Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Q&A with Michel Vaillancourt

I originally posted this interview a week or so ago, at about the time when my own blogging efforts had to go on temporary hiatus; so I am reposting it today because I think it is so pertinent to writers today - especially if you're considering independent or self publishing.

Author of the well-received Sauder Dairies, Michel R Vallaincourt, found himself on the wrong side of a book cover snafu, out of no fault of his own; the full details of which can be found here: [[LINK]]

Many writers would have been tempted to just let things lie; but not Michel. He stepped up to the plate and voluntarily requested his publisher remove his book for purchase until the issue of cover art could be settled. What followed was a curious sequence of events with distinct consequences for all concerned.

As an artist and writer, I appreciated the moral stance Michel took on this issue, for multiple reasons. I have seen other friends misrepresented, and their professional reputations tarnished, through similar circumstances. So I asked if Michel would be willing to answer a few questions about this unfortunate turn of events. Here is the interview in full:


How did it come to your attention that the book cover was used without the artist's permission?
A fan and active member of the Steampunk community sent me an email containing the link to a website with "free for personal use" copy of the artwork.   In the comments section, people were talking about the piece and someone gave the artists name.  From there, I found the original piece on the original artist's web gallery; the internationally recognized Mr. Tomasz Jedruszek (AKA Morano).

Many people, I think, would have been tempted to let "well enough alone", especially if - as with The Sauder Diaries - it was their debut novel, receiving high reviews and gaining a gradual but loyal fan base. What prompted you to take the "hard road" and pull the book until the cover issue could be resolved?
It was stolen goods.  Really, it's that simple.  My publisher was being paid a share of the sales revenue stream to provide cover art;  as a publishing company, I sort of expected them to understand and honor copyright.  Instead they gave me stolen goods. 
As a story teller, I'm an artist of a kind.  My wife is an artist, in her own right.  Many of my friends are artists -- singers, song writers, story tellers, painters, costumers, leather workers -- and their creative process is part of what makes them who they are.  Keeping Morano's work to profit from it without proper restitution to him would have been wrong.  Plain and simple.  I can't afford Morano's work, so that means I can't use it. 
If someone makes something, and you take it without permission and then make a profit in selling it, that's uncool and unfair.  I won't knowingly be a part of that.
Was the artist him/herself already aware of the infraction when you contacted him/her?  What was his/her general response when you said that you would insist on the book cover being withdrawn?
He had no idea.  When I was first made aware of the problem, I ordered my publisher to immediately contact Mr.Jedruszek via his website -- I even gave them the link -- and told them to arrange either permission or compensation on their dime.  I waited about two weeks, following up regularly with them;  they had tried a couple of times, but weren't getting answers back. 
As a result of an related chain of events with another author, I opted to contact Mr.Jedruszek myself via the email address on his website.  So I am the one who contacted Mr. Jedruszek to get this set right. 
I had contacted him with a message of "look, this is what my publisher did without my permission, I'm sorry, can you either give permission for use or tell me how you want to deal with this".  Mr.Jedruszek was furious and he had some pretty harsh things to say about me as a person for letting this happen.  I immediately replied to him, CC'd my publisher, explained the entire situation all over again and gave him the contact information to my publisher. 
I then emailed my publisher, CC'd to Mr.Jedruszek, and told them to pull the book and work with Mr.Jedruszek to clean up the mess they had made.  My exact words to them were "you broke it, you fix it".
How has the handling of this matter affected your relationship with your publisher? 
It amounts to a breach of trust and a breach of ethics.  I asked them to do a few simple things to restore my trust in them and they ignored the requests.  I can't work with them, and as of the 7th of February, they were served notice that they no longer have the right to represent me or any of my creative works.
You hit on a creative solution by hosting a "new and original" book cover contest on your blog. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Certainly.  Essentially, I'm looking for someone who wants to show off in an art contest to send me something cool.  As a result of a donation from a Sauder fan, the total prize pot is $300, with $150 going to first place.  The first-place winner has to agree that I'm allowed to use the artwork for a book cover, and in exchange I'll ensure they get full attribution on the book and in the notes. 
Everyone who enters, winner or not, gets their art up in a gallery on my site with links and contact information, so it's a good chance to promote themselves. 
I know this sort of thing tends to get abused by folks who don't want to pay the $350 - $500+ for a real piece of cover art.  However, in my case, I'm trying to use this as a way to make something good come out of the debacle.  I want to give a starting artist a shot in exchange for helping me get "The Sauder Diaries - By Any Other Name" back out there in a positive way.  By letting the fans have a say in which piece gets chosen, it means everyone has a bit of themselves tied up in the outcome.  I think it will be a very positive thing.   
Anyone interested in participating should swing by my website for all the information. (http://michelrvaillancourt.com/2012/02/06/book-cover-contest-making-lemonaide-and-spreading-the-sweets/)
Now that you have severed ties with your publisher, what is your next step as an author?
I'm doing a re-edit of the book based on feedback from fans to fix a couple things that some how didn't get into the version that I sent the publisher.  Stuff happens, but again, I might as well make an opportunity from the misfortune.  At the same time, of course, I'm sourcing cover art via the contest.  I'm also planning out my re-release promotional actions.  I'm also in the process of getting an ISBN and the like for the book.
When will The Sauder Diaries be available again, and through what website(s)?
The planned re-release date is April 1, 2012.  It will be available via Amazon.com in Kindle format.  I am also aiming to get it up on Chapters/Indigo for all the Canadian's with a Nook e-reader.  Shortly there-after, I'll be getting it onto Barnes and Noble as well.
Have any thoughts on this? Let me know in the comment section!

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