You Reap What You Sow

How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”  ~Wayne Dyer

The literary industry can’t withstand what happened to the music industry. We can’t build houses of sticks and straw and expect them to weather the storm. Media piracy sucks the lifeblood out of the entertainment business, but as wounded as musicians have been over the illegal distribution of their material, they won’t hurt like authors will.

Just two weeks after the release of Son of Ereubus, a ridiculous amount of downloads have been completed. Really, it’s staggering. I had to take a screen shot because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing (still don’t). Compounding this is the fact that it went viral. I’ve seen it in forums, multiple free torrent sites and a few membership only ones.

I’m not Stephen King folks…and I’m flattered that someone out there, somewhere, thinks it’s good enough to steal. Honestly. But that warm fuzzy feeling, like a good strong night’s worth of drinks, leads to nothing but a vicious migraine and one hell of a stomach ache.

With the dawn of new technology and the ever-changing format of material, our rear-ends have to get in gear here or we’re going to be left in the dust. Again. Why do I say again?

How many authors, who are signed with large publishing houses, who have awesome (big name) agents, can afford to write full time? Answer: Not as many as you’d think. 

Artists are often in this same boat. Even being featured in well-known galleries doesn’t mean that your work will necessarily afford you a decent lifestyle. I suppose it depends on your definition. But, how do you take what isn’t there to be taken? An author’s royalties, even before you take out an agent’s 20%, are SO minimal…that the idea of losing a good portion of that income because of piracy makes my insides hurt. I’m not saying that this is the case with Son of Ereubus. I’m published with a very small press, so I don’t expect to earn a ton anyway. I’m sure sales have been affected, but I’m talking on a wide-scale basis here. This hits home with everyone who ever hopes to earn a living from selling their fiction, whether they realize it yet or not.

Now, pair this with all of the other “hot  topics” out there right now: E-book vs Paper, Paperback vs Hardcover, Self-publish vs Traditional, POD vs Print Run, Large Print Run vs Small Print Run, Small Press vs Big Five, Literary Fiction vs Pop Fiction, Listed at P&E as Gold vs Listed on P&E as Evil, To Blog vs Not to Blog, Social Media Savvy vs Being a J.D. Salinger Hermit, All Rights Contracts vs Limited Rights Contracts ….really??? Are you guys hearing me here? WE HAVE ISSUES….and not the kind of issues that “I”m OK, You’re OK” can fix. And don’t even get me started on the whole audio rights and ereaders thing… 

Back to the problem of piracy…a lot of these torrent sites are over seas. Right now…there’s next to nothing that can be done about it. So, I did the only thing I could do—I went to my J.S. Chancellor FB page and asked that if anyone had downloaded it illegally, liked it, and was on my page as a result, would they please consider leaving a review of the book somewhere. I don’t exactly consider that an even trade, but I know what it’s like to not be able to afford to read a book you want to read. Yes, I’m aware that some downloaders can afford to buy it but are too cheap or lazy to do so…you reap what you sow and like the quote above states, the best thing I can do in this situation is to find the silver lining and be grateful for it. This may gain me readership that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

The issue though, still remains…our industry is already in shambles. Less books are being signed and published now than in recent years (no smartass, keep that in context. I’m not comparing 2010 to the dark ages here).  Yet, it’s easier than ever before for authors to network and submit their work. We have computers to write on, instead of relying on type writers (talk about revision hell). We don’t have to send queries via snail mail anymore. It’s also harder to avoid things like reviews and reader reactions. Nearly everyone with a keyboard has a blog these days (with ample opinions and snark to accompany said site).

Have I ever downloaded music illegally? Without answering that directly, I’ll simply say that I’m not a saint. Anything I may have done though, I paid for in spades later out of guilt.

Double-edged sword if I’ve ever seen one. I swear if I ever become independently wealthy, you guys will never see or hear from me again. I’ll legally change my middle name to Hermit.

SO, what now folks? What’s your suggestion? Better yet, what’s your prediction for the future of our industry?

17 responses

  1. Until recently, I think literary artists have probably been hindered the least by technology, but in the past few years that certainly has changed. I personally despise downloaded books, although I purchased a digital copy of yours simply because I couldn’t wait for a hardcopy to ship (honest to God, it’s the only ebook I’ve ever owned). And by the way, I still plan on purchasing a hardcopy simply because nothing compares to the feel of the pages between the fingers and the wonderful smell of the ink.

    As far as predictions go, it’s anyone’s guess. There was a huge outcry against the illegal downloading of music at first, but those cries were eventually silenced by the dime a dozen bands who thought it would be hip to allow people to steal their music because it was their only chance of ever being heard. Fortunately, there are far fewer literary authors out there than bands, so I don’t think that the anti-piracy campaign that many professional writers will (hopefully) launch can be overshadowed quite as easily. I paint this rationalization, of course, with the a heavy coat of optimism.

    Another thing worth noting is the demand of the art form itself, and the circumstances surrounding the demand. Books that are required reading for high school and college students are at the greatest risk because those kids don’t want to spend the money on something they’re not interested in. They also tend to have a relatively poor grasp of the ramifications that an illegal download has on it’s copyright owner.

    On the other hand, someone who is a personal fan of a certain author is much more likely to support the author than to steal their work. Sure, there will always be the casual fans who only want to read the book because they want to say they’re in the know, but loyalists are loyalists, and the loyalists of a purist are themselves purists. What I mean by that is if you are a purist author (you make it known your love for ink and paper), you will attract a market of purist readers who will be more likely to buy a hardcopy anyway.

    But then the hardcopy eventually finds it’s way to the library where some kid checks it out for free and never returns it.

    • Oh, I was SO that kid once….see Karma!!!

      No, really, I thought of you since you’re in the music industry. You’re right, we’ve felt this the least so far, but I fear our time is coming. Yikes. But, you and Ant are right about the loyalist standpoint. I need to worry about readership and the rest will fall into place if it’s meant to be. 🙂

      Here’s to hoping anyway!

  2. Breanne Braddy posted a link to here from her Facebook page and I had a rant about annoying publishers, then I went to Amazon to take a look at this book and see if we in the UK could actually buy it.

    Yes we can AND for once I’ll say “why’s it so damn cheap” ? There is ZERO excuse for ANYONE pirating this eBook when it is available so cheaply.

    Yes I’ve bought it from Amazon and having never read your work before I hope to enjoy it (I’m sure I will!!)

    Please don’t think everyone is a thief and in some ways this could do you a huge favour, I would never have bought this usually BUT now I have so perhaps every cloud does have a silver lining ?

    Good luck and please keep writing, some of us just LOVE to read 🙂

    • You’re awesome Bob, thanks for buying the book! I really hope you like it 🙂 This is a silver lining indeed, lol.

  3. I believe you are looking at this the wrong way. You say “The literary industry can’t withstand what happened to the music industry.”

    I say too late, that’s already happened.

    Digital piracy is nothing new. I was working for a software company in the late 80’s (shushies!) and we always had this problem. People stole our stuff.

    Yet year after year, our profits went up.

    Baen offers a CD of their back list for all of David Weber’s books. Literally, it’s a CD of PDFs. All of his Honor Harrington books, on one CD. These PDF are now everywhere. Yet when Weber releases a new Honor Harrington book, it’s like printing money.

    Larry Correia (another Baen author) has a ginormous blog following. He has a built in platform. Not only does his books sell when he releases them, he can “book bomb” other authors by having his followers go to Amazon and everybody purchase a book, moving a deserving title up thousands in the total ranking and propelling a book from 67th in Space Opera to 43.

    I’m not saying you need to grin and thank the pirates. But I will say you are looking at piracy in a top down fashion, when book buying is a decentralized word-of-mouth exercise gated by platform building, aka followers.

    Your goal as a new author is to build a fan base. Nothing else matters. NOTHING. Loyal fans buy books even if they are floating out there in pirate land. This has been proven again and again and again, especially lately.

    ebooks is a double-edged sword. The piracy on the other edge of increased royalties (as compared to a paperback book of yore), is, for all intents and purposes, simply a zero. It always was a zero. Just as you can reach new fans with the new format, you can reach new pirates. It’s not lost revenue (you can’t lose something you would have never gained), it’s simply noise.

    Hope this makes sense.

    • Yeah, it does make sense and I appreciate you taking the time to say it. I’ve had to adjust my thought process lately so this gives me some more info to chew on. Thank you!

    • A FB friend sent me an initial link to a site where he found it, and since then all you have to do is type in Son of Ereubus Torrent and there are a handful of places it’ll show up depending on your search engine. Yes, it’s a leaked everything. One site has 10 formats.

  4. Once an artist finishes his art, it no longer belongs to him, but to those who look up it-to the public at large, for whom he made it.

    I’m sorry that this has happened, but a painting doesn’t become popular by how much it’s worth. It becomes popular by how much it’s viewed and loved. Then the worth goes up. The more eyes that fall upon it, the more the value increases, and the more people will talk about it. For the 1,000 books that are stolen from you, I bet you get at least 100 people who hear about it and buy it. People who wouldn’t have bought it otherwise. But I know, the thought does make ones stomach hurt.

    And on a second note, I don’t like that people automatically think that because the music industry was “uneffected” (BS! It was, gross sale dropped dramatically) that litarary artists will be just as “uneffected”. You’re right, it will hit us much harder. We will not be making up our loss in ticket sales like they did. BUT, I do think that over all, this is good for the business where it stands at this point. Let me explain… books like everything else are costing more and more money, which means that there are a lot of people that don’t buy them, or only buy them second hand, or get them from the library. You wouldn’t have seen said sales anyway. Then to think about how easy it is to publish these days… people won’t be looking to writing books as something that will make them money, like few artists look to their work to make them rich… it will be people who love it that do it, and those people who are talented and particularly good at their craft will make a living off it, becuase of the persaverence and love they poured into it.

    The tides are changing. Where we once had to jump through the agency hoops and play thier games to make it in the business, now we are at the desposal of our public and placing our hopes and dreams on thier honesty and support. Between you and me, I’d much rather make less money and have more people read my book. It’s what I wrote it for.

    Chin up, relish in the fact that there are people reading it. Smile as you think about those who are thoroughly enjoying it, those who enjoyed it so much they want a hard copy (ehem, it’s what I do with music) those who are telling their friends to read it, the more eyes that fall upon it, the more it will be loved, the more it’s love the more you can actually make off it. Part of that **Fan based business stuff**Anthony talked about above. (great view btw)

    OH, and I love the falling snow. Very quaint. 🙂

  5. I hear you. And it is a big issue and I wrote about myself in my blog.

    There is little that can be done for now. Back in the 19th century, Charles Dickens had the same problem. His early work was pirated and smuggled out to the US. At the time, our country did not honor international copyright laws that existed. We got the same problem only in a different form. Someone buys a legal copy and then shares it with the world. I don’t claim to understand why but clearly this is what is happening and once it gets on sites outside the US, there is in nothing to be done.

    Even inside the US, it is hard to stop the spread of illegal material. Copy-protection scheme are pointless, as the software industry found out because legal owners want to be able to make multiple copies for themselves and because for every copy-protection scheme you can think up someone else can break it.

    So where do we go from here? I don’t know. I suspect this will squeeze small presses because they can afford to losses, while larger print houses can probably absorb the losses. Which leaves very little in the way of opportunities for new writers except self-publishing and that’s got such a bad reputation that many folks may chose not to publish at all.

    What we need is a central check point used by all electronic media that verifies you have a valid (legal) copy that has been authorized for use on a given electronic device. I think it is possible to build that but I doubt it will happen unless the printing industry adopt some sort of electronic publishing security standard and pushes for its adoption by all publishers.

    Either that we all go back to paper only and proprietary printing formats so that thieves can’t steal our work.

  6. guys… Guys, GUYS!

    You all are talking about a great transformation just down the corner in which blood will be running in the streets and pirates will be making off with our beloved wenches.

    The “issue” of electronic distribution and the effects of piracy on that have already occurred!

    Why do you think Amazon went nine rounds with publishers? Why do you think Apple jumped in the book market with the iPad? Why do you think Smashwords just shifted to a agency model? Why why why why why why why?

    I will tell you why. Because I’m an arrogant ass.

    Because there is BIG money here. Really, really big. If piracy was a major factor in this monitization of the electronic distribution channels, there wouldn’t be trench warfare between retail outlets and content packagers. Electronic rights would not be an issue for back-list titles in books published twenty years ago.

    I know a woman (well, not know know, but know, ya know… if I was twenty years younger and not married… mmmm… uh, where was I?). She owns a Kindle. She likes to read in bed. Sometimes, she will finish a book in a series she started. If she liked the last book, she will buy the next book in the series.

    She will buy that book over the whisper net. Right there, IN BED, and continue reading. It takes her less than a minute.

    Think about this. The book cost her $10. $3 of that went to the author. THREE DOLLARS. A woman in bed wearing a silk slip just gave some author THREE DOLLARS in the middle of the night.

    Do you know what that is? I’ll tell you what that is. It’s fucking amazing. It’s sexy as hell. It’s not the future. The future is here.

    Back to the pirates. Unless there is some clever interjection of pirated material into Amazon’s whisper net, Apple’s distribution channel, or Smashwords (B&N, etc.), it, literally is noise. Buzzing gnats. The occasional mosquito. Bit torrent? Bah. An antiquated technology for a little-used platform for reading novels.

    Stop trying to push the tide away with your hands.

  7. I’m really sorry that this has happened. I know how hard it is to make sales in this industry…or any that requires artistic expression. I cannot say how things like this will effect the industry or what the publishers will do. I hope that by you mentioning it, you will bring awareness of artists’ predicaments to those who are downloading off torrent sites. Perhaps if more authors, artists, dancers, etc. did so, there would not be so much theft.

  8. Wow that really is bad.

    It’s sickening to think that people think that it’s ok to do this.

    But then, I do understand it in some sense.

    When I was younger, I also copied music from friends who copied from friends etc. My view was that I would start buying if they stopped ripping us off with CD prices. (In a sense, I still believe that.)

    But it was only when I started writing with a view to publishing that the true meaning of what I was doing hit me. I realized how upset I would be if someone just photocopied my book instead of buying it. As soon as I did, I stopped copying cd’s and refuse to buy anything pirated.

    Still, I would not have thought about it if it hadn’t occured to me that my contribution to the piracy industry might hurt me in the future. Sad as it might seem, I don’t think people care about hurting people they have no contact with unless they get to feel the pain their actions inflicted.

    And let’s face it. Less than one percent of people get to publish or record anything for sale. So to them, it’s all gain and no pain.

    Something has to be done, but I have no idea what. The many advertisements obviously aren’t working, since people don’t care.

    I really feel for you on this.


  9. I’m with Anthony and Justine on this one. The fact that we can discuss the issue of piracy electronically here at The Asylum is part and parcel of the phenomenon that allows SoE to be pirated, and piracy is part and parcel of its virulence. Bless the pirates, not because they cheat you, but because they validate you!

  10. Ebooks have been a large part of our discussion in my novel workshop group. We have never even considered the possibility of someone stealing the ebooks illegally. It’s a shame they are taking away the little money most authors make. I guess the only thing you can hope from this is they will like it so much they will tell their friends to download it and their friends will have more of a conscious. And you know what, its not even so much about the morales of it… its about kicking the little guys!
    They better write you one hell of a review!

  11. There are a lot of misleading statistics about piracy out there. It’s a big issue down in Peru (where I used to live) because you can get DVDs for a dollar or so. There are always these studies that come out of Hollywood that say that piracy in Peru cost the studio a billion dollars or whatever.

    The thing is, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to gauge how much the piracy actually cost the studio. You can’t assume that just because a person bought a DVD for a dollar means that they would have otherwise been willing to pay $15 for that same product. Actually, the existence of piracy actually exposes more people to your work.

    Do I want people to pirate my work and not pay for it? No.
    Do I lose sleep over the prospect of this happening? No.

    There is no such thing as bad publicity, and if your book catches fire because somebody pirates it, I don’t think it’s going to hurt you in the long run. There were pirate versions of “Lord of the Rings” floating around the US remember (these prompted Tolkien’s introduction to the book that is quite eloquent and which I’ve utterly failed to accurately remember…only that it ends with something to the effect of “those of you who have respect for living authors at least will purchase this version and no other”).

    Things like this tend to work themselves out. I think it’s all gonna be OK. We’re the writers, we should be worrying about writing. If people are pirating our work, that means we’re doing our job!

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