Pirates Without Ships: Are You A Pirate?

Remember the stories of swashbuckling pirates sailing the high seas? Taking ships and stealing the property of others? Buried treasures and tropical islands?

Some of today’s pirates still sail the seas in order to steal from others. But there are far more pirates out there, surfing the uncharted waters of the internet, stealing property left and right.

And many don’t even realize they’re pirates, or that they’re stealing from someone else!

Are YOU A Pirate??

Have you ever downloaded a song, book, movie, etc., from a file sharing site? You know, that new release that you can’t wait to get your hands on, and suddenly, it pops up free online? So of course, you download it, and tell a couple hundred of your closest Facebook friends it’s there, right? Of course you do. Why shouldn’t you?

Well, here’s why. If that book or song or movie isn’t free from the creator or licensed distributor, then you’re stealing it.

With all the recent attention on SOPA/PIPA, I wanted to let everyone know why some sort of legislation that protects Intellectual Property from being stolen needs to be enacted, until such time as the creators of Intellectual Property are compensated for their work, regardless of who’s downloading and who’s distributing copies.

Everyone Does It…

Yes, many people do. That doesn’t make it right. It’s still theft.

Okay, so it’s a crime. But it’s victimless, right? So who cares. Everyone knows authors and musicians are rich. They aren’t going to miss that couple of bucks. WRONG!

A few authors earn big money. They are not the average! Most earn a few hundred dollars for each book they write. Gone are the days of big advances from publishers. The few that still offer advances have cut them down to an average of $3-5k, and that comes in 3 separate parts, usually months apart. And guess what! That advance has to be paid back! It’s an advance against the book’s future earnings.

So, if the author’s contract stipulates that royalties will be 15% (about average for a traditional publisher) of the net profit (after the publishers expenses – offices, editors, artists, secretaries, actual publication costs, and who knows what else – and the distributor, the people who get it from the publisher to the bookstore shelves, take 50% right off the top), then depending on the cover price, each copy sold earns the author from a few cents to maybe $3 (for a hardcover at full price) at most. The book has to sell enough copies to earn back that $3-5k advance, one dollar at a time, before the author sees a penny of the royalties. And that can be for months, or even years, of work! So, every single copy sold is important to the author. And so is every single copy stolen.

Yeah, but…

One of the arguments used to justify this kind of piracy is to compare it to a library. Not the same thing at all. A library purchases a copy. That one copy gets lent to one person at a time. If each person keeps it 2 weeks, and it’s immediately checked out again, that one copy is viewed a total of 26 times a year.

But, if that one copy is uploaded to a file sharing site, it can be downloaded thousands of times a day! And that’s just that one original copy. Each of those thousands of copies can potentially be uploaded to file sharing sites, and each of them downloaded thousands of times a day. And each of those thousands… You get the idea.

Another argument is that the people who download pirated copies wouldn’t purchase a copy anyway. Well, maybe. Maybe not. You see, there are unscrupulous pirates out there. They charge visitors to their sites a subscription fee, or a download fee, or whatever they want to call it. Essentially, they steal copies of a book, share them however many times, and charge the people downloading that stolen copy. The pirates are getting paid for what doesn’t belong to them. What’s the world coming to, when criminals cheat?!

The downloaders actually bought their copy, just not from the person who created it. They bought it from thieves. So, at least some of those people would have purchased it from the creator, even thought they did.

Do YOU want to work for NOTHING?

So, here’s the thing. If you want your favorite authors, artists, musicians, etc., to continue to produce the entertainment you enjoy, please don’t steal from them. If they can’t earn a decent living for their families doing what they love, they’ll have to devote more time and energy to a regular job. Most authors do have dayjobs, writing the books you enjoy in the evenings and on weekends, giving up most leisure activities in favor of entertaining you. They can’t feed their children and keep a roof over their heads if their work is always stolen, and they can’t continue to devote the kind of time and focus it takes to write a book if they’re not going to get paid for it. Would you work a second job for free? Didn’t think so.

If you want to read you favorite author’s books, shell out the 5 or 6 bucks so she gets paid for the 3 or more months of hard work she spent creating it. If you seriously can’t afford to buy it, there are lots of legitimate ways to get free copies. Authors and publishers often have a couple of days where the book is free to download. Watch the author’s blog, they often host giveaways on other blogs in order to promote the book. Sometimes the book will be included in a huge giveaway where the winner receives a dozen or more books for free. Become a reviewer – larger review sites often need new people to read and review books, and normally, they provide the books.

Let other people know that not only is downloading pirated copies illegal,  it isn’t just stealing from some faceless corporation. Encourage people to borrow from the library. Several ereaders allow the owner to lend copies of books they own. Suggest a couple of friends go together and buy a paperback copy.

When you download a free book, make sure it’s legitimately free. Download for the author’s site, the publisher’s site, or an authorized retailer’s site. If you doubt whether the book might actually be free, check with the author or publisher. If you come across pirate copies available online, notify the author or publisher so they can take action to stop the illegal downloading.

Do the right thing. It’s not that difficult. Really.

Too Real For Fiction?

 

A Fact Checker Is Born

I’ve always been geeky, more so at some phases of my life than others. Back in the late 90s, when I finally gave in and started internet service for my work computer, I was instantaneously hooked. All that lovely information out there, right at my fingertips! Suddenly, I could easily and quickly access facts about any subject I chose, no matter how obscure.

Besides being geeky, I’ve also always expected authors to know at least basic information about their settings, and other elements of their books. Put a key Civil War battle in the wrong location, call a mare ‘he’, or place a wild animal outside its possible ecological range, and the book turned into a wall-banger. Add the internet, and I could immediately check facts that just didn’t quite ring true.

WRONG!!!

And apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Today’s reading public is more demanding than ever for accuracy and realism in fiction. We want police procedures to ring true, manufacturer-model-caliber of firearms, medical facts accurate enough for the JAMA, and so on.

As a result of all that, countless readers criticize certain genres for being unrealistic. Make up a creature? Can’t exist, so it’s unrealistic. Alternate history? Yeah, right. A man who treats the woman he loves with respect? Absolutely not!

If you’re going to do something like those things, as an author, you’re often expected to make sure everything else in your book is accurate. No fudging historical details. No bending of physical laws. No hedging of medical details. No liberties with geography. No contriving logic. Well, you can, but someone, probably lots of them, is going to give you grief about it.

The info hound in me is glad for this insistence on accuracy. In part, because it means that as I read, I might be gathering little bits of trivia that could prove useful eventually. Also because I don’t like misinformation being distributed as what someone might mistake for truth.

Creativity v. Real

But the creative part of me wonders just how much realism and accuracy I should expect in fiction. It is, after all, fiction. Inherently not real. Do I really need the author to give the right police code for a kitten up a tree, when the responding officer is going to fall victim to the spree killer? And do I seriously care what kind of suture the surgeon uses to close the gut-spilling, as long as the hero survives it? And what the hell difference does it make whether the germ causing the pandemic is correctly named and classified, if the heroine doesn’t manage to get the cooler with the cure in it across the city so it can be put to use? Do I really care if the heroine’s ball gown is a color that won’t be widely available for another 75 years, as long as she manages to escape the evil countess’s clutches and entice the duke into falling in love with her?

Seriously?

As a reader, why do I get pissed if the author fails to correctly name an obscure object, if the characters are multi-dimensional, the plot interesting, the conflicts exciting, and all the elements of the story well-written? Is it really that important?

I’m not questioning whether the big things should be realistic, things like key battles in the wrong location in a historical novel, or sending low-slung sports cars along heavily rutted logging tracks in a contemporary novel, and that sort of thing.

I’m talking about those little insider details that no one outside a particular field of expertise would know. Do you care that the little container a tattoo artist puts the ink in when tattooing someone is called an ink cap? Or that the narrow band at the top of a horse’s hoof is the coronet? If it doesn’t matter to the story as a whole, do we need our fiction to be that real?

What’s your preference, as a reader? Do you like books filled with excruciatingly real details? Or can you tolerate a little laxness, if the story is good, and otherwise well-written? What are some of the glaring errors you’ve spotted in books?

Everybody’s A Critic

Many online writing communities have a place for writers to post snippets of their work for critique. Several communities revolve exclusively around sharing and critiquing, often on a sort of tit for tat basis. In order to post your work for review, you first have to critique several other writers’ work.

These sites can be invaluable for honing your craft and getting your work polished and ready to submit to editors or agents. But there’s a dark side, too. They can utterly destroy a writer, even a talented, promising one, with the drive and potential to be really good.

How the hell can a writing community destroy a writer?

Not long after I started visiting writing communities, I became a member of a tiny writing forum. One of the writers who often shared her work usually posted really short snippets, almost flash fiction. Her writing needed a great deal of work, but there were good points, too. The rest of us had picked up that there was something different about her circumstance – perhaps she was very young, or had a learning disability. But she loved writing and was proud of her work. We all offered some gentle criticism, and a bit of encouragement.

After a couple of months, one of the other members, who rarely ventured into the share-your-work area, deigned to critique her work. This other writer had been a member for quite a while, and was generally respected as an authority among the dozen or so regular posters. He posted a several hundred word long diatribe about why her work was “utter crap”. When challenged for his cruelty, he continued to rant, saying she didn’t deserve to call herself a writer.

In a very sad post, the first writer apologized for taking up time and space for her crap and promised never to “bother” anyone with it again. She left. I have no way of knowing if she continued to write or not. I hope she did. She enjoyed it, and what she lacked in skill, she made up in enthusiasm and unflagging support for other writers.

 Grow A Thick Skin

I’m not saying this happens on all share/critique sites. Far from it. But there are a few where the most out-spoken critics are harsh, even cruel, in their reviews.

So? Writers have to develop a thick skin. If you can’t take the heat… Rejection and harsh criticism are simply part of the game.

Of course they are. That’s not what I’m talking about. The fact is, there are people out there who totally get off on shredding someone else’s work in a way orchestrated to hurt the writer as much as possible. Even if a piece is decent, they do their utmost to find nothing good. Sometimes, it goes to the point of purposefully misunderstanding the writer’s words. If all that fails, it devolves into personal attacks.

These critics aren’t just critics. They’re bullies. Often, there are other writers on the site who jump in, backing up the bully. They certainly don’t want her attention turned to their work. In return for their loyalty, the bully gives their work favorable criticism, no matter how undeserving.

What about the writer whose work is subject to this form of bullying? Think about it. A dozen or more people, seemingly well-respected, tell you, in so many words, that your best work is utter shit. No one finds anything positive, and if they do, it’s something insignificant.

If you’re thick-skinned enough, you pack up your marbles and go play elsewhere, or perhaps you revise and re-post. If you revise and repost, chances are, the same thing will happen all over again, probably even worse. Heaven forbid you give a less than rave review of the bully’s work! To have such gall is to risk having the toxicity spill over from the writing site into other areas of your online life.

So, what do you do?

First, before posting work or critiquing, check out the community. Read the other members’ critiques, and their work. Do the reviews seem honest, offering constructive criticism that’s clearly explained, pointing out both the good and the bad? Do the reviews actually reflect the quality of the work, or is so-so work being hailed as the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Are the more negative aspects of the critiques worded tactfully, or cruelly?

Search for mentions of the site on other sites. Does it have a good rep among writers? Is there one person, or a small group, that makes the bulk of the critiques? Check the archives. Do people come and go fairly regularly, or do most people join and leave after a short period, with a few members staying for a long time? One or a few people making the bulk of the reviews over an extended period, while others come and go in rapid succession can be a red flag and warrants a closer look.

The answers to those questions will help you decide if the site has anything real to offer. If it doesn’t, keep looking. If you think it might, post a trial piece – something small that isn’t part of a work you’ve poured your heart and soul into. That way, if the critiques turn nasty, you aren’t hurt as badly. Once the critiques are in, ask for clarification of any points you don’t understand, to see if the other members are willing to explain their remarks, without flaming you.

Keep looking until you find a community that fits well. Above all, don’t give an anonymous stranger behind a keyboard the power to take away your dream.

What kind of experiences have you had with sharing your work for critique in online communities? Have you encountered bullies? Or have you found a site that works for you?

What can we do, as a community of creative individuals, to put a stop to this form of bullying, other than refuse to participate?