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.

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Writer Wednesday: Rethinking Reviews

There’s been a lot of fuss lately, on blogs and forums, about book reviews. Some writers feel reviews should be all about constructive criticism of the book. Others feel reviews are strictly for readers, to help them decide whether to read the book or not.

As a writer, reader, and reviewer, I firmly believe reviews are for readers. If an author gleans some nugget of helpful information from my review to help her make her next book better, so much the better. But my primary goal when I write a review is to share my thoughts about the book with potential readers. I’ve been fortunate in that all the authors whose books I’ve reviewed have been very professional and classy in their responses. Not all reviewers are so lucky.

Reviewer School?

Reviewers are coming out of the woodwork lately – far too many for authors to begin to keep up with all the reviews. Multiple reviews of the same book can be a good thing for readers, making the decision of where to spend their book $$ a little easier. But so many reviewers also means that not all reviews are created equally, to the consternation of some.

One writer recently accused a reviewer of not being ‘professional’, and not knowing how to write. Since when are reviewers required to be professional? How do they achieve that status? Is it some kind of correspondence school, or a degree at a major university?

Seriously, reviewers are readers. Nothing more. Some are highly educated professionals, some never finished high school, and everything in between. They’re all readers. Some have a great deal of sway over other readers, and within the publishing industry, while some influence only a few people, but they’re all still just readers. They won’t like some books. They’ll love others. It’s a fact of life.

Reviewers Behaving Badly

Most reviewers write tactful comments, and find something positive about even horrid books. They are simply sharing their reading experience, not trying to hurt the author’s feelings. But a few reviewers seem to take perverse pleasure in tearing out authors’ hearts. They find the snarkiest ways possible to criticize every aspect of a book, and if they can elicit an emotional response from the author, so much the better. Even better if that response (more about this later) is public and makes the author look bad. Thankfully, that kind of reviewer is rare.

Writers Behaving Badly

We’ve all heard of authors, some of them well-known and prominent, who spouted off at what they considered bad reviews. They’ve launched tirades against Amazon reviews, blogs, and newspaper/magazine reviewers alike. Anyone says something bad about their baby… uh, book, and they jump to its defense.

As a writer, I would be hurt if someone trashed my work publicly, especially in a hurtful way. But I’ll be damned if I would justify that kind of thing by responding in kind. To publicly argue with a reviewer, or any reader, is to magnify any attention their comments may already have drawn.

Those outbursts make authors look unprofessional, at best. Some, not content to leave well enough alone after the initial response, insist on dragging it out. Whether the reviewer responds or not, they fire volley after volley in defense of their work. And end up looking like a petulant child, a speshul snowfwake who must be handled with kid gloves.

Some readers will buy the book, just to see what all the fuss is about. I think the majority will just stand by and watch the train wreck, while they re-assess whether or not to buy any more of that author’s books.

The Bad Publicity is Better Than No Publicity theory might work for that one book, increasing sales. A few people who wouldn’t have otherwise bought it, will like it, and buy more of the author’s work. Most, though, are just curious, rubbernecking as they pass the pile-up. Those ‘sensation’ sales might not make up for the loyal readers who refuse to buy anything else by the author, because of her childish behavior.

So, what’s the correct response to a bad review? NONE. At most, a friendly “I’m sorry you didn’t like it”. The best advice I ever read about responding to any kind of review was really simple. DON’T. If politeness compels you to respond, a simple “Thanks for reviewing my book” will do. Anything more, and you run the risk of looking petulant in response to bad reviews, or like you asked your friends for a good review. Neither is a flattering view of an author.

Great Expectations (I know, I know, just couldn’t resist.)

I expect constructive criticism from my critique partners, beta readers, and, when the time comes, my editor. All before the book is published. I expect criticism from at least some reviewers, some readers, but not all.

If I (and my critique partners, beta readers, and editor) have done my job, my writing will elicit some kind of emotional response within my readers. Some readers won’t like the feeling they get from my writing, while some will. That’s what makes writing so satisfying. Every piece means something different to every reader.

Since reviewers are readers, some aren’t going to like how my work makes them feel. I expect that. I expect them to tell everyone if they dislike it. If they also tell everyone they do like some parts, so much the better. It would be great if they could tell me why they did, or didn’t like it, but I don’t expect that from them.

What I also don’t expect is for them to tell me how to do a better job next time. Figuring out how to improve my work is up to me, with the help of my critique partners, beta readers, and editors. If readers want to offer suggestions, fine, but I don’t expect them to do my job for me.

What do you think? Should reviews always offer constructive criticism? How should writers respond to reviews?