip someone’s beautiful illustration off of DeviantArt and use it as an ad for your novel on Facebook. Let me repeat: it’s illegal!

It’s illegal!

In the past twelve hours I’ve seen indies stealing art TWICE on my Facebook alone. One post was an artist who does hyper-realistic romance novel illustrations. He was ranting about someone ripping his art off of Facebook and using it as a straight-up cover for their novel on Amazon. THIS IS ILLEGAL.

He was rightfully upset, but instead of reporting it to Amazon, he assumed Amazon was in on it. This is bad, because it makes Amazon, KDP, and all indies look complicit. It gives readers the impression that we’re not professionals BECAUSE THIS CRAP IS STRAIGHT UP UNPROFESSIONAL and ILLEGAL!

That was last night around 2a. This morning I saw another flagrant case of copyright infringement in a group. Someone was using this piece by Jonas Jödicke to advertise her Native American shifter novel:

Credit Jonas Jödicke because he made this, and I'm not an art thief.

Credit Jonas Jödicke because he made this, and I’m not an art thief.

After the initial shock of, “Dude, white lady, way to be racist using a piece of fan art from a JAPANESE anime to advertise your NATIVE AMERICAN shifter novel,” I commented because I love my artist friends and family and I respect their legal rights. How would I feel if I caught someone using my mother-in-law’s paintings on their book covers? How would I feel if someone was using my writing illegally?

Authors, DO NOT DO THIS CRAP. You are a professional. You are making us all look bad. I am a professional, which means I obtain legal rights to use my cover art. Need an image for an ad that isn’t your cover? Pay for another one or go get one at MorgueFile or one of the other Creative Commons 0 places like Unsplash (where I got the dog at the top of this post) or ANY OF THE OTHER SITES ON THIS LIST. Just stop doing illegal and unethical crap like stealing from artists. We’re all artists. Let’s stop ripping each other off.


Alright. I’m going to write.

*mutters under breath*

Serious guys, I shouldn’t have to say this.


It Happened Again

It Happened Again

Three years ago, someone posted an ad for her daughter’s book on the Facebook page that was then the Olympia Heights page, but now my general author page. I went on a huge rant about why you don’t do that, but I blurred out concrete identifying information because I’m not interested in doxxing someone.

Well, it’s happened again. This person, who this time posted on my publisher’s company page for her own novel (not for someone else), is exactly the kind of person who gives indies a bad name. So let’s talk about how not to promote your book. Once again, I’ve blurred out identifying info.

3 Steps to Fight Author-Targeted SPAM With Me

3 Steps to Fight Author-Targeted SPAM With Me

If you’re an indie author, you’re probably no stranger to getting bulk-blast emails to “Dear Author” offering publicity services for one small payment of $250-$500. I got one ten minutes ago from Shelf Media Group (hey, Shelf, if I popped up on your Google alerts, good. I hoped you’d see this.)


This is not only a really sketchy and annoying business practice, it’s also ILLEGAL. If you get something like this, here are three things you can do right now to burn the sender.

Be Careful What Wars You Sign Up For

Be Careful What Wars You Sign Up For

Bullying sucks. I think we can all agree on that. We all felt a little sense of schadenfreude when we saw that Australian kid who was picking on the fat kid get body-slammed into the ground—even if it was not the appropriate way to handle the situation. And sure, signing a petition to stop bullying sounds great, but you have to be careful what train you hitch your wagon to because it’s actually a very complex issue.

What the Heck Am I on About?

Every once in a while in one of the author-groups I’ve joined on Facebook, I’ll see a petition pop up to stop review bullying. It seems great in theory, right? Be very careful before signing on to any movements or petitions that claim to be trying to stop review bullying on Amazon and Goodreads. That goes doubly for you, authors.

How to Avoid Breaking the Law with Your Newsletters

How to Avoid Breaking the Law with Your Newsletters

In the early days of the internet, inboxes were dangerous places filled with penis-enlargement ads and commercial emails disguised as personal messages. Now, of course, there’s nothing we can do to stop some guy in Nigeria from pretending to be a deposed prince, but American companies are beholden to the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. As an author trying to promote your wares on the web, you are liable too. And it’s not just this one law or one country that governs email.

What does the law say?

This list is not exhaustive, but it’s the basics:

  • You can’t send unsolicited commercial emails in bulk
  • You have to give subscribers an easy way to stop the emails
  • You can’t have deceptive subject lines
  • You have to correctly identify yourself
  • You have to disclose how you plan to use their contact information

How should I navigate all these rules?

The easiest way to produce a bulk email list while staying clear on the requirements (such as including unsubscribe links, disclosing your address, and staggering your emails to avoid getting blocked by ISPs) is to sign up for a mailing service. Constant Contact and Mail Chimp are the two I most often hear about, and they pretty much require you to include the required links and contact information to keep you legal. Of course, even all of their machinations can’t cure stupid, and you have to use a little common sense to protect yourself from fines of up to $16,000 per email.

Kickstart This: The Indie Guide to Indie Publishing

Kickstart This: The Indie Guide to Indie Publishing


Starting today, The Indie Guide to Indie Publishing is seeking backers on KickstarterThe Indie Guide to Indie Publishing is a tool, a step-by-step guide to publishing your independent book. Each article is written by an experienced authority from the independent world, and the book includes an index and glossary to help aspiring authors and publishers along the way.

This book will have:

  • Nine (9) writers with experience publishing and promoting independent work.
  • An alphabetical glossary of terms you need to know for publishing success.
  • An index for quick reference and trouble-shooting.
  • A list of useful resources and references for further research.

A couple of the writers are people I have interviewed on this blog before (See Blake Northcott Arena Mode and JL Bryan Latest Work) and a couple more I met at Phoenix Festival (Teal Haviland and Bobby Nash.) All of the writers involved in this book have experience, credentials, and bragging rights that make them indie publishing experts.

If you’re interested in obtaining a copy of this book or simply giving us a dollar to help our dreams come true, head on over to the Kickstarter page. We have rewards at various levels, including copies of the book, t-shirts, Google Hangouts, cover designs, and more. For $60, we’ll all tweet your link to over 30,000 combined followers! Take a look and PLEASE spread the word to every writer you know.


The The Not-So-Fine Line Between Marketing and Pandering

The The Not-So-Fine Line Between Marketing and Pandering

As artists, we often times struggle with the question of integrity. I went to an art school (SCAD) that received a lot of criticism from other fine arts schools because it put a focus on being able to make a living with your skills. Professors followed the idea that it does not matter how much effort you put in if your art was not successful and every major had at least one required course in portfolio, auditioning, or marketing. Theater majors learned to produce a show from the front desk side of things as well as how to present themselves at an audition. As an animator, my brother had a course completely dedicated to portfolio work.

To artists, this idea of selling work is anathema. We don’t want to think about that side of things, because we don’t want to be labeled “sell-outs.” I’m here to tell you that marketing is not selling and that it certainly does not have to be pandering.

Marketing is NOT Selling

Selling is converting products into cash. Having a shop where you sell your work (like an Etsy store or a listing on is not the same as marketing. Marketing is converting customers wants and needs into products. It is creating and environment where the right people can easily find your solution to their problem. Money is just a fortunate biproduct of that process. Marketing is so much bigger than sales and advertising. It is targeting your customers and leading them to the product they want or need.

Marketing is NOT Selling-Out

A sell-out is someone who creates their work without any artistic integrity, solely based on what will be popular with the masses. Targeting the audience for your work, then, is by definition the opposite of selling-out. That is the difference between marketing and pandering. Marketers target the specific audience for the products they have already created. Panderers create products specifically for mass appeal.

Marketing is Necessary

It might be enough for products with mass appeal (AA batteries, chocolate cookies, Snuggies, etc.) to have a spot on a shelf. For niche products, products that are not designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, this is not enough. Niche products don’t get to rely on a surge of sales at the get-go. They have to find their buyers. They need to do that by identifying what appeal their product has and to whom. Niche products need to figure out how find that audience with that  tailored that message and not waste money and effort on the kinds of people who won’t buy it.

Example: If you write a spicy romance novel, chances are you don’t want to get your artist friend to put childish cartoon characters on the cover. You really would not want to advertise on Facebook to fans of The New York Jets or keyword your book “children” or solicit reviews from video game sites.

We might not all be in it to get rich, but we have to make something for it to be worth the next endeavor. If you ever want to do your art full time, or even part time, you need to make some money. Authors– cover designs, web pages, Red Bulls, and computers all cost money. If you cannot at least begin to cover your expenses because you are too proud to market, then you are doing yourself a disservice.

You Are Already Marketing

When you decide on the price of your book, keeping in mind how much the people who might actually enjoy reading it can afford, you are marketing. You are targeting your audience based on their spending habits and abilities.

Titles and cover art– the packaging of your novel– are marketing. Your social media profile is marketing.

Make what you want to make and say what you want to say, then don’t be ashamed to promote it! The next time you worry that reaching your target audience is pandering, remember: Tailoring your PR and advertising to the ideal audience for your product is marketing. Tailoring your product to an audience with a lot of money is pandering. It really isn’t that hard to tell the difference.

Manners, Your Book Plug, and YOU.

Manners, Your Book Plug, and YOU.

Before I set out to pimp my own books, I read a very excellent marketing and PR book called The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott. I highly recommend it, as it goes over content marketing, social media, and a few cautionary tales about customer service and misrepresentation.

The most important thing that I pulled from it was the power of creating content and engaging in conversation as means of promoting your product. Some of what Scott says seems like common sense, yet for some, it isn’t. Over the years I’ve seen shameless plugs for music videos linked in Youtube comments and had strangers ask me to endorse their product that I haven’t even read. This week, however, I had to seek advice, because something happened on one of my Facebook pages that was so rude, I had no idea how to respond. I’m going to spare my usual stinging wit and keep a very serious tone here, because what was done was rude, but I’m not trying to lampoon anyone online. I’m trying to create a learning experience.

The Olympia Heights Facebook page was started last year before I published the first Olympia Heights book. My company put resources (time, money, and books) into giveaways and I put my own money (with my husband) into paying for some Facebook ads to grow the community. I’m not saying that I have an army there. 189 Likes will not pay my bills, but I put a year of constant work into promoting my work and I’m quite proud of the recent surge in Likes and sales.

Last week a girl, a child, who is self-publishing her own book, asked me to promote it. It is a relevant topic, but I have not read it. She had a nice cover and a decent premise, so I told her that I would consider promoting it after I read it. As a rule, I don’t “Like” anything I haven’t read, because that would be like recommending a book to my friends that I know nothing about. Likes show up on the Olympia Heights wall and personal Likes go on my profile. I am, by no means, a celebrity, but I follow the rule that personalities should use and like the products they endorse.

A few days ago, however, her mother– an adult woman who should know better– posted this.

As you can see, I blurred out any identifying information because I don’t want this to be about singling someone out. I want to teach other authors about what is appropriate and what is not. This is not.

I wasn’t sure what to do, to be honest, because one thing I’ve learned about online publicity is that you have to be careful not to make anyone angry. I tweeted for help and got this reply from a writer that I admire A LOT.

I followed his advice and I marked it as SPAM. The fact of the matter was that I had already told her daughter that I would consider promoting it once I’d read it, which should have made it clear not to post it on my wall until that time. If she wanted to let me know it was available, she should have messaged me in private. This woman has never participated in conversation on this page and only liked it that week in order to post a plug. Less than a week after my own book release, she used my space to post a book that could be considered in direct competition for my current release. I felt pretty used.

So, what is appropriate? Let’s go over some ground rules. You’ll find that the book linked above supports pretty much all of these tips.

  • Want someone you admire to plug your book? Send it to them for free and hope that they like it. Don’t go asking a stranger to buy your book so that they can sell it for you.
  • Create content as a means of acquiring followers. Your followers will endure the occasional plug if you provide something they perceive as valuable on a regular basis.
  • That “Website” slot on a comment form is your friend. Paste a link to your site there and then participate in the conversation as a normal human being. If they like what you have to say, they will click on it. It’s fine to leave your calling card where they can find it, it’s not fine to plug your work on someone else’s comments board.
  • Only talk about your book if it is relevant AND asked for. If someone leaves a blog post with open-ended question, feel free to answer, but don’t go on “Top Ten Books About Greek Gods” and add “Mine is great too, go buy it!…”
  • It’s only really Okay to ask someone to RT or share your Kickstarter, book, blog, etc. if you have a developed relationship/rapport with them. Sometimes it is okay if it is for a selfless charitable cause that you know they would be interested it (like asking Neil Gaiman to RT a petition to stop a book banning in Minnesota, etc).
  • Become a part of the community before you ask for favors. Making a new account the day you ask for help does not look good.

Alright, bloggers, writers, artists, and publishers, what is your advice for new authors? What common rude violations do you have to deal with? Please refrain from naming names or book titles, as we want this to be educational, not personal. Leave a comment below and continue the conversation!

Torching the Network: Foul Play in the Indie World

Torching the Network: Foul Play in the Indie World

A recent blog post by Beth Elisa Harris has me pretty upset. In this post, which you should read, she outlines a shameful incident on Smashwords that lowers the trust of an otherwise supportive Indie writing community. Though my publishing company does not utilize Smashwords, I still network with people who do, and the incident still effects Indie publishers because it will have a ripple effect.

Edit: This link has been removed as the author has since closed her blog and opened a professional site.

To sum it up for people who are allergic to links, a few people on Smashwords used a free demo download as reference to post abysmal reviews on other authors’ work so that they could move their own Indie works up the ranks. It’s evil and it’s potential damaging for every Indie book out there.

Regularly Indie Authors are supportive of each other. Amanda Hocking, the queen of Indie writing (who made 2 million dollars between 4/10 and 4/11 by publishing her own books) is an incredibly social person online. I’m friends with her on Goodreads and I watch as she adds more and more friends– both fans and other writers. She tweets back and forth with her followers and seems genuine and ready to chat. Most of the Indie Writers I have had the pleasure to connect with on social networks are very nice people and we try not to discourage each other. Like good artists, we give constructive criticism without breaking anyone’s spirit.

If we start spitting on each other’s work and feuding online, we’re all doomed. Indie books rely on reviews and word of mouth to spread. We don’t have big advertising budgets or shelf space at Target. We can’t use a connection in the New York Times to get a review. Buyers on Amazon aren’t going to risk their dollar on an author who isn’t famous, on a book they haven’t passed by on shelves fifty times already, if it has a 2-star rating and a bunch of bickering on its wall.

This kind of  bickering spreads. It’s drama and it doesn’t just happen and settle like a grenade with a few shrapnel casualties. It’s a dirty bomb. It explodes and infects with disease and toxins. It causes a ripple of ill-will. In retaliation more bad reviews are thrown back.

But Amy, you say, what if the books are really bad? Is it fair to buy a book and review it with the intention to hate it already? I say no.

Amy, I don’t think you understand how business works. No. I do. Business in America is sick. We’ve set up a system where CEOs fail, tank their companies, and make off with a BONUS for failure. That doesn’t mean that we can’t correct it. The Indie Publishing scene, the main concentrate of it, was doing it right. If Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who built a multi-million dollar company, sold it, and created another multi-billion dollar company, believes we can do it with cooperation and kindess, then we can! Business can be mutually beneficial. Nobody reads just one book in their whole life. Indie books can open doors for other Indie writers. We can network and cooperate and form relationships with our customers rather than beat each other up for their dollar.

Independent Publishing has GROWN immensely in the last few years. Major publishing houses are afraid of what this will do to their bottom line. Clearly there is a mighty large pie that is only growing and we can all, with hard work, carve out a slice. If we make enemies, this will only make it that much harder for us.

Well, don’t worry. Those people who did that were banned. I am very relieved that Smashwords took a stand and banned the users who did this, but the fact that it happened is still unsettling. If someone tried it, they might try it elsewhere (somewhere, perhaps, that non-writer customers will see like Goodreads or Amazon). There is also the likelihood that it already did damage to those writers they trashed by shaking their ratings, their trust, and their confidence.

So, if it happened to you, I am sorry. To everyone else I say play nice. Burning bridges is not the way to build an empire.