Common Self-Publishing Mistakes: Using OOPS (Only Other People's Stuff) in Nonfiction

Updated on May 16, 2020
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert and advocate. Author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. Former trade newspaper editor.


If I see yet another self-published book of nonfiction that includes or refers to a ton of other people's material, I am going to lose it. In some of the more egregious examples of these works, easily half or more of the entire book is not the author's original ideas. (I saw one where I estimated only about 10 to 15 percent of it was truly the author's). I've seen so many of these books over the years that I've finally developed a name for them: OOPS (Only Other People's Stuff).

The OOPS material is typically good material. However, including it usually does nothing to improve the author's book and may even put the author in legal jeopardy. Here's why.


The most likely types of books where OOPS is a problem are motivational and inspirational. They are usually filled with stories and quotes from some of the world's foremost thought leaders and events, past and present. Because what is used is so commonly known within our culture, I find myself speed-reading or skipping over it entirely as I read these books. Some of these segments could even be classed as cliché.

If, like me, readers are skipping over cliche stories and quotes, they may miss important points the author was trying to make. And if the volume of cliched material is large, readers may think that the author is lazy or unoriginal (which might be true).

No Self-Confidence

Constantly and blatantly referring to OOPS material can overshadow or even degrade the author and his message.

Maybe it's done because the author is not willing to take a stand on a certain point. Or he may think that his own message or thoughts are not good enough. So he includes OOPS material to build his shaky stance. Readers can pick up on this lack of confidence and have less confidence in the author. This is especially bad if the author is hoping to be seen as an expert by self-publishing a book.

Nonexistent Association and Name-Dropping

Worse is when an author uses OOPS material in the hopes that readers will make a positive association between the authority and the author, even though the association is nonexistent. Sometimes these authors want to bask in the reflected glory of an authority figure or are resorting to name dropping to pump themselves up.

Once readers figure out that the author has no connection to the authority, the author and her book can be viewed with suspicion. If this book was to be used as a "business card" for her business, she has just caused mistrust in her readers, which will not help her build sales.

Dead Men Can't Agree With You

In many OOPS cases, the author will state his thoughts. Then, immediately after, will swing into the quoted material, prefacing it with, "As [insert name of famous person from the past here] said..." Because of the juxtaposition and framing of the quoted material, is the author suggesting that the famous person from the past would agree with him? Dead men aren't in a position to agree with you. Don't imply they do.


There are self-published authors who feel that the physical weight of their printed book will help their book seem more real or relevant. Because they're gunning for a large word count, they may be tempted to pad their book with OOPS quotes and stories just to fill space. When readers discover that a large portion of a book is just retread, they'll feel cheated because the author cheated.

Legal Risk

Some of the books I've read include dozens, if not hundreds, of OOPS bits. I cannot even imagine how long it would take to gain written permission for every one of them. Even research to see if a quote is in the public domain is a long, arduous process.

Some authors who use copyrighted material include a statement that invites readers to contact them if any copyright violations are identified. Wow! Did they just tell everyone they didn't do their due diligence?

The potential for receiving a nasty cease and desist letter, a demand for royalties, or a lawsuit increases with every unauthorized use of copyrighted OOPS material in a self-published book. Remember, when a book is published for sale, fair use is unlikely to be a defense for the inclusion of other people's quotes, stories, and images. Seek legal advice on obtaining proper written permissions for quoted material and/or to confirm public domain status of quoted material BEFORE publishing.

Questions to Challenge Use of OOPS

OOPS is a preventable self-publishing disease. Here are some questions to keep it from ruining your self-published nonfiction book and future.

Why do you want to include this quoted material? What purpose will it serve? If you include it just because you like the story or quote or who said it, I'd have to ask you, "So what?" Readers have likely seen this stuff elsewhere.

What is your position on this topic? Why do YOU believe this way? If the only reason you believe something is because someone else said so, you weaken your position.

Have you received written permission to use quoted material OR confirmed it as being in the public domain? Again, seek an attorney's help on how to properly use quoted material, gain written permissions for it, or confirm its public domain status in order to help mitigate your legal risk.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    MsDora, I think it can be said that a lot of authors don't trust their own insights and creativity. I'm glad you realized that you have what it takes within you. We can't wait to see what YOU have to share with the world. Thanks so much for your comments! Have a wonderful day!

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 

    3 years ago from The Caribbean

    I needed this class. Thanks a million for these very useful insights. You encourage me trust my own creativity rather than OOPsing.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    And that's my view, too, Lawrence! In fact, I want to hear the author's unique perspective on the same topic or thought. Thanks so much for adding that exclamation point to the discussion. Have a lovely weekend!

  • profile image

    Lawrence Hebb 

    3 years ago


    This disturbs me when I see it! There are times when a writer will need to repeat a piece of writing, but they are few and far between, even the 'motivational' material can be rewritten by an author, even if only to give a slightly different perspective.

    That's my view anyway.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Flourish, I'm right with you! I rarely send back books or eBooks, even if they are bad. Now I might reconsider my behavior. Thanks for chiming in! Have a lovely week!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    3 years ago from USA

    I gave up on reading those motivational books long ago because I was finding nothing new or interesting in them. I prefer to read something that reflects an author's strong stand and their aggressive defense of their position with actual personal examples. Never pass up the opportunity to send a truly horrible book back for a refund. Money talks.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    OldRoses, not the first time I've heard a story like that. Sad. Thanks for sharing your experience with us! Have a lovely Sunday!

  • OldRoses profile image

    Caren White 

    3 years ago

    There is a self-published author on Amazon who I will not name so that he cannot sue me for libel whose "motivational books" are just summaries of other well-known authors' books. He brazenly names the authors and books that he is summarizing and adds a little text of his own. Nowhere does he say that he has the authors' permission to do this.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Billybuc, you are so right about the "recycling" movement. Dear Lord! I cannot believe people are STILL leaning on that lame strategy. I always tell authors that they should want to be the one people are quoting. So your book should be your work. Thanks for putting the exclamation point on the issue for us. Have a lovely Sunday!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks for the "yups," Audrey! Appreciate you chiming in. Have a lovely day!

  • AudreyHowitt profile image

    Audrey Howitt 

    3 years ago from California

    Yup yup and yup! This is just an excellent article

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    3 years ago from Olympia, WA

    We've been seeing this in the motivational/self-help field for decades. It's mostly all recycled information branded under a new name. Just one reason why I quit reading it back in the 90's. Great points made here, my Guru!


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