Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers

MY BLOG POSTS COMMENT ON SOME ASPECTS OF WRITING & READING.

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My novel Curva Peligrosa opens with a tornado that sweeps through the fictional town of Weed, Alberta, and drops a purple outhouse into its center. Drowsing and dreaming inside that structure is its owner, Curva Peligrosa—a curiosity and a marvel, a source of light and heat, a magnet. Adventurous, amorous, fecund, and over six feet tall, she possesses magical powers. She also has the greenest of thumbs, creating a tropical habitat in an arctic clime, and she possesses a wicked trigger finger.

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Michelle Cameron is the author of Jewish historical fiction, including Babylon: A Novel of Jewish Captivity, the award-winning Beyond the Ghetto Gates and The Fruit of Her Hands: the story of Shira of Ashkenaz. She has also published a verse novel, In the Shadow of the Globe. Napoleon’s Mirage, the sequel to Beyond the Ghetto Gates, is forthcoming in August 2024.

Michelle is a director of The Writers Circle, a NJ-based creative writing program serving children, teens, and adults. She lives in Chatham, NJ, with her husband and has two grown sons of whom she is inordinately proud.

Visit her online:

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With two new books being published by Shanti Arts, and wondering how best to market them, I’ve been thinking about book festivals I’ve participated in. I realize that, while these events are great for focusing on the many book genres available, I also have concluded that I probably won’t attend one again. A few years ago, I signed up for the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley, a relatively new venue at the time. Its first session was in 2015, and it claims to be an international event that draws people from all over the world: “More than 50,000 diverse people of all ages, from urban to suburban Bay Area communities and beyond.” (more…)

Join me and my editor/publisher, Christine Cote, to help celebrate the release of my hybrid memoir Dreaming Myself into Old Age: One Woman’s Search for Meaning (to be released on 9/19/23) and my newest poetry collection, California Dreaming (published on June 27). We’ll explore some of the main themes in both of my books as well as Christine’s work as publisher/editor of Shanti Arts Press. There will be lots of opportunities for Q&A.

In Dreaming Myself into Old Age, I’ve hoped that reflecting on this these later years will help me to better understand and deepen them. Perhaps, in sharing my quest, readers will make their own discoveries, as has been true for me whenever I’ve read about someone else’s journey. But I also believe that aging presents its own mysteries for us to uncover, and that is part of my search as well. Dreaming Myself into Old Age is set within my lifelong pursuit of self-discovery.

According to my editor, this exploration carries over in California Dreaming. She says, “Lily Iona MacKenzie’s unbounded zest for life sings through the poems in California Dreaming. A writer in her bones and a dreamer in her heart, she discovers the poetry in everything—travel, art, music, nature, past and present. Her words and rhythms touch the soul and leave their treasures behind. ‘Listen closely to these poems’ quiet but insistent murmur.’ (Kathleen McClung)

Grab your favorite beverage, find a cozy spot, and join us online for an hour of delving into the mysteries of dreaming and aging!

California Dreaming & Dreaming Myself into Old Age can be purchased from Shanti Arts as well as Amazon and other major outlets. ???

If you like these books, please leave a brief review.

Join Zoom Meeting: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/85890431364?pwd=aHFiMERFM3lZeXI2VzBlSFRXenN4UT09

Meeting ID: 858 9043 1364

Passcode: 613741

I look forward to seeing you at noon on September 23.

Lily Iona MacKenzie

 

With two new books coming out, I’ve been wondering about applying for book awards. Fellow Regal House author Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop came to my rescue with this piece on book awards that she first published on SUBSTACK on August 16. This is an important post for all authors, published or unpublished.

My memoir, Daughter of Spies: Wartime Secrets, Family Lies which came out in the fall of 2022, marks the first time I’ve published with a small independent press. In the three years since acceptance, I’ve learned lots about how much it costs to produce a book, how important distribution can be, and the amount of time and energy that goes into marketing and publicizing a book, no matter if it’s self-published, traditionally published or released by an independent press.

The one thing that has stopped me in my tracks is the number of “come-ons”, scams, and false promises that land in my inbox daily.  These include payment for reviews on Instagram or with “influencers,” (I admit to hating that word), hybrid publishers wishing me to submit my next book, advertising offers, emails encouraging me to submit my book for a festival and so on. Every one of these involve me spending money and, in the end, they will cost me far more than I ever expect to make in royalties. And all of them prey on a writer’s desperate desire to be lifted above others in the great cacophony of modern life where people more and more choose visuals on devices over reading the printed word.

I’ve quoted this figure before but it’s worth repeating. In the US alone, over 4 million new books were published in 2022. (These include both self-published and commercially published books in all formats.) As a comparison, ten years ago in 2013, just over 275,000 books were published in the US.  No wonder writers are desperate and prone to scams and false promises.

The one I’m focused on because I jumped on board are the hundreds of awards. I entered 15 contests, some of which were approved by the Alliance of Independent Authors and some of which were given a caution or negative rating. I was advised by experts in the field such as the knowledgeable and experienced publishing specialist, Jane Friedman, to check how long the contest has been around, to study past winners, to look for a list of judges, to evaluate how important the prize is to members of your book community, and most importantly, to look at contests that are created primarily to make money. In the beginning, I paid some attention to this advice but the lure of a possible award (how could they not pick me?) made me throw caution to the winds.

Here’s the bottom line. I’ve entered fifteen contests and I’ve spent close to $900 on contest fees. I’ve been shortlisted in a memoir magazine contest and been declared a finalist for another book award. In one case I won a Bronze Medal in the Female Memoir division, and in another, I was named a runner up in the Memoir category. None of these “honors” paid me any money. The announcement of my “win” is most often followed by a bombardment of emails encouraging me to pay more for editorial or marketing advice or for a bronze medal on a colored ribbon or to enter more contests or book festivals. I’ve won no mention at all in six contests, and five have yet to report.

However, in many cases, the list of “winners” is truly daunting. I’m convinced that most of the writers who submitted “won” something. In one contest, I counted the finalists, winners, and runners up and came up with 146 entries that garnered some mention. It cost me $50 to enter that contest. If 500 people entered just one of the possible categories (and I suspect there are many more desperate and eager authors like myself), the income off the bat is $25,000. Where does the money go? Who are the judges? Are they paid?  Starting a writing contest seems to have become a profitable business.

Of course, there are reputable contests for writers from PEN awards to the Pulitzer Prize to the excellent listings in Poets and Writers Magazine. If I have one piece of advice to offer to writers interested in submitting to contests, I’d say stick to the reputable listings including the smaller and less well known awards you can find at the Alliance of Independent Authors . Don’t fall into the trap I jumped into. Don’t waste your money on the “for profit” contests that might give you a momentary burst of gratification (see, they did pick me!) but in the end will do little to sell your book or get it to new readers.

Visit Elizabeth’s website at https://elizabethwinthrop.com.

Follow her newsletters on Substrate.

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Stephanie Cowell has been an opera singer, balladeer, founder of Strawberry Opera and other arts venues including a Renaissance festival and an outdoor arts series in NYC. She is the author of Nicholas Cooke, The Physician of London, The Players: a novel of the young Shakespeare, Marrying Mozart, and Claude & Camille: a novel of Monet.  Her work had been translated into nine languages and adapted into an opera. Stephanie is the recipient of an American Book Award.  Her website is www.StephanieCowell.com. (more…)

Writing is such a part of my day that if I don’t get to it, I’m constantly distracted, as if I have a lover I’m thinking about. It’s like a siren’s call, pulling me away. My husband Michael notices it. He comments on me seeming drifty. He’s right. I’m not fully there. The discipline of writing an hour or more a day pulls me into myself and gives me the contemplative part I need. Balance. (more…)

Thanks to  Sara Hart for interviewing me on her podcast PRIME SPARK WITH SARA HART and whose blog offers encouragement to women over 55. Here is the link to the interview: https://www.spreaker.com/user/10210191/ps-ep70-v1.    In it, I discuss my path to publication and other writing challenges with Sara.

It’s no surprise that I’ve been thinking a good deal about dreams and the role they play in our lives. Why? Shanti Arts Press released my latest poetry collection on June 27 titled California Dreaming. And it will be publishing my hybrid memoir, Dreaming Myself Into Old Age: One Woman’s Search for Meaning on September 19. Both books deal with varying aspects of dreams, from the ones that visit us at night to day dreams. (more…)

Martha Anne Toll’s debut novel, THREE MUSES, published by Regal House Publishing in September 2022, was shortlisted for the Gotham Book Prize and won the Petrichor Prize for Finely Crafted Fiction. THREE MUSES has received glowing tributes since it came out. Toll writes fiction, essays, and book reviews, and reads anything that’s not nailed down. She brings a long career in social justice to her work covering authors of color and women writers as a critic and author interviewer at NPR Books, the Washington PostPointe MagazineThe Millions, and elsewhere. She also publishes short fiction and essays in a wide variety of outlets. Toll is a member of the Board of Directors of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. Toll’s second novel, DUET FOR ONE, will be out in early 2025. (more…)

Joe Safdie has been lurking in and around the poetry world for 50 years; his first chapbook, Wake Up the Panthers, was published in 1974, while he was still an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz. His ninth book, published last year by Spuyten Duyvil, is The Secular Divine, a hybrid chapbook of poems and an essay. It was preceded in 2021 by The Oregon Trail (from the same press). This year two books will appear: a collection of his essays, Poetry and Heresy, will be published by MadHat Press, and a Selected Poems featuring Greek mythology, Greek to Me, is on tap at Chax Press. His talk on Charles Olson and Brooks Adams for the American Literature Association is on YouTube; other poems, essays, and reviews can be found in Jacket, Jacket2, Rain Taxi, Caesura, and Dispatches from the Poetry Wars. (more…)

My novel Fling, a wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and travel, was published in July 2015.

What happens in Fling? Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. (more…)

When The Copyright Trolls Came for Me

By Victoria Strauss  |  June 23, 2023  | 

Header image: Troll with purple hair casting dark shadow on a purple backround

If you’re a writer who’s serious about a career, you probably have some form of online presence: a website, a blog, an Instagram account. You may make use of images and/or videos created by others–to add visual interest to your blog posts or newsletters, build out your website, and engage your readers and followers. For example, the header image I’ve placed at the top of this post.

Online image use is not without its dangers, however. It offers fertile ground for copyright trolls.

What’s a Copyright Troll?

Wikipedia defines a copyright troll thus:

copyright troll is a party (person or company) that enforces copyrights it owns for purposes of making money through strategic litigation, in a manner considered unduly aggressive or opportunistic[.]

These kinds of copyright trolls create and register copyright to content that they then make widely available online, to increase the possibility that people will re-post it without permission. Using sophisticated search tools and algorithms, they find infringers and use threats of litigation to shake them down for cash settlements.

More indirectly, some companies and law firms specialize in copyright threats on behalf of third parties, seeking out infringers (and often roping in non-infringers as well), filing or threatening to file suit, and demanding large fees (in many cases, far exceeding the actual value of the intellectual property) to close the claim.

A major pioneer of third-party copyright trolling was a company called Righthaven, which licensed rights to news articles and then used the threat of lawsuits to coerce people who posted the articles—or even snippets of them—into paying thousands of dollars in settlements. Another notorious practitioner was former lawyer Richard Liebowitz, who employed a similar M.O. on behalf of photographers.

Karma did eventually bite back: Righthaven was sued out of existence, and Liebowitz was suspended from the practice of law in New York State. But copyright trolling is alive and well, and if you post images online, you may become a target—as I did a few months ago.

My CopyTrack Adventure

Like many people favored with attention from copyright trolls, I was a bit freaked out when I received an email from CopyTrack, an “expert for the global enforcement of image rights” that’s widely enough known in trolldom that there are explainers addressing what to do if they contact you.

Infringement notification from CopyTrack, with link to the location of the supposedly infringed image and link to CopyTrack's Settlement Portal

You can see the image and how I’ve used it here. (Note that this is my personal website; I’ve used the same image on the Writer Beware blog, but copyright trolls prefer to focus on individuals, who are less likely to have the resources to defend themselves.)

Because of Writer Beware, I’m often targeted with various kinds of threats. Mostly these can be safely ignored. But though I’d never heard of CopyTrack, I had heard of copyright trolling, and the general consensus is that non-response is not a good idea.

The link in the email above leads to the CopyTrack Settlement Portal, and a form where I was asked if I had a valid license to use the image. Here’s another feature of copyright trolls: they don’t do a lot of due diligence before sending out their scary communiques. In fact, I did have a license: from Shutterstock, where I subscribe to a plan that allows me unlimited use of images downloaded from the site.

I filled out the form and uploaded a screenshot of my most recent Shutterstock invoice as well as a screenshot of the image’s ALT text on my website, where the photographer—and Shutterstock–are credited:

Screenshot of image ALT text crediting photographer and Shutterstock

To give CopyTrack credit, the process is quick. I heard back within a day with a request for more information, which I provided. The day after that, they closed the case.

Screenshot of CopyTrack's email closing the case

My shakedown experience was relatively mild. Unlike some copyright trolls, CopyTrack isn’t a law firm, so it couldn’t pre-emptively hit me with a lawsuit (though it doesn’t skip the fear factor, making clear in its initial message that it is capable of escalating cases to lawyers). Nor did it demand thousands of dollars, as some copyright trolls do—though 200+ euros for continued use or “compensation” isn’t chicken feed (per its website, CopyTrack keeps 45% of any money it recovers).

Other copyright trolls that pursue or have pursued users of images: PicRights, Higbee and Associates, KodakOne, Pixsy, and Photoclaim. That’s not an exhaustive list, either.

The Importance of Protecting Yourself

The resources I consulted in my research for this post agree that copyright trolling is on the rise—and as my experience shows, you don’t have to infringe to be a target. In that environment, it makes sense to do what you can to defend yourself.

What does that include?

  1. First and most obvious, if you use images, make sure you have the proper licenses and/or permissions, or that the images are free to download under a Creative Commons license, such as photos from sites like Pixabay and Unsplash (though do read the license terms: there may be restrictions on use, such as a requirement for attribution—and yes, trolls come after people for messing that up too). Giving credit to the image creator and/or linking back to the source is polite, but it won’t protect you from copyright claims.
  2. Keep good records. If you purchase images individually, or subscribe to a stock image website like Shutterstock or Getty Images, keep your receipts on file. If you obtain permission direct from an artist, make sure it’s in writing. If you use one of the free image sites, keep a record of the search terms you use or take a screenshot of the download page so you can show where you got the image.
  3. If you accept guest blog posts, require the guest blogger to prove that they have permission to use any images they contribute. Posting an unauthorized image may be someone else’s mistake, but if it’s on your blog or website, you will be the one getting trolled.
  4. If you outsource content (such as employing a third party to produce blog posts or other web content for you), be sure you know what your liability is. In an ideal world, the person or service will indemnify you against error, but if copyright ownership is transferred to you, then you, not they, will be on the hook for any infringement.
  5. Don’t ignore a copyright infringement notification. If you websearch CopyTrack, you’ll find comments from people who say they ignored it, and after two or three attempts it gave up. You can’t count on that happening, though–plus, as mentioned, CopyTrack is not a law firm. In many cases, the notifications do come from law firms, which can actually sue you. Blowing off notifications and deadlines can have adverse consequences.
  6. Finally: if you have a valid license, as I did, by all means go through the steps to prove it and close the case. But if you don’t, or if there’s any ambiguity or question, or the troll is demanding a lot of money…seek legal advice, preferably from a copyright attorney. Don’t try to handle it on your own; don’t try to settle on your own. There are defenses a lawyer can invoke (here’s an example), and they may be able to reduce the fee.

Oh, and the image at the top of this post? It’s a download from Flickr, under a Creative Commons license that requires attribution and a link back to the source, both of which I’ve provided.

Have you ever heard from a copyright troll, or been accused of copyright infringement? If so, how did you respond?

Victoria Strauss is the author of nine novels for adults and young adults, including the WAY OF ARATA epic fantasy duology (THE BURNING LAND and THE AWAKENED CITY) and PASSION BLUE and COLOR SONG, a pair of historical novels for teens. In addition, she’s written a handful of short stories, hundreds of book reviews, and a number of articles on writing and publishing that have appeared in Writer’s Digest, among others. In 2006, she served as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards.

She is the co-founder, with Ann Crispin, of Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group that provides information and warnings about the many scams and schemes that threaten writers. She received the Service to SFWA Award in 2009 for her work with Writer Beware.

She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

This article first appeared in Writer Unboxed: https://writerunboxed.com/2023/06/23/when-the-copyright-trolls-came-for-me/

Many thanks to Victoria and Writer Unboxed for sharing this important information!

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Kathleen McClung is the author of four poetry collections: A Juror Must Fold in on Herself, winner of the 2020 Rattle Chapbook Prize, Temporary Kin, The Typists Play Monopoly and Almost the Rowboat. Winner of the Morton Marr, Maria W. Faust, and Rita Dove national poetry prizes, her work appears in a variety of journals and anthologies. From 2021-23 she has served as guest editor for The MacGuffin, a print literary journal based in Michigan. She also served as associate director of the Soul-Making Keats literary competition and judged the contest’s sonnet category. In 2018-2019 she was a writer-in-residence at Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. Kathleen teaches literature and writing classes at Skyline College in San Bruno and directed the Women on Writing conference there for ten years. She also teaches privately and at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) in San Francisco.  Visit her website at www.kathleenmcclung.com (more…)

Whenever I give a talk or reading, someone in the audience asks where my stories come from. I find the answer more complex that what it would appear to be on the surface. What are my narrative seeds? What starts me on these explorations of others’ lives?

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5d9cf373-e31c-400e-9fe0-1655625ab9b2Recently, my husband and I got into a discussion of poetry and our different approaches to it. His training is in new criticism. Mine embraces more contemporary work, though I’m eclectic and like many different styles, including John Ashbery’s method of disjointed narrative. My husband recognizes I’m onto something that Melville was alluding to in Moby Dick—the gap between language and what it tries to depict…how language organizes and creates our way of seeing. (more…)

FREEDOM!

I’ve realized that it isn’t just writers who are tempted to turn themselves into fodder for the Internet. Non-writers also are tempted to give up their lives and be submerged by the Google glitz.

That’s where freedom comes in.

Freedom means many things to different people. For some, it conveys release from constraints. For others, it gives permission to not follow a particular religion or political ideology. Many are trying to free themselves from failed states. Still more want to be self-determining individuals that aren’t under anyone’s sway.

freedom copy

For me these days, freedom has more to do with technology overload and its tyranny. From the time I wake up until I go to sleep at night, different devices surround me. I go to my computer immediately to write my dreams in my journal. Then I check out email, visit the Times’ front page to catch up with whatever important news I missed while sleeping, look at my Facebook page and scroll through messages, view my Google calendar to see what’s on my list for the day, get sidelined by hyperlinks that demand immediate attention, and so much more.

Throughout the day and evening, I’m frequently on my computer working on marketing tactics for my novels and poetry collection or writing. When I’m in my car commuting or at the gym, I listen on my smart phone to audio books and frequently check my email and phone messages. In the kitchen, while I prepare dinner, I watch my favorite programs (tennis, baseball, the Antiques Roadshow, and the PBS Newshour, programs that I’ve pre-recorded).

The one thing I don’t do yet is walk around with ear buds plugged into my ears, so I have some freedom! But I also have freedom when I write from the wonderful free application of the same name that I’ve downloaded onto my computer. I start it when I begin my writing time, and it keeps me from being distracted by all of the things I’ve mentioned above, allowing me to focus on my work. I’m also considering turning it on when I’m NOT writing so I can wean myself from this hi-tech world and the behavior it encourages.

Before I could finish this blog post, I got sidetracked by the latest offering from Goldstar, and am still browsing through its current offerings. There’s no question that technology offers us much, but with as with anything in this world, there also is a downside. I’m aiming for more freedom. I hope you’ll join me!

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