Jumping Through Hoops

Usually when we talk about the obstacles an author faces on their writing journey, we’re talking about prepublication obstacles like writer’s block, finding the time to write, painting yourself into a plot corner, finding critique partners, hiring an editor, finding an agent or publisher, and so forth. In the case of Parker’s Choice, my obstacles arrived on my doorstep, wholly unexpectedly, after publication.

I was attending a local writers’ conference when a publisher approached me to talk about my recently completed manuscript of Parker’s Choice. He had heard about my book from two of his authors who happened to be members of the same writers’ association and critique group to which I belonged. “I want Parker’s Choice,” he said and I was flattered beyond belief. This is how networking is supposed to work, I thought.

Soon I was engulfed by intense and time-critical rounds of editing and design as we barreled toward a release date. After release, Kirkus Reviews was complimentary (“A razor-sharp mystery with twists aplenty”) and BookLife concurred (“The story here is fresh and unpredictable with a fine blend of psychological tension and more than a few plot twists.”). Parker’s Choice won a Firebird Award in the Thriller category and American Fiction Awards for Diverse & Multicultural Mystery and for Romantic Mystery.

I was thrilled; life was good. Until the day I learned that the publisher had gone out of business. The publisher was very cooperative in returning all rights and publishing materials to me so my book now existed only on my laptop and few dozen readers’ bookshelves. Or so I thought.

While deciding what to do next, I fiddled with the manuscript. Too many people with too many opinions had been involved in the editing process in a timeframe that was too compressed to get it right. So, I refined the writing in the first chapter, swapped the sequence of a couple of chapters, and strengthened Paula’s reasons for being unhappy in her marriage to Parker. Nothing drastic, nothing that changed the essential storyline, but changes that made me feel better about the finished work.

After consulting with my friends who were also without a publisher, we decided to self-publish and we enlisted the assistance of another local publisher to do the technical heavy-lifting to get the book back on the market, with minor changes to the cover and the text in my case. The first obstacle was proving to Amazon that I owned the rights to the revised book. No mean task. I appreciated Amazon’s due diligence.

So, Parker’s Choice had a second release date and I experienced the new thrill of total ownership of a published work that already had great reviews and some fans. That’s when I discovered that the original edition of Parker’s Choice was still for sale on Amazon. If you searched for Parker’s Choice or for books by Mike Nemeth, two nearly identical covers appeared and were offered for sale.

I contacted Amazon and learned that once a product was for sale, its detail page remained on the site FOREVER! Only the original seller, the defunct publisher, could take it down. But the publisher no longer existed, email accounts and phone numbers unresponsive. I asked Amazon the obvious question: What happens to the funds and my royalties if someone purchases the original edition since there is no publisher to pay and no publisher to pay me? Surely it’s illegal to profit from someone else’s work. Amazon had already determined to their satisfaction that I owned the work.

Two unsatisfactory answers were suggested: 1) someday stockpiled supplies of the original edition would be exhausted; and 2) Amazon had an obligation to act as a marketplace for “other sellers,” i.e. people who had purchased the original edition and were now reselling them as used copies. The simple premise that a person can write a book and get Amazon to sell it was replaced by the complex reality of dealing with a humongous retailer.

As we all do these days, I searched YouTube for advice and, voila!, I found it. There is a little-known claim of copyright infringement that can be made to stop an infringer from selling a product you own on Amazon. Of course, Amazon would have such a legal remedy. I submitted a claim that the original edition, whose rights were owned by me, was violating the copyright of the second edition, whose copyright was owned exclusively by me. I was in effect violating my own copyright.

Surprise, surprise, Amazon agreed and will remove the original edition.

The lesson here is that an author’s journey does not end when a work is published, and the author’s obligation to vigilantly protect their work never ends.

FYI, the second, valid, edition of Parker’s Choice has my name on the cover in yellow. Buy that edition. On the original, my name was in white.

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