I called Random House, and politely started off by reminding them that they were taking legal action against one of their authors, but this didn’t seem to have any effect. The conversation that ensued was perfectly civil, but hardly warm. I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to stop selling my version. I was then told that the author of the real “Fifty shades of grey” was “furious” about my version, which I was surprised about – and actually doubt. I’ve watched E.L. James being interviewed on TV and she’s a fiercely bright woman with a superb sense of humour.
More likely, the lawyers and people handling the book’s licenses were furious. It amazed me how they couldn’t be a little more amenable or come up with a solution that would get everyone what they needed. I offered to pay a license fee on each book. They said no. I asked them about the stickering. Again, this wasn’t given a rousing thumbs up. So, that was that. I had to stop selling my book.
This was a big blow. I’d spent a sizeable amount on my second run of books and I now couldn’t sell them. I posted my predicament on Facebook – and the story was quickly picked up by the press. It seemed to gather even more media interest after I carefully crafted a quote about how I felt about the legal action being taken against me. It read:
“Frankly, I feel violated. Random House have tried to handcuff me from selling my novelty notebook – and gag me from talking about it. It’s a clear case of a corporate giant whipping a creative entrepreneur and they’re attempting to tie me up in legal affairs. I’m not the submissive type, so I wish them luck…”
A flurry of publicity ensued. Unfortunately, it didn’t help the financial side of things. All the money I’d invested in the second run of the books looked like it was going to go up in a puff of grey coloured smoke. I had two thousand copies of my blank “Fifty shades of gray” sitting in a warehouse, doing nothing expect incurring rental charges. I decided to give some copies away to anyone writing a review of my latest (real) book, “Success or your money back” on Amazon, but I couldn’t recoup any costs for the copies of my spoof book that had cost me thousands to print.
Right then, when I thought all was lost, a shaft of light shone through the grey darkness. An email popped into my inbox from a publisher in the Netherlands. They told me that they really wanted to sell a “translated” version of my blank book for the Dutch market. I was still worried about Random House suing me – and I told the Dutch publisher as much.
They reassured me they were confident that their new version would be fine and told me they’d take responsibility for it. As you can imagine, this was music to my ears. They paid me an advance, and agreed a traditional royalty structure too. Amazing! Out of a problem, an amazing solution had deliciously sprung up, and my bacon would be saved.
All in all, this episode is a wonderful example of how, when you try something new – and arguably risky – you’ll always be sent on a stimulating adventure. And even when it looks like you’ve failed, success can be unpredictably – and swiftly – around the corner.
And, as for seeing the public as “idiots in a hurry”, I think of most humans as discerning, clever and hungry for new ideas. After all, I’ve sold over a million novelty gifts around the world, and it’s abundantly obvious that every one of my products is an item that only someone very bright, with exquisite taste, would appreciate – which most certainly means that all my customers and supporters are clearly “geniuses at leisure”…
Shed’s new book, “Success Or Your Money Back” is out now, published by Hay House.
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