How to write a book · self-publishing · The writing business

Who will read my book?

Last week my post – as you may have seen – was a letter to a writer who was losing confidence. Thank you all for your comments and tweets – I had no idea it would be so widely appreciated.

I also had a comment from Steven Lyle Jordan, who felt I’d glossed over some hard truths. And I agree we should think about them.

Here’s what Steven said:

I’m surprised that the letter managed to miss an all-important question which I believe all novelists ask themselves, whether they admit to it or not: Will anybody care?

I don’t believe writers write in a vacuum. If they write, it’s because they want someone to read what they’ve written. If no one wants to read your book–if no one will buy it–it does two things to a writer: It breaks down a great deal of the confidence that was built up in order to write it; and it forces the writer to consider whether all that effort, no matter how good, no matter how enjoyable, was worth it.

After writing a number of novels, I firmly believe that I know how to do it right. But lack of interest and lack of sales does more to discourage me, and prevent my bothering to write the next novel, than all of the other points in that letter combined. (It still may prevent me from writing the novel I’m actually developing right now; at any moment, I might “come to my senses” and pull the plug.) If that letter had been written to me, and it did not touch upon that point, it would be essentially worthless to me.

Who will care about what we’ve written?

From time to time I hear a writer wistfully bleat: ‘the good novels rise to the top’. What rubbish. The novels that rise got lucky or were marketed smartly. We certainly need more ways to find fairy godmothers for deserving books (and I’ve talked about quality control and recognition recently here).

Steven continues:

You might have also asked Lucy if she was comfortable with the state of publishing, the industry turmoil she’d be injecting herself into, the multiple channels of the ebook industry she may have to master, the likelihood that ebook piracy would rob her of some amount of possible profit, etc. All of that has been known to sink many a prospective author before they’d sailed.

First, piracy. Discover the atom and someone will make the bomb. We invented ebooks and we got piracy. Anyone who argues that piracy is flattering or beneficial should be strapped down while their house is burgled. Steven, I agree. It’s a shark’s world out there. And it’s going to get more bloody.


Now authors will pay to make their books better, we’ve got critters willing to fleece them for editorial services of dubious quality (in an attempt to avoid this, here are my tips on choosing a good critique service).

We have authors aching to be recognised, and we have schemes charging astonishing fees for awards and seals of approval. On the law of averages, many of these books will be rough and a glance at the opening will be enough to tell the reviewers that. The reviewer only needs to read for as long as the book is up to standard. Some sort of fee seems fair because time and expertise aren’t free. But many of these schemes charge several hundred dollars a pop – for what must on average be ten minutes’ work.


While we dodge the rip-offs, we’re giddying from goldrush to goldrush. Last December, it was free Kindle books. Now people are so used to piling free books into the infinitely deep pockets of their Kindles they never look at them.

Right now we’re dancing can-cans about Kickstarter. How long before some investor makes a mighty fuss that all they got was a lousy T-shirt? There will be a sacrificial lamb – whether a crook or a well-intentioned author – and that will be the end of it.


Another point is simmering under Steven’s comment, and it’s worth considering. Never has the writer’s livelihood been more precarious – and that’s even for those who have ‘broken in’. About 20 years ago, a publisher’s advance would realistically fund you to write a book. Now you have to write the first book for nothing and if you get an advance for the second it’s pitiful.

What’s more, publishers seem to do very little for the percentage you hand over. For most writers the editorial services have been cut to minimal levels. And recently the estimable publishing guru Jane Friedman advised that if you want your breakout book to be a hit (and thus to increase your chances of having a traditionally published career at all), you should hire your own publicist. Yes, even if you have a publisher. In which case, I have to ask, what is the publisher doing for you?

So, Steven, I agree it’s not rosy at all, especially if writing is your livelihood.


Right now, it’s anarchy. We are all trying to thrash our way to a better spot in the food chain – writers, publishers, editorial pros, agents, investors, teachers, tech companies, retailers, distributors, conference organisers. But people want to write and people want to read. That means we have an industry – and even a way of getting our work out. Who will be making a decent wage from it? Can emerging writers still cling to the dream of supporting themselves only by their novels? Perhaps those days are gone. Or perhaps the publishing economy is about to become a lot more equitable.

Maybe at the moment, we have to see our publishing dreams as separate from our writing dreams. Our writing dreams have always been the same – write a book that somehow matches up to our hopes for it. Do whatever we can to honour the reader and the artform. Make good work, and never stop trying to be better. Sit out the bloodbaths and keep writing. Which is what started all this anyway.

Thanks for the pics 05com and alq666

What do you think?

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53 thoughts on “Who will read my book?

  1. I have to admit that I no longer expect to make a living from writing. When I was at school and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied “an author”. It seemed to me in those days that you could write books and become rich. These days I feel that writing will always be something that, if I am lucky enough to ever be published, will only supplement my income. As for the publishers, I used to think that if you got a publishing deal they would support you and all the marketing would be down to them. All I read lately is that authors must learn how to publicize their own books and practically do all of the marketing themselves. In which case I am beginning to wonder how valuable a publishing deal really is? Authors are hiring their own editors and doing their own marketing so why not take total control of their work and self-publish? I don’t pretend to be an expert on this and I’m sure plenty of people will jump in with many reasons why a deal from a big publisher is still the best way to go, but I’m just at the stage of rewriting my first novel and I’m reading what various authors have to say and trying to make sense of it all. It just seems very different to the publishing industry of my youth…

    1. Hi Sharon – I think this is one of the questions. Many of us grew up with ideas of what writers were, and how the publishing industry worked. That’s changed totally, and it hasn’t finished changing. In the meantime we just have to make sure we can deliver the goods, however we choose to do it.

    2. Sharon, it’s different from the publishing industry of five minutes ago! But for talented, dedicated authors, I think the possibility of making a living has exponentially increased. There will always be the 50-shades-of-discovered-at-the-malt-shop Cinderella stories — lightning strikes in both corporate and indie publishing — but the majority of career authors calmly roll with the changes, eyes on the prize, doing consistent, strong work, making a working to middle class income.

      What I see emerging (after 16 years and a dozen books in the corporate publishing realm) is the hybrid writing career that includes smart exploitation of indie opportunities combined with judicious corporate publishing deals. Keep the faith and don’t let all this fladderyap distract you from the joy of creative life.

      Roz, terrific post. Amen to all of the above. To Steve, I would add: If writing a novel is worth the “bother” only if it sells, forget it. My first agent wisely told me, “You have to get what you need from the writing of the book; everything else is a crap shoot.”

      1. Hi Joni – wise words indeed (including a special mention for ‘fladderyap’). For the pros, hybrid writing careers will be the way – and that will build more respect for good indie publishing too.
        The industry will have hissy fits about this and that, and alongside it, we’ll be honing our craft and our individuality. building our body of work.
        I love what your agent says – and at a time when industry gatekeepers are generally getting bad rap, it’s heartening to see an agent with their eye on the art. Honestly, we wouldn’t go to such a lot of effort if it didn’t matter.

      2. Sharon: You’re right. This is why I haven’t written anything new in 2 years; I’ve been trying to figure out how to promote the books I have, and if I can’t accomplish that, I don’t see the point of writing any more. It’s a shame, too, because I believe the books are good… but I have no interest in working for nothing (and personal satisfaction isn’t enough).

  2. “Anyone who argues that piracy is flattering or beneficial should be strapped down while their house is burgled.”

    Wow, Roz. Just… wow. I’m stunned at this statement, that you would wish such harm on someone simply because she disagrees with you. And before you cry that I’m missing the point, I’m really not. Having a book downloaded illegally is NOT the same thing. I can only assume you’ve never been robbed, mugged, or burgled. If you have, I’m MORE shocked at this statement.

    1. Well, India, clearly we differ. Having been burgled twice and pirated once, I can say I felt pretty much the same about each. Hence I use that comparison. It can’t be anything but idiotic to argue that it is good to have your work stolen – and made available for others to steal.

      1. So anyone who disagrees with you is an idiot. Nice. So much for civil discussion about publishing. This is what I really dislike about the current indie environment. For so many people, and apparantly you, there’s no room for different points of view.

        I don’t personally think it’s *good* to have your work stolen. I’ve also had my work pirated. But it’s NOT the same as having your family threatened and your personal safety invaded.

        And you didn’t just say it wasn’t GOOD, you said anyone who disagrees deserves a truly terrible and terrifying experience.

        I’m really shocked at you gleefully wishing ill on others.

        1. There’s no room for differing points of view? Well, when the question regards ethics, I don’t think we have to bend over backwards to hear all sides, do we? Having your work stolen is bad. Have we reached the point where an author can’t even come out and say that now?

          Btw in my book, burglary doesn’t equate to “having your family threatened” or your “personal safety” invaded. (Er “violated”, surely?) Those are whole other crimes, and Roz didn’t mention them.

          More to the point: it’s rhetorical hyperbole, for goodness’ sake.

  3. What surprises me is that people are suggesting to hire a publicist. Maybe I just haven’t talked to the right people or heard the right stories but I got the impression that paying mucho money for a publicist was not suggested. Too much money with sometimes not enough to show for it.

    1. I have a friend whose non-fiction book was published by a large traditional publishing house. She and her co-author were told to hire a publicisit because the publisher had no funds to promote their book. The publicist’s fee came out of their own pockets, and brought them radio and TV interviews and got them speaking engagements as well with groups whose interests matched the subject of the book–meeting the challenges of parenting special needs children.

      1. Heather, how interesting. It would be interesting to know who your friend felt added the most value in the deal – what balance was the publisher and what was the publicist. And of course, the authors themselves.

  4. Pretending to sit here with a crystal ball right now. Assuming the world goes on pretty much as it has done, and technology and the cycles of economies vary forward and back at about the same rate as they always have (giving some things away, adding others)…

    It’s not hard to imagine a future, maybe not all that far distant, in which writers don’t write for money at all. I think there’s something of intrinsic value in storytelling, value not primarily (or at all!) for an audience but for the storyteller. (Whether that core of intrinsic value by itself will suffice to keep a given author moving forward, well, you know what they say about your mileage.) So I’m not sure I completely accept Steven’s proposition that without an audience, writers would wander off, bored by the pointlessness of their own stories, and take up other avocations. The “-voca” part of that word is the part that counts: it’s gotta call you — otherwise you’re just playing with action figures and hoping somebody will pay you for it. (And in the current environment, always surprised that no one wants to pay you for it.)

    Don’t get me wrong. I believe everybody appreciates being appreciated for his or her work, storytelling or otherwise. (Certainly I myself included!) The thrill of connecting with another human being via some world, characters, events which the writer has imagined — well, there’s nothing like it. But a junkie for readership, ultimately, is just another junkie.

    Just my tuppence. 🙂

    1. Hello John! I’m not sure I can accept doing it for nothing, ie giving my books away. I’m willing to fund myself to write a good book, in the timescale I need to get it right – because that’s part of the reward, doing it well. And since most books cost about the price of a latte or two, I don’t think most readers would find it unreasonable to pay for them.

      But you make an important point about the value of being appreciated, of connection and feedback.

    2. Re: this Utopia of which you speak, where writers no longer need to write for money. I suspect it would have to include food and shelter for the writer and his/her family so that said writer could afford to continue writing for the sake of storytelling.

      I’ve always been a writer. I’m an artist in every sense of the word. But I can’t afford to write for a world in which there is no hope of compensation other than appreciation. If all I needed was appreciation, I can get that from myself and my small circle of artist friends.

      When the music industry blew up in the music artists’ faces, did they write their songs and perform for free? No. Not for the public. The artist will always create. But how sad if no one will see it.

      I have a friend who is talking about throwing in the towel, after over a decade of writing. But she’s not making any money at it, so the sacrifice of her time is in vain.

      I will not write in vain. I must have hope. I must have respect, and that respect must be paid in dollars. Unless the world starts bartering again, and respect is paid in chickens, I don’t see your Utopia finding realization.

      This does not make me a junkie. It means I’m human and need to eat to survive. But I will admit to a kinship with Jack London. He said, “If money comes with fame, come fame. If money comes without fame, come money.” He died, working himself to death, as an artist.

      1. Thank goodness. Someone who talks sense. You’re no less an ‘artist’ if you charge for it. And creating good work takes considerable time – and other resources. Even if we can’t make our whole living at it, that doesn’t mean we should do it all free.

      2. Oh, I’m not sure it’ll be a Utopia at all. I don’t look down on writers who make money — even a living — from their writing; I make money (though not at all a living :)) from my own. I’m saying that writers can less and less afford to rely on money as the primary (let alone only) motivator for them to write.

        And the equation between earnings and audience is a false one, btw — a result of writing’s being viewed as a branch of the entertainment industry. People wrote — told stories, for audiences or not — long before they ever imagined getting compensated for it.

        Write for pay, by all means. And if you can’t get paid, please write for an audience. It doesn’t devalue your writing. You’re not worse (nor better) than someone who writes for the intrinsic satisfaction of creating “Art” or “Storytelling.” But you know (you’d have to be delusional not to know) that the direction of the world — economy, technology, culture, what-have-you — is not one of optimism for writers who regard compensation/readership as the principal (let alone only) reason to write.

        If we knew an asteroid was about to do for us the same favor that the comet did for the dinosaurs, would everyone suddenly stop writing because there’s no hope of ever getting a larger readership — in fact, even though their readership’s about to drop to zero, guaranteed? I don’t think so. Everybody’s got different priorities, thank the gods, and who’s to say who the real dreamers are? But I think some people would spend the world’s final days — at least, in part — at a keyboard, creating fairy tales for nobody at all. Thinking so doesn’t make me an elitist or a snob.

    3. JES, I didn’t mean to suggest that all writers write for the express purpose of making money, nor even just being read; just that all writers should decide whether personal satisfaction (in case they are not bought or read) is enough for them. Personally, it’s not enough for me, but as my books aren’t selling, clearly the only one who would be hurt by my cessation of writing would be me. So, yes, I would walk. (Actually, having not written in almost 2 years as I’ve tried to figure out the whole promotional thing may be enough of an indication that I’ve already walked; but I haven’t copped to completely giving up yet.) Personal vanity aside, I hate the idea of wasting my time.

  5. I’m guessing that writing fiction will start to resemble something like playing soccer. There’s nothing to say you can’t make money (and of course some soccer stars make a fortune) but most people just do it for fun. And even if you are a professional footballer who plays the game quite well, statistically that still leaves you earning just a decent wage. The champagne buckets are for the top quarter of one percent.

    To take the glass-half-full view, this could encourage more writers to just write from the heart. Accept that the big money (or even any money at all) is just a lottery, so focus on craft instead of marketing. At the moment we see all these sites telling us how to write the next Da Vinci Code, the next big YA romance, but that’s a race with very few winners. Much better to focus on learning to express your own ideas and types of story well, so that we might start to see more diversity in writing. If this means the medium veers away from today’s ever-narrowing genre fic, I’m all for it.

    1. absolutely! There already is a huge variety – it’s just that much of it is in recesses we don’t often realise are there (the alt lit, serial web fiction and cell phone novel communities, for example). I do think we’ve almost peaked out with the “how to market a million” school of self-publishing though and we are seeing an increasing focus on the craft and on expressing and developing an artist’s unique voice

  6. I think I agree by and large with JES. It’s frustrating that when this position is put forward it’s met with the pat anser that it will make “proper” writing the preserve of the monied. That’s just rubbish – it will mean that those who take up writing to make a living no longer will – but like Joni says, if that’s why you’re doing it you’re onto a loser to start with. Of course we’ll have the occasional moment of despair that no one listens – but we’ll carry on because we have to, and we’ll put our focus on making books the very best they can be – the best external manifstation of our internal intent. Ultimately we do it not because anyone else cares but because we care, for the same reason you’d help a dying person in their final hours even if no one’s looking – because storytelling, like JES says, is fundamental to being human and has nothing to do with reward.

    I’d be interested to read a post on why you take the stance you do on piracy, to go back to India’s point. My head’s a little wandery at the moment but my basic sentiments on the matter are that I don’t like the idea of any barrier between my work and readers – be that technological or financial, and I’m hugely supportive of a completely open source approach to art albeit one where those who can and wish to pay artists do – which would render piracy ersatz. A further thought – a lot is often said about the music industry but all the musicians I know who’ve expressed an opinion have nothing bad to say about piracy.

    1. Hi Dan! Yes, let’s have a return to craft, individuality – and doing it well because you are proud of your book and your work and want to give it the best showing you can.

      As for the piracy, I don’t think it would even merit a post. If you don’t want barriers, make your work available free. It’s your work and what happens to it is your choice. Then, presumably, you have also consented to third parties sharing it – and if they do that’s not piracy.

      Whether I make my work available free or not should be my choice, not imposed on me by someone who has decided to rip a file and essentially steal it. It is not okay to steal work – I can’t think of a plainer way to say it.

      Worse, these pirates make this stolen work widely available – so one theft becomes many hundreds or thousands. Often they are making money out of it too, so it’s theft on two counts – of your intellectual property and of the income that you could legitimately have had. That’s what piracy is – and we should stop saying it doesn’t matter.

      There’s a culture now that if you can’t have, say, a DVD or TV show, it’s acceptable to download a pirated version. Usually that could be solved by better distribution, but it’s engendered an attitude that if you can’t get something it’s okay to steal it. We need to stop people thinking the same about the work of authors. Even if the musicians you know don’t mind, that’s not comparing apples to apples. Books are different.

      If an author doesn’t want you to have a work without paying for it, respect their work and their wishes.

  7. “Right now we’re dancing can-cans about Kickstarter. How long before some investor makes a mighty fuss that all they got was a lousy T-shirt? There will be a sacrificial lamb – whether a crook or a well-intentioned author – and that will be the end of it”

    holy crap! you are right! I kept thinking something wasn’t right with kickstarter or similar programs and I think you nailed it on the head. It may not even be an author. Perhaps a staged youtube video of someone being picked on inside a bus? (that’s not what happened yet but it’s not far-fetched for someone to get the idea.)

    Another thing you didn’t hit on that has hurt a lot of us is some of us help fund our books through freelancing. We write articles and features to magazines, when they were in print, and would gain the first rights back and then rework the article to sell as something else to a different magazine. So the work we had would come back and work for us again and again. The internet has thrown this idea out of the window since first rights on the net is pretty much permanent.

    1. Keith, I didn’t even think about journalism – though I work on the production side of magazines as a freelance sub. But what a good point.

      And glad you shared my fears about Kickstarter. Gosh, it is ripe for abuse. Also I see authors with barely any experience – and therefore no track record – trying to raise money to write their book via Kickstarter. As they’re definitely still in ‘learning’ mode, there’s no way they can prove they’ll be able to deliver the goods. They’re naive and they don’t know what they don’t know, but they’re also storing up karma for a Kickstarter backlash.

      1. I just wish I knew where or who to write for to pay the bills while I finished my book. A lot of the sources I gained in college have closed up shop. That’s what I was taught real writers do. Trouble is finding places that pay enough that will keep you afloat.
        I’ve actually been working with a few mentors on switching to writing content marketing. It seems like doing that and working for trades are the only way to earn a living anymore as a freelance writer.
        I get why big time authors are upset about self-publishing. It muddies the waters and it hurts their bottom line. A bottom line i would like to have someday.
        You’re right it is total anarchy and the degree I received in 2006 feels obsolete in every way except knowing how to write and what makes a good story. I learned all the rules just before most were thrown out the window.
        Right now I’m working on chapter 2 of a book I’m putting on my wordpress in rough draft. I’m trying to get feedback on content at the same time generate a potential sales interest. We’ll see if I can keep up with a monthly or bi-weekly update schedule, but it’s all I can seem to do at this point.

  8. My wife sometimes tells me she is scared sometimes my writing will turn into the shining, she told me once I’m chasing a dream that may never come true. I knew that though it was shocking hearing that for the first time, expecially from someone who supports me the most. She is right, but I can only keep trying.

  9. I suppose that some writers might give up writing if they had no expectation of making money at it (never mind a living), but I doubt that would be common. Most of the writers I’ve encountered have been writing for years without a reasonable expectation of making money. Sure, they have a *dream* of earning money from their writing, but that’s not the same thing.

    Writers know that the odds of hitting it big (or even medium) on a publishing deal or with a self-published novel are infinitesimal. But they write anyway. If they truly enjoy writing, they just keep doing it regardless of whether or not money appears. They send out queries, sometimes hundreds of them, and they get rejected on every single one–but they keep writing.

    Would they keep writing even if all content were to become public domain and the tiny possibility of earning money we have now were to disappear entirely? I think they would. Most of us have to have a day job now anyway, so what would be the difference?

    As for the cream rising to the top, I don’t entirely believe that either. However, I do believe that the sludge sinks to the bottom. No amount of marketing will turn a book into a bestseller, but no book has a chance to become a bestseller without some marketing. Bestseller status is all about “virality,” and no magic formula exists to make a book go viral.

    As for piracy, I think it is wrong, but I recognize the futility of trying to stop it with our current laws and technology. Just as we have no practical solution to prevent burglary, we have no practical solution to prevent piracy. Authors will save themselves a lot of angst if they accept the reality of piracy even if they don’t accept the injustice of it. I agree with those who claim that authors are far more threatened by obscurity than piracy.

    1. Hello Daniel! You’re right that we continue writing for the satisfaction of it – for bringing out the potential in an idea, because we can’t leave it alone until it’s done.

      ‘The sludge sinks to the bottom….’ let’s hope so, although the commercial world has made bestsellers out of the sludgiest slush.

      As for piracy, one of the solutions I like is the Pottermore watermark. Basically a file is traceable, which doesn’t prevent copying but does identify where it came from. Especially with social media this seems to be a viable solution.

      The writer’s greater enemy is obscurity? Certainly obscurity is a huge problem. I’m not sure that distributing free copies illegally solves that, especially now there is so much creative material available. I know Cory Doctorow launched himself spectacularly by giving his novels away, but since he did, there has been an explosion of self-published novels. Now giving books away free doesn’t seem to have the same impact it did even a year ago. So it follows that being stolen and distributed illegally won’t either – it just hurts.

  10. Well, first I have to make the point that historically only 200 authors nationwide (the US) made a living off their books, i.e., without para-writing activities such as teaching and editing. That number is bigger now, and it’s thanks to e-publishing. So earning a living off your books was never a very realistic goal, always only happened for the few…but we’re moving in a better direction now.

    I would say of the traditional route that the publisher–whether you hire an indie publicist or don’t–does an enormous amount for you. And the people who know that best are those who were with a trad pub and are now indie publishing. Especially if they want any kind of print and bricks and mortar presence, the amount of time spent is immense, and that’s something your publisher takes care of for you, along with extensive editing, some to a great deal of marketing (depending on the offer you received), an advance, sub rights to generate additional income, etc.

    I think it’s a terrific time to be a writer. There are more ways to make a go of it than there have ever been. And the go of it can be better than it ever was.

    It will always be the rare gems that break out. That’s never been any different. But we have a midlist again, and there’s such a thing as a working writer, and if you want instead the traditional route and potential for that kind of success, well, that is there, too.

    I hope all of it can be preserved.

  11. I’m also going to disagree with you about piracy. I know of several different instances where piracy has been beneficial, and to date I don’t know of any verified studies showing that it causes major harm or has a significant negative impact on sales.

    It’s perfectly fine to have an emotional reaction to your work being pirated, but from a purely business perspective, it’s better to keep a neutral stance. Piracy is what it is, it will never go away, and the effort involved in shutting down even a small part of it is not economically viable.

    Just to pick a few nits… It’s not theft. It’s copyright infringement. If someone copies and downloads a book, the original has not been moved or changed. Losing, at most, a possible sale is not the same as being deprived of actual, physical property. Calling it theft is simply not accurate.

    1. Well I do regard it as theft. It’s theft of a sale, which translates into depriving the rightful owner of income.

      What’s worse, far too few people are taking a stand on piracy, which will result in it becoming tacitly accepted as a ‘victimless’ crime. I quote Baldur Bjarnason, talking this week about piracy at TheFutureBook:

      ‘Human beings rely on social proof to tell them what is right and what is wrong. People will use social proof to rationalise cheating. Many people will ignore their own beliefs and conscience if most of those they see as their peers say or act differently. Once these communities have matured, the audience’s mentality and expectations will irreversibly change.’

      Find the full text here –

      1. You can call it what you like, but that will not change what it is. Theft deprives a person of actual property; copyright infringement does not.

        You assume that a download equals a lost sale. That’s a fallacy on its face. There’s no reason to think that anyone who downloads would pay if they couldn’t get it for free – especially when they have so many other entertainment options to grab their attention.

        On it becoming a victimless crime: that ship has long since sailed. The recording and movie industries have spent the last decade making every bad decision they can to maximize piracy. The concept of a digital file being infinitely copyable and thus having zero intrinsic value is long since ingrained, and ebooks will not be viewed any differently.

        On top of that, the only thing that’s had any appreciable effect on piracy rates is greater ease of access to legal media options. ‘Taking a stand’ either has no effect or provokes a backlash. People obviously cannot be guilt-tripped into paying. Using instances of piracy effectively has produced several success stories, most notably the indie film Ink, through increased exposure – and again, it still hasn’t been shown in any study I know of that piracy has a major negative effect on sales.

        It would be wise for authors to take note of how other entertainment industries have already failed or succeeded in handling piracy. There is no question of changing people’s perceptions of digital media in order to get them to pay. There is no question of shutting down piracy completely. At this point, the best course is to be realistic about it, and make use of it if possible.

        1. Actually, illegal downloads do often equal a lost sale. Especially when people are looking for TV series and films they’ve heard about and don’t want to wait until they are available in their territory.

          We must stop sending the message that it’s okay to rip off creatives, for heaven’s sake. Our status has already been eroded enough by the entertainment business. In TV, films, books, the visual arts – and I dare say in music – the creative’s efforts are belittled as though we’re nothing more than happy noodlers. We must stress that creative work has value or none of us will have a living at all.

          Personally, I think Pottermore found a good solution in watermarks. Traceability means the pirates no longer have a cloak of invisibility and it’s been found to be very effective.

          1. Practical arguments aside – piracy cannot be stopped, it’s the future, it hasn’t been proven to cost you sales, and so forth – there’s another consideration. “Pirates” rip off your work because they feel entitled to violate your rights. I have never pirated a work, nor read/watched a pirated work, and the reason for that is simply that it’s unethical. If we’re going to just shrug at unethical behaviour, we’re sending a very bad signal. This is, of course, an emotional view, but then moral action has never been based on dispassionate logic.

            1. Look, this isn’t a case of shrugging at or condoning unethical behavior. It’s just a waste of energy to do much else, and raging against piracy could even provoke a backlash.

              If you come out and say that you hate pirates, you’re pretty much telling your readers (because they are pirates) that you hate them. This is a very bad idea from a marketing point of view. (If you say that anyone who thinks piracy is beneficial needs to have their house burgled, like Roz has here, well, you just haven’t done the research, I guess.)

              My point is that you just can’t view this emotionally. If you’re writing as a business endeavour, you have to accept that no one can tell if piracy really hurts sales to any major extent and it has even helped sales in some cases. In that case, it’s better to either ignore it or try to capitalize on it. If you’re writing as an non-commercial endeavour, then you should just be happy people are so interested in your work, and tell them so.

          2. Uh… no. There are no studies I know of that determine how many downloads equal lost sales. Saying they can happen ‘often’ is entirely meaningless. Yes, one reason people give for why they pirate is the lack of a legal option – but again, this doesn’t automatically equate to a lost sale.

            People in those regions have no guarantee of when or even if the media will be available to them. They hear about it over the Internet, they want to watch it or read it. Let’s assume there is no pirate option, so they do not experience it at all. The time delay between them wanting this content and it actually being made available in their area means they lose interest. The sale does not happen because their attention is elsewhere, on content that has been made available in a timely fashion.

            Conversely, if there is a pirate option, they can watch/read it, enjoy it, and their interest is not lost. When the media is available legally, they buy so they can have the ‘official version’. Or the Full HD version. Or the paperback with the awesome cover. Or because they want to support the author.

            The occurrence of this scenario is also unknown. My point is that you don’t know in either case, so equating all or even a significant percentage of downloads to lost sales is plainly inaccurate.

            There is no message being sent out here. Do you really think that people don’t know what they’re doing isn’t kosher? The RIAA alone has spent millions on trying to educate people about copyright. They do know. They just. Don’t. Care.

            People know that a digital file is essentially free because it can be infinitely copied for free. That they cost nothing to produce makes it okay to pirate, in their minds. The fact that you took years to learn how to write and months to create this work doesn’t come into it, just as it doesn’t matter if a movie took $30k to make or $300 million.

            You won’t get them to pay you if you just keep telling them your work has value. You need to show it instead and give them every reason to want to support you. This isn’t condoning piracy or sending out a message that it’s okay to rip you off – it’s being realistic about what you can do to reduce piracy, instead of raging against what you honestly can’t change.

            (Pottermore is a joke, by the way. Do you know how long Harry Potter has been available in ebook form? Years. The books were being torrented long before the series finished. And those watermarks – effective my ass. Anyone with the technical knowledge could strip them out, if they were so inclined and didn’t want to pick up the original pirate versions.)

            1. There seem to be two different questions here. One is whether creators would benefit by making their work available free. There are arguments in favour, but it has to be up to the creator. I’ll give a big chunk of my work away for nothing; others may see it differently.

              The other question is whether people are more likely to behave ethically if their peers make it clear that unethical behaviour is not on. There are quite a few TV shows of which I’m desperate to see the next season, but I’m not going to resort to piracy. I’ll wait, and I’ll pay for the DVDs. How hard is that if you’re a grown-up?

    2. I’m with Roz on this one. The fact that piracy can’t be accurately measured doesn’t lessen its impact… or its inherent wrong-ness… any more than running a red light and not hitting someone makes it a de-facto acceptable practice. Piracy costs honest writers sales and income, STOP. How much? Doesn’t matter, STOP. It’s deplorable, it’s immoral, it’s anti-social, STOP. Call it theft, call it copyright infringement, or call it just bally bad form… but STOP.

      1. You can agree or disagree, but the facts do not change because of your opinion.

        Piracy happens and it will never stop. Raging about it can provoke a negative backlash. Whether it costs a significant number of sales is unproven, regardless of what you personally believe. It has been shown to have a positive effect in some cases.

        If you’re looking at this dispassionately from a business perspective, the only rational answer is to ignore it or try to capitalize on it. Asking people to stop is a waste of breath, as shown by the RIAA and the music industry.

        1. “Never” stop?
          “In some cases”?
          It sounds like you don’t have “facts” either; just an opinion that you think immoral behavior is okay because “it happens.” So, you keep your opinion and I’ll keep mine.

          1. Do you want me to start citing cases where piracy has had a beneficial effect? The Ink movie is just off the top of my head.

            I’m not making this up. If there is a verified statistical study out there – not one sponsored by the RIAA, for example, that’s already been shredded for bad methodology – that shows that piracy has a significant negative effect on sales, I honestly don’t know of it. Hence, unproven.

            I say it won’t stop because the balance of evidence in this case is that damn near every method tried by other entertainment industries has failed. DRM doesn’t work. Lawsuits don’t work. Educating people on the wrongness of it doesn’t work. The movie and TV business has been throwing millions at this for years, and the only thing that’s even made a dent is easy access to streaming services.

            I never said it was okay, and frankly, I resent the fact that you’re putting words in my mouth. I’ve said, again and again, that it doesn’t matter whether it is or not. It exists and you have to be realistic about how you view it. Unless you’ve got some method of defeating piracy that hasn’t occurred to some of the biggest companies in the world, this isn’t going to change.

            1. Fair enough, but shoplifting isn’t going to stop either. That doesn’t mean I have to condone it. If the argument is, “Don’t censure shoplifters because you might alienate them,” then too bad.

              We can’t stop some people from taking whatever they want for free. I agree there. But saying that you feel cheated by it and consider it unethical will still deter decent people from pirating work.

            2. It’s fine, I’m not asking you to condone it. I’m just saying it is what it is. Above all else, we need to be realistic about how to handle it.

              Asking people to stop or raging against it hasn’t had any effect, as far as I know. Telling readers that you feel cheated… I’m not sure. It could have an effect, but no matter how justified it is, it could still provoke a negative reaction.

              I still think the smart money is on doing nothing, or phrasing your response very carefully so as not to alienate readers. If they’re not pirating your stuff, they’ve probably pirated something and been okay with it. It’s a very fine line to tread when you’re spitting fire and want to condemn all pirates to one of the inner circles of Hell, and have those same people be interested and engaged enough to buy what you’re selling.

  12. Even more great points to consider and I’ll thank Steven for making them and you, Roz, for making them. I no longer believe I’ll be making a living of my novels (there is too much I’ll have to post for myself up front to ensure they are good enough to sell), but I do believe I’ll make a living off writing in general (in fact, that is my plan!).
    I think there is a lot of opportunity for everyone willing to take the time and take some risks.
    Its not easy, but in my opinion, stuff worth doing rarely is.

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