Here’s how (and why I won’t).
Not so long ago the whole literary community rallied together to try and take down a particularly brazen (or possibly just particularly dim) book pirate, and while that was truly heartwarming to see, I also got the impression that many of the people involved felt as though the problem would go away if they simply tackled that one site. Just to blow that idea out of the water, I’m going to tell you how I personally – me, the guy who has to copy and paste the £ symbol because he can’t work out how to type it – can pirate any book out there.
1) I can Google it.
If anybody, anywhere in the world has made your book available on a pirate site, there’s a good chance I can find it. It’s just that simple.
You can hunt around yourself and send out DMCA takedowns to anywhere hosting your book, but the more popular it is the more likely it’s being offered somewhere for free, and I only need to find one copy before you do. Also, good luck getting anything taken off The Pirate Bay: they’ve been running since 2003 despite the best efforts of entire governments.
2) I can ask for it.
Yeah, I see you doing this. Obviously I’m no Suzanne Collins, and by January 7th my book had been out less than a month: chances are nobody had made a pirate copy available at that point. Maybe they still haven’t. Who knows? Continue reading
I saw this tweet today, and after several failed attempts to come up with a response in 280 characters I figured it was probably worth making it a blog post.
Edit: The tweet itself has since been deleted – apologies if any links no longer work.
The thing that really stood out to me here wasn’t so much the original tweet as the majority of responses to it:
On the one hand, I feel as though these people are missing the point of the original tweet: if nobody supports authors financially, they will not be able to write. On the other, I’m not sure that point was particularly well made in the first place.
Buying books on sale isn’t the same as buying from charity shops, which isn’t the same as ARCs (advance reading copies), which isn’t the same as piracy. I’d like to be able to say “what all these things have in common is that they don’t give the author any money,” but buying books on sale does. The best I can say is “what all these things have in common is that they give the author less money than they might get otherwise, at a time when it’s already almost impossible to make a living from book royalties,” and that’s considerably less snappy.
Basically, this is why I opted for a blog post rather than a tweet. I think Twitter’s demand for brevity is partly why people are (I believe) getting the wrong end of the stick, and why Sarah Bennett felt it necessary to expand upon the charity shops point specifically a few hours later:
If you read through the response to this post, common points raised are:
- New books are expensive.
- Charity shops offer a low-cost alternative for people with little disposable income.
- Second-hand books guarantee that somebody is paying for the author’s work in a way that free ARCs and piracy don’t.
- It’s unfair to lump charity shops and piracy together.
- Not everybody has access to libraries.
These are all perfectly reasonable things to point out. However, a lot of the things said in favour of charity shops could be (and often are) said about piracy:
Some of these I seriously agree with: if a reader prompts someone else to buy a book then it barely matters where they got it, and if they can’t afford to buy it then the same thing could be said. Others are completely ludicrous: money may not be more important than art, but it sure does make it easier for authors to continue, you know, writing books instead of dying in the gutter.
But one point seems to be consistently overlooked: financially, it makes no difference to the author if one reader buys a paperback that gets donated and sold through five charity shops in succession or if one pirate buys an ebook and five readers download it for free. It makes no difference if one person buys a copy and five family members read it as well. Each of these scenarios represents six people reading one book sold.
I think what’s most striking to me about the whole thing is this:
- People seem to care deeply about the value of books, but are largely unconcerned about whether any of their money reaches the author.
- People firmly believe that everyone should be able to read what they want, but if you can’t afford to buy it new then you’ve got to wait for someone wealthier to sell or donate their copy.
- People want everyone to have access to books, but if you want to write them then you’d better have enough money to sustain that as a hobby.
The ideal solution here would be to make sure that libraries were well stocked and widespread, but at this point that’s looking like a very long-term goal. In the more immediate future, I think a more achievable aim would be this: please buy new books if you can afford to. If you can’t, don’t worry about it. Also, and most importantly, please leave reviews and share the things you love – however you get hold of them.
And on that note, if you care about this sort of thing then you might be interested in Common People: An Anthology of Working Class Writers. Making books available for everyone to read is a worthy goal, but it’ll have much more of an impact if a wide range of people are writing them too.
The Hampshire Writers’ Society Book Fair is coming up on the 14th of June. That’s this Tuesday!
I mentioned this in a recent blog post that focused mostly on the Alresford Literary Festival, but the Hampshire Writers’ event was such a success last year that I think it’s worth giving it a post all to itself. If you’re in the Winchester area, I’d really recommend going: there are a lot of authors who’ll be turning up. The place to be is the Stripe Building at the University of Winchester (on Sparkford Road): it starts at 6.
If you can’t make it, I’ll be aiming to write all about the event (and the Alresford festival) here. However, the Winchester Writers’ Festival is now less than a week away as well, so I can’t say for sure exactly when I’ll get around to it: June is a very busy month, and naturally I don’t expect July to leave me much more time!
With the Hampshire Writers’ Society Gala Evening just a week away, my table space is more or less sorted. I’ve got multiple copies of all my paperbacks, with the Flash Fiction Month anthologies all lined up on one display and all the Face of Glass copies on another. You wouldn’t think that hours of experience selling handmade jewellery or shelving videogames would ever help with preparation for a literary event, but actually putting these displays together felt like a little of both!
In addition to the paperbacks, I’ve also assembled some new discs. The Face of Glass CDs aren’t actually new: I tend to have them on hand at craft events. However, most of the ones here are freshly assembled as my original batch had been whittled down to the last two.
These Face of Glass discs contain both the ebook itself in multiple formats, and audio recordings of The Three Tales from the novel. I’ve now assembled a desktop computer that makes burning the discs considerably simpler, and (though a somewhat smaller investment) I’ve got a set of scalpels and a cutting mat that make for some very neat case inserts.
The process of putting together these ebook CDs is now straightforward enough that I’ve also brought out a very small number of Flash Fiction Month discs. The ebooks are still free to download, but I figure that for anybody who wants a token physical version the disc could be a fun option. The colour scheme of the covers looks pretty good laid out this way, and the clear clamshell cases do a good job of showing it off.
I’ve still got a few more bits and bobs I’d like to sort out, but with the books on hand and the discs put together, I think the display is just about ready to go. I’m even planning to bring along a couple of chunks of raw obsidian to place alongside Face of Glass, since it’s always interesting to be able to connect the imaginary world of a book to something more tangible. I had the larger of the two stones on hand most of the time I was first writing Face of Glass, and though most of the actual research into Stone Age cultures came through books, museums or the internet, having that one bit of black glass to hand was useful too. It’s a fascinating material, both beautiful and practical, and seen in person it’s not hard to imagine why it developed ritual significance.
If you’re interested in turning up, the Gala Evening starts at 6pm on the 9th of June, in the Stripe Building at the University of Winchester. Further information is available on the Hampshire Writers’ Society events page. Their website also lists all the authors who’ll be at the members’ Book Fair alongside me.