by Janis Patterson
Being a writer is a hard life. Not only do you have to come up with a multitude of ideas that you can shape into a coherent, interesting story, you have to then write the thing, all the while you have to check your facts, make sure your grammar and spelling are correct and your character names are appropriate to the time of the story. Then once the book is finished, you have to edit it to the best of your capability. Once that is done you can start the unholy dance of submitting it to agents/editors and waiting for months if not years for an answer. Then even later once the story is contracted you begin editorial combat, reworking your story to fit their prejudices and guidelines. Sometimes more than once. Then you continue to wait until your time comes up in their publishing schedule, which again can be more than a year. Or two. Or, if you are self-publishing, you send your story to an independent editor for their version of editorial combat. This time, however, you have the final say – it is your story after all – but never forget that you are paying them for their expertise and you very well may be too close to the story to see the holes. Then you get do work with cover artists, formatters, publicity/advertising and the various vendors.
Ain’t none of it easy. Any way you look at it, writing takes time, some money and an emotional toll.
That just adds insult to injury when others take your stories and either give them away for free or, what is worse, sell them without your permission and with no benefit to you. There’s a reason they’re called pirates.
Now of course I’m not talking about the promotions the author her/himself does through legitimate outlets. I don’t always agree with that attitude – training readers to expect a full book that has taken perhaps several years to write for nothing or for a pittance cannot be good for any of us or for the industry as a whole. Plumbers and carpenters and pastry chefs and just about everyone else don’t give their services for free or close-to-free in hopes that you’ll come back to them when you’re ready to spend money. More and more most people will just go on to the next freebie. However – free or .99 is a legal decision when made by the owner/author.
What really frosts me is the blatant way in which our works are simply taken. “If it’s on the internet it has to be free” is something we hear a lot. Pirate sites simply scoop in books and give them away to anyone. To my mind that’s theft, but apparently beyond a feeble ‘that shouldn’t be’ our legal agencies aren’t doing much of anything to stop it.
Amazon itself is fostering a kind of theft – the returns scam. A customer will buy a book, read it, then return it for full credit, which is then subtracted from your earnings. Now I’ve returned a book I’ve bought – when I find out it isn’t the book I thought it was, or my sometimes unreliable and arthritic hands click when I don’t mean them to, or some other legitimate reason, but almost always within the space of twenty-four hours, and not very often – like less than once a year. However, some people brag that they get the books, read them and return them – sometimes as many as four or five a week! I know Amazon is proud of its commitment to customer service, but surely they should be able to see that this is a form of theft, not only from us but from them! Surely they keep some kinds of record about who returns what and when…
And we won’t even go into the subject of plagiarism, where someone gets a book, sometimes does a search-and-replace on names and towns (and sometimes not!) then publishes the book as their own creation. Even when such an egregious crime is exposed Amazon does nothing about giving just recompense to the actual author. The plagiarist walks away with the unjustly ‘earned’ money.
Even though it doesn’t seem possible, it does get worse. A bunch of crooks on eBay are selling multi-book collections – sometimes numbering in the thousands – to which they have no right. Worse, they are also selling RE-SALE rights, telling their customers that they not only have the rights to these books, that they can sell them the rights to re-sell them themselves. Everyone makes money – except the creator of the books. After all, what do we matter? All we did was write them… To add insult to injury, in spite of being told many times about this situation, eBay has done nothing about it.
There’s another scheme out there that seems a little bit shady to me, but it is legal. The site – and there are many of them – advertises that they have all kinds of books, but when you click on a book, it takes you to the Amazon page, where you can purchase the book. It’s an affiliate scheme, where the site gets a few pennies for every book sold because the purchaser came through their link. It’s true they’re using your book to earn money without your permission, but it is a legal purchase and the author does get what they’re due. That alone makes it acceptable.
However – as loath as I am to support crime, there is a bright spot on the horizon. There are sites that claim to have just about any book in the world for free, but to access them the freebie hunter (i.e., the thief) has to give them his credit card number in order to browse, or to pay for a membership, or to make some token payment like a dime a book, or whatever. The good thing is that the site has no books – it either uses the freebie hunter’s visit to plant ad/malware/viri on his computer or it’s just a plain old phishing scam that rips off his credit card number. The thief looking for free books thus gets stolen from. Golly, karma is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?
So it’s not enough that we have to research and write the books, we must also be our own policemen, sending out DMCAs, which are more often than not ignored, and be constantly alert against the theft of our books. Some authors have just given up, saying that it takes too much time and the people who steal books aren’t going to buy them anyway, but that sends out the signal that theft is okay, and that offends my sense of what is right. I don’t know what the solution is, other than our government and legal agencies stepping up to the plate and actually doing something about such blatant theft, but that ain’t a-gonna happen. Anybody got any ideas?