I’ve decided to tell you guys a story about piracy.
I didn’t think I had much to add to the piracy commentary I made yesterday, but after seeing some of the replies to it, I decided it’s time for this story.
Here are a few things we should get clear before I go on:
1) This is a U.S. centered discussion. Not because I value my non U.S. readers any less, but because I am published with a U.S. publisher first, who then sells my rights elsewhere. This means that the fate of my books, good or bad, is largely decided on U.S. turf, through U.S. sales to readers and libraries.
2) This is not a conversation about whether or not artists deserve to get money for art, or whether or not you think I in particular, as a flawed human, deserve money. It is only about how piracy affects a book’s fate at the publishing house.
3) It is also not a conversation about book prices, or publishing costs, or what is a fair price for art, though it is worthwhile to remember that every copy of a blockbuster sold means that the publishing house can publish new and niche voices. Publishing can’t afford to publish the new and midlist voices without the James Pattersons selling well.
It is only about two statements that I saw go by:
1) piracy doesn’t hurt publishing.
2) someone who pirates the book was never going to buy it anyway, so it’s not a lost sale.
Now, with those statements in mind, here’s the story.
It’s the story of a novel called The Raven King, the fourth installment in a planned four book series. All three of its predecessors hit the bestseller list. Book three, however, faltered in strange ways. The print copies sold just as well as before, landing it on the list, but the e-copies dropped precipitously.
Now, series are a strange and dangerous thing in publishing. They’re usually games of diminishing returns, for logical reasons: folks buy the first book, like it, maybe buy the second, lose interest. The number of folks who try the first will always be more than the number of folks who make it to the third or fourth. Sometimes this change in numbers is so extreme that publishers cancel the rest of the series, which you may have experienced as a reader — beginning a series only to have the release date of the next book get pushed off and pushed off again before it merely dies quietly in a corner somewhere by the flies.
So I expected to see a sales drop in book three, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, but as my readers are historically evenly split across the formats, I expected it to see the cut balanced across both formats. This was absolutely not true. Where were all the e-readers going? Articles online had headlines like PEOPLE NO LONGER ENJOY READING EBOOKS IT SEEMS.
There was another new phenomenon with Blue Lily, Lily Blue, too — one that started before it was published. Like many novels, it was available to early reviewers and booksellers in advanced form (ARCs: advanced reader copies). Traditionally these have been cheaply printed paperback versions of the book. Recently, e-ARCs have become common, available on locked sites from publishers.
BLLB’s e-arc escaped the site, made it to the internet, and began circulating busily among fans long before the book had even hit shelves. Piracy is a thing authors have been told to live with, it’s not hurting you, it’s like the mites in your pillow, and so I didn’t think too hard about it until I got that royalty statement with BLLB’s e-sales cut in half.
Strange, I thought. Particularly as it seemed on the internet and at my booming real-life book tours that interest in the Raven Cycle in general was growing, not shrinking. Meanwhile, floating about in the forums and on Tumblr as a creator, it was not difficult to see fans sharing the pdfs of the books back and forth. For awhile, I paid for a service that went through piracy sites and took down illegal pdfs, but it was pointless. There were too many. And as long as even one was left up, that was all that was needed for sharing.
I asked my publisher to make sure there were no e-ARCs available of book four, the Raven King, explaining that I felt piracy was a real issue with this series in a way it hadn’t been for any of my others. They replied with the old adage that piracy didn’t really do anything, but yes, they’d make sure there was no e-ARCs if that made me happy.
Then they told me that they were cutting the print run of The Raven King to less than half of the print run for Blue Lily, Lily Blue. No hard feelings, understand, they told me, it’s just that the sales for Blue Lily didn’t justify printing any more copies. The series was in decline, they were so proud of me, it had 19 starred reviews from pro journals and was the most starred YA series ever written, but that just didn’t equal sales. They still loved me.
This, my friends, is a real world consequence.
This is also where people usually step in and say, but that’s not piracy’s fault. You just said series naturally declined, and you just were a victim of bad marketing or bad covers or readers just actually don’t like you that much.
Hold that thought.
I was intent on proving that piracy had affected the Raven Cycle, and so I began to work with one of my brothers on a plan. It was impossible to take down every illegal pdf; I’d already seen that. So we were going to do the opposite. We created a pdf of the Raven King. It was the same length as the real book, but it was just the first four chapters over and over again. At the end, my brother wrote a small note about the ways piracy hurt your favorite books. I knew we wouldn’t be able to hold the fort for long — real versions would slowly get passed around by hand through forum messaging — but I told my brother: I want to hold the fort for one week. Enough to prove that a point. Enough to show everyone that this is no longer 2004. This is the smart phone generation, and a pirated book sometimes is a lost sale.
Then, on midnight of my book release, my brother put it up everywhere on every pirate site. He uploaded dozens and dozens and dozens of these pdfs of The Raven King. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting one of his pdfs. We sailed those epub seas with our own flag shredding the sky.
The effects were instant. The forums and sites exploded with bewildered activity. Fans asked if anyone had managed to find a link to a legit pdf. Dozens of posts appeared saying that since they hadn’t been able to find a pdf, they’d been forced to hit up Amazon and buy the book.
And we sold out of the first printing in two days.
I was on tour for it, and the bookstores I went to didn’t have enough copies to sell to people coming, because online orders had emptied the warehouse. My publisher scrambled to print more, and then print more again. Print sales and e-sales became once more evenly matched.
Then the pdfs hit the forums and e-sales sagged and it was business as usual, but it didn’t matter: I’d proven the point. Piracy has consequences.
That’s the end of the story, but there’s an epilogue. I’m now writing three more books set in that world, books that I’m absolutely delighted to be able to write. They’re an absolute blast. My publisher bought this trilogy because the numbers on the previous series supported them buying more books in that world. But the numbers almost didn’t. Because even as I knew I had more readers than ever, on paper, the Raven Cycle was petering out.
The Ronan trilogy nearly didn’t exist because of piracy. And already I can see in the tags how Tumblr users are talking about how they intend to pirate book one of the new trilogy for any number of reasons, because I am terrible or because they would ‘rather die than pay for a book’. As an author, I can’t stop that. But pirating book one means that publishing cancels book two. This ain’t 2004 anymore. A pirated copy isn’t ‘good advertising’ or ‘great word of mouth’ or ‘not really a lost sale.’
College-age boy dressed as a wizard looking for a book on healing crystals.
Man who flicked water on my co worker because there were no paper towels left in the men’s bathroom.
Multiple accounts of people trying to use their old Borders Rewards cards in place of a B&N membership.
Prank caller asking for a book by “Seymour Butts.”
Middle-aged man sitting in the Newsstand area eating a 7-11 Big Gulp slurpee with a spoon and doing nothing else.
Small child that ate a Godiva chocolate santa right out of the foil…in the middle of the register aisle.
Multiple instances of me asking male customers if they need help, being denied, and then watching them approach my male co-workers with a question about a science fiction/fantasy novel.
Being scolded by a nun for selling Playboy magazine.
Cutting myself with a boxcutter, holding my bleeding hand, and being asked by a customer if my register was open.
Soccer mom that reported me to a manager for asking her to step to the back of the line after she cut in front of five people.
Almost daily instances of finding books from the Love & Sex bay in the Children’s department.
Elderly European couple that steals chairs from other people’s tables so they can put their feet up with pillows they brought from home.
Multiple instances of going to the bathroom and hearing someone talking to themselves in the neighboring stall. (This literally happened to me twice today.)
Elderly man that told my manager to tuck in his shirt.
Different elderly man universally known to the staff as “Membership Guy.” 100% believes that you are out to steal all his information and ruin his life by asking if he’s a Barnes & Noble member.
A coworker asking Membership Guy if he found everything alright, to which he replied, “why the FUCK would I be up here if I didn’t find everything alright?!”
The time a dude from Texas Roadhouse came in gave us free bread and cinnamon butter.
Woman whose cafe order totaled $6.66 and bought an extra cupcake to avoid “bad juju.”
Elderly man with a painted on mustache and off-kilter wig that tries to show everyone YouTube videos of his nephew’s band. The fact that you’re in the middle of making five drinks at once will not stop him.
Man who ferociously denied donating to our annual book drive because “the government has taken enough from him.” (?????)
Dude that asked me to help him find a book called “100 Nights of Great Sex” while his wife looked on with dead eyes.
Woman that told me I was “shit at my job” for being unable to find a book that she didn’t know the title or author of, only that it was white.
Regular customer known as “Monopoly Guy” because he always wears a top hat. Constantly hits on one specific female employee and frequently calls to see if she’s working. Was once caught jacking off in the parking lot by a co worker.
Woman that blatantly refused to leave the store after close because it was raining.
Drawing one of the manager’s names for our annual Secret Santa exchange and buying him Managing for Dummies, which he quickly whited out to say Managing Dummies.
Being rolled around on a V-cart by a co worker.
Woman that continued knocking on the window after close and demanded we let her in because she had a gift card.
The number one item most frequently stolen being Magic the Gathering cards.
Elderly woman buying romance novels and loudly announcing “since I’m not getting any, I might as well read about it.”
Redneck man reporting the head cashier to me because apparently asking him if he was a Barnes & Noble member was “being a bitch.”
Woman that demanded I ring her up over the phone and then bring her purchase to her car.
Mall Santas repeatedly coming in for a coffee break in full costume.
Catching a (now unemployed) co worker reading manga on the clock. Every. Single. Day.
Woman that asked me to help her find a book while I was washing my hands in the bathroom.
Two college boys looking for books on “growing indoor plants.”
A man that called the store just to ask where the nearest RadioShack was.
Watching a co worker get yelled at for using the credit card in the customer’s hand instead of the one in her purse.
Being asked to make an “iced hot chocolate.” After explaining to the customer that what they were asking for was chocolate milk, they furiously repeated “NO. I want an iced hot chocolate.”
Woman that demanded the corporate number and my name after telling her that she couldn’t return a book with a receipt from 2009.
Being tearfully hugged by a widowed dad for finding him books to help him teach his daughter about puberty.
Performing the yearly missing child drill with an Elf on the Shelf doll labeled “Bob.”
The managers hiding Bob around the store during the holidays and awarding prizes if we find him.
And lastly (for now, anyway)…
Being forced to wear the ridiculous costumes for Friday night storytimes.
When you sell a man a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue - you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night - there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.
In order to maintain his cover as a typical second-hand bookseller, he used every means short of actual physical violence to prevent customers from making a purchase. Unpleasant damp smells, glowering looks, erratic opening hours – he was incredibly good at it.
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens, p. 58
It’s no big secret that a large portion of the LGBT fiction market is online. Many books aren’t even available in print, which I know frustrates some readers (and authors!) who would like to find books in bookstores, libraries, etc. And heck, some people just like paperbacks.
But they aren’t in bookstores. Not in significant numbers, anyway. Even as larger publishers branch out into LGBT, they’re sticking to ebooks.
After talking to publishers, agents, authors, and booksellers over the years, I’ve come to understand one of the primary reasons for this is, quite simply, that queer lit doesn’t sell in bookstores.
With that in mind, I went on a mission this week. I visited five bookstores around Seattle and Portland - Powell’s, Half Price Books, and Barnes & Noble - and I asked the same question: “Where would I find the LGBT fiction?”
This is the LGBT Fiction and Non-Fiction section at a Barnes & Noble. The entire section.
But you know what’s extra aggravating?
This is where I found it:
I mean, great. Glad it’s near LGBT & Gender Identity (Though it’s literally the bottom shelf. The top three are Native American and African American non-fiction, which apparently are part of Cultural Studies but don’t warrant a sign despite occupying ¾ of the space…? IDK.)
Signage weirdness notwithstanding, look what section I’m in. I mean, if you’re looking for LGBT Fiction, you’d expect to look…in the….fiction section, right?
No. It’s in the non-fiction section. This is the view of the fiction section from the LGBT section:
Those are Graphic Novels, followed by SFF, followed by Romance. So if you’re in the mood for Gay Romance, you’re not even in the right ZIP code if you start perusing the romance section.
And if I wander over to the fiction section and look toward the LGBT section…
That far wall? The shelf with the LGBT books is perpendicular to that.
See what I’m getting at? There are literally only three ways someone will find the LGBT fiction section at Barnes & Noble:
1. Ask. Which is fabulous for people who are closeted, kids who aren’t comfortable asking, and people who don’t even know the genre exists.
2. Stumble across it. Which you’re totally going to do if you’re looking for a novel because you’d absolutely wander out of the fiction section to find one.
3. Already know where it is.
Can’t imagine why LGBT fiction doesn’t sell.
At Powell’s, the situation wasn’t any better. Powell’s is enormous. It’s multi-level with color-coded rooms because it’s just….huge. I made a valiant attempt to find the LGBT Fiction on my own, but after a full hour of browsing, including scouring all the rooms containing fiction, I finally had to go ask.
There was a reason I couldn’t find it - it wasn’t in any of the rooms dominated by fiction.
It was in the room with all the history books, tucked back behind Military History. Because God knows that’s where I go looking when I want some LGBT fiction.
To their credit, Powell’s had an impressively large section, and it was decorated with a gigantic rainbow sign….but what good does that do anyone if they can’t find the section?
The problem is not regular minimum wage jobs going up. The problem here would be that paramedic making a pathetic amount of money compared to what they do. I made 12.50 as a hostess.
Raising the minimum wage would get this paramedic in the scenario much closer to what they deserve as a salary. Do people not realize that?
Also, why, in every one of these fucking posts, are fast-food workers used as an example? You know minimum wage affects FAR more people and types of jobs than that, right? You can have a degree and be paid less than $15 hourly. But, apparently, unless you’re in the medical profession, you don’t deserve more. And evidently everyone that isn’t in the medical profession works at McDonalds.
Let’s not deny an entire mass of people a working wage because you got an incorrect order. That is moronic. How about you campaign and work toward fixing the actual problem in this scenario rather than turning on the working class. Look upwards, not downwards.
P.s. Any minimum wager could easily call out high paid jackasses for not doing their jobs, that they are highly paid to do, correctly but do you see that as often as this? Nope. Because they are focused on getting their fair wage, not just wildly pointing fingers.
[Ending was edited out because it was a simple joke and people took it seriously then blew it way out of proportion]
“I can touch you now.” I reached up and drew my hand gently down his temple, his ear, the cheek and jaw that I could see. My hand went to the nape of his neck, under the clubbed bronze hair, and he raised his head at last, and cupped my face between his hands, love glowing strong in the dark blue eyes.
“Dinna be afraid,” he said softly. “There’s the two of us now.”