The day before my book launch for my book Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it, I received an email telling me that my book jacket looked suspiciously like another book with a similar title, Dirty Little Secrets of Buzz: How to Attract Massive Attention for Your Business, Your Product, or Yourself by David Seaman. I went onto Amazon, and sure enough, the book jackets looked so similar that it appeared they were done by the same person (They weren’t.). In fact, they looked so similar that I was horrified.
My jacket designer (Michael Warrell of Design Solutions) assured me (before he called his lawyer and stopped talking to me) that it was all circumstantial, but when anyone looks at the two books together, it seems they are almost identical: same color, same lettering, same typeface and size of type face, same basic layout, same envelope theme. If it was circumstantial, it was an act of God.
Indeed, it looked as if Michael had done a search, liked the design of Seaman’s jacket, and slightly adapted it. And, given that our titles are so similar, the books look so similar they could be mistaken for being part of a series.
I was in a panic. I had just spent 5 months of 17-hour days writing my new book, and 2 months of doing 1-1 marketing, writing blogs and guest blogs, doing interviews and being interviewed, to create a pretty professional launch week. I had cajoling discussions with Amazon to delay fulfillment of their pre-sale orders until THE LAUNCH DATE. I had books here, ready for fulfillment for non-U.S. orders. Indeed: I was ready for success. Ready for the next day. Was there going to be a Next Day?
SCRAP THE LAUNCH?
Did I have to scrap my marketing? Start again with a new jacket design? It felt like it was going to be a train wreck, and I felt I couldn’t stop the train a day before the big launch date. It was an ethical dilemma: I wasn’t responsible for the jacket design, having trusted my professional designer to give me a fresh design and not even considering the possibility that the jacket might have been ‘borrowed.’
And yet, and yet, I was responsible. Was I supposed to have researched other jacket designs? In my haze of writing around the clock and choosing a jacket design in the middle of writing, I guess it never occurred to me to not trust my designer and do some research on my own. At the end of the day, the buck stopped with me. It seemed I had trusted the wrong person.
I wrote Dave Seaman a note immediately, and he had his publishing house contact me. Needless to say, there was a mess that ensued for days. Should I pull the book? Didn’t seem to be an option. Sue the jacket designer? I got a legal note from his lawyer denying any culpability but offering me a settlement to not sue (and they didn’t even pay me the settlement fee!). I couldn’t reach Seaman to discuss, and I was leaving for Australia.
Two friends/colleagues showed up to help: Eric Wolf of Gravity Free Radio, and Stone Payton of The High Velocity Radio Show, both sent Seaman a note suggesting some interesting ideas: get me and Seaman on the radio to do a program on Dirty Little Secrets in Marketing and Sales. They figured we might as well make lemonade, and help each other sell books.
In the end, it all seemed to work out: Seaman and I are supporting each other and have decided not to make it a legal hassle. But it could have turned ugly for sure.
When publishing houses do a jacket design, they have internal folks who do it. But as a self-publishing author (for this book, anyway), here is my question: how does a client know to trust a vendor? How would I have averted this problem? How would I have thought to NOT trust my book jacket designer (given the odds that just maybe he was influenced by Seaman’s jacket design while doing research for ideas for me)?
Given that in this day and age, everyone seems to be borrowing everyone else’s material (someone recently sent out electronic copies of my ebook to her team after purchasing one copy, then contacted me to help her discuss the book during a conference call. In our discussion – and she was quite lovely and excited about the book – she said she wanted to stay in integrity and thought that maybe she was in the ‘gray zone’ from sending out copies she hadn’t paid for, finally recognizing the integrity in actually purchasing copies for each person). For some reason, people seem to think that because a book is an ebook that it’s legally possible to send copies without paying for them. Would they make copies of a physical book? Of course not. And the difference is….. what?
Here is a rule: don’t copy anyone else’s material, either as a design or a book. It took us a while to realize that musicians should get paid for their music. I hereby request 1. jacket designers come up with fresh designs, and 2. that people pay for each copy of an ebook you buy and do not share it unless it’s paid for. We authors would like to get paid for our IP also.