My beloved Chuck Wendig (he upon whose shoulder I ride always, invisible, intangible, and whispering horrible profanity into the jellyfish-like ridges of his ear) made a post about book piracy yesterday, declaring today, February 6th, International Please Don't Pirate My Book Day. He asked people to post about their experiences with piracy. And as I am an amiable blonde, I am posting.
I've talked about book piracy before, and at the end of the day, it really does come down to a pretty simple statement for me: I don't like it. It makes me uncomfortable, and it makes me sad, and it makes me feel like the hours I spend working hard to write good stories would be better spent doing something else, like say, watching Criminal Minds. I do recognize that piracy is a huge, complicated issue, and that no one is innocent, because everyone who exists in the modern media world has committed some act of digital piracy, whether intentionally or accidentally.
Books are a luxury item. When I was a kid below the poverty line, if I'd had access to book torrent sites and an e-reader, I can guarantee you that I'd have been one of the biggest pirates around, making me the biggest hypocrit around. And those authors would not have been losing sales, because my money was never on the table to begin with; I didn't have any money. Instead, they would have been gaining my undying loyalty, and I grew up into an adult with a passion for owning things. I love owning things. I want to own all the books I love, so that I can stroke them and loan them to people and yes sometimes, give them away when somebody loves them more than me. (No, Bill, this does not apply to any of my folklore collections.) But I am not the norm. My housemate hates owning things, and if he hadn't been conditioned that free books come from the library, not the internet, I think we would have a very different set of things to fight about.
But you know what? "I'm sorry I downloaded your book, I couldn't afford it" sounds very different coming from the teenager in tatty jeans than it does coming from the thirty-something fan with a Starbucks in their hand (and I have heard this statement from both these people). There's a point at which we have to make choices about our luxury items, and sadly, those choices sometimes involve going without. My book or your fancy coffee: please choose, and don't tell me you chose "ENJOY ALL THE THINGS" when it meant that your choice didn't help me feed my cats.
It's funny, but for a culture that's obsessed with wealth and fame, we view money as somehow crass. I love money. I am terrified of slipping back into poverty; terrified enough that I sometimes have trouble remembering that I can afford to buy brand-name cereal. I didn't become a writer for the love of money, but it's the need for security that's kept me working two jobs. I write four books a year. I write a lot of short fiction. I put in, easily, forty hours a week at my keyboard, and that's after I spend forty hours a week at my day job. I pray to the Great Pumpkin that my books will sell, because I want to get out of that day job, I want to spent sixty hours a week at my keyboard and have twenty hours to do stupid shit, like sleeping. And no, it's no one's responsibility to pay my bills but me; I have to do that. I have to make my budget and live within it, and while the things I'm most likely to share with the internet (dolls! Disneyland!) can seem financially silly, I assure you, they happen after I pay the power bill.
If I wanted to write for free, I would have stuck with fanfic, where I was paid in a loose publishing schedule (I.E., "whenever I wanted to post") and with immediate, unrelentingly positive comments, because no one wants to stomp on a fanfic author. I became a professional author to get a wider audience, to share my work with more people, to be someone else's Stephen King (the way Stephen King was mine), and yes, to get paid. I do a job, I really, really enjoy getting paid for it. And yet I see more outrage over someone not tipping their waitress than I do over someone not wanting to pay an author.
(It's horrifying that we pay restaurant staff under minimum wage because "they'll make it up with tips." When you add up the time it takes to write, revise, edit, polish, and promote a book, many authors also make below minimum wage.)
So please, don't pirate my books. When you buy them, you feed my cats and you pay my bills and you let me sleep a little easier and you keep me sitting down at the keyboard, ready to slam out another story. And if you really feel you have to pirate my books, if your situation is such that you can't buy things and this is the only joy you have, please buy them later, when you can, even if you're not normally a re-reader. Please make it possible for me to keep doing this job. I am a human too, and I could really use the help.
I will close with a quote from Chuck:
"If you find that some component of the books doesn’t work for you—some kind of DRM or issues of access, I might suggest pirating the book but then paying for a physical copy. And then taking that copy and either using it to shore up a crooked table or, even better, donating it or passing it along to a friend. Don’t donate directly to me; my publisher helped make my books exist. Publishers catch a lot of shit for a lot of shit. Some of it is deserved. But the truth is, my books—and most of the books you’ve loved in your life—are due to the publishers getting to do what they do. They’re an easy target but they deserve some back-scratchings once in a while."