I received a frantic email from an author over the weekend who’d been threatened with a lawsuit. Of course, the first thing I told her was that I’m not a lawyer and that I can’t give legal advice. I then calmly told her to send me a file containing all the correspondence between her and the angry contributor because I’m always happy to give my non-lawyer opinion about a situation. Here’s what happened.
The author contacted several professionals asking them to contribute short quotes for a self-help book. In the emails, she offered to include each professional’s name and website address in the book. Pretty simple right? Well, that wasn’t the end of the story.
What mistakes did this author make that led to a lawsuit threat?
1. She never offered the contributors a contract – not even an informal email one.
While she did make it clear these were contributions for a book, rights were never discussed, nor was payment or free copies. To the average person, it’s pretty clear from the emails exchanged that everybody agreed that the tradeoff was a short quote in exchange for publishing the professional’s name and website address in the book itself. However, assumptions without a contract can and do lead to lawsuits later.
2. She offered no payment.
The offer to simply include the contributor’s name and email address in the book was pretty lame. Why should someone go to the trouble of writing an entire chapter, or even just a quote, only to have their name appear in the book? They have no idea if that author is going to effectively promote their book or not. Even if they do, what guarantee is there that lots of people will buy and read the book and then contact the professional for business? Heck, there weren’t even any guarantees that the book would ever get finished or published.
If you want people to write for you, regardless of their profession, show them the money. Even $10 or $20 is better than NOTHING.
3. She offered zero free copies to contributors.
Several writers have contributed to my books over the years and I always offer them not only a flat fee on acceptance, but also a printed copy of the book when it’s finished. That’s just the right thing to do.
Not only did this author not offer a free copy but, when the book was published, she sent an email to the contributors telling them where they could BUY a copy. To add insult to injury, she told them to buy the book directly from her website instead of others because, she would “make a little bit more profit if you purchase the book from me.” She then quotes the price of the book plus shipping before also promoting the ebook and stating the price for that version as well. Then, she writes, “I make the most money with the e-book.”
Of course, the contributors make NOTHING.
The entire email is a big ad for her book that stresses HER profits. She then gives them payment options (Paypal, checks, etc.). She tops it off by asking the contributors to send her marketing ideas! INCREDIBLY INSULTING!!!
Less than two weeks later, she sent them another email, again quoting the prices.
4. She asked the contributors to promote her book for her.
This was the worst part of all. The author sent emails to the contributors telling THEM how to promote HER book. She tells them to buy the book and to then post comments about it on Amazon. She then suggests they: promote her book on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace; post blurbs and a link on their websites; print and distribute flyers (she even attached one to her email that they could use – can you believe that?!); create a quote of the day with information on where people can buy the book; and let friends and family know about the book – “Makes a great gift and Christmas is right around the corner.”
She sent another insulting email a few weeks later about her “get a free e-book promotion” and how they could promote her book on their sites and in search engines, etc., etc. She finished up by reminding them to post comments on Amazon about the book.
In February, she sent out yet another email and ended it by mentioning she had one “damaged” copy for sale at a reduced price.
A couple of weeks later, another email went out, asking contributors once again to promote her book on social networking sites.
I don’t know why it took so long but one contributor finally blew a gasket this week, and said she’s hiring a lawyer. While I don’t think she has a case (the author never offered anything other than including the contributor’s name and website in the book), it’s still going to be a very stressful and possibly expensive few weeks or months for the contributor and the author while the attorneys duke it out.
What lessons can we learn from this author?
1. Don’t ask people to work for you for free.
2. Always offer contributors a FREE copy of your printed book.
3. Don’t ask contributors to promote your book for you (or to do anything for you at all) if they will receive little or no financial benefit from doing so.
4. Don’t spam your contributors to Kingdom Come with ridiculous “buy my book!” and “promote my book!” emails.