What is Story Bundling and How Does It Work? … by Jamie Ferguson

2016_Jamie FergusonWhat is a story bundle?

A story bundle is an electronic collection of stories that is available through a bundling website, usually for a limited period of time.

The bundle may be sold as a complete set of stories, or there may be one price for a subset of the titles and another for the whole shebang. There are other permutations as well, like an extra book might be thrown in if the customer chooses to pay a higher price. The customer often has the option to choose to donate a percentage of the purchase price to charity.

The main story bundling websites right now are BundleRabbit, StoryBundle, and Humble Bundle. There are a few differences between the sites – for example, BundleRabbit provides the option for a bundle to be made available on outside sales channels after the initial run on the bundle website.

How does it work?

The curator sets the theme of the bundle, decides how many titles will be included, and what lengths are allowed (novels or short stories only?). Depending on the requirements of the bundling website, the curator may also provide artwork.

Each participating author formats their own ebook files, and provides their own cover and product description. These files are then ‘bundled’ into a package and sold together.

A bundle is more like a boxed set than an anthology. Even if it’s a bundle of short stories, it’s the responsibility of the author to make sure their stories are edited and their files professionally packaged.

The bundling site will do some promotion, but the curator should do additional marketing, as well as encourage the authors to help out.

Curator

The curator chooses which authors to invite, and should consider how well each author’s work will fit the theme of the bundle. Suppose you know an author who is a fantastic horror writer - that person might not be a good fit if you’re putting together a romance bundle.

Some things to keep in mind when selecting authors:

  • The quality – and consistency – of an author’s writing.
  • Each author will need to provide a professional-looking cover as well as formatted ebook files, so make sure the people you’re inviting know how to do that, or else have resources they can rely on.
  • Will you include previously published stories, brand new stories, or a combination?
  • You can request that an author provide a specific title or send a general invitation. If you do the latter, you’re opening the door to whatever story the author provides (as long as it meets the parameters you’ve set).
  • Are you inviting authors who will actively help to promote the bundle? If not, are you inviting someone because their writing is so good it will be worthwhile, or because they have a name/following that will help draw in readers?

Plan out the promotion you’re going to do. Will you make a dedicated Facebook page for the bundle? Post profiles about the authors and their stories? Tweet when the bundle is part of a special sale? Make special marketing images to post?

You can – and probably will – do some of this on the fly, but thinking this through ahead of time definitely helps.

One of my most important suggestions is that you make a point to communicate well with the authors. If you’re planning to put the bundle on sale, let them know ahead of time. If the bundle was mentioned in an article, let them know. They’ll appreciate the consideration, and the more they know about what to expect, the more they’ll be able to assist with promotion.

Authors

Participating in a bundle seems easy. You get an invitation, you package up and submit your files, then shazam! You’ve been bundled!

But… What if the curator changes the price, bundle duration, etc. without telling you? What if the other authors provide ebooks riddled with typos, or covers that look completely unprofessional?

Make sure you’re comfortable with the curator. You want to work with someone who is professional, good at communication, and who you trust to manage and present the bundle in a way that makes you happy.

Why bundle?

How well a bundle performs sales-wise depends on how established the bundling website is, which authors are participating, and how well the marketing is done. If you’re primarily interested in sales, consider these factors when deciding whether or not to participate in a bundle.

Keep in mind that visibility is a big advantage of being in a bundle. If twenty authors participate in a bundle, that means your story will be seen by fans of the other nineteen authors.

And on top of all that, it can be really fun to be a part of a collection where you and the other authors are collaborating to help promote your stories together.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2016_ferguson_bewitcheryJamie Ferguson focuses on getting into the minds and hearts of her characters, whether she’s writing about a man who discovers the barista he's in love with is a naiad, a mail-order bride in the American West, or a ghost who haunts the house she was killed in – even though that house no longer exists.

She’s curated two bundles through BundleRabbit: The Fantasy in the City Bundle and The Witches’ Brew Bundle. Her third, The Haunted Bundle, will launch in February. She has stories in two other bundles: The Out of This World Bundle, and the soon-to-be-released The Very Merry Christmas Bundle.

Her second novel, Entangled by Midsummer, is a contemporary fantasy about a man and a woman together by both enchantment and betrayal. It will be released this fall. Bewitchery, released in September 2016, is available as an ebook.

You can learn more about Jamie and her writing at her website. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Instagram.

This is NOT a Twitter How-To Blog

Copied verbatim from a recent email exchange:

How did you get so many followers on Twitter?

Well, it’s not that many—not really. I mean, it’s good to have followers but I see tons and tons of writers out there on Twitter with five times, ten times more than me. Tons!

But how did you get them?

Um, they followed me and I followed them back (if they were accounts I wanted to follow that is. Not spammy-jerky-salesy folks).

But isn’t Twitter just a big mess?

Not if you use lists.

What the hell are lists?

2016-10-27-twitter-pic-listsClick under your profile pic on Twitter and you’ll see the ‘lists’ option, then click on “Create New List.”  (It’s a button on the right-hand side of the page.) As Twitter says, “A list is a curated group of Twitter users and a great way to organize your interests.” If you’re ever out there reading tweets and it looks like someone has a cool feed, you can right-click on that little wheel next to their ‘Follow’ button and you’ll see the option to add or remove from a list…

So you, say, make a list of Twitter uses who write mysteries, say?

Exactly!

Or friends?

Yes!

Or good, high-quality, reliable tweeters?

But of course.

And you can subscribe to other people’s lists, too?

I love looking for other cool lists to subscribe to. These Twitter folks have already curated the Twitterverse down to something manageable. They’ve done the work for you.

2016-10-27-twitter-pic-subscribersYou can see other people’s lists?

Easy. And you can see who is subscribing to their lists.  These are Twitter users who have taken the time to ‘subscribe’ to a good source’s list. They are usually folks who produce good Twitter content (and who might follow you back. So, well, you might want to follow them.)

But how did you get so many followers?

I follow people back. I look at their accounts and if they have a pinned tweet, I re-tweet that as a “hello.” Not always, but sometimes.  A pinned tweet is something the account holder likes to have re-tweeted. Why else would they pin it? Or I re-tweet something they recently put out there that looks relevant or interesting. Oh, and make sure you check your followers regularly. Have I mentioned that it’s a good idea to ‘follow back?’ Don’t leave the good ones hanging.

Do you sell books on Twitter?

Yes, I’m sure I do. But I really have no idea. And I don’t care—not really. I don’t go to a party looking to sell books. It might happen, but that’s not why I go to the party. The heavy self-promoters are easy to spot.

What kinds of stuff do you tweet?

Anything relevant to me, as a person. To my community. I tweet topical stuff related to some of my clients—shared bicycling, ocean health, education, and some of the topics that my mysteries are engaged with. That list includes immigration, climate change, for-profit prisons, fracking, anything to do with Glenwood Springs or the Flat Tops Wilderness, etc.  I also tweet out things I write, like book reviews. And columns. I’ll probably tweet out this column when it’s posted on the RMFW blog. I’m sure I will.

But how did you get so many followers? Twitter won’t let me follow any more people.  

Yeah, Twitter has limits. You need to unfollow people who aren’t following you back. There are services out there that will help you figure out who isn’t following you back.  I use one called Manage Flitter. There are others. Don’t worry about unfollowing people—especially accounts that don’t tweet on a regular basis. They aren’t doing you any good. Unfollow.

And then?

And then follow more people. And say “hello.”

But isn’t it work? Don’t I have to do this every day? And how much time a day do you spend on Twitter?

Have to? If you think of it that way, it’s probably not your cup of social media tea. But Twitter is a great place to pick up on the news (WOW is it fast!) and also when a good topic gets rolling around about reading or writing or book prizes or anything along those lines, jump into the conversation and see what you can contribute. I know area bookstores love it when you tweet about events coming up or while you're there. You just never know. How much time? I don’t know. Some days more than others. A half-hour total?  Maybe three or four check-ins a day? I don’t know, it’s fun. At least, I think so. The #fridayreads hashtag alone will lead you to some good folks.

Ack, hashtags. We haven't even touched on hashtags. What do you use?

Again, depends on what you're into. Here's a list to start with. #NaNoWriMo is coming right up (write up) and that will be going strong no doubt. And don't forget the ever-popular #RMFWBlog. (You could focus just on @RMFWriters (4,200+ followers) by the way, and have ample fodder for following and re-tweeting, etc. And how many Colorado writer groups are there? It's endless out there, I tell you.)

Okay, then. Can I follow you?

Sure. @writerstevens

And while you’re at it, follow my good friend The Asphalt Warrior @Asphalt_Warrior

See you in the Twittersphere.

Top Things That Scare the Words Out of Writers

BooHappy Halloween or Oct 31st, depending on your preference for the spooky. In honor, I've created a list of the things that go bump in the night and often the day for my writer friends. Feel free to add your own in the comments:

  1. There is less than 20 hours until NaNoWriMo starts
  2. Editors who change deadlines from Jan 2 to Nov 1 (yes, this is my life)
  3. The editorial letter (which always seems like the longest email in the history of emails)
  4. Agents. In general.
  5. Non-compete clause in a contract
  6. Lifetime rights
  7. PW No Star Reviews
  8. Amazon's rating system. Who thought up the cruel 1-5 star ratings? Sadists, that's who.
  9. Roving Goodreads reviewers
  10. Typing THE END
  11. Typing the first word in a new work. Mine is usually a swear one.
  12. Failing
  13. Succeeding
  14. Pitching in an elevator, that then get's stuck between floors after the agent/editor says the idea sucks.
  15. Query letters
  16. Reader expectations
  17. Having 40k done on Nov 30
  18. Paying for college tuition for kids off what we make as writers

BOO! Your turn. What scares you?

Platform Building At MPIBA

Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer’s Digest and current columnist for Publishers Weekly defines author platform in her wonderfully succinct way, as “an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.”

For many of us, the definition above may feel as if we’re in this platform building project all alone. Where have I had a story published? What credentials do I have in my area of interest? How big is my mailing list?

But sometimes, I believe that the groups we belong to build our platform more effectively than any individual effort can.  And RMFW is one of those groups.

Photo of Corinne O'Flynn and the table setup for the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association.
Corinne O'Flynn and the table setup for the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association.

Take, for example, the opportunity to go to the Mountains and Plains Fall Discovery Show, which took place October 6 through 8 at the Renaissance Hotel in Denver. A group of PAL and I-PAL members were invited to this collection of independent booksellers and publishers to represent our Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers group, and to promote our own books in the process.

Both a treat in promotion and a great learning process, the Mountains & Plains show had well over 200 booksellers from Texas to Canada and throughout the west congregating to talk shop, promote books, and meet authors.

It was a thrill to go to “Pick of the Lists” sessions to see how publisher sales reps promote our books. They have the job of “pitching” our books the way we do at conference, only they haven’t actually written the work. Talk about a challenge.  In approximately 10 minutes they have to entice booksellers to order up to 15 titles at a time.  One rep I saw held up children’s books in groups of titles to complete his task.  Another rep pushed a toddler’s train through the cardboard pages of the book she promoted.  Mostly, though, the reps had to “tell the story” of the book they represent and its author in less than 2 minutes. No wonder practicing our pitch sessions are so important.

In the exhibit hall, RMFW had two tables stretched along a prime spot to reach into the book buying community.  We displayed our books and reached out into the aisle to meet sellers, publishers, and others in the publishing community. Many had not heard of RMFW.  Some didn’t think they had, until they saw “It’s A Book,” and then they said, “Oh! I know you!”  Thank you Laura Reeve, editor and publisher of “It’s a Book.” Your many years of service remain a quiet treasure for RMFW, and a strong plank in all of our author platforms.

Thank you, too, to the RMFW authors (both indy and trad) who participated in this event.  Because of your efforts, the “It’s A Book” mailing list has grown by approximately 30 more booksellers. Through them, our opportunity to sell more books has grown tremendously.

If you’d like to know more about joining MPIBA (Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association), check out their website, where you might find, like Anne Holman of the King’s English Bookshop in Utah, that “Bookselling is a nice family to be in,” and that booksellers represent a wonderful platform building opportunity.

If Only I Had One More Hour a Day…

too-busyI’ve been struggling to juggle a lot of things lately which is stressful enough, but now I’m being barraged with NaNoRiMo e-mails, vacation requests, and holiday planning schedules. After Colorado Gold I had three requests for chapters, one of which turned in to a request for a full read. What do you think I want to be doing? GETTING THOSE REQUESTS TAKEN CARE OF, of course. What am I doing? A whole lotta spinning my wheels.

I feel bad for neglecting my family because when I get home from work I need to edit, polish, revise, and revise more. Events that have been planned in the past, and which I normally would be excited about and enjoy, feel like a burden I can’t avoid.

Thinking about all the upcoming get-togethers, travel, and time-sucks that are the holidays, is beginning to give me hives.

Deep breath.

I know I’m not the only one with these problems. And having requests for chapters/full reads is absolutely fabulous, don’t get me wrong. I think the problem is when I read blogs or articles from writers out there with small children/sick family and a full time job but who still manage to volunteer with food banks or do other “save the world” things, AND write, I think I must be incredibly lazy or totally uncommitted to writing. They can get up at 3 in the morning to write, they write on lunch hours, they write into the wee hours of the night – so what’s wrong with me?

I just can’t do it. I’m tired when I get home, but I can manage a few hours a day a few days a week around dinner, laundry, ironing, vacuuming, and having an actual conversation with my husband. I already get up at 5:30 to be at work at 6:30. If I’m getting up earlier than that, it’s so I can work out (which I don’t have time for either, but that’s another rant).

I consider myself a professional writer. I’ve made money (not a lot) between my book (shameless plug: An Unsinkable Love, a Titanic Love Story) and articles in newspapers and magazines, and I work with deadlines. I write all day long as the Marketing Director where I work.

I’m asking/begging/pleading for comments from all of you out there in the world of writers: give the rest of us struggling to “git ‘er done” your methods for managing your writing while staying sane/married/out of jail, etc. I can’t be the only one who would appreciate this resource from our collective of writers.

So, my blog today is a public service request for ideas. Let me (and all the other readers) have them. If you relieve the guilt and/or exhaustion for even one writer, you will have done your good deed for the day/week/month/year. And we'll all Thank you as we continue to Write On!

Write Your Novel Like A Noob…Or Not

As I write this, here in my 38th year, I'm struck by a number of what some people might consider failures, and yet others might see as learning experiences. To not put too fine a point on it, this is the writer's experience in an online nutshell. As for me, I've taken several cracks at this whole writing thing. In total I've started writing, around 18 different books...give or take. All of them in various stages of incompleteness. Wow, right? But to be honest, it's not as impressive as it is disappointing. Because only in the last couple of years have I actually seen any of these projects to completion.  In fact, only four of them have been finished (as in reaching completion on the first draft). Only two have reached a second draft. And worse still, only one has been refined enough to be sent out to find representation. So this being said, let's jump into a short list of things to do...or not do as it were, when writing your novel(s).

Finish what you start:

If you didn't spot the problem laid out above, here it is in plain view. While no writing is ever wasted (unless it's about Frozen, I hate that movie), as in we get better the more we practice our craft, start a project only if you intend to finish it. Writer's minds are often scattered, we are creatives after all. I personally have so many ideas that will randomly come up and ignite excitement inside me that I can't wait to work on them more. Listen to me now: NO! No. Bad writer. BAD WRITER!

On that note...make a note:

This is why notebooks exist. Carry one in your pocket, in your purse, in your knapsack...but not your fanny pack. Get an app on your phone (Evernote is great). Get a new idea, jot it down in a new note, or create a folder for new ideas. Get it out of your head so you can come back to it later. Then, exercise self control and go back to the project you've already started and finish it.

Plot...but also pants:

If you're new to this idea it's basically this: You're either a plotter (someone who fully and in detail plans out their novel before writing). Or you're a pantster (someone who flies by the seat of their pants, allowing their story to take whatever path it will). Personally, I've done both. And the greatest thing I can take away from those experiences...is that I suck at each one. Individually, that is. For me I need a mixture of the two. A healthy amount of plotting so I know where the story is going and needs to go, and a generous spritzing of pantsing so that the story remains fluid, able to adapt to the awesome things my brain will drum up when I'm in the middle of something else. Be adaptive. Nothing is set in stone.

Try this:

Start writing. If at any point you find yourself struggling to write a scene and you're having to force it...stop. Exit the word processor, notebook, stone tablet, or parchment scrawled in your own blood. Open up something new, and plot. No need for full on detail. Think about your story. What is happening? What are you trying to accomplish? What are the main events/actions/consequences/stakes that need to take place. Then figure out (in very broad strokes) how your character is going to get there. Then, if you're comfortable doing that, start constructing individual scenes. The most important point here, though, is finding the process that works best for you, probably a mixture of both plotting and pantsing.

Do NOT obsessively re-write...the same scene...over and over:

To me, this is tantamount to self mutilation. Pointless. Painful. And unlikely to do anything but sow the seeds of regret later on. This goes hand-in-hand with plotting and pantsing. If you find yourself doing this, then it's a pretty good sign you might need to step back from the scene you're stuck on and figure out where your story needs to go. The best cure for writer's block (which doesn't actually exist) is planning.

DO have multiple projects...just not 18 of them:

At a certain point, if you're diligent, if you're dedicated, and if you aren't binge watching something on Netflix, you will finish your book. The first draft anyway. Once this is done, put the pen down and step away. Stop thinking about it. Stop worrying about it. If you need a break from writing, take it. If you still want to write, start working on something else. The point is two-fold: to remove yourself from the other project and get emotional distance so that you can see it from more objective eyes. And to get something else going on the back burner. I mean, come on! You've got other ideas you want to get rolling. Do it!

The End:

There's more to this discussion, many more things that we can talk about. Perhaps we'll talk about those next month. In the meantime...write something.

Live Longer–a no-cal way to add years to your life!

It's time to read, and write good books for your fans.

In a recent Yale study, researchers found that avid readers may live as much as two years longer than non-readers.

Details of the study

It followed over three thousand people over a 12-year period.

They were placed in three groups. Group One was a non-reading batch. Group Two people read up to three and a half hours a week, and Group Three read more than that.

Conclusion

Those who read at least 30 minutes a day reduced their risk of death by about 20 percent.

Read for your fanshammock-reading-10-17-2016

Autumn has been called the second spring, when all the changing leaves sparkle and shine, much like flowers in the spring. The nights are crisp, the afternoons still lovely, and there’s a sense of excitement as the seasons change. Like me, you may have sweet memories of the first days back at school, and the marvelous smell of new textbooks—knowledge, just waiting to be discovered.  And for fiction, excitement, just waiting to be relished.

It’s also time to prepare for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, a writing movement that has become worldwide (see global map of participants at http://nanowrimo.org/). It’s a club in which participants strive to write a novel in a month, where writers track and share writing progress and get pep talks and support from fellow writers striving toward the same goal.

Read your story idea file.

Autumn is a great time to revisit earlier plans. Been thinking about writing a series? Check your idea file. Like me, you may have story ideas already in there that have gathered dust and been forgotten. Now may be the perfect time to expand on it.  Add a few notes and let it percolate.

Read your interrupted works-in-progress.

What was it that intrigued you to start writing it? Has your craft improved to the point that you can now tackle the issue that stopped you, mid-book? Or you may have held two jobs when you were writing it and ran out of steam, and now it's time to take your fictional characters on the journey of their lives.

Read with your critique partners.

Write a brief story synopsis, and schedule a plotting and brain-storming session with your critique partners, who will also come to the table with their brief story synopses. Maybe now is the time to try a new genre, or write that short story or novella that’s been tickling your fancy for a while.

Read for the joy of it!  It’s easy to get in a reading rut, reading for research, industry news, best-selling lists, marketing and such. What entertains you the most? Does your reading list reflect that? They say the hammock is the least used piece of outdoor furniture. Isn’t that sad? Schedule a date with your hammock and indulge yourself with a fabulous book of fiction. It’s sure to entertain as well as stimulate new story ideas.

Read, and live longer.  Talk about a Happy Ever After!

Define Yourself As A Writer

Are you a writer?

First, are you SURE you want to be a writer? It's a tough business. Even in these wide-open days of self-publishing you need to write a good story and hope it strikes a chord with (many) readers.

If you want to go the traditional route, your fate is in other hands, accept it.

If you want to self-publish, you're going to have to become an excellent promoter and put money behind your dream.

So, if you're continuing to read this, you have an inner fire that needs to be released. Or maybe you just need to silence those imaginary voices whispering in your head.

One of the first things you can do to become a writer is DEFINE YOURSELF AS A WRITER. That is now your self-image. And as we all know, a character will fight to the death to keep his/her self image intact (and, of course, they have a new one by the end of the story, that's character arc).

I am a writer.

I am also a daughter, sister, owner (or owned by) cats, a dozen other things, but my basic core identity is as a writer. This is even more solid for me than others because I have no spouse or children to dilute this solidity of identification as a . . . profession.

I celebrate being a writer and creativity, I surround myself with people of the same ilk, and I absolutely look at the world through the filter of being a writer. I would not know who I was if you took this identity away from me.

And to be a writer, by definition, you have to write. So you will find me at my computer every day (or, occasionally, outside on the patio with pen and paper), writing. Writing snippets, writing plot points, writing ideas that will go nowhere or get revised out of existence.

Writing one of my 100K word novels – because you don't get to 50K or 100K or 135K words by not putting one after the other.

Back to defining yourself as a writer, talk the talk, walk the walk (write), and it will creep up on you. When you first start out, you might say, "I am a paralegal and I write on the side." Then, of course, you get all those comments – Are you published? Who published you? Where can I buy your books? Can I get them at the library? Are they on audio?

I wrote for 8-9 years before I got published traditionally, I know those questions as an unpublished writer and I know the answers. "I've finished my first book, and I'm writing my second." (Huge accomplishment, folks, finishing a first book!) "I'm looking for an agent." "I have an agent submitting my work." "I've finished three books and two are sitting on editors' desks." Find out a graceful way to answer those questions, but come out of the closet and accept your writing identity. Defining yourself as a writer will get you through the hard times of writing, will help you relate to other writers so you know you've come home to your tribe and they have embraced you (like being at the Colorado Gold Conference) and will simply keep you going when you want to quit.

Do you want to quit? If you can, do. There are many other creative ways to spend your time.

I am a writer. Are you?

Let's talk.

Copyright Rules for Settings

In my day job as a publishing lawyer, I often get asked how copyright impacts an author's ability to use a specific setting in works of fiction. Like many other copyright questions (and, honestly, every other question a lawyer gets asked), the answer is "it depends."

Fortunately, the applicable rules are fairly straightforward and easy to analyze.

The key to understanding how copyright (and infringement) relates to settings is remembering that copyright law protects an author’s unique expression, but does not protect either facts or the “building blocks” of expression.

A setting which is unique, or created entirely by the author, receives far more protection than settings based on historical events or real places…but that’s not the end of the story.

A setting (like a character or other elements of an author’s work) receives increasing protection as the author "creates" it with more distinct and original detail.

Entirely fictitious settings--like J.K. Rowling's famous Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or the "Battle School" that appears in Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game--receive the highest level of protection, because they are entirely fictitious, and the authors' own creations. You cannot use someone else's entirely fictitious setting without permission. Doing so is copyright infringement.

Semi-fictitious settings--like the version of the shogun's palace I created in my second mystery, Blade of the Samurai--receive protection to the extent of their original, creative elements. I based my shogun's palace on a real place (Kyoto's Nijo Castle), and although I can't claim copyright ownership of the Nijo Castle layout, it would infringe my copyright for someone to copy the fictitious details I layered onto the building and grounds to create my fictitious version.

"Real world" settings - for example, the Oval Office of the U.S. White House -- receive less copyright protection still. As with other settings, the copyrightable elements are only those which the author creates; the factual or historical details can be used (or re-used) by anyone.

Let’s take a closer look at some important key components:

Copyright Law Does Not Protect Historical (or other) Facts.

If you write a historical novel based on the explosion of the Hindenburg, you can’t prevent other authors from using that topic. You cannot prevent them from using the Hindenburg as a setting, and you can’t claim infringement if the real historical figures who appear in your novel also appear in another author’s work.

Copyright Does Give (Limited) Protection to Unique Expressions of Historical Events.

You can protect the unique, creative way in which you describe and express historical events, but the closer your expression comes to duplicating historical facts, the thinner the protection you receive. For example, you can’t stop another author from using  the actual newspaper headlines that appeared on the day the Hindenburg exploded. However, if you create a fictitious newspaper, and write a fictitious headline, you can prevent other authors from using that portion of your work.

Fictitious Locations Based on Genuine Ones Receive More Copyright Protection Than Real-World Locations.

Actual facts about real-world locations can't be protected by copyright. If you set your novel at the Empire State Building, and describe it accurately, you can’t stop other authors from doing the same. You can stop copying of the creative elements of your work, but not the use of facts.

The level of protection increases if you use a fictitious building based on—but different from—a real one. Consider Nakatomi Plaza, the office building in the movie Die Hard. Nakatomi Plaza isn’t real place; the building the director used in the film is called Fox Plaza, and it’s located in Century City, California. By fictionalizing the building, the scriptwriters allowed themselves not only more leniency in constructing sets, but also ensured that no one could legally duplicate those exact descriptions for use in another work.

Completely Fictitious Locations Receive the Highest Level of Copyright Protection.

J.K. Rowling’s wizard academy, Hogwarts, is located . . . somewhere. Rowling constructed a completely fictitious (and highly creative) setting for her novels, which also means she receives the highest possible level of copyright protection. By making Hogwarts a completely fictitious place, with a layout and description she created, she ensured that it belonged to Harry Potter’s world—her world—alone.

If you copy identifiable details from Hogwarts (aside from ones that would qualify as “basic building blocks of expression”), you may be infringing Rowling's copyright. (Note: Unlicensed "Fan Fiction" is almost always copyright infringement, even if it's not prosecuted by the copyright holders.)

What is a “Basic Building Block” of Expression?

The answer is as simple as sandwich cookies and Oreos. The idea of taking two cookies and putting a filling between them, thereby creating a “cookie sandwich,” is a basic building block of expression—a generic concept.

Anyone can make a sandwich cookie, with any cookie and any filling.

However, if you use a particular recipe of chocolate cookie, with designs on one side, and you fill it with a specific mixture of white, sugary filling, and if you have the courage to stamp the word “Oreo” on the side, you’ve copied something that belongs to someone else, and you may get sued. (In the baking world, the lawsuit would be for trademark infringement. If you duplicate an author’s wordsmithed Oreo, the result is copyright infringement.)

The basic building blocks of expression are generic concepts, settings, and character archetypes: the whodunit mystery, the subway, and the cop.

The farther an author strays from those basic, generic archetypes, the higher the level of copyright protection his or her creation will receive.

Any author can write about “a cop.” An ex-cop who becomes a butcher receives a little more protection. But give that ex-cop butcher a love of tapioca pudding, a pet tarantula, and a vaccuum phobia, and you’re getting into territory nobody else can copy without consequences.

The takeaway lesson? It’s fine to use fact-based settings (and most of us need to, when our works are based in the “ordinary world”) – but know that other authors can use those settings too, as long as they don’t copy your work. The more creative (and fictitious) your settings, the more protection your work receives.

So . . .write the most creative story you can, and use even real-world facts in as unique and individual a manner as possible.

Your copyrights--and your readers--will thank you for it.

Taming the Worry Monster

Quick - grab a piece of paper and a pen and jot down a list of things you are worrying about. Don't stop to think whether they are rational or irrational. Don't try to prioritize. Just scribble them down. Do it now. I'll wait. While I wait I will contemplate this still life photo of a random penguin.Random PenguinWhat is the penguin worried about, I wonder? Does he know that worrying expends valuable energy without creating any positive result? Does he understand that one of the best ways to deal with worry is to take positive action toward a goal?

Since we can't get a look into the penguin's head, let's all focus on our own. Have a look at your worry list and pick one to work on, preferably something writing related. Got it?

Okay. Now take your pen and paper and do the following.

  1. List all of the people involved in this situation.
  2. Now draw a big, fat, scribble line through all of those names.
  3. Below the crossed out list write your own name, because YOU are the only person you have any control over.
  4. Now brainstorm a list of all of the possible actions YOU can take to resolve this issue. Remember that if the action requires participation by somebody else, it doesn't go here. Try the format Your Name + Verb + Object (optional) If you are worrying about trying to find an agent, for example, your action list may look something like this:
  • I will craft a query letter
  • I will email five friends and ask them for feedback (note that YOU are asking. How they respond is out of your control)
  • I will research agents and make a list of ten who are looking for my genre
  • I will submit my polished query letter to those ten agents and search out ten more
  • I will send out another query letter for every rejection I receive

And so on. If your worry is interpersonal, such as conflict with your agent or a crit partner or a problem with your editor, the action list still takes the same format. You can't change another person. You can't change what they think or feel or what they do. You probably have no control over editorial decisions. But you can let them know how you feel and what you think. Communication is a direct action you can take. So your list might look more like this:

  • Write a letter to my agent explaining my point of view
  • Ask my editor for an extension
  • Message my crit partner and ask if we can talk.

Maybe the thing that's keeping you awake at night is a book launch and your fear that your new release won't sell enough copies. Every writer has been there. Again, make a list of positive actions that you can take, and then do those things.

Sometimes action is the best self care. Relaxation and breathing and meditation are wonderful things, but so is knowing that you have taken positive action to resolve a problem.