Pirating Books

Pirating books. You’ve probably seen this topic in the news over the past couple of weeks and heard the heated discussion revolving around it. In short, a website called OceanofPDF, known for hosting pirated books, was recently shut down. Publishers like Penguin, HarperCollins, and Random House issued tons of take down notices, and eventually the requests went through. You can read more about it here.

This should be a good thing, right? A site that’s allowing people to essentially steal an author’s work is no longer able to distribute the pdfs. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of backlash in which authors are being called “Elitist” and selfish for wanting money for their work. Now granted, some of the people do have a good point. If they’ve already purchased the books and something happened to them, shouldn’t there be a way to get them back? Or what if they bought a paper version and want an e-book for the road that came out later?

First, if you lost the book, I’m sorry, but if you lost a DVD or music, you’d have to pay to get that back, too. If you want the e-copy, some authors will sell packages of e-books and the paper book, so you can just get it that way. Or just buy the e-book. Generally, e-books are priced a lot cheaper anyway. My paper book is $15, but my e-book is $3.99. I’m not asking you to pay full price for the e-book.

Some people have argued that 1. they don’t have the money for books or 2.  they can’t get them from the local library. Generally if you speak with a library about wanting a book, and there are enough requests, the library can buy the book or even loan it from another location. If you get the book around the time it launches, many authors put their novels on sale. Or they’ll do low sales or offer giveaways.

We’re not dragons stealing your money and cackling on top of our glistening hoard. Most of the money we actually make off of our books goes towards expenses in order to bring more books to you. Spend money to make money. So to have our work put on a site without our permission and to watch hundreds and thousands of people download it without us seeing a cent from it is…how is that fair?

I want to give you a look into how much it costs to actually publish a book. It’s different for traditional and self-published authors, but we all put money into it.

First, it starts with our time. I work a full-time job, and I spend most of my free time (what little I have), writing my novels. This is not just a casual hobby. This is something I want to turn into a profession, so I dedicate my time to it. I’ve taken courses in writing, storytelling, plot development, creative writing, (which costs money,) so I can create my books. It also causes a lot of emotional strain to do what I do. See Writing with Depression for clarification.

And then there are the other expenses once I’ve actually written the book. I have to pay for things like:

  • an editor
  • proofreaders
  • sensitivity readers
  • cover artist
  • promotional materials
  • book swag
  • programs like Scrivener and Adobe DC to format the books or a designer who can do it for me
  • buying the books themselves
  • tables at conventions to sell my books
  • hotels/gas/meals to travel and sell

It all adds up.

Most of the money that I’ve made from sales have gone back into my book or is being used to take care of costs for the next one. I’m not rolling in money, so yes, every dollar does help. Some people say, “Well, I’ll give you a review. That’s payment enough.” Look, any review is wonderful, and I’m grateful for it whether it’s good or bad. But the thing is, if everyone decided that’s how they were going to pay for the book, I’d have hundreds of reviews, but no revenue.

We pay money for movies, music, theater, etc, but when it comes to art and books, suddenly it’s just too expensive. I understand our economy is awful, and I’m drowning in debt as well. But it’s heartbreaking to realize that something I spent months or even years on is being handed out for free. If I want to give it away for free or drop the price, that’s my prerogative, and I would promote it so that people who are having trouble buying my book can get it for cheaper. Some say I get more readers if my book is given away for free. Hey, that’s great. I love getting more readers. But what about all the time and effort writers put into their craft? Does that mean nothing?

If it was just happening here and there, that would be one thing. But there are whole sites dedicated to this. I give books away. I reach out to libraries to see if I can get my books there so people who are low on cash can at least borrow the book. But that’s my decision and my right to do that.

I guess what I really want you to understand is that being a creator and doing something I love doesn’t mean that I don’t put a ton of work into it. I’m providing a service. Is it so bad that I would want compensation from it so I can keep creating and bring more stories to my readers?

I’d love to hear your opinions on it.

 

Let’s Talk About Plagiarism

By now, I’m sure most of you are aware of #copypastecris that’s been going on in the romance community. In short, “author” Cristiane Serruya has been accused of plagiarizing lines/paragraphs from other published authors. According to bestselling author Nora Roberts, the total count is up to 51 books and 34 authors plagiarized. Serruya at first claimed a ghostwriter was at fault on twitter, but she’s since closed virtually all of her social media accounts. In another instance (and I hate that I can’t find the article for this), at least one ghostwriter claimed that Serruya fed them lines/phrases to put into the book, but the ghostwriter had no idea they were plagiarized text.

It’s been quite the scandal, and it has writers up in arms, and for good reason. No one wants to have their work stolen. Writers spend days, weeks, months, and years perfecting their craft. To see it in someone else’s book…I can only imagine how that must feel. I know I’d be enraged and feel betrayed as well to see the language from The Purple Door District pop up somewhere else.

So what do we take away from all of this? What can we do to fight against these acts?

Well, first off, if you notice that a book you’re reading has familiar phrases from other books, please report it. The more we catch plagiarizers, the better chance we may have of exposing them and taking them out of the market.

When it comes to ghostwriters, let’s take a breath. I’ve seen a lot of facebook frames going around that say, “I write my own books,” which is great. But at the same time, I think it can belittle ghostwriters. Sadly, I’m sure there are ghosts who plagiarize on purpose, just as there are named authors who do the same. But many ghostwriters are also just trying to make an honest living. They write for people who don’t necessarily have that talent but still have a story to tell. They create articles, posts, books, and more. Just like authors, they’re trying to survive on their skill without even having their name on their written piece. And, in some cases, established authors will become ghostwriters if a publishing house has a similar idea as a query they pitched and the house wants to keep the rights.

Ghostwriters aren’t bad, just as Indie authors aren’t bad. There are ghostwriters, indie authors, and traditional authors, however, who give everyone else a bad name. There’s been a lot of hatred towards ghostwriters as a result of this debacle, so I ask you all to remember, not everyone in the business is like that.

Plagiarism is a very serious issue. Even when we were kids in school, teachers always warned us about the horror and dishonesty of plagiarizing. It’s hard to see it happen to authors, people who have spent their lives perfecting their craft and world.

You’re not just stealing someone’s words. You’re stealing their hours of long work, their many sleepless nights agonizing over their plot, the tears of anguish and laughter they shed, the countless days they crafted the book until it was ready to go to the publisher. And with a little action of copy and pasting, someone can just take all of that hard work away so they can make a quick buck.

The publishing industry is a competitive one. We shouldn’t have to worry about our work being stolen. All writers are just trying to find a way to survive and share their stories with the world, but the best way to do it is honestly. Stand by the authors and ghostwriters who create their own work, especially those who have had their literature stolen. And if you’re a writer, be an honest one and create your own stories.

Additional Sources: 

https://www.latimes.com/books/la-et-jc-cristiane-serruya-courtney-milan-plagiarism-20190219-story.html

https://bookriot.com/2019/02/19/round-up-of-copypastecris/

Why Did I Indie Publish?

Since self-publishing The Purple Door District, I’ve received a lot of questions about why I decided to go that route. Well, I want it to be clear that I actually hope to become a hybrid author. My goal is to self-publish some books and traditional publish others.  I want to experience both worlds and see which one works the best for me. For all I know, indie publishing will win out.

The first answer to this question is easy. The Purple Door District is a component of a larger series called Fates and Furies that I write with my co-author, AE Kellar. We decided early on that when we published the books, we wanted to go the indie path. We’d have more freedom that way and we could keep all the important elements in the book without the fear of having a publisher take them out. We wanted control of the cover and the publishing schedule. We both have tight schedules and sometimes we just can’t write together. We didn’t want the pressure of a publishing house coming down on us, insisting we had to have work done at a certain time when it just wasn’t feasible.

Now, that being said, we still want to put work out consistently, but indie publishing is more flexible and more forgiving when it comes to time frames. If we have to push publication dates back to make the book better and stronger, then so be it. So, The Purple Door District was guaranteed to be self-published.

But what about my other books like Dragon Steal or Traitors of the Crown? Why not self-publish those?

Well, again, I want the experience, and I feel like those books might do better with publishing houses that focus on the same type of topic.

Indie publishing is an adventure, to be blunt. You have control of everything. Writing. Editing. Choosing editors/proofreaders. Finding the cover. Marketing. Formatting. Publishing. Distribution. You wear all of the hats, and while that can be daunting, it can also be extremely enjoyable and rewarding. I went from having this book I was just posting on patreon with a rough cover to a published copy in my hand and in bookstores. I spent six months doing my marketing and printing campaign, and I honestly couldn’t be happier.

I was relieved that I could choose my own cover. Often in traditional publishing, you don’t get a say in it. In my case, I found an artist, and she and I worked together to perfect the cover. She willingly listened to my suggestions and adjusted the art so it turned into the lovely piece it is today. Likewise, I found artists who could make character images for me, and I was the only one who could say if it matched my vision. I had the final approval. You don’t always get that in the traditional world.

I also was able to choose my own editors and proofreaders. I went with people I trusted, who had worked with me either for a long time or had demonstrated a passion for the craft and my book. Our relationships became harmonious, and we were able to message each other without having to worry about a publisher watching over us.

Indie publishing is no longer as taboo as it used to be. Authors are spending money to acquire editing services, and more freelance editors are appearing everyday. One of the biggest things I love about indie publishing is working with the community. I’m not the only one benefiting from publishing the book. Editors, proofreaders, artists, PA specialists all have a hand in the book and receive payment for their work. I’m proud to have met so many incredibly talented people and it brings me great joy to promote them on my website.

Indie publishing is a lot of work and a ton of money (depending on how you want to do it). You can indie publish and not spend a dime except for purchasing books. Or, you can put more of your cash into it to create a bigger marketing strategy. Again, the choice is yours. You have control over your own process. And you don’t have to worry about a publishing company folding and dropping the series you’ve been working on (it’s happened before).

I’m not waiting for anyone to promote my materials or set up book signings for me. I do it all myself and go where I think I’ll have the most success. Walking this path has turned me into a stronger and more knowledgeable writer that I’m not sure I would have received from traditional publishing alone. Yes, in traditional publishing you still have to help market, but not to the same extent as indie.

I give a lot of credit to those who have self-published before me, and those who will after me. I feel like may of us have become a close-nit community because we all know the struggle of creating and promoting our books. The writing community is incredible, and no matter if you choose to self publish or traditional publish, I hope you’re proud to be part of the community.

Traditional Publishing 101

Ever since finishing two of my books, I’ve had to ask the tough question of whether I want to go indie or traditional with publishing. Well, I don’t like making decisions, so I decided to be a hybrid. While I’m indie publishing The Purple Door District in December, I’m also trying to go the traditional route with my other book Dragon Steal.

But what does it take to publish a book traditionally? I had a friend ask me this question recently, so I thought I’d toss up my own thoughts on the whole process. Keep in mind, this is just based on what I’ve learned through my own journey and studies. If you have advice about publishing, feel free to post it down below.

Warning! This is going to be a longer topic. I originally wrote this for The Writers’ Rooms, and I’ve expanded upon it for my readers here.

Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing

  • They know their stuff. Traditional publishers are in the business, so they know how to get the job done. They have a team of people who can do all the little fiddly bits (covers, back matter, editing, marketing, legalese, rights, taxes…) so you don’t have to do it on your own. It saves you a huge headache. 
  • Legitimacy. Because of the gatekeepers, people know that if a book is good enough to be published traditionally there’s a certain expectation of quality–or at least of whatever quality the publishing house is known for. (Note: this does not mean that indie publishing is not legitimate. There’s still a stigma against self-publishing, but it’s dissipating day by day).  
  • Marketing. You don’t have to do your marketing alone! A team will help you, though you will still be expected to market your story somewhat.
  • But… They take whatever they think is marketable. This can mean a distinct lack of freedom for your writing, since they’re less likely to take “risky” work.
  • But… Publishers are ultimately in it for the money, and will drop writers for the slightest reasons. Even well-established, upper-mid-range authors will find themselves struggling sometimes. Or, a publishing house could drop an author partway through their series and battle over the legal rights of the original books. 
  • But…It takes FOREVER to publish your book. For YA, sometimes a book that’s acquired doesn’t come out for two years. By then, the hot market could have moved on and you’ll have missed your “hot topic” window. 

First Step: Query Letter, Pitch, and Synopsis

  • Query Letter: This is essentially a sales pitch to an agent to get them interested in your book. It’s a brief piece that describes the story, provides word count, relates the book to other familiar genres/books, and gives a little background about the author. This is often one of the hardest things to write asides from your story. Make sure you find a good guideline example to follow and adhere to anything an agent requests in the query letter. You can check out my blog post all about writing query letters here
  • Pitch: The pitch is your elevator speech. You want to wow the agent, editor, publisher with a 5-second pitch, 30-second pitch, or 1-minute pitch. Think of it as 1 sentence, 2 sentences, and a paragraph about your story. Throw in something unique that is going to catch the listener’s attention. A great way to get practice is by participating in pitmad on twitter, which happens quarterly. You put your pitch on twitter at the same time agents and publishers are looking for the “next best thing.” If they like your tweet (or contact you directly), it means they’re interested in your piece! The next one is on December 6th, so get those pitches ready! 
  • Synopsis: Your synopsis is basically a long summary of your story. In about two pages, double spaced, you have to introduce the agent to your protagonists, antagonists, your world, your plot, and everything that’s unique about the story. This includes (gasp) the ending! They want to hear it in your voice, not just a simple retelling. This piece is vital, because it may make your break your chance at getting to talk to an agent. If you’re interested, I can write a blog post about constructing a synopsis. Let me know below!

Additional Resources:  

Tactful Ways to Say Awkward Things in Your Query Letter, Medium.com

The 10 Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter, Writer’s Digest

7 Tips for Pitching to an Agent or Editor at a Conference, Writer’s Digest

Step Two: Finding an Agent/Publisher/Editor

  • Research: Look for Agents who are requesting your genre. One easy way to do this is to find out the agents of some of your favorite books that are similar to yours. Books like “Guide to Literary Agents 2018” can help you not only find agents, but develop your query letter too. Don’t just query to a random agent. They need to be looking for the thing you’re selling. You can also check out Query Tracker to see what agents are looking for. Once you do find an agent, model your sample chapters, query, and pitch to their standards. Also, by no means should an agent ask for money up front (but we’ll get into that in the red flags section). 
  • Response: Response time can take a very long time, even 6-months to a year. You can query to multiple agents, but if an agent accepts you, you’re responsible for letting other inquiring agents know that you’ve accepted an offer. Typically, if an agent is interested, they’ll request a few chapters or the full copy of your book. Query Tracker is great with indicating response time for agents as well. 
  • Rejection: Everyone is going to get rejected at least once. J.K. Rowling was rejected by multiple agents before she found one. If a rejection says something more than, “I’m not interested,” consider that a success, because it means the agent thought enough about the story to write you a longer response. If you want a better idea what it means to receive rejections, take a look at my blog post here. It might help you out a bit. 
  • Acceptance: When an agent accepts your piece, it’s up to the agent to take the book to an editor and a publisher. She will try to sell the book to a publisher through an act called acquiring. Once a publishing house accepts it, the agent, publishing house, and editors will work with you to perfect your book. Keep in mind, an editor may require heavy changes to your book, so be open minded.

Additional Resources:

Guide to Literary Agents, Writer’s Digest

Step Three: Contracts

  • Contracts: A book contract is a legal-binding agreement between the author and the book publisher that outlines rights, obligations, and money earned. In a traditional agreement, the author retains the copyright and the publisher purchases the right to distribute the book in many forms (paper/ebook/audio, etc). The contract is usually dictated by the the literary agent on behalf of the author. Make sure you get everything on paper and you retain the rights to your book.

Things to Consider About Contracts

  • Rights: How long do they keep rights to publish your book? Is it for a year or several? Will they relinquish the rights to your book if their company goes down?
  • Series: Is your contract for a single book? Is it for a series? Will they reprint your previous books when the new series comes out? Do they have the right to cancel the contract halfway through the series?
  • Non-Compete Clause: This clause says that the author can’t write another book with the same subject or name during the life of the contract. While this may not matter to you, it’s something to keep in mind.

Additional Resources:

What is a Book Contract?, The Balance

Five Publishing Contracts Red Flags, Alina Popescu Writer

Red Flags in Traditional Publishing

  • Contract Publisher Retains Rights: Sometimes when a publishing company likes the idea of your book, and has had a similar one already suggested, they may ask you to write the piece, but all rights remain with the publishing company. If you’re more interested in royalties than having your name credited to you, this is fine, but if you want to retain rights to the book, this is something to watch out for during the contract phase.
  • Publisher Requires Money to Publish Book: Back away. You should not have to pay the publisher to publish your book. You should receive royalties, and you will work with a literary agent to figure that out.
  • Literary Agent Who Charges Upfront: Literary agents do not receive payment until the book is published. They will receive a portion of the book sales.
  • Promised Publication: Some websites will promise to publish poetry, books, essays, etc. if they’re submitted to the site. These are generally not places you want to submit your work to. While they might, indeed, publish it, they will ask you to pay for a physical copy of the piece and will publish it to other locations.
  • Agent/Artist/Editor Problems: Sometimes the relationship between the author and the agent, artist, or editor does not work. Authors have pulled back from agents before because either the agent failed to uphold their end, or the relationship just was not positive. Some artists who design covers may not have the author’s best interest in mind and may produce work that does not jive with the book. On the flip side, an author may express distaste in a book cover that the artist created (I’m looking at you Terry Goodkind), but the publisher will print the book anyway. And sometimes authors and editors bump heads. Do what’s best for you and your book.

After that, you will work with the marketing team to get your book out in bookstores and in libraries. You’ll set up tour dates to do readings and signings. Interviews both online and on television will become your new best friends. But keep in mind, the marketing team won’t do all of the marketing. You’ll have to do some of it yourself. For more tips on marketing, check out my post here.

Like I said, this was going to be a long one. Hopefully it’ll help get you started on your path to publishing your book. And if you’re going to try out for pitmad, let me know! I’d love to cheer you on.

Happy writing!