In June, I was buying a few of my titles from online retailers to resell at an upcoming local book event. Imagine my surprise when the book at left—THE LONG STITCH GOODNIGHT, the fourth book in the embroidery mystery series written under my pseudonym Amanda Lee, was not available in mass market paperback at any of the large online retailers. I called my local Books-a-Million. They had no copies of the book available either. The only available copies of THE LONG STITCH GOODNIGHT were large print copies. At that time, Amazon and Barnes & Noble didn’t even have the book accessible on their e-readers.
Concerned, I contacted my agent and asked why the book had gone out of print. Had the publisher completely pulled the book? The agent smoothed my ruffled feathers and said she was certain that was not the case. She said she’d look into it.
A couple of days later, I was forwarded this email from my editor: “I had heard a month or two ago that there was some issue because the artist had copied the exact designs in the embroidery hoops from a website (on this cover only), which it turns out is not fair use, and the original embroiderer had been in touch to complain. I was told at the time that it was not a problem—we would either come to an agreement, or print a new cover with different designs.”
As you can see from the smaller photo Obsidian did change the embroidery artwork within the three smaller hoops. Other than that change and the wording Author of Thread Reckoning rather than Author of Stitch Me Deadly, the covers are identical. Most people won’t notice the change.
As an author who once operated a small press, I have to wonder how a self-published author or independent publisher would be affected by this inadvertent slip. After reading about the debate of whether or not an individual can be sued for violating fair use and copyright on Pinterest, I’ve become more cautious about what I pin. I can only imagine my terror at the thought of being sued by someone for copyright infringement for duplicating an image. My first thought at the news was that I was relieved that I wasn’t responsible for the cover. My next thought was that the artist had only scouted the Internet to get some inspiration. Don’t we all do that to some degree?
In Killer Sweet Tooth, the third book in the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating Mystery Series, I wrote, “It was mid-January, and Brea Ridge—deep in the heart of Southwest Virginia—had been experiencing the type of ‘Desperado’ days the Eagles would describe as ‘the sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine.’” I’d initially added, “Indeed, it was hard to tell the nighttime from the day.” My editor cut the second line saying that we were venturing too far afield of fair use territory. To my way of thinking, I was giving the band credit, acknowledging the song from which I was borrowing the lyrics, and wasn’t quoting a significant amount of the song. Still, I’d apparently been treading on dangerous ground.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that Famous Author writes: As Gayle Trent said in her book Killer Sweet Tooth, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” I would be thrilled to death. Famous Author was inspired by my writing! Famous Author quoted me in his/her book! I’m now thought of as someone Famous Author feels is worthy of being quoted! Heck, had I been the embroiderer whose work was featured on THE LONG STITCH GOODNIGHT, I’d have been flattered and told all my friends. I might have requested a link to my site, but I don’t believe I’d have had the publisher replace the images.
However, had someone contacted me in 2005 to tell me that something on one of our covers was in violation of a copyright and that I was being sued, I would have been devastated. Even now, the very thought makes me nauseous. My company was very much tied to my personal finances. Such is the case with just about every self-published author and, I imagine, many small presses.
I don’t want to scare you. I simply want to caution you to be well aware of copyright and fair use issues. When in doubt, ask for permission. For example, in my upcoming embroidery book CROSS-STITCH BEFORE DYING, I wanted to use an actual, fancy French restaurant in the book to give my portrayal of San Francisco some authenticity. I contacted the owner of Le P’tit Laurent, sent him the scene that takes place in his restaurant, and asked if I had his permission to use the scene. He graciously wrote back giving me permission, and I intend on sending him signed copies of the book when it comes out. Had he said no, I’d have had to delete the scene and set it in either another actual or a fictional restaurant. (This actually happened with the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC. They didn’t want to play any part in my upcoming book BATTERED TO DEATH, so I was forced to build the fictional Brea Ridge Inn.)
Gayle Trent (alias Amanda Lee) has a bunch of new books coming out this fall. CROSS-STITCH BEFORE DYING, the latest embroidery mystery, will be released on August 6; BATTERED TO DEATH, the latest cake decorating mystery will be released on September 24; and CLAUS OF DEATH, the latest Myrtle Crumb mystery will be released in early October. Check out www.gayletrent.com or https://www.facebook.com/GayleTrentandAmandaLee to keep informed of new releases, sneak peeks, and giveaways.