Well that didn’t go as planned.
After months of preparation for the launch of my new chapter book series, Shirley Lock, I released it to the world on the 3rd of July, 2012. A big day!
I’d put off writing professionally for decades, in my quest to make a lot of money doing boring work. The pent-up desire to tell stories was reaching critical mass. So, as I pressed the “publish” button on CreateSpace and Amazon KDP, it felt like losing 450 pounds in a split second.
I always knew that it would be tough to put my neck out there with a book. It’s hard for every writer and artist to release their work into the big, bad world. I was nervous. But I was ready!
Or was I?
One hour into promoting my newly released book, I got two messages on Facebook from “Friends”. The messages were posted on one of my promotional posts announcing Shirley Lock & The Safe Case.
One comment read, “What the HELL…”
The other comment read “Do you have something you want to tell us?”
Since my wife knew them better than I did, I asked her if she had any idea why these two were posting such cryptic messages on the first promotional post for my book. She said she was chatting with one of them on her computer.
He was claiming we stole his idea.
To make a long, irritating story short he and his wife had been working on a comic strip with a lead character with the last name Lock, based on Sherlock Holmes. It’s a story for adults about a female detective. He told my wife that Sherlock Holmes pastiche “usually use Holmes as the last name, not Lock.” He also claimed we stole their design of the girl. Their hero has glasses and so does ours. His evidence was that my wife Liked one of his images a year ago on Facebook.
(Because, as you know, we’re all profoundly moved by every image, post, link and photograph that we’ve ever Liked on Facebook. They all stay with us for seven years, like swallowed bubble gum.)
I didn’t steal a thing. The idea was mine. The name was my creation. The design of Shirley was based on a number of characters and real-life people, one of whom posed for the cover. The only inspiration I got was from Sherlock Holmes, Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew.
I struggled with an anger that made me want to get on a bus and give these kids a spanking. Saying that you have a lock on the name Lock, and that making Sherlock Holmes into a girl (with glasses!) is your idea is beyond self-centered.
The guy said he was being pressured to sue. He said his lawyer claimed he had a case.
He has a bad lawyer. As we discovered, you cannot copyright a name or title. We could have had an adult comic with a title/character identically named and they wouldn’t have had a case. So having a chapter book that’s written for fourth grade girls with a different name altogether left us in no legal danger.
Of course, anyone can sue for any reason. Clearly we were dealing with unreasonable people who cast aside years of our support for their work on a lark. We decided to back down to avoid any more contact. There’s a spiritual cost to dealing with people like them, and the cost seemed too high.
After hours of discussing it, my wife and I chose a new name that actually gave me a spine tingle.
Shirley Link is catchy. It implies Shirley’s ability to link together evidence, to see the world as a series of links that bind us and leave impressions that last.
In the context of this sad experience, it also implies the links that bind our creative minds together. We all have ideas. Those are cheap. But the execution of those ideas is essential to finding out who we are. Personally, I want to discover what makes my expression unique. I believe that’s what all artists and writers want. After all, we can’t speak with our voice until we find it.
Some of us keep our eyes on that goal, some of us get distracted by ego, paranoia, ignorance.
I used my anger and sense of betrayal to discover a name that “means” the character of Shirley. Consequently, I have an awesome heroine whose very name implies not only why she’s a cool, special girl, but also why I write.
Will I thank my harassers? I’m not that enlightened. But I do wish them the best. I checked out their comic strip online and it’s actually pretty good.
So, Shirley Lock has become Shirley Link.
And, to me, that’s perfect.
Oh you’re kidding? These were ‘adults’ saying you’d stolen their Lock? I’ve been on Wattpad for about a year and a half now, just soaking up what I see and I find there are waaaaay too many ‘writers’ who swipe concepts from the originals and for the most part, people look on and say nothing. *grin* We have, pretty much, gotten used to it, is my point.
They never steal a story, mind you, and THAT is the real point here.
I’m sorry you called her Shirley Lock and had to lose that link but as you say you now have Link instead. I, personally, am the sort of person who makes connections; I am a conduit. So, to me, your character’s idea of being a Link is great.
I mean, come on. I saw the image this morning of Shirley and thought at that base level: oh, a girl in Harry Potter glasses. I mean, come ON, the idea that because ONE person made something iconic, that makes it THEIRS (and no one else’s) is nuts. If anything, a collection of all those iconic elements, essentially, is what we call a GENRE, isn’t it? *grin*
Do what you do; it’s FINE!
I was here once before and mentioned Wattpad. I see you are on it. I think I followed you.
You might try watching on Wattpad for over all general contests you can enter–unless you are really FOCUSED on this (I’m not, just yet but may be)–you may miss the promotion for it but there are contests you might try. I think Wattpad is worth the try. I agree with you about Amazon too. I have my moments about that place but, in general, they are something to watch closely. You’re right; they are trying new ideas. The trick is to look ahead as you look in.
There was a Wattpad 2014 prize that I saw a lot of fellow writers enter. I don’t know all the rules but it would be good exposure for you–that KIND of stuff though the contest is now, no longer, taking submissions. (But then again, what you MIGHT do is search that contest and FIND the contestants in it and make connections with them. One Idea.)
What you might also do next time you’re on Wattpad is head to the forums, find writers who are similar to your genre and follow them. I notice a lot of writers, who don’t have time to be on Wattpad, often go looking for the already ‘connected’ people on Wattpad and try to ‘connect’ to them in some way. Sometimes, it works, sometimes, it doesn’t. You might also see about getting one of your stories featured too.
Thanks so much for your supportive and helpful post, Heather! The whole Lock/Link chapter was a real dark mark on the launch, but it also toughened me up. ALL of your points are dead-on re: the whole sordid tale.
And thanks so much for your pointers on Wattpad. I’ve been dabbling for awhile but have only recently dunked myself in there. I posted the first book in the Shirley Link series AND posted a new story (exclusively) titled The Lost Boy. It’s a slow start but I’m really enjoying the whole experience. I’ve found several excellent yarns on there, and I share them with friends every chance I get.
Related to dark eras, I am reading up on the ‘story’ of the nineties boy band Take That and how, it seems, Gary Barlow was dissed to the point of depression–how does that happen to such creative people? Is it inherent in this culture we live in? I wonder…
It is leading me to looking at organizational behavior that, I think, we all, as lone wolves on the high seas of publishing need to wrap our heads around. How to join a ‘group’ without losing control of your creativity. Or your morality. *smile*
While I’m on Wattpad, I’ll think about all your storylines; If I think of anything that ‘connects’ for your works, I’ll let you know.
To me, it’s not about the age of the reader–though I sure get your idea about approaching less ‘populated’ genres/tags on Amazon–but the quality of story.
JK Rowling is proof of that. But I remember SO distinctly (as I was hanging out with some hardcore non-fantasy types at the time; and man, did they ride Rowling) the timeframe on her arrival. So many now forget how, in a particular way, at the time–at just that moment–she changed the landscape. But she DID it, in a boy way, not a girl way, to a degree.
It’s the difference between being the explorer and the settlers and come after.
Writing def challenges the idea that no one is an island!
I love your perspective on Rowling. She really did do it the boy way from a certain point of view. Beyond Harry being a boy, there was a sensibility about the story and the pace that feels like a study in how to make a teenage boy an “alpha male” (with a heart). Still, I love the Harry Potter series for its yarn and the way it magically transformed millions of us into rabid readers.