Archive for November, 2010

How to Kill Your Business with One Email

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

First let me start by saying the following story was brought to my attention by my buddy Kimberly LeRiche owner of JKVirtual Office and Fan Page Marketing Magic. Why it’s important to give credit where credit is due will quickly become obvious.

The following is a story about a woman who screwed up. Bad. She thought she was right but was wrong, blew off the injured party and create a firestorm of bad publicity for her business. I don’t take pleasure in seeing someone decimate years of hard work but we can all learn a lot from what this woman’s multiple mistakes. So, let’s get started.

Kimberly posted a link to this story on Facebook, The Day The Internet Threw A Righteous Hissyfit About Copyright And Pie. You should read the whole article. It’s short and will only take a few minutes. For those who don’t, I’ll summarize. The editor/publisher of a small cooking magazine swiped a story about apple pie from the author’s website. Although the editor credited the author, she published the story without permission. When the author confronted the editor and asked for an apology and a donation of $130 to a journalism school, the editor replied with the following:

“…Honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”


Monday Morning Quarterbacking

I really try not to assume other people are jerks, especially when I haven’t talked with them about the situation in question, but this editor makes it very difficult to give her the benefit of the doubt. It’s as if she’s saying, “Sure I stole your car! Everybody steals cars! At least I returned it. I even put gas in it. You should pay me back.”

I know I’m not perfect. Frankly, I screw up on a regular basis. But, I’ve promised myself to learn as much as possible from my mistakes. I also try to learn from the mistakes of others. So, let’s play Monday Morning Quarterback. The following are 5 lessons I think we can learn from what this editor did to destroy her business with one “lifted” article and one email.

Lesson #1:The internet IS NOT public domain!

Just because the internet is considered a “public place”, it does not mean anything you find on the internet is up for grabs. Copyright laws still apply! Granted, those of us who aren’t copyright attorneys are fuzzy on:

  1. what is copyrighted versus public domain,
  2. when you can use copyrighted material and when you can’t and
  3. how you get permission to use copyrighted material.

This webpage gives you the basics of what is copyrighted material versus public domain. It also provides links other resources if you want to learn more about the finer points.

This sentence sums up the copyright ownership on the web:

“There’s a pretty simple rule when it comes to the net. If you didn’t write it, and you want to reproduce it, ask the creator, or ascertain that it meets the complex public domain rules if it’s pretty old. Most people don’t really need to know much more than this. If you do, check the other documents*.”

*By “other documents,” Mr. Templeton means the resources cited on the webpage above.

Lesson #2: The web is smaller than you think and it’s easy to find out who’s using your stuff!

Just because stealing online content happens all the time, doesn’t make it right. (Can’t you hear your mother right now? “If your friends jumped off a bridge…”) So why do people steal content? Because they don’t think they’ll get caught. Most of the time they don’t get caught, but it’s not because they are talented thieves. It’s because the content owners aren’t looking.
3 things you can do to figure out who’s using your stuff:

  1. Do a simple web search – Take a sentence or clause from your article and do a web search with quotes around your search term. There’s a decent chance that if someone else is using it, it will show up in the search results.
  2. Use Google Alerts – Google Alerts sends you an email with search results. Learn how to use Google Alerts here.
  3. Use the Copyscape plagiarism checker.

Lesson #3: Just because you say you’re an expert, it doesn’t mean you’re an expert.


I’m pretty sure I know how this cooking magazine got started because one of the business models internet marketing gurus espouse is, “Start a website, build an audience, and make money on advertising and membership.” This business model appeals to people who hate their day job, have a hobby they enjoy, want to work from home, and believe they can get rich working online. That describes a lot of people. Many of whom don’t have the slightest idea of how to run a business.
I know there are thousands of people running online businesses this way. That’s why I’m dismayed, but not surprised, that a self-proclaimed “professional editor” doesn’t know the basics of copyright law. If this “editor” had editing experience with an established magazine or newspaper—she would know the copyright laws.

If you’re going to start a business, you need more than a passing interest in a topic. You need all the departments any “real” business would have such as human resources, accounting, sales and marketing, or last but not least, legal. You don’t get to decide that the way you think things work is how they work. You need to hire people who actually know how things work.

Lesson #4: The old axiom “Any publicity is good publicity.” does not apply to the web.

If you’ve put any time into getting your website to rank well, you know how hard it is. From what I can tell, it doesn’t look like Cooks Source put a lot of effort into rankings but any website should rank #1 for their own business name. But! The Cook’s Source website now ranks #45 (the middle of the 4th page) for their own business name. Search results 1 – 44 are about how Cook’s Source screwed an author. That’s not going to do good things for getting author submissions or advertisers.

Need more evidence of the power of negative publicity? The Cooks Source Facebook Fan Page has garnered thousands of negative comments (and downright threats!) in the few days since this story broke. They’ve become an internet joke. There are even spin off pages such as “Cooks Source is so honest LOL, JK, they’re thieving b*stards.


Concluding Thoughts…

If Cook’s Source were published by Condé Nast, they might be able to weather this storm (but then Condé Nast editors would know the rules about acquiring content). However, this is a small cooking magazine and it’s quite possible this one awful email will kill their business. Frankly, it should.

This editor behaved badly and clearly doesn’t understand that the rule of karma apply to doing business online. What goes around, comes around. Despite all the spammers and identity thieves, the internet is still a space that expects fair behavior. Not knowing the rules is one thing. Being a jerk about not knowing the rules is another. Be nice. The internet is smaller than you think.

Posted in Cautionary Tales | 7 Comments »

7 Tips to Name Computer Files so You Can Find Them Again

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

It happened again last week. A client contacted me in a panic. She and her co-author are writing a 300+ page how-to book and realized they had multiple versions of the same book and neither knew who had the most up-to-date version of the book. They were staring down the possibility of going through multiple versions of the book page by page to create a current version. That could easily take 15 – 20 hours and they’re on a tight deadline. Ewwww!

Fortunately, Microsoft Word has a Compare Documents feature and I was able to show them how to compare and combine all the versions they have to create one file. This process will take them about 5 hours but the whole thing could have been avoided in the first place if they’d come to an agreement at the beginning of the writing process about how they were going to name files and how to share control over the master document.

If you haven’t had the problem my client did, I’m willing to bet you’ve had a different problem. A file name that made sense last time you worked on a document, has totally escaped you and you have no idea what you called it or where you put it. You then waste several minutes trying to find it. If you’re lucky, it turns up. If you’re not, you have to start all over again.

In order to find what you’re looking for, you need a system for naming and organizing files and folders. Although naming files and organizing them are closely related topics, I’ve written 2 blog posts to make the topic easier to digest. In this blog post, I focus on how to name files so you can find the one you want. In the next blog post, I’ll show you how to organize your folders so you can remember where you saved your well-named files.

Tips for Naming Files for Easy Identification

The client I mentioned above is working on the second version of her very successful book, Surviving Natural Disasters. We recently completed a free ebook, How to Prepare for Natural Disasters, to help promote the book. If you’re interested, you can download it at I mention this because I will use her book as an example below.

Tip #1: Start with a brief title that quickly identifies the topic. I suggested starting the file name with “SND” to represent the book title “Surviving Natural Disasters”. That way she can easily identify the topic of the file. When you write several different types of media on the same topic, you might want to identify the type of media your file is. For example, when we worked on the free eBook, the file name started with “SNDebook”. The decision to include media type will also depend on what folder you put the file in. We’ll go into more detail about that in the next blog post on organizing folders.

Tip #2: Give the document a version number. The file name for the first version of Surviving Natural Disasters is “SNDbook_v1”. When I make major changes to a document such as adding sections, moving sections or deleting content, I save the file as a new document with a new version number. Part of why I do this is because it’s hard to delete your precious words and if you know you’ve got them in a previous version you are more likely to make those hard but necessary cuts.

Tip #3: Give the file a revision number. When making relatively minor changes such as spelling or punctuation corrections and minor formatting changes, I suggest assigning a revision number. For example, the file name for the second version, third revision of the Surviving Natural Disasters book would be “SNDbook_v2_r3.doc”.

Tip #4: Add dates in reverse chronological order. Sometimes it makes sense to add a date to a file name. I do that in reverse order, year/month/day. For example, October, 15, 2010 would be 101015. It takes a little getting used to but I do that because when you do it year, month, day, the most recent date is at the top of the list and the rest are in reverse chronological order.

Tip #5: Use an underscore or hyphen in a file name instead of a space. I recommend doing this because when you upload a file to the internet, the internet can’t handle blank spaces. The internet inserts %20 where it finds a blank space which makes file names hard to read.

Tip #6: Do not use periods in a file name other than right before the file extension. The file extension tells your computer what type of file it’s dealing with. For example, a Word document will end in “.doc” and an Excel file will end with “.xls”. If you add periods in your file name, such as “SND.ebook.v1.doc” it can confuse your computer. Use hyphens or underscores instead.

Tip #7: For multiple authors, add initials. Some of my clients like to put initials in the file name so they can see who edited that particular file.

What do you get?
So if you put all this together, the file name “SNDbook_101015_v1_r2_jc.doc” tells you “This file is the first version, second revision of the Surviving Natural Disasters book and it was edited by Joe Client on October 15, 2010.” That’s a lot of information to pack into a file name!

Have any tips? I’d love to know what you do to organize your own information.

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Posted in Managing Data | 2 Comments »

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