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