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Cover Plagiarism, Registering Copyrights For ARCs, Character Backstories, And More Questions Answered By Michael La Ronn And Sacha Black In Our Member Q&A Podcast

Cover Plagiarism, Registering Copyrights for ARCs, Character Backstories, and More Questions Answered by Michael La Ronn and Sacha Black in our Member Q&A Podcast

Cover plagiarism is one of the topics covered in this month's AskALLi Member Q&A with Michael La Ronn and Sacha Black.

Other questions include:

  • In the United States, should I register my copyright to send ARCs to readers?
  • Does ALLi offer access to scriptwriters?
  • My contract with my literary agent is scheduled to close in forty-five days. Can I self-publish my book on pre-order?
  • What's the best way to handle character backstories that don't end up in my book?

And more!

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Find more author advice, tips, and tools at our self-publishing advice center. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at allianceindependentauthors.org.

Now, go write and publish!

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Watch the Video: Cover Plagiarism and More

Cover plagiarism is one of the topics covered in this month's #AskALLi Member Q&A with @MichaelLaRonn and @sacha_black. Click To Tweet

Show Notes

Blog post on copyright.

About the Hosts

Michael La Ronn is ALLi’s Outreach Manager. He is the author of over 80 science fiction & fantasy books and self-help books for writers. He writes from the great plains of Iowa and has managed to write while raising a family, working a full-time job, and even attending law school classes in the evenings (now graduated!). You can find his fiction at www.michaellaronn.com and his videos and books for writers at www.authorlevelup.com.

Sacha Black is a bestselling and competition winning author, rebel podcaster, speaker and casual rule breaker. She writes fiction under a secret pen name and other books about the art of writing. When Sacha isn't writing, she runs ALLi's blog. She lives in England, with her wife and genius, giant of a son. You can find her on her website, her podcast, and on Instagram.

Read the Transcripts: Cover Plagiarism and More

Michael La Ronn: Welcome to this month's episode of the ALLi Member Q&A, or Self-Publishing Inspirations Member Q&A podcast, where we answer your most burning self-publishing questions, on anything and everything in between the seven stages of publishing.

Here we are in a new year. I'm Michael La Ronn with my co-host Sacha Black. How are you, Sacha?

Sacha Black: Hello. I'm okay, I'm on the mend. I've had the Christmas lurgy, but I'm on the mend now. How are you?

Michael La Ronn: I am fine. I think I'm about to get the Christmas lurgy, so between the two of us I think by this time next month, we should both be on the mend and be okay.

Sacha Black: We will, yeah.

Michael La Ronn: I can imagine many of our listeners can relate to all the bugs and things that are going around the winter season; flu and covid and RSV, and it's definitely an interesting time.

Sacha Black: Everyone's like, let's get together for Christmas, and then in our heads we're like, and spread all the germs.

Michael La Ronn: Exactly. We're paying the price about Christmas and Thanksgiving gatherings.

Sacha Black: It was worth it. It was worth it.

Michael La Ronn: Absolutely worth it. Absolutely, and you know what else is worth it? The questions that we've got this month.

So, we are making really good progress on our question log. So, for people who are first-time listening, if it happens to be a new year and you haven't listened to the show, we answer all of our member questions. So, if you are an ALLi member, go into your ALLi dashboard, and you can submit your questions and we will answer them on the show.

We're making really good progress and we have some really good questions this month, some questions we haven't gotten before, so I'm excited to get into them.

What can I do if another author copies my book cover?

Michael La Ronn: The first one is, what do I do if another author has copied my cover?

So, the scenario here is, you're on Amazon one day, you see a cover that looks suspiciously familiar. It turns out somebody has completely copied your style, they may have copied elements from your cover, and they're very clearly just copying the success that you have laid out with the cover that you've designed. What do you do?

Sacha Black: That's a tricky one, isn't it, because in a genre there are expectations for a cover. Now, unless somebody in, well, this is my humble opinion, unless somebody has quite literally used the identical model, the identical type of font in exactly the same pattern layout and colour tones, then they've probably not copied your cover, even if it feels like they've copied your cover. I think you would have to have a lot of those elements identical, not just similar.

And this is the thing with a genre, you need your cover to look like the other covers in that genre. That is part of genre marketing. That is part and parcel of being in a genre. When you walk into a bookstore as a reader, you can usually identify where your books are in that store by the tone and colouring of all of the books on the shelves.

So, you know the young adult section because it's bright and bold colours and primary colours and there's cartoons or whatever. You know when you are in the crime section because it's a lot darker, there's a lot of black covers, there's a lot of silhouettes on the front, clean fonts. You go to the fantasy section and it's a myriad of different types of things, but all the fonts are usually much swirlier.

So, this is the problem, and I think you would be hard pressed to do any kind of legal action on a cover unless it truly was a like for like, and they had literally ripped off your cover.

But I don't know where you stand on that.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, no I think what you said is right. It's difficult to take legal action. I think we can draw a very clear line between copyright infringement of a cover and plagiarism. So, every once in a while, I guess over the last decade, I see this happen from time to time, that there's somebody that does a cover that is revolutionary for the genre. It's just distinctive, it's got that it factor it, you've never really seen anything like it before, and it's a successful book as a result. Then what you see, is you see a ton of people come out with covers that look exactly like that, or they copy the style of that person, and I think every genre has got that book where people are copying. That's one thing.

I think if you're literally stealing, like you said, fonts, and I've even seen people steal exact elements from the cover. Like, if there's an illustrated cover and there's a dragon on it, I've seen them take that same illustration of a dragon, which is crazy.

Now, they're stock photos and technically anyone can use the same stock photo on a cover.

Sacha Black: Yeah, I've seen a particular model used multiple times with urban fantasy covers, like a particular girl, and I'm like, oh, there's another one of those ones, and it's exactly the same model, but this is how Shutterstock, and Depositphotos, this is how they make their money. They resell the same images with licenses, so anybody can use them.

Michael La Ronn: Correct.

Sacha Black: So, yeah, sorry, I interrupted.

Michael La Ronn: No, you're absolutely right. Yeah, there's Shutterstock, and you don't have any control over that, but I've seen people rip off some illustrations too. So, that's where it was illustrated for that one particular author, and somebody has ripped elements from the illustration. So, I think you have to look at it, do the calculus, figure out, are they just copycatting or are they really infringing on your copyright?

That's where you can submit a request to the retailers, for them to evaluate it, and if they feel that it's serious, then I have seen Amazon and others take some books down as a result. But that's pretty rare.

Sacha Black: Yeah, and I think if there were issues with the contents of the books, you would be more likely to see action taken to do something about that than the covers. Unless, like we've said, they are literally identical.

But yeah, you look at a crime cover, particularly British crime or whatever, and they all look exactly the same. They all have some scenery or setting or British hills on them with this shadowy figure on the front, and red writing or yellow writing, or whatever. They are all identical, but that's how you attract the right reader. So, in some ways it's actually just good marketing.

Michael La Ronn: Yep, fine line between great marketing and copycatting.

Sacha Black: You could put a positive spin on it, right? You could say, well, okay, this person's covers are very similar to mine, I'm going to target their readers and do loads of AMS ads targeting their books. Then you can put a positive spin on it. It's cheeky, but you know.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, it is. So, sometimes turn limes into lemonade, right.

Sacha Black: Exactly.

Should I register my copyright before sending advanced reader copies of my book?

Michael La Ronn: All right. Next question is, okay, so this is specific to the US. In the US, should I register my copyright to send my advanced reading copies to readers?


Sacha Black: I've never heard that question before.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I have not heard that either. Just maybe a few things that we want to cover. So, in the United States, it's really irritating, we have this registration system for copyright. You're not required to register your copyrights with the government, but it is highly encouraged that you do so. So, you have to register your copyright in order to sue somebody, that sort of thing. We won't get into the details, but we're unique in the wrong way in that regard.

So, in the question of your ARCs, your advanced reader copies, do you need to register your copyright?

To me, I don't think you need to register your copyright to send your advanced reader copies to your readers. If you're going to register your copyright, I would do it because you're going to register your copyright, right? Just because you're sending out ARCs to other people really, to me, has nothing to do with the equation. One, because you've got a copyright notice. Two, because they're your readers. You have to trust your readers to not go out and try to infringe your copyrights or steal your work. There is such a thing as coming across as a bit of a jerk in this regard with copyrights and readers, and things like that.

I don't think that you need to do that for ARCs. Sacha, what do you think?

Sacha Black: It's tricky for me because we don't have the same pressure to register copyright in the UK as people in the US. So, I would never do that, but that's purely because it's just not the same in the UK as it is in the US.

I would say that, under any law the, the moment you finish the work, the copyright is yours anyway. So, I would say to send them out and just apply for the copyright as soon as you can, because once it's going through process you would have evidence to say that you have put it through. So, even if it's not come back to you yet, you've taken the action to register.

So, I wouldn't slow your marketing process down. I would get the books out.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah. I mean, the reasons to register copyright again are because you want to sue someone for infringing on your copyright. Your work has to be registered for you to do that. That's really the main thing. Some people think you can register your work to help prove ownership of the work; it's not necessarily the case.

But it can be expensive too. I mean, you've got to pay a chunk of change with every book that you publish. Some people don't have the appetite for that, sometimes that might be a little bit more expensive than what people can pay. So, I would just encourage people, if you're going to register the copyright to your work anyway, register the copyright to your work. I don't think you need to register your copyright just because you are sending out an ARC copy. To me, they're not congruous. That's all.

So, if you were already going to do it, then do it. I think, if you can afford it, there's no disadvantage to registering your copyright, but otherwise, I don't think you need to, but better safe than.

Does ALLi offer access to script writers?

Okay. Next question is, does ALLi offer access to script writers? So, if you're writing a film or wanting to break into the film industry.

The answer to that is no, we do not, unfortunately, that I know of. We're focused primarily on authors and novelists and writers of books, but if that ever changes, we'll definitely let the community know.

Can I publish my book on pre-order before the contract with my literary agent ends?

Okay, next question is, my contract with my literary agent is pending to close in 45 days, can I self-publish my book on pre-order?

So, it sounds like this person has gotten the rights back to their book, as we have talked about a lot on this podcast, and they're almost over the finish line. They want to self-publish the book on pre-order. So, I assume that the publishing date will be after the 45 days so that you're clear on the contract.

What do you think, Sacha?

Sacha Black: If they are not earning royalties whilst they are with…

No. So, if the agent hasn't sold the book and they are self-publishing the book, they won't have to give the agent any money because the only time you pay an agent is when the agent has done work for you. So, they would have to sell the book. Unless your contract said that your agent would take 15% even of your self-published works, but I have never heard of that in a contract.

Michael La Ronn: It can happen.

Sacha Black: No!

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, it can happen. I've seen it.

Sacha Black: Oh, my goodness me.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah. So, read your contract, that's the answer.

Sacha Black: Yeah, that is the answer, read your contract.

Michael La Ronn: See what you can, see what you can't do. If you've got that tricky little agency clause in there, then you've got to be careful. But if you don't, and it's clear, and all parties are in understanding of what is going on with the rights reversion and there is a set date, then I would do it.

Sacha Black: Yeah, I am slightly confused because an agent wouldn't hold rights to a book anyway, a publisher would hold the rights.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, but the agency clause basically gives the agent the acclaim to 15% of the royalties. So, sometimes with some unscrupulous agents, you can see that clause persist even when the agreement's no longer in force, and sometimes they can take bites at your next book as well. It's some things that I've seen. So, it's not to paint agents in a bad light. That's not what we're trying to do here. Just saying that you need to read your contract and understand what you signed.

Sacha Black: Yeah, there are some wonderful agents out there.

What should I do with the character backstories that don’t end up in my book?

Michael La Ronn: Alright, next question is, what's the best way to handle character backstories that don't end up in my book?

See, I told you we had some really interesting questions, didn't we?

Sacha Black: It's a fun question! I love that question. Oh, let me start.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, please.

Sacha Black: Okay. So, this is super fun because if you have enough content that you can turn it into a story, then that is absolutely what I would do. You often see indie authors in particular, but sometimes trad authors, writing up character stories, backstories, villain origin stories. You could have a wound, or if it was, for example, a second chance romance, perhaps you write up the first chance romance part of it.

You can use it for a mailing list, what's called a reader magnet. So, you sign up to my email mailing list and give me your email address and I will give you this story, and then you can create what's called an autoresponder series, which is a sequence of emails that you write in advance, and that get delivered out over a set period of time. If you have save more than just one of these side character stories or character back stories, then you can write them up, have them edited, and you can send them out over a period of weeks to new readers, and that will for sure engage them, make them feel valued and appreciated, and that is a really good way to buy your readers into what you do and your work.

And of course, if you are clever with it, then at the back of your story, you can also link out to the first book, or link out to a different book because it's connected to the characters in that book.

So, not only are you making your readers feel valued, you are then doing like what I call soft marketing. So, rather than going, buy my book, you are giving them a story and just saying, hey, if you liked the story, you can read more about these characters in this book or that book. So yeah, it's a wonderful tool to give your readers something more.

So, yeah, definitely take them out of the story if they're not relevant and they're not advancing the main novel, but don't throw them away, don't get rid of them. They're things that readers will always love and appreciate.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah. I mean, can you take that and turn it into a novella? That's another thing too, I mean, can you repurpose the content, turn it into a novella or a short story? In fact, just the other day, I got an email in my inbox from an author that I follow who did that very thing. I mean, they basically took some of the backstory, and I think they did like a character interview, and they put that in an email newsletter. Then there was a link to the series at the bottom of the email.

So, some other things that you could think about doing with it is you could, if you have a Patreon feed, you could offer it to your patrons as a bonus. You could also, if you ever do a Kickstarter campaign with this particular series, that could be one of the stretch goals.

Just use your imagination. There's plenty of things you can do, even if it's just linking to it on your website somewhere. Just upload it to your website and share it with your readers and they can download it. I've seen a lot of authors do that too.

Sacha Black: If you do like book fairs or reader fairs, I don't know quite what they're called, I think it's a book fair, isn't it? A book fair, but not like the London Book Fair. I mean like the reader end of the book fairs. You could always print them in little chapbooks and give them away for free. You could do a small print run of chapbooks, which would be very cheap to do, and then give them away, and make sure you put like a QR code on the back where they can get more, or they can find out a book or whatever. So yeah, use it to your advantage as marketing.

I always think, you're a very lucky author if you do come out the other end of having finished a book with additional material. I never do. I underwrite chronically, so I have to edit my books longer, so there's never any spare words. So yeah, I'm always very jealous of the way people do this. I have to intentionally write the additional content. So yeah, I just finished a prequel actually this week, so that is why I love this question so much, it's so timely.

Michael La Ronn: Awesome. Yeah, lots of lots of really good ideas, and like I said, sky is the limit.

Sometimes the most interesting and effective way is the one that's the most out of the box, and that doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money or any money, for example. So that's cool.

Can ALLi recommend a good service for author branding?

All right. Next question is from Ishani, and I'll just summarize and generalize the question here. Can we recommend the best place to find a designer to design a publishing imprint logo and come up with a style and a brand for a name?

So, branding, where do you go? We talk all the time about where to go for cover design, but where do you go for author branding designs?

Sacha Black: Well, funnily enough, most designers will actually do this for you. Miblart are a partner member of ALLi, and apologies to any other partner, they're just the first person that came to my head, but Miblart have a service where they'll do a whole branding package, and I think it's about $150.

Obviously, you can go to any of our partners and have a look on their websites to see, but quite often a designer who does cover designs will also do logos. Not all of them, of course, you will have to look at their services and what they provide, but many of them do. So, I would always encourage you to look at our ratings and our trusted, approved partner services list first and foremost.

But other places, Fiverr is a great place to look for logos, you can often get logos done very cheaply, and I would recommend that you first of all start Googling and pulling together a mood board, because if you go to the designers, you need to be able to say the kind of thing that you're looking for. They won't just pluck random colours out of the air, they'll want to know, oh, I want a blue type of feel, and then they'll start to be able to pull stuff together.

So, one of the quickest ways to do that is to do a bit of research, maybe try Pinterest, it's a great place to look for visual ideas and inspiration, and then once you've started to collect some images that kind of give the look and feel of what you are after, that's when you can then go to a designer.

But yeah, I would say look at ALLi's partner list first, and you can do that by logging into the allianceofindependentauthors.org. Log into the dashboard and go to Approved Services, and then yeah, you can go down the rabbit hole, and you'll be able to find a whole bunch of designers and check them first.

Then failing that, I would say try Fiverr.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah. Okay. So, I'm going to disagree a little bit. I like most of what you said. Miblart, I second, strongly second. I've used them for my cover designs, they're fantastic, and again, they came to my mind as well when this question came out.

So, if you can find an ALLi partner member to help you do this, you're in the clear. No problem.

I like Fiverr a lot. I do a lot of work on Fiverr. I don't necessarily know that I would do a logo design on Fiverr, and if I were to do a logo design on Fiverr, here is what I would do.

There are some issues, and this is not Fiverr's fault, but there are some issues with Fiverr, with people who design logos that are not actually theirs. Either stole stolen logos or copywriting infringement. A lot of logos have the same cheap vector feel to them, I don't know how else to describe it, but just go on Fiverr and look at some logos, you'll know what I'm talking about. They look really cheap. They don't look good at all. That's the kind of stuff you really want to be careful of.

I've heard some situations where people have gotten logos designed but turns out the designer didn't actually design that logo, it was stolen, or it was infringed or significantly copped off of something else. So, just be really careful about that.

If I were going to do logo work, I would actually go to a site like Upwork, and then I would screen the applicants and do some more due diligence to really make sure that what they say they're doing is actually their work. That's just me, I'm not saying that Fiverr is a bad place to get a design, you can get a design there cheaply, but you just have to be really careful and do some due diligence to make sure that this designer is legit.

Because you can get burned, I mean, we talked about copyright infringement earlier, right? If you infringe on someone's copyright, or even worse, their trademark, you can get sued for a substantial amount of money.

So, I'm not trying to scare people, but again, just due diligence. Just make sure that whoever you go with is highly rated, they have a track record of creating logos that are not like anyone else's. And then, do a reverse image search when you do get a logo, just to see if anything else very similar pops up. That might be a wise idea as well.

So, I don't know, what do you think, Sacha? It's just my thoughts.

Sacha Black: Yeah, I think that's a great idea about the reverse image search. I didn't know any of the issues with Fiverr, but I think that probably, I think the ethos of checking and doing due diligence should be there regardless of whether it's an approved partner or not.

I think whenever we take a service from somebody, we should always check. So yeah, I agree.

I haven't ever used Upwork, and I've only used Fiverr once, but yeah, that's what came to mind.

Michael La Ronn: The reason I like Upwork a little bit better for something like that is that you can screen your applicants. So, you can force them to answer questions. So, you can say, talk to me about other projects you've done that are similar to this in the past.

Sacha Black: Yeah, the only other thing that I can think of, if you have an artist that you particularly like, you could always query an artist as well. My sister does graphic design, and I was just like, hey, do you want to do a logo for me? It's not something that she's always done before, but sometimes you can have an artist, or a particular style or form of art that you particularly like, and you could actually work that in as well, and Instagram's a great place to find artists.

Michael La Ronn: Right, and then there's sites like 99Designs. You have tons of options available at your disposal, and again, I'm not trying to cast aspersions on Fiverr. The questioner did mention Fiverr as well, it's a terrific marketplace. They do a really good job of trying to crack down on some of that behaviour, but as with all places, as Sacha said, we just want people to really be thinking about due diligence. Because you want to cover, or not a cover, but you want a logo and branding that is going to be unique, and doesn't look like everybody else's, right?

You also want it to be effective and you want it to be original and unique. Oh, another thing you want to think about is, you need to have a contract with the designer to make sure that you own the copyright.

Sacha Black: Oh, that's a great point. Yeah

Michael La Ronn: Don't get a logo designed and then don't settle that, because as we've talked about before on this show, if you don't say that you own the copyright, then the designer owns the copyright.

Now, fun fact that a lot of people probably don't know, is sites like Fiverr or and Upwork, if you read the terms of service, it actually says that the copyright transfers to the buyer.

So, that is one good reason to use Fiverr, is that any work you get done with Fiverr creatively, whether it be a cover or branding, my understanding in the terms of service is that it transfers to the buyer. So, that's something that you don't necessarily have to worry about.

Sacha Black: Yeah, that's great.

Michael La Ronn: But, whatever you use, make sure you account for that in your calculus somewhere, because you don't want to create branding somewhere and then all of a sudden, the designer says, you know what, I don't like your politics, or I don't like that interview you gave with Sacha Black, I'm taking my copyright back. I'm revoking my license. That'd be pretty detrimental to your author business. So, make sure you cross those ts, dot those i's, or as I like to say, cross i’s, and dot those ts.

Does ALLi offer legal services to members?

All right. Next question is, okay, so this is a bit of a long one, but I'll paraphrase it as best I can. Sacha, I know you have an answer for this one. Please provide/explain the lawyer services provided to members and give their contact information.

Well, we can't do that.

But also provide some details on how to sign up for ALLi’s Selective Rights Licensing Services.

Sacha Black: Okay, so, it doesn't work quite how this person's asking.

If you have a contractual query, and you have a contract that needs reading, or you need help with a contract, you can contact the rights desk. You can do that basically by going through exactly the same normal channel that we always do. Michael, where's the contact?

Michael La Ronn: Oh, okay. I knew you were going to ask me that. Why don't you keep talking? I'm pretty sure it's allianceindependentauthors.org/contact, but I'll verify that.

Sacha Black: Yes, okay. So, use the normal contact form and then you can tell them the issue. Say that you want to speak to the rights desk, and you will get forwarded to the correct person who will be able to provide some help and assistance on your contractual issue.

Now, the program that you are talking about, the Selective Rights Licensing program, that was a sort of task and finish group. So, it was a complete program that ran for six months only. It was a one-off, and it was in the lead up to London Book Fair. I want to say it was before the pandemic, so it was a good few years ago now.

So, that's complete and the learning is complete from that. We're not running it again, but if you would like to get the learning from that, then you can. There are plenty of articles on the blog site, which is selfpublishingadvice.org, and if you type in, ‘selective rights licensing' or ‘rights licensing', then you will find a raft of different articles talking about rights, talking about selling rights, and talking about that program, and you can watch all of the videos, they're still up there for that.

What should I put on my copyright page for my nonfiction book?

Michael La Ronn: Excellent. All right. Next question is, is there a standard disclaimer that can be used in the copyright page of nonfiction books to state that they are general advice only? I've been looking at examples and they're all so different. This book that I'm writing is general in nature and the format uses coaching questions and considerations in order to help people make decisions. There's no medical or financial or legal advice. What do you think, Sacha?

Sacha Black: So, I don't think there are any standard copyright notices. There's key phrasing that is pretty similar, I would say, across a lot of books, but there is no, well, and you are a better person to answer this, but to my knowledge, there's no legal clause or terminology that is a standard, that would be expected to go in there.

So, what I tend to do is, I tend to look in half a dozen books, and combine them into what I think is the best sounding copyright page. We have also published an article recently, in fact, on copyright pages, and I believe we actually used one of your books in that. I don't know, I could be wrong.

So, we can put that link in the show, because there are a multitude of different ways you can slice this cake, but basically there is no legal standard and so you can write whatever you want to cover off, essentially, I would say.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, that's great. That's exactly how I thought of it too, is, you look at a bunch of titles, or look at a bunch of books, mash them together, pick and choose, and then just use that consistently in all of your books.

For non-fiction, there is certainly an increased concern because you're giving people advice, and what if they follow the advice to their detriment, and so on and so forth.

I think generally speaking, people understand that the advice in a book is not financial or legal advice, unless you're crossing some sort of ethical line. So, in the books that I write I'm always very careful to explain that nothing I share is legal advice.

Sacha Black: Well, you can write that statement as well up front, in the intro.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, you can write it in the intro and then you can reiterate it throughout the book as well, that might also give you some additional insurance, so to speak. But there's no right or wrong way to do it.

Even if you consulted with attorneys, I think, you consult with 10 different attorneys, I think you'd get 10 different answers about what should be on your copyright page. So, I would follow Sacha's advice, do what feels right and mention it in your book as well, in the text of the book, if there's a particular section that maybe you have some concerns about, and I think you'll be okay.

Can I publish my paperback with Amazon and my hardback somewhere else?

Okay. Next question is, and let us know if we interpreted this question properly. This is from member, Trevor. What are the repercussions of placing a paperback with Kindle on Amazon, and a hardcover with Lulu? So, to paraphrase, I want to publish my paperback on Amazon KDP print, and I want to publish my hardcover with Lulu.

I don't know why you would want to do that, but maybe there's something with the hardcover that's more attractive with Lulu.

I guess I would say, repercussions, other than the royalty structures and the fact that you've got to use two different dashboards, to me, would be the first thing I probably would think about, but if there is a reason that you want to use Lulu as opposed to KDP print for hardcovers, I think that's your decision.

Just understand what the pricing structure is, understand the nuances of both dashboards that sort of thing, but off the top of my head, I don't necessarily think there's a negative repercussion. What do you think, Sacha?

Sacha Black: No, I don't think so. As long as you understand that Amazon always prioritizes Amazon published books. So, for example, I publish my hardbacks with Ingram Spark because I like the fancy jackets that go with them. So, quite often it takes an awful lot longer for the information to populate. It takes longer for the cover to come over and go onto the sales page. Although, once they do come over, they all sync up quite quickly, but that's probably one of the downsides if you are publishing one with the other.

But in terms of, I wasn't sure if this question was about KU and exclusivity, because sometimes that gets confused, but exclusivity with KU is only for your eBook. So, you can actually publish your paperback with whoever you like.

The other thing to say is make sure, well, if you can, that you've, well, you will have to, I think, but you'll need an IBSN, one for the hardback and a different one for the paperback.

So, that's another thing just to think about, and we've got an ISBN guide as well. If you remember, you can download that.

So, there are sometimes issues with Amazon KDP Print and IngramSpark with paperbacks, and where you load it first. But broadly speaking, I can't see any issue with doing this.

Maybe the other thing, sorry, one other thing is to print a copy, is to print a proof copy of each so you can see the quality, and then make the decision that way.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, quality is another aspect that we didn't cover. So yeah, look at the quality, compare the quality between the two services and figure out which one readers would like the most. Although, I would probably hazard a guess that it's going to be pretty similar between the two.

I mean, Lulu's been around a long time, KDP print has been around a long time. So, just look at all of the elements and just figure out what you want to do.

What can I do if Amazon terminates my account?

Okay. Next question is one that we get from time to time. It's an unfortunate question if it happens, but the question is, what do I do if Amazon terminates my account?

So, this happens from time to time, and there are various reasons that Amazon sometimes does this. Sometimes there's a human on the other end that determines that your account needs to be cancelled. More often than not, from what I can tell, it's usually an algorithm. So, sometimes your book could get caught up in a sweep of people that might be doing something that's unscrupulous, and your book looks like it could be, and so the algorithm flags you as a result.

It's a terrible situation to be in, I've known authors personally that have been in this situation. So, the advice that I would give is, if Amazon terminates your account, I think the first thing you need to figure out is why they terminated your account.

Were you following all the terms of service that you should have been, which 99% of people are. So, if the answer to that is yes, if you were following the terms of service, I would write them and just try to get some sort of explanation, and understand that sometimes you are going to feel like you're doing karate against a brick wall. I mean, that's the best way to describe it. You're going to get form letter responses. Eventually, maybe, you may not get a response at all. So, the thing to do is to be persistent and to continue doing it, and lay out the facts of your case, of why you think that your account should be restored.

If you really are struggling with this, and you feel like you're in the right and you haven't done anything that has violated their services, and you're an ALLi member, please write us in confidence.

Oh, and Sacha, that link was correct. It is allianceindependentauthors.org/contact.

Give us your member number, tell us the details of what's going on, and ALLi does have a relationship with KDP where we can try to advocate on your behalf. Certainly, no promises, but if you get to the end of the road and you feel like you're not getting any other progress, that is an avenue that you can follow as well, which is another great reason to be a member if you're not a member.

But first thing, most important, if you haven't done it, read the KDP terms of service. Nobody likes to do it, but just read the terms of service, make sure you understand it, and then abide by it by the letter, and if you do that, you shouldn't have any problems.

Where people get in trouble sometimes is where there's a guideline that's a gray area, and so a lot of people sometimes take advantage of it, and then Amazon wakes up one day and decides, nope, we're not going to allow that, and then you get caught up in it.

So, just read the terms of service. Abide by the terms of service. It's like your parents said when you were a kid, if Timmy and Jamie jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a Bridge too? No, you wouldn't. So, this is one area where you want to follow the rules. All right, so just follow the rules, and if you do that, then, hopefully.

Sometimes accounts can get caught up in a bust, I don't know another way to say it, but sometimes your account could be wrongfully terminated for reasons that are not your own. If that happens, just follow the steps that we talked about, and I'm pretty optimistic that you'll get a good result.

But it is frustrating. It is scary, and there's a lot of emotions that can go with something like that. So, just be careful and just be persistent if it does happen to you.

How can I increase my paperback book sales?

Okay, next question is from Graham. I started placing my books through Ingram this year, how do I increase my sales in this area? So, paperback sales distribution through Ingram, which is great Graham, good on you for doing that. That's fantastic. Getting your books distributed through IngramSpark. So now, anybody anywhere in the world can order your books if they want to.

So, Sacha, what are your tips for improving your paperback sales?

Sacha Black: Well, it feels like the age odd question really, because how do you make any book sell? Well, the same way you make any book sell.

I think the thing to understand first of all is, are you in a genre where paperbacks reign supreme, because as indie authors, typically, not always, but very often, we get the majority of our income from eBooks, because the proportion of income per book sold is often radically more than paperbacks.

So, what I would say is, assess, are you in a genre that sells a lot of paperbacks? So, do you write middle grade fiction, for example? Do you write young adult fiction? If you don't write those, or perhaps you write, so nonfiction, for example, often people buy non-fiction in paperback because they're learning, they scribble notes in.

So, I find that up to 35% of my non-fiction sales are paperbacks, and it's about 5% of my fiction. So, it's a big difference. So, that's the first thing, just work out whether or not your time spent trying to sell paperbacks specifically is going to be worthwhile for the amount of time it takes for the effort to get them to sell. Not worded that very correctly, but hopefully you understand what I'm mean.

And then doing all of the things that we all do normally, you will naturally sell some paperbacks anyway. If you want to sell paperbacks specifically, you could go through, depending on what genre you write in. If you wrote nonfiction, you could try and get a big sale, like in corporate environments, bulk sales. If you write for children, then try and do school visits where you get a certain number of book sales for the children in the school, where you do signings. You could attend fairs, things like this.

Then, if you would like a less time intensive option, you could run AMS ads, which is the Amazon advertising, directly to paperback specifically, if you want to increase your paperback sales. So, that's one thing that you could do as well.

Then in terms of just increasing them generally, I would just try and increase your sales, generally; run adverts, run sales, run promos, collaborate with other authors, see if they will promote in their newsletters, will you promote in your newsletter.

You could always try and do a local event with a local bookstore but bear in mind you're going to be hand-selling a couple of copies. This is not going to be making stacks and stacks of money doing that.

So, it's a long-winded response, but basically any actions that you take to increase your book sales in general will have an impact on paperback sales, but just do the work upfront and establish whether or not you are in a genre that is going to sell a lot of paperbacks. Otherwise, spend your time marketing the eBooks or just marketing yourself in general.

Michael La Ronn: Agree, and the first step in improving your sales is to make them available.

So, assuming you have your own ISBNs, which is really important. They're available through Ingram. So, it can serve as a multiplier effect, that's what Sacha said. So, the more marketing you do, the more people will know that you have paperbacks. Make sure that readers know when they see your books on your book pages, that you have paperbacks.

So, if you're on your author website and you've got a page dedicated to each book, let them know that it's available in paperback. It seems like an obvious thing, but sometimes people want to know that, or they need to know that. So, that's one thing you could do.

You mentioned paid advertising, Sacha, which I think is great. Facebook is another example where you can get really granular, you can target paperback readers specifically. So, lots of options, and don't discount your local options as well. One of the things that I've started doing is getting author copies of my books and taking them to any little free library I can find.

So, they've got the little free libraries where people can put them in their front yard, you can take a book or leave a book, I've done that. I've just, on a Saturday afternoon, just drive around to as many places, as many of those places as I can find.

When you travel, take some paperbacks with you. Hotels often have little reading libraries. I was just in Chicago, and I was wandering around the hotel and in one of the little nooks and crannies of the hotel, they had this giant bookcase, and it was like hardcover city of pretty much every thriller and mystery author you can imagine, and I was like, oh man, they need to get some science fiction and fantasy on there. So, if I was smart, if I go back to Chicago and stay in that hotel, I'm going to bring some hard covers of my fantasy with me, and I'm going to put it on that little area.

Sacha Black: Those bookcases are like gold, they are amazing. I remember being on a holiday in Turkey once and I was randomly reading a True Blood series by Charlene Harris, and I think I was on like book three. No word of a lie, I was in this hotel, I went to the bookcase because I'd finished and I was like, oh no, I've read all the books bought.

The whole rest of the series, starting from book four, was there, I could not believe my luck. It was incredible. So, I just binge read the whole rest of them, and then I left them there for somebody else to have. But it was fantastic. People appreciate those bookcases. Do it, it's a fantastic idea.

Michael La Ronn: Oh, absolutely. So, don't discount that. I mean, I forget how many times a paperback changes hands before it gets destroyed. It's like six or seven times, it might even be more than that. So, used books is a big opportunity as well.

So, availability, access, all the stuff Sacha talked about with advertising, doing other things that are not necessarily related to paperbacks but will improve your paperback sales, and just thinking outside the box, I think, you can help improve your sales.

My IngramSpark code isn’t working. How can I fix this?

Okay. Two more questions. All right, so the next question is from Lori. On my first attempt to publish with Ingram Spark, they say that my promo code has expired, but I just joined last month. How do I fix this problem?

Sacha Black: It's not a problem with you, it's that the code changes monthly. So, you have to go in and recheck every single time you publish a book. I have been publishing paperbacks and hardbacks over the last two months, and so I had to go and change my code because we slipped from December to January. So, it's not you, the codes still work, they just change monthly. So, go back and check again.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, and the way you do that is to go to allianceindependentauthors.org, log into your dashboard, go to the discounts and deals section, and then look up Ingram, and then you'll see the new code there. So, try that and you should see some success.

Can ALLi recommend a website designer?

Okay, next question and last question, Sacha. Where can I find a website designer?

Sacha Black: Well, we've mentioned it a couple of times today, but you can go to our approved partner list. That is always the first place I recommend that you start for any service hunting situation. So yeah, log into the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Go to Approved Services, or Approved Partners, I can't quite remember the exact wording, and then type in what you're after and we have a raft of providers in there, and you will be guaranteed to find something that will work for you. So, that's where I would go personally.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I would start there as well.

Consider, do you need a website designer, or do you need a website theme? So, many people just starting off, I actually argue you don't need a website designer. I think hiring a designer for your website is almost too much firepower, because it's like shooting at a target that you don't know where the target is, and let me explain what I mean by that.

So, when I started as an author in 2014, if I had hired a website designer, I would've made a colossal mistake. I would've wasted money. It just probably wouldn't have worked, because I wouldn't have known what would've been effective.

I just wouldn't have known what should be on my website, and I don't necessarily know that I would've been able to articulate to a designer what my needs were at that point, and it's not a knock on any designers. But probably two, three years, four years in, I got a lot more data about who was visiting my website, what was important to them, the types of pages that they wanted to see, and the types of things that they were clicking on.

So, hiring a designer later down the road would've been a better option, it would've been a more effective use of my money. So, if you're just starting off, I recommend just looking into a good WordPress theme. Those are already pre-designed for you. You don't have to worry about it. You're not going to spend a whole lot of money on them.

Then when you're ready for a designer later, you can get.

Sacha Black: Try Studio Press if you use WordPress, because I've used Studio Press and they are fantastic, and they're really affordable as well. They have very comprehensive installation instructions. I'm not very good at following instructions, so honestly if I can do it, anybody can do it.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, Studio Press is great, that's actually one of the ones I started with. I think I started with a Studio Press site. Elegant Themes, Divvy is another one that is really easy to use, so there's lots of done for you designs.

Now, with that, you get convenience, but you can't really customize it a whole lot. There are some designers that do work with Studio Press and Elegant Themes though, where you can hire them down the road and they can just design something on top of what you already have. So, there's lots of options, but when I first started off as an author, I didn't know what those options were.

I thought you actually had to have a programmer design your website from the ground up, and it's just not like that anymore. So, I recommend people start with a theme. Once you've started to publish a few books and you understand the nature of your readers, and you know what people are resonating with on your site, then shell out on a designer it'll just make your money go a lot further. That's Michael La Ronn's opinion.

So, okay, well, Sacha, another month. We made it.

Sacha Black: Another month, we did it.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, thank you all for the amazing questions. Don't forget, if you're an ALLi member, you can ask your questions at allianceindependentauthors.org. Just log in and there is a link on the dashboard where you can submit your question, and you just might see it answered live here on the show.

All right. So, with that, Sacha, you are going to be on holiday next month, so Orna will be with me next month.

Sacha Black: Yeah. So, enjoy, don't miss me too much.

Michael La Ronn: I don't think we're going to be able to do this, I think we might just have to cancel. No, I'm just kidding, Orna will be here.

So, it'll be me and Orna again next month, and I think it's on Valentine's Day. So, we may have to do a special theme like, What to Get Your Spouse If You're an Author, for Valentine's Day, that would be a good spouse for putting up with all the sitting in the room alone and making stuff up.

Sacha Black: All the typing on the keyboard.

Michael La Ronn: Exactly. So, this is just a PSA, it's going to come up on you quick. Make sure you get those Valentine's, folks.

Well, all right, we'll go ahead and end it. Thank you again for listening to the Self-Publishing Advice and Inspirations podcast, Member Q&A podcast.

We will talk to you next month. Happy writing everyone.


Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is a novelist, nonfiction author, developmental book editor, and journalist. He is also the news and podcast producer for the Alliance of Independent Authors. You can learn more about him at https://howardlovy.com/


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