Publishing Adventures – by Mark Lawson

Written by Mark S. Lawson

In the wake of our review of Mark S Lawson’s “A Planet for Emily,” Mark recounts a situation that at first appeared to have been a copyright infringement.  Instead, it turned out to be far more insidious and indicative of the ways in which artists and authors are often not seeing financial compensation for their work yet downstream distribution networks still do. – Jane Stockwell




The strangest part about putting my book A Planet for Emily online for free download was later finding it on the Amazon site with a different cover, priced at around $US4. But that was just one of a number of instances where I found the book listed in odd places, including a screenplay market site, without reference back to me.

            As the book is free to anyone who wants to download, the listings themselves hardly matter. If its turned into a screenplay, provided I’m acknowledged as the original author (and paid a share of any subsequent sale), that’s good. But I like to keep a track of total number of downloads if only for boasting value.

“Look, my book has achieved X thousand downloads, aren’t I wonderful?”

The book has been reviewed on this site here, and can be downloaded here.

Back to the Amazon listing which I later realised was not an attempt to steal copyright. The previous week I had put my book on the download site Smashwords, listing it for free as the site allows authors to do, and that site has distribution arrangements which permit commercial groups to offer its books online.

But why the price and, in particular, why the different cover? As it happened, before a friend pointed out the distribution arrangement, I had fired off an email to an address dedicated to copyright complaints. An official replied that the listing would be removed from all sites and that should be the end of it. That means I don’t have anyone to ask who will have the slightest interest in responding, particularly when it comes to working out why an obscure book was treated the way it was somewhere else in the huge Amazon organisation.

I can surmise, however, that the cover price was just about recovering operating costs. Amazon is not a charity. As for the completely different cover, perhaps the image failed to meet some technical standard? I would be the first to admit that my cover constructed from Word, using a picture bought from coverstock of a girl in a jumpsuit behind an unidentifiable piece of equipment, could be improved. But was it that bad that it had to be substituted with a cover that had far less to do with the book?  I suspect that the substituted cover, in fact, it is one of a library of covers where the Amazon operators simply type in keywords, then title and author, and append the result to the book, perhaps without looking.

Whatever the reason, the episode is a strange one. Should I have just let it go? The distribution from Smashwords to other commercial sites is really there for books for which the author has been brave enough to charge money, rather than offer for free. Other sites include Barnes & Noble and Apple, but the only listing I could readily find was in Barnes & Noble which kept the original cover and listed it for free, as a “nook book” whatever that might mean.

Whatever cover was being used, the channel manager on the Smashwords site indicates that almost no copies of my book have been downloaded through those commercial sites, so it does not matter much one way or another. There is also no way that it could matter, potential self-publishers please note. Listings on a commercial site would be almost impossible to find unless you knew it was there in the first place, through marketing.

At least with, the other major site I use, you can spend a few hundred dollars on publicity when the book is first listed, and on Smashwords my book can still be found on the first page of a search for free science fiction books of more than 50,000 words. (Many of the free books on the site are well under novel size.)

If Amazon wants to put different cover on my book, stuff them. In fact, next time around, and I have another book in production, I’ll exclude all commercial sites. If I have to go to free download because publishers won’t look at my material, then I might as well pretend that I’m above commercial considerations. So there.