This was followed by, Oh well, guess I'd better get busy writing another one, because this one is in the toilet. I'd just self-published THE MARRIAGE PACT a few months before, on a shoe-string budget and with only the grassiest of grass-roots marketing behind it. I knew anyone who might randomly go looking for my book would find Eugenides's super-publicized book first, and that anyone who happened across my book would be likely to think it was a rip-off of his. I was really bummed. I debated, briefly, changing my title, but I had already published it.
What's more, (writers will understand this) after spending weeks trying on different titles, testing them with beta readers, and having my working-for-love graphic designer incorporate them into cover designs, it didn't seem fair that I should have to do that when my book was out first. I assumed that Eugenides's publisher did the same searches I did before putting their title out, and they either didn't come across my book or didn't see it as a threat. And let's be honest, it's not a threat. I'm enormously proud of my book and the chutzpah it took to put it out there in public, but I don't think the Pulitzer committee are going to be knocking on my door anytime soon. Maybe in a few years.... :)
The idea that my little book might benefit from Eugenides's publicity machine didn't occur to me until a friend suggested it a few days later, and I dismissed it as ridiculous. I believed then, as I do now, that they are so different in appearance and tone, it would be very unlikely for anyone to mistake mine for his -- especially since his Kindle version retails for $12.99 and mine is $0.99. On an indie author's budget, I haven't been able to purchase Eugenides's book yet, but my impression from the jacket summary is that they are quite different.
Up until this month, the sales numbers reflected the truth of this. I didn't see even a little uptick in sales when THE MARRIAGE PLOT was published, nor did anyone refund my book after purchasing, which could be one indication that people were buying mine by mistake. I was actually relieved about this, because if people downloaded my book thinking it was the latest Pulitzer (rather than a light romantic comedy), I'd be getting some pretty harsh reviews.
After putting my book on promotion with KDP Select, it did really well for free downloads and has sold pretty well since then. It's stayed in the top ten lists for Women's Fiction and Contemporary Fiction consistently and the top 100 for Kindle books overall. The reviews have been mostly very positive, and the return rate is around 1.5%, which seems pretty small to me (though I don't know what the average is). I had one snarky comment on a previous blog entry implying that the only reason people were downloading it was because they were confusing it with Eugenides's work, but it's hard for me to believe that is true, at least on a wide scale. Did the similarity in our titles help propel my book to the top of Amazon's free list while it was on promotion? Maybe. I have no way of knowing, nor is that within my control.
Today on HLN's Morning Express with Robin Meade, there was a teaser/one-liner about being careful when you buy eBooks because some people are posting scam eBooks, titled very similarly to popular books, trying to lure people in to buy them. Meade cautioned the audience to be careful, but I didn't see a follow-up story before I had to leave for the office, nor have I been able to find anything on either HLN or their parent site CNN.com about it. I've tweeted them to ask if there is a follow-up story, and I'll update the blog if I get a response.
[Edit to add: I did hear back from HLN via twitter with a link to the clip I must have missed this morning. You can find it here: http://www.hlntv.com/video/2012/04/17/beware-knockoff-e-books. They are wrong about Amazon's return policy on eBooks, but otherwise I'm assuming the knock-offs they mention were published after the famous books in question.]
I've debated amending the editorial description of my book to include a disclaimer that it is not THE MARRIAGE PLOT. On the one hand, it doesn't seem fair that I would have to do that, since mine really was out first, and I know that I haven't done anything remotely wrong. People spend mere seconds reading a book's summary, and I worry that the distraction of a disclaimer could turn folks off from reading the actual description of my book and deciding whether they want to read it or not.
On the other hand, I want readers to be informed about what they're buying. Being above reproach when it comes to writing and publishing ethics is important to me The satisfaction of my readers is the only product I have to sell, and losing their trust gains me nothing. I have exactly zero desire to 'trick' anyone into buying or reading my book, nor have I been hoping to capitalize on Eugenides's work or publicity. I would much rather my book stand on its own, for better or for worse.
I want people to read my books, of course, and I hope they enjoy them. But I would never intentionally try to ride another author's coattails.
I am still trying to put together all the pieces of the puzzle on this one. It will be interesting to see if there is more in the news in the next few days about the eBook scamming problem and whether my book is being included as an example. I would also love to find out what the average rate of returns is on eBooks for sale after their promotional period has ended, to see if more people than average have been returning mine because they actually thought it was '...PLOT'.
In the meantime, for anyone who doesn't already know it - amazon.com has a 7-day return policy on eBooks, for any reason. If you bought my book, or any other book, under mistaken pretenses, you can easily return it for a refund. Or if your almost-three-year-old got a hold of your Kindle and somehow managed to make a purchase while trying to watch Thomas the Train, for example...
In my (figurative) book, it's totally acceptable to return a book that you bought by mistake, or that was blatantly misrepresented in either the marketing materials or the editorial summary. Is it okay to return something you bought on purpose and read in its entirety, because you didn't like it or couldn't relate to the characters? Good question. I'd say that one depends on your ethical code!