by Janis Patterson
I had a visitor this morning. As usual, I was out in the hot tub fairly early, doing my exercises. (Arthritis makes dry-land exercising both harmful and painful.) After finishing I sat in the water relaxing and drinking the last of my coffee, when there was a loud squawking of many different kinds of birds and while I watched a great hawk landed on the top of our fence. I don’t know what kind of hawk it was - as Egyptomanes The Husband and I simply call all hawks ‘Horus-birds’ - but it was definitely a hawk and a fairly large one. Even though we live close to the center of a very large city, hawks are not unknown in our neighborhood. Every so often in our secluded back yard we find evidence of a hawk’s meal - no body parts or bones, just a large circle of disarticulated feathers, rather like a fairy ring made of feathers instead of fungus. I will admit that though this is a normal and expected part of the natural world it is still unsettling.
I can see why ornithologists say birds come from dinosaurs... this beautiful specimen of Horus-bird paraded up and down a short portion of our fence, its head always moving, its ophidian gaze sweeping the entire yard with the bearing of a conqueror, all very much the pattern card of a raptor. Its attention seemed most drawn, however, to a small Indian peach tree sitting on the other side of the fence which divides the back yard from the parking area.
Suddenly there was an explosion of blue jays swooping around and screaming. There must have been at least half a dozen of them, all the brilliant blue of the male, and they were dive-bombing the preening hawk. The aerial show must have lasted a full two to three minutes before the hawk gave way and flew off. While I have not gone to investigate, I surmise that somewhere in that little Indian peach tree is a blue jay nest and do not wish to disturb the inhabitants further. The jays have nested in this area in the sixty-odd years since my parents built this house, so it is not an unreasonable theory.
So what does this digression into nature have to do with writing? The jays are each smaller and weaker than the large and powerful predator hawk, though combined they dominated him into if not submission at least to departure.
Sometimes the little guy does win, though almost never in the publishing industry. Right now I’m all incensed about Amazon’s buy-read-return for full refund policy. Amazon says it wants to provide the best experience it can for its customers/readers... but is dead silent on the experience of its writers, without whom they would have no readers.
It seems they neither realize nor care that the buy-read-return for full refund is simply straight-up theft. Now I will admit that over the years I have returned a few books - either they were misrepresented, or my sometimes unreliable arthritic fingers have mis-clicked, or some other out-of-normal circumstance, but NEVER (and I repeat, NEVER) have I bought one, read it and then returned it for credit. That’s plain dishonest. There are those who start with the first book in a series then work their way through the entire series, buying, reading completely, then returning for full credit before they repeat the crime with the next book. For those of you who say it is not a crime as Amazon allows it as part of their TOC, just remember there are legal crimes and there are moral crimes. Legal crime - maybe, maybe not. Moral crime - definitely, as it is deliberate theft from the author, who deserves to be paid for the work the serial returners are enjoying.
Apparently these people neither know nor care that what they are doing is dishonorable, or that it makes a big and often uncomfortable difference in the writer’s income. Amazon has to know, though, and honor and honesty aside, this constant full-refund bit has to be affecting their money, too - unless they are using the ‘read time’ income as a form of float, which I doubt.
So what are we as writers to do about this serial theft of our work? There are always out-and-out pirates who steal our work and give it away for free, but they’re obviously criminals... not the organization we’re trusting to sell our books for us. And I’m not ragging just on Amazon - maybe the other etailers do the same thing - I don’t know. Amazon’s buy-sell-return for full credit policy is well known and has never been a secret.
So what can be done about it? I have no idea. Amazon is the 9000 lb gorilla in the electronic book world and individual writers have no say.
But - if a handful of blue jays can protect a nest from a sizeable Horus-bird hawk by banding together, perhaps we should start talking about into banding together. If the vendors won’t protect our income, should we not at least look into what is necessary to protect our own?
Let’s hear it for blue jays!