In this month's AskALLi Member Q&A with Orna Ross and Sacha Black: estate planning and copyright registration. Does ALLi recommend any estate planning services? Do non-US authors need to register their copyrights in the USA?
Other questions include:
- Can I base my book on a book that is in the public domain?
- What's the best legal way to crowdsource a book?
- Help! An ex-employee of my company broke into my Amazon account and shut it down!
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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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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: Estate Planning and More
Sacha Black: Hello and welcome to the Self-Publishing Advice and Inspirations podcast where we answer your burning self-publishing questions. I'm Sacha Black, ALLi's blog manager, and today I'm not joined by Michael, but I'm joined by ALLi founder Orna Ross.
Hello, how are you?
Orna Ross: Hi, Sacha. How are you? Delighted to be here answering member our questions.
Sacha Black: I know, we haven't been on a podcast together in ages.
Orna Ross: I know, and now we're going to do it twice in one month, through no prior arrangement or anything.
Sacha Black: I know, we're spoiling ourselves. So, today we have got a ton of questions. So, I don't know if there's any kind of ALLi anything that you want to add, or should we just dive straight in?
Orna Ross: Let's just do the questions and if we have ALLi stuff, we can cover it as we go.
Sacha Black: Perfect. Just to double check, we're all recording everywhere that we're supposed to be recording. Thank you.
Does ALLi have sample contracts for indie authors?
Sacha Black: So, the first question that has come in today, I am just going to get the name, has come in from Jodie. Jodie says, I want to outsource, sorry, I want to crowdsource a book for a patient community, but there are some concerns around the fact that they're going to be contributing to the book, but Jodie wants to make sure that there's no expectation of compensation. So, just wondered like whether or not you had sample contracts, it doesn't feel like collaboration in terms of ghost writing. So, does ALLi have any advice on that?
Orna Ross: Yeah, so it's important to get what's called in the business a release form, and there isn't a set one in. As you know, we have lots of downloadable sample contracts and sample things that you can use in various situations. When it comes to release forms, it's quite individual, it depends on what you're actually asking of them and what you're going to offer.
So, sometimes there is compensation, sometimes there isn't. Sometimes you're looking for certain forms of usage and sometimes it's others. So, all you really need to do Jodie is to put down in a piece of paper what you're looking for from people, what the compensation will be, and a release paragraph, which you can easily download from the internet or ask ChatGPT to give you one, just to say that the person will not have any legal claim on the end work. Just get them to sign that so that you have their signature.
And they are very clear, the aim of an agreement like that is that they are very clear about what they are giving you and what they're not giving you. So, draw the boundaries carefully around that and whether or not there is any compensation for it.
Generally speaking, with most crowdsource, if you're not actually asking somebody to do some work or some writing, generally speaking there is no compensation. It's just a matter of getting their agreement, making sure that they're very clear about that.
Sacha Black: Yeah, absolutely. Lots of people who write non-fiction and do interviews and things go through similar processes.
Where can I find the IngramSpark discount code?
Sacha Black: Okay, so the next question is a question that we're very familiar with. It's from Carolyn, and the question is, what is the promo code for Ingram Spark in February?
I believe that we might have a couple of questions on this, but I'm going to just cover the overarching. So, all of our discounts and deals can be found by logging into the member site, which is allianceindependentauthors.org. Log into the member site and then you want to navigate through the menus to discounts and deals, and then you can search by type of provider, type of service in there.
So, that's where you will find all of our discounts, including Ingram Spark.
Now, there is an addendum to this one because Ingram Spark have changed their offer of which all of our providers are entitled to do, and we do always get changes, which is why we always recommend you check the dashboard.
So, from the 1st of May this year, which is 2023, Ingram are now offering all of their customers free title set up and free revisions for up to 60 days.
So, this changes the discount and deal, obviously, that we used to have as part of ALLi. So, from the 1st of May, what's going to happen is that Ingram are offering ALLi members free revisions, and members can use their monthly promotional code to waive five revision fees per month for titles that have been in production for more than 60 days. So, that's activated from May the first 2023, and this will save members $25 on each revision as well.
Now, just to give one final caveat is that, obviously this is moving quite quickly, it's changing quite a lot. So, we do recommend that you check in the dashboard if you have a question about this particular discount definitely check before you go and try and use anyone that you have been using previously.
Orna, I don't know if you want to add anything else to that.
Orna Ross: Yes, I think, first of all, a big welcome to the news that indie authors generally don't have to pay any more to do their uploads to Ingram Spark and to do their revisions, once they do those revisions, within a period of 60 days. So, that's the overall good news from Ingram and we're delighted. We have always, while it has always been advantageous to our membership and therefore advantageous to ALLi to have the coupons very generously supplied by Ingram Spark nonetheless, we have always urged them to make it free because, free is the general standard in self-publishing.
It's what self-publishers expect, and it means that a service doesn't make money until we make money. Whereas an upfront fee means that you're paying, whether you've learned how to sell books or not.
So, it's interesting and what Ingram is doing is it's balancing out the fact that it has dropped the fees with an access fee, a market access fee, which means that it is the people who will, and that's just 1% of the price of the book at the moment. Of course, that might change, that might go up, but at the moment it's 1%, and that's not a very onerous percentage. But of course, our books are already, in POD books, are more expensive than consignment print books. So, it adds a little bit to the cost, but it means that it's not charged until you sell, and as a general overall process, that's what we recommend our publishing partners to do, and when publishing platforms are applying to be partner members of the Alliance of Independent Authors, that's the thing that we're always saying to them.
So, we've been having that discussion with Ingram for a very long time, and so we welcome this change. We are also delighted to still be able to provide a useful code, which means that if you don't do your revisions within 60 days, and let's face it, we're often hit a few months later with, ah, I need to change it, we're delighted that we will still be able to provide our members with that coupon for those changes.
Sacha Black: Yeah, absolutely.
Can ALLi recommend legal services for authors?
Sacha Black: Okay, so our next question is from Pauline and this one is about estate planning. So, Pauline says, I am checking out the guides from ALLi on this. So, that's great that Pauline already knows that we have guides because we do, and everybody should be reading them.
But the questions are, I can't find any recommended will or legal services on the ALLi approved providers directory. So, does ALLi offer recommendations on providers in this field?
Orna Ross: No, it's a short answer. And just to explain, we can't, because it's completely dependent on your jurisdiction. So, we don't do recommendations for accountants, solicitors, attorneys, you know, anybody you need. In other words, to make your will, is part of your estate planning and your personal estate planning, and this is something between you and your legal representative. So, we can't possibly police legal representatives around the world.
However, we can recommend that you approach your national organization in your own country, and they may provide, some do, and some do not. So, it depends on where you're located, but it's just outside our abilities really to do that globally.
Sacha Black: Yeah. Okay.
How can I get permission to use previously published content?
Sacha Black: So, moving rapidly on, then we've got one from Minerva, and Minerva is talking about copyright. So, the question focuses on the fact that they've gained inspiration from some books that were published in 1977 and 1984, about real people, both people who were Native Chiefs from Indonesia.
They would like to write a book inspired about the lessons that the chiefs shared in the originally published books. So, their question is around how they can publish their book, which was inspired by the original books and the people, with the correct permissions and proper rights.
They asked, should they mention that there were two editions? What kind of copyright permissions should they seek?
It's their first time doing something like this, and they're confused.
Orna Ross: Okay, so permissions, we have a blog post, don't we, Sacha about permissions? So, we will put the link to that in the show notes.
It's probably selfpublishingadvice.org/permissions, but I can't be sure. So, that will give you the guidelines around how to approach, but just to say, it's not a complex process. It's a matter of writing to the publisher's permissions department. So, just find the publisher address, which will be in the book, and just write to the permissions department, tell them what you're thinking of doing, tell them that you're seeking permission to reproduce, because you have to, you do have to seek permission.
1977, it's likely to still be in copyright. 70 years after the death of the author is the usual, and there are ways in which publishers and agents keep copyright active even after the author has died. So, you certainly should assume, I think here, that copyright pertains.
The other thing I would say to you is just to check, are there other sources for the wisdoms of these leaders? There may be other sources more freely available online outside of copyright. That's another question.
Thirdly, you need to think. Permissions can be costly. So, you need to take that on board. It very much depends on who the publisher was, how they feel about the book, whether the book is still in print. All of these things will impact on how much the permissions are likely to cost you, and if you're looking to do the sort of reproduction that's going to use great chunks of the book, you may find that the project's not possible because you may find that they actually don't want a competing book out there, and they may refuse permission. So, just to be aware of that as well.
So, hopefully that is of some help and if there are any follow up questions, as always, write to us at [email protected].
Can ALLi help me recover my closed Amazon KDP account?
Sacha Black: Perfect. Okey dokey. So, Kenny is the next questioner, and Kenny says, we had an ex-employee gain access to our KDP account and close it down. Now, hundreds of our authors no longer have their books on Amazon and our publishing company is in danger of closing. Is there someone that we can contact at Amazon to get assistance, through ALLi, to restore our account? And, and then of course they would like to pursue the individual that did it, but their priority is to just get the account restored.
Orna Ross: Yes. Unfortunately, I don't believe we can help here, and the reason being, you've had a horrible thing happen to you, and essentially somebody's committed a criminal act, and that is something between you and that person. So, for Amazon to intervene, I just know that they won't, they can't. It's business, it's within the jurisdiction of your own business.
So, until that is sorted out, there is no way that we could even represent this question to Amazon. I'm really sorry to have to say that, but there are limits to what we can do with Amazon. We do our very best to represent our members in all sorts of situations when their accounts are wrongly closed down by Amazon itself, or when there's a mistake made by the bot or whatever it might be, when rights are questioned, and all the various things that can emerge on Amazon KDP, and indeed on other platforms as well.
We will always help our members to unravel those, and contrary to what some indie authors think Amazon KDP, like all author platforms, has no interest in punishing legitimate authors. It's just they use an AI to filter a lot of the problems because, as you can imagine, there are hundreds of thousands of books pouring onto Amazon KDP, even as we speak.
So, there is no way a human could ever manage it. So, unfortunately authors can get caught sometimes in their systems, and as I said, we will represent our members anytime to help out, but with something like this, because essentially a criminal act has happened, that is something that they won't intervene with, and we can't either.
So, I'm really sorry not to be able to help you here. It's a horrible experience for you.
Sacha Black: I just wondered whether or not it might be worth just talking, because I know that we've covered this in previous podcasts, just about some of the key steps that you can take to try and get your account just reopened, because obviously we've seen lots of authors over the past year or so have accounts closed.
So, I just wondered if it might just be worth covering some of those general steps?
Orna Ross: Yeah, definitely. So again, we have a blog post, and again, we'll put the link to that post in the show notes.
The first thing you do, if you get the dreaded letter from Amazon, which says, you've done something naughty, and here's what we're going to do to you, is you question it directly with their own support desk. So, don't come to us until you've run out of road really with their support.
Now, we are aware that it's a massive support desk. Sometimes it's fantastic, you have a very positive experience with the Amazon support desk, sometimes not so positive. The main thing to do is not to panic and not to feel it's all over. There are solutions, and if you haven't done anything wrong, you've nothing to fear. However, you do need to make sure that you haven't done something wrong, and one of the issues is that Amazon's agreements are scattered around the place; there isn't any one place you can go to check everything. But Googling, they do have excellent documentation. So, just Googling your problem and your question, and if you feel that you might have.
One of the things that we have found that has caught people out a lot is that they have more than one account. They don't realize that it's not okay on Amazon to have more than one account. So, if you've done that, you have broken a rule which will lead to instant closed down, and a lot of authors don't realize that. And there are lots of other things, so you do need to familiarize, if you're going to use KDP as a platform, and let's face it, most indie authors do, then you do need to familiarize yourself with their terms and conditions. You need to be careful that you're not inadvertently and unknowingly contravening something that you're not aware of.
Sacha Black: Yeah, and to understand the difference between Author Central and KDP.
So, you should only have one KDP account, but let's say you've got five pen names, your Author Central account will only hold three. So, you would need multiple Author Central accounts, but only one KDP account. I think that often causes confusion when you can only have three pen names on an Author Central, and I think that actually does blur the line.
So yeah, I just wanted to bring that up.
Orna Ross: That's great, that's really important, and that is essentially how you manage, if you have lots of different pen names. The reason being, it's that one email address that Amazon deals with you on is their key to managing everything, and if you start having a number of them, then it causes them real problems.
So yeah, there are lots of other ways in which you can inadvertently make a mistake. So first of all, familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions. Secondly, if you do hit a problem, write to support, and sometimes it's as easy as that. Sometimes that email will be sorted. Sometimes it takes longer.
If you find that you are not getting anywhere then, if you're a member of ALLi, you can write to us at [email protected] and we will take up the case on your behalf with Amazon KDP.
Sometimes we're successful. Most often we're successful if it's a legitimate author problem, the author hasn't made any inadvertent errors, and then usually it's sorted out.
It can take a little time though. So, we very often have authors coming on in a panic saying, oh, I have a launch next week, and now it's completely thing, please get me unstuck before then! We cannot guarantee to do that, so your launch probably is going to be affected.
Also, authors can get extremely angry with Amazon, because even with us, we won't know why they did it, they will never tell us exactly why your account was closed, and they won't tell you either. So, you're left feeling very powerless, but that is the nature of the beast that we're dealing with.
So, in a sense, managing your emotions around this is important as well. I will say that, as policy, ALLi, for this reason, but also for many other reasons, we do recommend that you are not exclusive with any provider, one provider, Amazon KDP included.
We are seeing a movement to authors going wide and using more platforms, and indeed selling directly to their readers, and all of that is something we encourage because it's not until you find yourself with all your hard work gone and having to start all over again from scratch, that you realize the dangers of exclusivity.
So, yeah just thought I'd put that in there.
Does ALLi offer a lifetime membership option?
Sacha Black: Okay, a quick question followed by a longer question. Okay. So, our quick question is from Bayer and Bayer says, is there a one and done lifetime membership option for ALLi?
Orna Ross: There isn't actually. Do you think we should have one?
Sacha Black: I don't know. It's not something I've thought about.
Orna Ross: We've always had a principle in ALLi, which is, we don't discount our membership. We don't do deals. We just want everybody to pay the same and everybody to come in on the same basis. So, it's not something we've thought about it, but I'll bring it to the board and see what they say.
Sacha Black: We'll have to have a look to see whether or not that's an option in other kind of associations. See if that's a thing. It was a great question though.
Orna Ross: It is a great question, and I haven't had it before in 10 years of questions, so that's good.
Can I mention famous brands/figures in my book?
Sacha Black: Okay. Longer question, and this one is from John, who says they're attempting to upload their book to Ingram Spark for print distribution. They have a pop-up question that asks whether or not my book includes someone's name, the name of a famous company or famous brand, or the work of someone else without a license or the owner's permission.
He then goes on to say that my book's a detective novel set in the fifties and mentions the names of public figures from the time. For example, the mayor of San Francisco. The district attorney, well-known banks, guns, cigarettes, clothing brands, et cetera, that are all relevant to that era.
They have included a standard disclaimer, this is a work of fiction, and all of the usual gumpf that goes with that kind of disclaimer, but Ingram Spark only allows a yes or no answer with no nuance. Do you have some advice?
Orna Ross: Yeah. So, this is there because they don't want to be part of somebody being sued by a brand, basically, for inclusion. So, this is a judgment call, and as you say, it doesn't allow for nuance.
I'll give you my judgment as it would go, but you need to think about it yourself. So, this is something that each author must make up their own mind about. So, you're in the 1950s, that is a protection in itself. So, the people and the brands and so on are unlikely to object. There are certain brands that are very, very protective of their name, Disney being one, but there are others who actively do go out seeking opportunities to sue authors and others for using their brands. So, be aware of brands that are like that.
Be aware also how you are using it. So, it doesn't matter if you're mentioning in a neutral capacity, nobody can actually get you on that. It's when you mention brands or people in a way that impugns their reputation, and that's the thing to look out for.
So, if you're not impugning anybody's reputation, if you are looking at 1950s brands and people, many of whom will have moved on at this stage anyway, I think you're probably safe enough, but without, going through your book line by line with a libel lawyer beside us, and all the other kinds of textual lawyers that you might need, we cannot be sure.
So generally speaking, I think you'd be fine, but you need to really look at it with this in mind, which is what that popup box from Ingram is all about.
Does ALLi offer discounts on ISBNs?
Sacha Black: Yeah, perfect. Okey dokey. So, going back to the discounts and deals type questions. This question says, sorry, I just lost my page. This question is from Carissa, and it says, I was told that you give a discount when buying ISBNs from Bowker, and I cannot find how to do this.
So, I went and investigated. I signed into allianceindependentauthors.org, which is the member site, and I navigated to discounts and deals, and I had a search in there, and there are no discounts, on the day that I searched, for ISBNs. It doesn't mean they won't be in the future, but there wasn't at that time.
Any discount or deal, log into the member site, navigate to discounts and deals, and there are a range of different ways that you can search in there. So, I always recommend that you take that step first and then if you can't find it, definitely write in if you feel like it was there before, and you have a question further.
Have we ever had ISBN discounts.
Orna Ross: Bowker did at one point. So, some of our partner members do periodic discounts, so there may be a start and an end date. Nielsen never do a discount; they never discount an ISBN.
So, with ISBNs, each territory is a law unto itself. So, yeah, it's well worth checking, as you say, and that's the only way to know in a particular. Day or moment.
Can anyone recommend printing books with Barnes and Noble?
Sacha Black: Perfect. Okay, so next question is from Sarah who says, just wondering if anyone has tried the new option for printing books through Barnes and Noble, or Amazon's new hardcover, and what you thought of it?
Have you used it yet?
Orna Ross: I have done. I don't do work directly with Barnes and Noble because they pick up through other distribution things. I have done Amazon hardback, and it was absolutely fine. Have you?
Sacha Black: I have not. No, I don't think I have.
Orna Ross: As a more general sort of reply, I would say that in order to assess any service, you have to try it yourself because there's simply no other way. It's not about how did somebody else find it, because it might be right for me and be completely wrong for you.
Sacha Black: Yeah, absolutely. I get funny about the texture of the covers. There are certain printers whose covers I really like the feel of, and certain printers whose covers I don't like the feel of.
Orna Ross: Absolutely, and even with, if you put an Amazon KDP print book and an Ingram Spark book side by side, even though they may have come from a similar place, because Ingram actually does an awful lot of Amazon's POD, very often there's a difference in colour or feel or texture or whatever, and some people say, I love Ingram Spark, and some people say, I love Amazon KDP.
And then of course you can always have a bum print run where the colour goes wonky or whatever. So yeah, you've got to try these things for yourself.
Sacha Black: Absolutely. Okay. So, we're rocking up almost to our time.
So, I'll do this question and then see if we've got time for one more.
Orna Ross: We have somebody who's on the call with a question, so we'll address that one before we go. Mel Stiller, we're aware that your question is there.
Should I register copyright for my book?
Sacha Black: Okay, perfect. So, two more questions then. Okay, so this one's from Gigi, and Gigi says, I have published several books and I'm wondering if I should register copyright. Is it worth the price? Also, I don't live in the USA, I live in Germany. Do I need to register copyright in Germany?
Orna Ross: Okay, so copyright in Germany is a whole beast onto itself and registration of copyright is a major question.
The main thing to say about copyright is, you do not have to register your copyright anywhere by law. So, your copyright comes into existence from the moment you start writing, and that's the most important thing to note about it.
There are then jurisdictions, notably the US, where the legal fraternity has taken it upon themselves to say that, in order for us to be sure that your copyright is what you say it is, registering your copyright is essential.
And that, I think even in the US, doesn't even pertain to every state. I'm not a hundred percent sure of that, but I think it's only certain states within the US. So, that's the main thing to say. So, you don't have to register your copyrights.
Secondly, you need to think about, why am I registering my copyright? What is it for? Is it because I'm worried that Amazon may question my copyright? Is it because I want to be sure that nobody's going to rip off my stuff?
Copyright is no protection against either plagiarism or piracy. It is only when you come to actually assert it. So, it's a passive right. It's what's known in legal land as a passive right. You have to assert it in order for it to have effect.
Will you, if somebody does pirate your work or plagiarize you, sue somebody for doing that? Highly unlikely. There are take down notices where you can actually chase up pirates, and you can write an email to a plagiarist asserting your copyright without it ever being registered.
So, you need to think about, why am I registering it?
And you asked, is it worth it? I would say in lots of cases, it's not really worth it. For many authors, it's not worth it for some. Again, it's a judgment call you must make for yourself.
Sacha Black: Yeah, and I think we might have a post on takedown. I'm going to have a look in the archives because I'm pretty sure we do. So, I'll pop that in the show notes as well.
Okay, and on a similar train, the last question then is from Mel, who says, should I get the copyright for my poetry collection, which is currently unpublished, before I create a YouTube channel where I plan to read my own poems?
Orna Ross: Yes. So again, Mel, this comes back to the key question about copyright of why you would register your copyright.
I would say, you don't need to register your copyright at all. You say, should I get the copyright, and you put the little legal symbol, which is the C encased in a circle. The copyright is yours. You don't have to get it. It is yours by virtue of the fact that you wrote those poems.
So, beginner authors and beginner publishers, beginner indie authors, very often put a lot of weight on copyright that copyright doesn't really hold, it doesn't have the ability to hold it.
So, I'm guessing your question is, if I “get” the copyright for my poetry collection before I go on YouTube, that means that nobody's going to steal my poems and claim that they are theirs?
The likelihood of somebody stealing your poems from YouTube or anywhere else is very, very, very, very, very, very low.
The thing that most poets, and indeed most authors, need to worry about is not somebody stealing your work, but the fact that it is so very difficult to get the readers who might notice your work to notice it, and the readers who might buy your work to buy it. So, all that kind of focus on copyright over here on the right means a lot of energy that isn't going into the things where your energy really needs to go, which is, how do I get my work out there?
So, off you go onto YouTube. Do put your poems out there. Do everything you can to reach your ideal readers, and don't worry about copyright, I will say, at all.
Sacha Black: Absolutely. Well, that brings us to the end of another episode. Michael and I will be back next month in June, and I think that's it. Do we have any finishing words, or shall we say goodbye for now?
Orna Ross: Just that we'd like to send healing vibes to Michael, who is recovering from an unexpected and horrible illness, it's not going to be anything serious, but it's not nice. So, we're thinking of you, get better soon.
Sacha Black: Okay. Bye for now.
Orna Ross: Bye-bye. Happy writing and publishing everyone. Bye now.