by Janis Patterson
I hate being treated like a convenience. While there are wonderful readers and I have many wonderful fans, there are those who stand out, and not in a good way. At a glance, the reader-writer transaction seems fairly balanced. I take my time and effort and skill to create a story and make it available; the reader, judging from the blurb, the cover, my track record, word of mouth and other indicators, buys my book, thus giving me wages for the hours of labor I put in on the story.
There’s an elegant simplicity in that... or at least there should be. Some days it’s hard to find - if not downright impossible. These days somehow the author has morphed from a skilled and respected creator of worlds and populations to the level of a semi-skilled drudge or ordinary and pretty much interchangeable ‘content creator,’ as one large publisher once tried to re-name us.
Readers castigate us for charging so much for our books - without even considering the time and effort and dedication it took to create that story and even when they are released through traditional publishers who give us no input at all in covers, let alone in pricing.
People contact us and beg for free books; they say they cannot afford the book, but want so much to read it. Some promise that they will tell all their friends how wonderful our book is and that all of them will buy it - but only if we send the petitioner a free copy.
Some of the most offensive say that we should be happy to share our books for free just so we can relish the knowledge that our words are being read. Hello! Writing is a business, and a workman is worthy of his hire... Writing is a skilled profession and while we want our words to be read and appreciated, we should not have to work for free to be so. Just try that ‘working just to be appreciated’ reasoning with other skilled professions, such as accountant or plumber or physician!
Part of the problem is that writers are not valued as the educated, professional craftsmen that we are. In America, at least, books are written in English, and since most everyone here speaks (in some cases a sort of) English, they mistakenly believe that anyone can write a book. After all, they speak English, don’t they? There’s no reason they couldn’t sit down and dash off a book or two when they have the time... If I had a dollar for every time some person has assured me with heartfelt intent they’re going to write a book when they get around to it I probably could buy my own private island. The trouble is, most people want to have written a book (and therefore garner the largely mythic benefits of fame and fortune) instead of doing the work necessary to write a book. It is true, though, that most people are physically capable of writing a book. It is writing a good book worthy of being published and read which is the difficult part.
Our books are stolen and put up on the internet for free, whether for actual giveaway or credit card phishing bait. For a long time paperbacks were free of this electronic theft and there used to be a fail-safe built in with paper, but no more. Yes, paperbacks are swapped around, they are loaned and used ones are a staple of thrift stores and garage sales, but paper - especially the paper used in mass-market paperbacks - is relatively fragile and will wear out, where electronic files are forever. Now some canny crooks are scanning the paper copies and putting up the resultant scan for free.
Even worse, whether the book originated electronically or on paper, some of these criminals are putting the book out as being written by them, selling them and collecting the money. With no payment or acknowledgement, must I add, to the original writer. Sometimes the names and perhaps the locations and the title are changed, but not always.
What is truly sad is that this piracy is barely regarded as a crime by law enforcement and our government. We have to prove that a crime has occurred and then are more often than not ignored or passed off with a ‘sop’ for an answer. Many of these thieves are based in foreign countries, and right or not, that protects them, which is an insult to every creator. (Musicians and artists are pretty much in the same boat, though they appear to have a few more rights recognized legally than does the poor writer.) I say theft is theft, whether it is your words or a diamond ring from a jeweler’s, and it should be treated as such. But they aren’t.
So why do we keep writing? In my case, mainly because I can’t not write. I’ve been a wordsmith in any number of industries since my elementary school days (yes, I was first paid for writing when I was 9 or 10 years old) and the idea of doing anything else is beyond my comprehension. I’ve held other kinds of jobs, but even then I have always written, creating the best stories and characters in the best form I can... in other words, I live up to my end of the reader/writer contract. I only wish more readers did.