I always tell the girls of House Unicron, “If you’re going to present me with a problem, I also need you to propose a solution.” This method of handling issues which inevitably arise in interpersonal interactions has proven to be invaluable. Not only does it save wear and tear on my stomach lining; it also facilitates critical thinking and empowers my girls to take an active role and ownership in the problem-solving process, which to my way of thinking is ninety percent of worthy leadership.

Yesterday I advanced a problem, in the form of e-book piracy.

Let me note a couple of things about yesterday’s post:

  1. That post took an N of one and extrapolated, in the form of one site with a stated value of X. Have I actually lost $2.78 million in sales? Most likely not. That was the MOST piracy might have cost me. But if you knew you might have lost upwards of $3 million to unscrupulous characters, how would you feel? Thus, these numbers were what one of my college professors would have described as SWAG: a Scientific, Wild-Assed Guess. The reality is probably a lot closer to $100,000 than $3 million, but it still ain’t chicken feed, folks!
  2. In advancing a detailed precis of the problem, I neglected to present a solution, except in the broadest possible terms. Therefore, I’m going to address this issue now in more detail, in this post. This demonstrates there really are solutions which address the needs of both reader and writer in a fair and equitable manner, rather than just snatching and grabbing literal money out of a writer’s hand.

So, let’s get on with it.

Note: Everything which follows is MY OWN PERSONAL hierarchy of preference. Some authors will see this differently, prioritize differently or may feel I’m flat-out wrong in some dimension or another. Whatever. My blog, my rules. All I’m saying is, don’t try to apply J.S. Wayne’s specific preferences for avoiding piracy to, say, Bianca Sommerland or Suzan Tisdale or Diane Duane or Jim Butcher or Kevin Kneupper. I can almost guaran-goddamn-tee they’re NOT going to share my opinion and preferences down to the last possible detail.

Also: Write a review. If you liked the book, no matter how you got it, write a review. If you DIDN’T like the book, write a review. These give writers feedback on what is and isn’t working, and helps us determine what we’re doing right and what changes, if any, we need to make. WRITE A REVIEW. THEY’RE LITERALLY LIFE AND DEATH TO WRITERS!

For the TL;DR, scroll down to the end.

  1. BUY YOUR BOOKS AT RETAIL!

This is the obvious solution. According to the Guardian (UK), around 70% of book pirates have college educations at the master’s level or above, and an annual household income of between $60-$99,000 USD. If you’re making that kind of money and you can’t be bothered to cough up $2.99 for an e-book, you’re an asshole. End of thought, end of sentence, end of discussion, and feel free to fuck the whole entire way off if you think for a moment I’m apologizing for the phrasing or tone of that statement.

“Well, but J.S.!” You may be saying, stinging with righteous indignation and all up in your feels that I would dare lump YOUR piracy in with EVERYONE ELSE’S clearly immoral piracy, groping for a “gotcha” argument. (Pro tip: DON’T. You don’t have one we haven’t heard and can’t shoot down from Antarctica in our sleep, I PROMISE you.) “Publishers are paying for their bloated administrative staff and inflated prices for ink. You’re not getting any more of their money!”

First: So the hell what? If an author is working through a traditional publisher, no, they DON’T have control over the pricing or where that money goes. The publisher gets to set the price and take the lion’s share of the profit from the writer’s work. That’s the devil’s bargain writers who go the traditional publishing route agree to, and it’s none of your business.

Second: You assume every writer is traditionally published, which unless you’ve been living in a cave since 1985 is known to be absolutely untrue. Indie authors like myself are a real phenomenon and getting bigger all the time. Indie authors front all the cost of getting a book to market, from cover and editing to swag and print copies out of their own pockets, rolling the dice that they’re going to recoup their investment and maybe even dare to hope they’ll turn a profit! When you steal e-books, which is what piracy is and don’t even waste your time trying to tell me otherwise, you’re fucking over an entire ecosystem within the writing world, starting and ending with the writer. This is true regardless of whether the writer in question is traditional or indie.

When you buy your books at retail, as SO many writers and readers on Twitter have noted recently, you make it possible for the writer to create more work. In my case, my most expensive books are $2.99, and these are works in excess of 100k words. Try buying a fancy coffee for that. Hell, you can barely buy a 16oz energy drink for three bucks…and I’m giving you hours of entertainment and a lifetime of memories for that price!

So, the best solution is

BUY YOUR FUCKING BOOKS!

  1. Wait for a sale.

Many, even most authors, sometimes place their work at a discounted rate. They may have a new book coming out and want to entice new readers. They may just be trying to stimulate sales in their backlist. Their e-tailers may do promotional whosits which they signed up for which reduce the prices modestly to sharply. Maybe the sun came up at a weird angle this morning and they decided they just damned well wanted to drop the price on their books for a minute.

Doesn’t matter why; if you wait long enough, most authors, publishers and e-tailers will reduce the price of books at some point for some reason. Many authors even talk about these discounts on Twitter, their websites and so on. While the author doesn’t get full royalties on these, I promise you just about all of us would rather have 10-35% of SOMETHING than 10-35% of NOTHING.

  1. Offer a trade: Book for review.

Prevailing wisdom is, if you read a writer’s work and like it, it’s nice to leave a review so other readers will know about it. This gives authors more visibility and more sales, helping them maintain competitive ability in this industry.

While many authors I know would argue the writing business is more collaborative than competitive, at the end of the day we’re all competing for the same readers and market share. It’s a friendly competition, and in the main we celebrate each other’s achievements and triumphs as we hope they will celebrate ours. Nonetheless, it is a competition, and reviews give authors an edge.

That being said, I know of literally no author who would rather have someone pirate their work than get a free book in exchange for a review. I actually offer free books on Twitter for anyone who will give me an HONEST review!

“Honest” does not necessarily equate to “Well, he/she/they gave me a free book, so I have to be nice.” Look, if you thought the book was shit, you’re not obligated to say otherwise even if you did get it for free. I would personally hope reviewers who get a free book would be inclined to accentuate the positive while not ignoring the negative, but a good review is better than a poor review and a poor review is better than no review at all.

An aside: Remember that authors working through publishers do not get to set their price points. The two worst reviews I ever received were for books which a certain reader perceived as being too short for the price they paid. In all fairness, I agreed. That’s why, when I went full-time indie, I set my price points based on what I consider reasonable, but never more than $2.99 and that’s for longer works.

Not everyone sees it that way, or tries to make sure they keep their pricing fair and reasonable. When reviewing a traditionally published author, even if they write for a strictly e-book house, remember the publisher has control. The writer does not.

When offering to write a review in exchange for a free copy, it’s usually good form to:

  • Tell the writer how long it will be before you can review. If you’ve got a three-month TBR, fine, but let them know upfront.
  • Tell the writer what your review policy is. If it’s less than three stars, maybe you reach out to the writer before you post it. This is not always the best policy, as we have seen too many times; some writers become deeply indignant over less than five stars. Your mileage may and likely WILL vary on this, but I’d personally appreciate the heads-up so I can at least apologize before it hits the wider Internet!
  • If you do not finish (or DNF) a book, let us know. Some people really, truly shouldn’t be writing.
  • Ask yourself, “Did I just not like this book, or did it REALLY suck?” I think we all know the difference between “Not my cup of tea, but I can see how some people might enjoy a priest/nun/gendershifting demon with tentacles erotica” and “I wouldn’t line my cat’s litter box with this shit.”
  1. Explain your situation.

I know several readers who are BROKE. Like, really, hardcore, desperately broke.

I feel for these readers. Some of them are close friends of mine. I’ve been where they are, and in some ways I’m still there.

I also understand:

  • You’re LGBT and living in a situation where you can’t openly purchase LGBT material without outing yourself. Sadly, in some areas of the world being who you are is a death sentence. I’ll respect that all day long and YES, you can have a book which reflects your inner reality. Here you go!
  • You live in a part of the world where you can’t access my books through regular channels.
  • You’re flat busted, skint, broke and need a book to help keep you sane.

Okay. All of these are legit. And I’ll GIVE someone a free book happily if it means they have a chance to see the next morning or they will feel less alone in this world. I can’t do it for everyone, and not everyone’s story is going to strike me as someone who really NEEDS my book versus someone who WANTS it without giving anything back, be it money or the time it takes to write a review or whatever.

If I don’t give you a book for free, don’t take it personally. I assure you it’s a business decision, as all my decisions have to be. That which does not serve my House doesn’t serve me, and if it doesn’t serve my House it isn’t worth doing.

Not everyone is going to do this, or be in a position where they CAN because of contracts or their own financial situations, etc. As above, if you can, leaving a review is always appreciated. But if I straight-up say, “Hey, look…have a book,” I’m not expecting anything. Hoping, sure. Expecting, no.

  1. Ask your library.

Local (US) libraries are usually glad to acquire a book for a patron who requests it. The library pays for the book and a number of people get to read it. Cool, right?

If you ask your local library to stock a certain book, and that book looks like something their readership is likely to check out more than once, the library will probably do it. You already pay for the library with taxes; why the hell would you not use it!? This also helps authors by giving them a broader market for their work.

Sure, patrons of a library may not buy Eat My Shorts! if it’s already there. Why would they? But they may buy Wail and The Gael and the Goddess, which makes the whole thing even out. And guess what? You can STILL leave a review on the book, even if you got it from the library! Cool, right?

Maybe you don’t live somewhere where libraries are a thing.

Maybe you got kicked out of the library for playing “Lady of Spain” on the accordion one time too many.

Maybe your car broke down and there’s not a public transit system to get you to the library.

You still have options 1-4 which help authors without resorting to piracy.

In total, five perfectly fine and valid options for acquiring books which few authors I know of will have many qualms with. As noted in the intro, not every author will play this way.

However: if you don’t ask, your answer will always be NO. Ask.

So, if you’ve read all this and you have ideas for how to do it better moving forward, wonderful. We can be friends.

BUT!

If, after reading all this, plus yesterday’s post, you still feel like you’re entitled to the thousands of hours the average author spends learning their craft, polishing it and delivering work into the world with the hope they’re going to make a living wage from their work, to wit, YOU WANT TO BE A PIRATEY FUCKING PIRATE AND TO HELL WITH WHO GETS HURT, here’s my response to you:

You have my cordial and enthusiastic permission to find yourself a nice big saguaro cactus and sodomize yourself with it vigorously, screaming “I deserve it! I deserve it! I de-sssserrrrrrve it!” over and over again until the message sinks in that you’re being an asshole.

Writers work too. And we deserve compensation for our work.

Simple as that.

Don’t be a piratey fucking pirate. There’s really no need for it when you get down to brass tacks.

Don’t be that guy…and we won’t tell you to fuck off when you try to justify theft on social media.

Easy, right?

TL;DR:

  1. Buy your books at retail.

  2. Wait for a sale.

  3. Offer to exchange a review for a book.

  4. Explain your situation.

  5. Use your local library, if possible.

No piracy and everyone wins.

Or be a pirate and go fuck yourself with a saguaro cactus.

Your call.