How to Market Your Indie Book–Or Not

Browsing through the February 2014 issue of the IBPA’s (Independent Book Publishers Association) magazine, Independent, I came upon an article by Joanna Penn, called “Content Marketing.” I didn’t know what content marketing was. Could it mean you were peaceful and satisfied with your marketing efforts? Not possible.

Anyway, I do know who Joanna Penn is.  She’s a whiz at book marketing, as evidenced by her Amazon #1 best seller How to Market a Book.  Her website for writers, (nice, huh) was voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for writers for three years running. She’s definitely a great resource for writers and self-publishers, admirable in her energy and expertise.

The “Content Marketing” article had a sidebar, so I read that instead of reading the actual article (I’m too busy marketing my books to read a whole article . . .).

The sidebar described the schedule Penn uses for her own content production. I nearly laughed my ass off as I was reading it!  What hilarious satire!

Then I realized it was for real.  She wasn’t jokin’!

Here’s the schedule she suggests for your “content marketing.” She’s used it for NEARLY FIVE YEARS:


  • Post 6-10 useful links, or more, to other sites and one to your own on Twitter @yourtwitterhandle.
  • Respond to @ comments and replies.
  • Post one thing on your facebook page and also on Google Plus (She schedules a lot of this, using tools such as Bufferapp or Hootsuite).


  • Post an article, video, or audio podcast on your blog. She usually batches the creation and prepares at least a week’s worth in advance.


  • Post an audio podcast with an interesting guest (her backlist now includes more than 160 interviews).

    This week's Interesting Guest, Murphy Q. Alden
    This week’s Interesting Guest, Murphy Q. Alden
  • Post a video or two. She usually does her podcast interviews on video Skype and posts them on YouTube before using them as audio and blog posts. She also posts some talking-head videos and on-location pieces.


  • Do at least one live speaking event or Webinar.
  • Contribute a guest post or an interview to a different blog/podcast.


  • Write and publish at least one book. At this point, Penn is trying to up her game and produce several books a year.

Is that stunned silence I don’t hear?

Come on, you can do it!  Get out there and post an audio podcast with an interesting guest.  Have you got your live speaking event scheduled? NO? What’s with you?  Slacker! Continue reading “How to Market Your Indie Book–Or Not”

The Goldfinch: A Brilliant, Beautiful Novel

The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch

A friend and I were talking about hyperbole in book blurbs and reviews the other day (I confess I don’t mind a little hyperbole concerning my books).  He told me about Rich Bass’s blurb on the back cover of Cold Mountain when it came out: “It seems possible to never want to read another book, so wonderful is this one.”

I’m not willing to go that far. But after Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, I suspect it will be a long time before I read another novel that is as brilliant and beautiful as this one.

The Goldfinch is huge in many ways. For starters, it’s long: 771 pages. So if you’re not up for the long haul, step aside

In addition, it’s “wordy.” Full of fulsome descriptions. If you like a clean, simple, cut-to-the-chase style, Finch is not for you.

If you’re not that interested in highly elaborate (but accessible) discussions of art, furniture restoration, what it feels like to be high or in love, to be terrorized, to be saved, to be lost, to be found, to be good, to be bad, to be human–go elsewhere.

But if you want to have a reading experience that may make you wonder if you’ll ever want to read another novel, I recommend The Goldfinch.

Why is it so great?  You’re entitled to ask.

Let me count the ways.

I give it the highest marks—over the top—for its brilliant characterization; its brilliant sense of place (Manhattan, Las Vegas, Amsterdam); its brilliant plot (quite Dickensian, with one damn thing right after another!); its brilliant description. Most of all the brilliant mind that conceived of and executed this book. How can one person know so much? Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. I can’t begin to capture its brilliance here (not being brilliant myself).  Let me just say that this was a book where I wished I could quote every line for you.  Ever single line of 771 pages, and you wouldn’t be disappointed by a single one.

Here’s what’s at the heart of this big book: a small painting, “the smallest in the exhibition, and the simplest: a yellow finch, against a plain, pale ground, chained to a perch by its twig of an ankle.”goldfinch painting

Theo, the book’s extraordinary narrator, rescues this painting, a 17th century Dutch masterpiece, from the destruction caused by a terrorist bomb in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that kills his mother and nearly him when he’s thirteen. Follow this painting all through the novel. It will animate the highly suspenseful plot, but beyond that, it is the overarching vehicle for all this ambitious book takes on: love, loss, longing, obsession, friendship, and the power of art itself. In the process, The Goldfinch contains some of the most vividly detailed writing and richly drawn characters and relationships you’ll encounter in contemporary literature.

Let me introduce you to some of the memorable players:

There’s Andy, who becomes Theo’s best friend in grade school when they both skip ahead a grade because of high test scores: ” . . .poor Andy had always been a chronically picked-upon kid: scrawny, twitchy, lactose-intolerant, with skin so pale it was almost transparent, and a penchant for throwing out words like ‘noxious’ and ‘chthonic’ in casual conversation.”

There’s Boris, the irrepressible, survival-savyy Ukrainian waif who befriends Theo when they’re schoolboys in Las Vegas, and who reappears to play a crucial role in Theo’s adult life in New York. “Boris . . . Long-haired, narrow-chested, weedy and thin, he was Yul Brynner’s exact opposite in most respects and yet there was also an odd familial resemblance: they had the same sly, watchful quality, amused and a bit cruel, something Mongol or Tartar in the slant of the eyes.”

There’s Hobie, a loveable, dreamy, old-world, artisanal furniture restorer who takes in the lost Theo and nurtures him, teaches him, and loves him. “Though I [Theo] sometimes worked down in the basement with Hobie for six or seven hours at a time, barely a word spoken, I never felt lonely in the beam of his attention: that an adult not my mother could be so sympathetic and attuned, so fully there, astonished me.” Continue reading “The Goldfinch: A Brilliant, Beautiful Novel”

The Silent Wife: A Fascinating Novel Both Psychologically and Technically

The Silent Wife I first became interested in The Silent Wife in when I read an August 4th, 2013  piece in The New York Times. The article described how the novel—a “sleeper,” written by an “unknown” Toronto writer and released as a paperback original (as opposed to a hardcover, which signals the publisher intends to push the book)–had vaulted its way onto The New York Times best-seller list. The book received some crucial attention from a handful of reviewers, and caught on via word of mouth.

I read that the author, A.S. A. Harrison, had died of cancer at 65, a few weeks before The Silent Wife was published. She was aware that numerous other countries had bought publishing rights and she knew the book was getting wonderful endorsements from other authors. It is sad to think that she didn’t live to see her novel receive the acclaim that it has garnered. But I imagine she knew how good the book is. You can’t write a novel this accomplished without knowing it.

The Silent Wife has been compared to Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. It covers similar territory, a “dark, psychological thriller about a broken marriage,” as the Times described it.  Like Gone Girl, it’s told in alternating “Him” and “Her” chapters. I only got 100 pages into Gone Girl before I put it down. I saw Gillian Flynn speak at the Key West Literary Seminar this year (on “The Dark Side: Mysteries, Crime and the Literary Thriller”). She was very bright, and articulate in her defense of writing “bad women,” women who can be evil, mean, bad, or selfish–though honestly, plenty of other authors since time immemorial have plowed that ground. I found Gone Girl smart and well-written, but it just didn’t interest me. I wonder if it has something to do with age. Flynn is in her forties (and looks about thirty) and Harrison was 65, having worked on The Silent Wife for ten years. Or maybe my preference for SW had to do with GG being written in first person, and SW in third, with a knowing, authoritative narrative voice, which interested me technically (more on this in a moment).  For whatever reasons, I found The Silent Wife far more fascinating and accomplished, and more mature, than what I read of Gone Girl.

photo by Harrison's husband John Massey
photo by Harrison’s husband John Massey

Susan Angela Ann Harrison (she used initials to disguise her gender) had previously written a porn novel with the artist AA Bronson which was quickly banned when it was published in 1970.  Her 1974 book, Orgasms, was a series of interviews with women speaking frankly about their sexual climaxes. (In my commitment to researching an author thoroughly (wink), I tried to order Orgasms  but alas, it’s out of print.)  Harrison collaborated on two other non-fiction books, one about striptease, experimenting with it herself, and another involving case studies in psychotherapy titled Changing the Mind, Healing the Body. She also wrote Zodicat Speaks, a guide to feline astrology.  Her friend, the author Susan Swan, said of Harrison, “She deconstructed prettiness.  She wanted to be larger than life, and she was.”  Swan’s daughter, Samantha Haywood, a neophyte agent, took her on as a client in 2004.  For the next decade, Harrison’s work was repeatedly rejected. But she kept at it, telling herself to “write better, Susan,” and donning industrial earmuffs to keep out noise.

What’s not to love—and admire—about her!

I was captivated by The Silent Wife from the opening paragraphs.

It begins:

 It’s early September. Jodi Brett is in her kitchen, making dinner. Thanks to the open plan of the condo, she has an unobstructed view through the living room to its east-facing windows and beyond to a vista of lake and sky, cast by the evening light in a uniform blue.  A thinly drawn line of a darker hue, the horizon, appears very near at hand, almost touchable. She likes this delineating arc, the feeling it gives her of being encircled. The sense of containment is what she loves most about living here, in her aerie on the twenty-seventh floor.

Notice how we’re placed inside the point of view of the character, Jodi, but there is also a narrative voice that is beginning to describe her psychologically.  Certain words—”encircled,” “containment”—seem suggestive of more than the physical landscape.  There is a distance in the narration, created partly by the use of her full name, as opposed to just “Jodi is in her kitchen . . .”  We hear a voice that is not Jodi’s but the narrator’s, who is taking care to select the precise details to begin to build not only the external world but Jodi’s interior one. Continue reading “The Silent Wife: A Fascinating Novel Both Psychologically and Technically”

Announcing UNFORGETTABLE: Paulette’s New Collection of (Old) Short Stories

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00025]I’m happy to tell you that Unforgettable: Short Stories,  my new collection of (old) short stories, is now available for purchase as an ebook and print-on-demand paperback on Amazon.

To the best of my memory, I wrote these nine stories between maybe 1990, when my father died, and 2005, when my mother died. They’re autobiographical Miriam Batson stories again, my persona from the earlier stories in Feeding the Eagles.  They follow Miriam into middle age, as she navigates the decline and death of loved ones, her own aging, and once again, the inevitable losses of life.

I didn’t try too hard to get the collection published back when I finished the stories.  I sent it to Graywolf, which had published Feeding the Eagles, but when they weren’t interested, I saw the writing on the wall.  I could not have imagined, back then, that self-publishing would be an option one day, or that I would ever partake of it.  But once I got the hang of it with The Answer to Your Question, I thought about these stories. I had always liked them, they meant quite a lot to me, and I wondered if others might find something in them to enjoy and relate to.  I decided to publish them myself. So with a little tinkering from the present, here they are.

The first four stories are about experiences that had important emotional impacts on me.  The last five are about my taking on the care of my mother, moving her from South Carolina to Minneapolis in 1997, when it became clear that she could no longer manage on her own.  I moved her first to a senior building, then to assisted living, and finally to a nursing home, where she died of Alzheimer’s.  It was a long, difficult journey that we traveled together.  The stories are a memorial to her and our time together.  The final five stories are meant to be read in sequence.

Those of you who follow this blog know that I morphed from The Reluctant Self-Publisher into The Obnoxious Self-Promoter when I self-published The Answer to Your Question.  This is where you come in.  It’s very difficult to get publicity for self-published books.  The regular media won’t review them, so about the only way of promoting an “indie” book, as they’re called, is via word of mouth–mainly reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as people recommending the book to their friends and book clubs.

If you enjoy Unforgettable, please do me the big favor of posting a short review on Amazon (and if you don’t enjoy it, please keep it to yourself!).  A review is not too hard to do.  On the Amazon product page for the book (where, here’s hoping, you will actually purchase it . . .), you scan down and click on the “Write a customer review”  link. You will be introduced to some blank stars which you click on according to how you rank the book, and a space to write a review.  A couple of sentences will do. You can even use a handle, Big Daddy, if you don’t care of use your real name.

To leave a review at Goodreads, you need to become a member by signing up with your email and a password, or just sign in if you’re already a member.  Navigate to the page for Unforgettable: Short Stories by putting in the title.  Underneath the book’s cover picture on the top left, first rate the book using the stars.  The “want to read” button will automatically be replaced with a “write a review” link. Click that link.  Write your review in the review box and save.

Sorry to beg, but every positive review helps, since that’s the way most readers have of judging an unknown book (plus last time I looked–five minutes ago–Unforgettable had ZERO reviews and was ranked 1,048,470 in books.  Help!).  Thank you if you’re able to go the extra mile(s) of writing a short review.  If you search for the book, be sure and use Unforgettable: Short Stories.  There are a lot of “Unforgettables” in the naked Amazon city, a number of which are bodice-rippers, which mine, unfortunately, is not.

If you have any ideas of places where I can promote the stories, especially the ones about caretaking an aging parent, nursing home placement, Alzheimer’s–(sexy, riveting stuff, huh!)–please let me know. I figure there are plenty of boomers out there who have had similar experiences, but reaching them is another matter.

Several of these stories reference the act of writing.  Giving shape and meaning  to experiences that were often painful by writing about them has been deeply rewarding for me.  Writing is so amazing. Through writing these stories, I have experienced my own life and indeed life itself more fully, understood my own experiences beyond merely living through them, and hopefully expressed some situations and feelings that will resonate with you.

I hope you’ll enjoy them!



A Book Cover Designer Who Makes the Literary Visual

I recently changed the cover for The Answer to Your Question.  I’m very proud of it!  I had come to understand that some people were put off by the realistic snake on the original cover, and enough people had advised me to change the cover that I finally undertook it, though with a certain amount of trepidation.  Finding a cover designer who can create a visual image that captures something essential about the book (that the writer actually likes) is a challenge, to say the least!

I found Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio close to home; he also lives in Minneapolis. For years I’ve admired the covers he has designed for The Key West Literary Seminar, which are always eye-catching, creative, and evocative of a given year’s theme.  Bob has owned a graphic design business for twenty-five years.  He’s also paints, teaches, and sells his Chinese landscape paintings and art.  He often uses his brushwork in his graphic designs, as you will see with the new cover for Answer. 

Making the Literary Visual
Making the Literary Visual

Case study:

making an author’s work visual
a graphic solution from Laughing Waters Studio.

create a book cover that conveys the mystery of the story

design must be adaptable for use on printed book,
e-book format, and retain graphic strength when reduced to an Amazon thumbnail.

when is a snake not a snake?
a question mark not a question mark?
what is positive?
what is negative?

a novel solution












whatever words you are trying to sell,
whatever message you need to send,
you need to be seen before you will be heard.

give me a call and let’s make it visual.

Bob Schmitt
chief visualization officer



My Key West

Key West Sunrise Photo by Marsh Muirhead
Key West Sunrise  Photo by Marsh Muirhead 


Well, I’m back in Minnesota after a two-plus month sojourn in Key West, and I’m not a bit happy about it. Right now, as I’m writing this, it’s minus one, “bitterly cold,” with an overnight low of minus seventeen and dangerous wind chills as low as minus thirty-five. But hey, let’s not talk about the weather! Let’s go (at least in our minds) to Key West! I want to take you there!

We’ll get up every morning around sunrise. It won’t be hard to wake up, because we’ll have been awake since about 4:30 a.m., when the roosters start crowing . . .

Walk with me through the Historic Bight marina, past Turtle Kralls, Schooner

KW Historic Bight
KW Historic Bight

Wharf, the Boat House, Alonzo’s (restaurants where we can get a mahi or grouper sandwich or pink Key West shrimp) over to the open blue water where deep sea fishing boats are just heading out. At Mallory Square we’ll lean on the wood rail of Sunset Pier and look out at private Sunset Key (where the rich have fancy places), and uninhabited Christmas Tree Key, where sailboats are anchored offshore.

We’ll walk through Truman Annex, with its the beautiful, stately white homes, and lush, tropical flora. I’ll show you a banana tree

Banana Blossom
Banana Blossom


with a bunch of hanging bananas and we’ll ooh and ahh at the incredible pinky-purple blossom–kinda sexy in a botanical way, don’t you think! Back up Duval Street we’ll go, where men with noise-blocking earmuffs are blowing the streets clean, and the street sweepers are busy sweeping up the previous night’s debris from all the folks who mill up and down the main drag. We can’t help laughing at some dirty T-shirt sayings in shop windows. Maybe someone will ride by on a bike with a parrot on his shoulder. We’ll come back on Fleming, stopping in at Faustos grocery store, where I’ll introduce you to my friend, Betina. She’s from Haiti, works two jobs to send money home, and is wonderful. You’ll like her too.

When we get back to the cottage, we’ll take Murphy for a walk around the block. We’ll pass by the homeless couple who camp under a big tree at the edge of a parking lot. They ride trike-bikes with all their stuff piled up, and where they spend the night, I don’t know. But they’re there under the tree every day, rain or shine, cold or hot, and they’re nice. Friendly and warm, and seemingly okay, smiling, jovial, especially her. I’ll introduce you, though I don’t know their names, and we’ll make a little small talk about where you’re from, the weather, Mr. Murf.

I’ll take you for a leisurely stroll through the streets of Old Town, where we’ll see many

Bougainvillea over our back porch light
Bougainvillea over our back porch light 



charming houses, such as the eyebrow houses particular to Key West. We’ll enjoy blooming bougainvillea and the gorgeous Starburst trees that are flowering right now. We’ll walk down to the Southern end of the island, and look across the water to see if we can see Cuba, ninety miles away. Let’s have lunch at Blue Heaven, where Hemingway boxed, and order Key Lime pie with sky-high meringue at a table on a dirt sand lot with chickens and chicks running around our feet.

KW's Blue Heaven
KW’s Blue Heaven 


Mr. Chapman
Mr. Chapman 

I’ll take you a few steps down the street to introduce you to Mr. Chapman, and show you Buddy, his dirty white Chinese chicken, dirty from hanging out in Mr. Chapman’s dirt yard. Mr. Chapman is seventy-five. His family has lived in the same block on Petronia since 1870. His mother was fourteen and his father sixty when he was born. Mr. Chapman is an orator who speaks in rhymes and sayings which come fast and furious. He’ll walk with us down the street to show us his portrait painted on a mural on the side of a wall. There he is, Mr. Chapman, with his white handlebar mustache. At night he rides his trike-bike covered with flashing lights and a big sound box through the streets of Key West. They threw away the mold when they made Mr. Chapman. Continue reading “My Key West”

The Loooong and Not Very Winding Road from Minneapolis to Key West

That was a long trip!
That was a long trip!

I don’t know what Willie Nelson is talking about when he says he just can’t wait to get on the road again. If I never get on the road again, it will be too soon.  That’s what driving from Minneapolis to Key West, Florida, will do to you.  But I’m glad I did it.  I wanted to get the dawg and car down here for the next two plus months, and I wanted to see what it would be like to drive 1900 miles by myself.

What it is is looooong.  It’s five days and four nights long.  It’s a blurred mix of the tedious, enjoyable, exhausting, hair-raising, and constant attention to the road.  It’s knowing you need to go at least four hundred miles a day, setting the odometer at zero when you start out in the morning, and staring in disbelief when four hours later it’s only at 235 miles.  It’s a lot of longing for rest areas, bypassing the millions of fast food restaurants off the exits of our highways, eating a lot of granola bars and cheese and crackers instead of meals, opening the motel door at yet another Red Roof Inn where you want to fall on your knees at the sight of the bed, only you fall on the bed instead. It’s a blur of states, cities, scenery, weather and semi-trucks.  We are a trucking nation, my friends.  It’s thank God for cruise control, great music from Chris, a book on tape, NPR, and silence.

First night: Quincy, Illinois, which is confusingly almost Missouri, in that it’s right across the Mississippi River.  I wasn’t even aware that there were terrible tornadoes going though Illinois that day, though for the last hour I drove in pouring rain in the dark.  I couldn’t find my motel, Days Inn, because they had changed the name to Budget Hotel, without informing anybody. Quincy has a lot of one way streets, which I drove around and around on, looking for the non-existent Days Inn in the dark and rain.  But by 10:30 that night, when I took Murf out to the parking lot for a final pee, the storm had passed, the sky had cleared, and there it was: a big, beautiful, full moon.  It was still there in the blue sky over the Mississippi when I hit the road the next morning.

I think I saw the arch in St. Louis as I zoomed past. Big. It was south of there that I couldn’t find a rest area so I had to get off at one of those ubiquitous travelers’ oases consisting of every chain motel and restaurant known to man.  I pulled behind a Hampton Inn or some such so I could walk Murf.  When I took my eyes off him for five seconds, he did a shoulder dive into some gooey dog shit in the  grass. My friend Karen, who travels with her dog, had advised me before the trip to be sure to take Wet Wipes.  Wet Wipes and a roll of paper towels.  This is the best advice I have to offer if you plan to drive with your dog from Minneapolis to Key West: Wet Wipes and paper towels . . .

Continue reading “The Loooong and Not Very Winding Road from Minneapolis to Key West”

Road Trip: Minneapolis to Key West

KW cropped MurfI’m about to join the ranks of Lewis and Clark, Amelia Earhart and Edmund Hillary. I’m about to become the overland equivalent of Diana Nyad.

I’m about to drive from Minneapolis to Key West.  By myself.  It’s never been done before.  By me, that is.

Correction: I’m not driving by myself.  Murphy is going with me.  Though I don’t expect him to do much of the driving.

Murf!  Always up for a road trip.  As long as it’s only to the grocery store.

I hope he doesn’t whine the whole way.  Or maybe that’s me.

I hope he’ll get back in the car after the first day. Or maybe that’s me.

I’m going to spend a couple of months in Key West, at the little cottage (430 square feet) we bought back in 2002.  I’m hoping to do some writing (or maybe just lie by the pool) before Jeff comes down for Christmas.  In January I’ll attend the Key West Literary Seminar called “The Dark Side: Mystery, Crime, and the Literary Thriller,” which is bringing in some famous writers, most of whom I haven’t read. Then I’ll teach a workshop called “Writers’ Boost: Taking Your Writing to the Next Level,”  which I’m busily preparing for now.

I love the idea of a road trip–lighting out for parts unknown, nothing to do but drive, listen to books on tape, and music.  I bought CDs of Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch, and Scott Turow’s Identical.

And a certain wonderful, music buff friend–you know who you are!–gave me the enormous gift of 5,000 songs (actually over 5,000–no shitzu!).  Andy at the Verizon store showed me how to put them in a cloud or somewhere so now I can access them on my smart phone. I bought a nifty little strawberry Jam Plus speaker about the size of a jar of jam, so I can listen to the songs in the car.  I put them on shuffle, and up comes Mozart’s Concerto No 2 in D Major, followed by Frank Zappa singing “Dirty Love,” followed by Bettye LaVette bellowing “Joy,” then Beirut’s “Postcards from Italy,” and on and on. . .  It is so great, so great! I asked my friend for a road song to add to this post, and he came back with Jeff Beck–Freeway Jam.  The dude knows music!

Of course the downside of this road trip is that at times I’m also going to get very tired, have a sore back and numb butt, feel delirious, overwhelmed, and anxious.  I pray I won’t lock the keys in the car, as I’ve been known to do.  I’ll stay in cheap, pet friendly motels and I’m worried about what I’ll eat.  I’ll miss Jeff and home, and wonder at times what the heck I was thinking.

But I know what I have in mind: Streaming down through Iowa, Kentucky, (is Kentucky below Iowa? Wait a minute!  Help!  I’m already lost and I haven’t even begun . . .).  Where was I?  Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and finally Florida.  I’ll be going from cold to warm, watching the land change over the course of 1900 miles, experiencing whatever weather comes my way.

I’ll travel all the way down to the tip of the world, Key West.  What a moment that will be when I finally pull into Margaret Street at the end of  Route 1, open the gate to the compound, go down the walkway, and turn the key in the front door of the little cottage that I love.300

I’ll hang with the likes of Jimmy Buffett, rather than Garrison Keillor.









Anticipation of this road trip has brought back memories of other road trips. Continue reading “Road Trip: Minneapolis to Key West”

My Adventures in Song Lyric Copyright Permission, Part II: in which I meet a Prince and a Lord(a)

TATYQ_Alden_Front121412_ver2In the first, hair-raising episode of “My Adventures in Song Lyric Copyright Permission,” I had “discovered” that I had lyrics from not one but nine songs in The Answer to Your Question for which I did not have copyright permission.

Make that ten, given that I had a whole song in the novel.

I immediately changed all the lyrics to just the song titles, which are not copyrighted, and sent the corrections to my formatter,, then uploaded the revised files on Amazon.

But that left the whole song, “Who’s that Knocking at My Door,” to which I had helped myself without permission.  I couldn’t imagine excising that song from my novel.  It’s a great song, and so perfect for the story.  To take it out would leave a big hole. The only way I could see to fill that hole would be for ME to write a song to replace it . . . An even more daunting thought than the Music Industry Police knocking at my door.

I had no memory of where or how I had come upon the song.  But I found a folder in the basement from 2006 that had the lyrics, printed from the website.  The author was listed as “na.”  Apparently I hadn’t paid much attention to attribution back when I first incorporated the song, assuming without really thinking about it that any permission issues would be handled by the publisher–never dreaming that seven years later, that publisher would turn out to be me. Over time, as I worked on the novel, the song became part of the reality of the story.  I thought of “Who’s that Knocking . . .” as folk music passed down generation to generation, authorship unknown, a song an old mountain woman like Ganny would have learned from her granny, not something written by someone who might be alive–and litigious.

I had to find the songwriter, if there was one beyond “na.”  I Googled the title.

Who’s that Knocking at My Door is a 1967 drama film which marked the debut of Martin Scorsese as a director and Harvey Keitel as an actor. Did you ever see Keitel in Jane Campion’s amazing movie, The Piano? Sexy!

Anyway. The movie Who’s that Knocking . . . has nothing to do with the song I had hijacked. But it certainly messed up my search for the song.  I finally found that a bluegrass band called The Dreadful Snakes had made a recording of “Who’s That Knocking . . .”  The band was started by the great banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, who wanted an informal group to pick with when he was off the road. They recorded an album in 1984 called Snakes Alive, which is still one of bluegrass music’s most respected.

I loved the idea of a band called The Dreadful Snakes with an album called Snakes Alive, since my novel has a dreadful snake on the cover.  I had actually found their recording of “Who’s That Knocking At My Door” to play at my publication party. But at that time, back in February, I hadn’t thought one iota about the fact that I was using the song without permission in my novel. It still hadn’t crossed my mind to wonder who had written “Knocking.”

When I couldn’t turn up the author in my Google search,  I tried things like the Smithsonian Folkways and traditional music/ballad sites. I emailed and Bela Fleck’s manager, asking for help in finding the author.  I got nowhere.  Finally, I decided to ask the music librarian at the Hennepin County Library for help, figuring he had more data bases and research experience than I did. He dug into the assignment enthusiastically, trying various searches.  Then he thought to pair the term “bluegrass” along with the song’s title.  Up until that moment I had assumed I had normal intelligence.  It had never occurred to me to think “bluegrass,” even though I had found the song originally on a bluegrass website. Continue reading “My Adventures in Song Lyric Copyright Permission, Part II: in which I meet a Prince and a Lord(a)”

Doobie Doobie Doo: My Adventures in Song Lyric Copyright Permission

Coming this January--SANS LYRICS--to an Amazon store near you . . .
Coming this January–SANS LYRICS–to an Amazon store near you . . .

I made a mistake.

I know, I know.  You’re shaking your head in amazement.  Paulette made a mistake?  She usually makes so many of them, how could she make just one?

Well, it was kind of a doozy, so I want credit for that.

Last January when I self-published my novel, The Answer to Your Question, I thought I’d done everything right.  I wanted to handle the publishing as professionally as a real publisher would.  I thought I had!  I was feeling pretty cocky.

Since I figured I had this self-publishing thing knocked, I decided I’d publish a collection of my short stories, entitled Unforgettable.  I was merrily steaming along toward this goal, until I read a guest post this summer on Jane Friedman’s wonderful website (“Writing, Reading and Publishing in the Digital Age”) about copyright infringement, by Brad Frazer.

Brad Frazer is an author himself, as well as a lawyer who has written on matters of Internet and intellectual property law. From what I can tell, he’s a swell guy. Not only is his post clear and informative, he responded thoughtfully to a million comments from readers like me seeking (free) answers to their copyright questions.

If I had any thoughts at all about using copyrighted material, they had to do with some vague, wishful thinking about “fair use.” Frazer explained that there are two prongs to the fair use question. To be considered fair use, the use must be for purposes such as “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.”

Frazer explains it this way:

That’s the first prong. If your use falls into one of these categories (criticism, comment, etc.), then you move to the second prong of the test. A court will consider the following four factors to determine if your use is a fair use:

1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (emphasis added)

4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

If your use falls into one of the enumerated categories AND you are able to prevail factually on at least two of the four second-prong factors, you might succeed in proving that your use is fair and thus not copyright infringement.

Frazer gives the following example: Continue reading “Doobie Doobie Doo: My Adventures in Song Lyric Copyright Permission”