What do authors chat about at signings?

Jeanne Stein and I have much in common, more than just having our books shelved close (alphabetically) in the SF/F section. We’re members of RMFW and we both have strong heroines, where Jeanne writes Urban Fantasy (the Anna Strong Vampire Chronicles) and I write military-flavored SF (the Major Ariane Kedros Novels). Our first publications are both original paperback series (which have pluses and minuses). When we first met at Denvention 3 (2008), we also found we have the same editor, which might seem strange because Jeanne is published by Berkley’s Ace Books and I’m published by New American Library’s Roc Books. Both publisher imprints come under Penguin Group USA and apparently, they share the same staff.

Jeanne Stein (left) and I sign our books at the Colorado Gold Conference

Jeanne and I sat at the same table during the RMFW Gold Conference signing (it’s that alphabetical proximity again). Our conversation turned to a subject most commercial authors, whether published by a NY publisher, small independent publisher, or self-published, will relate to. We chatted about our latest releases and Jeanne asked me, “So how long did it take before this one showed up on the piracy sites?” I told her that a pirated version of Pathfinder was available about two weeks after its release, which had shocked me.

Piracy—we can’t complain about it

It’s not like we’re looking for these sites; a simple Google alert that any author uses to catch book reviews and blog discussions, will also put pitches for our own pirated books in our mailboxes. When I first saw my book available for “free download,” I didn’t know exactly what that meant. I followed the URL to a “board” (download for members only, small fee involved) and saw someone had uploaded Peacekeeper, after “converting the eBook format to HTML.” So I looked for an “About Us” area on the web site. The management had anticipated claims of infringement and said that I, as the valid author or copyright owner of anything downloaded from their site, shouldn’t bother with a complaint because a) their servers are not located within the U.S., b) they can’t be held responsible for what their members do, and c) no one can touch them, legally. I couldn’t believe they had entirely clean hands, after reading the usage-statement-that-protests-too-much.

When I asked my agent if anything could be done about the piracy site, I got the email equivalent of a shrug. It happens to everyone. I could contact Penguin’s legal department and tell them about the site, but… I’m obviously a small fish in this pond and lawyers are real expensive. Penguin’s probably not going to the mat for me, or any other paperback author, for that matter. I’ve also got the impression that it’s inappropriate to complain about piracy so, in the end, I did nothing.

How are paperback authors, in particular, hurt by piracy?

If you think it’s about the money, you’d be wrong. Authors make absurdly small amounts on paperbacks and, for original paperback series, the author has no hardback/trade sales to fall back on. Paperback fiction is the worst, but we all know that (after all, if we really wanted to make money selling books we’d be writing “real-life” memoirs and trying out for reality TV shows). Even publishers and booksellers don’t make much on paperbacks. They’d much rather be selling hardbacks; I had an independent bookseller tell me they don’t do signings for paperback authors because “it’s just not worth our time.” The paperback world is all about numbers, meaning large print runs and hopefully, increasing orders with each book. The scale is what can make it worthwhile for the publisher.

So if you read pirated paperbacks (electronic or otherwise), you’re only sticking it to the publisher, right? Wrong. For the author, it’s all about the numbers. If an author experiences lower-than-predicted orders or sales, nobody may have actually lost money, but the author will probably have her contract dropped (or her series won’t be continued). People who indulge in pirated books may try to justify it by thinking they’ll help the author by “spreading the word,” but those lost sales may actually be a nail in the coffin of her career. It’s all about numbers.

Additional note: Congress will be considering S. 3804, the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act,” which addresses online intellectual property theft. Click here if you’d like to ask your senators or representatives to support it.

Any opinions?

  • Illuminating (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Ho-Hum (0)