Yo ho here we go again: Piracy and who pays when

New book, new theft.ThinkOfEngland72web

I don’t usually spend that much time worrying about ebook piracy. It’s one of those things that could keep you awake all night if you think about it. But when a new book comes out, as Think of England did last month, and I check for reviews, and a piracy result comes up on the first page within a week of publication…

I’ve read several articles on justification for piracy. They all line up a variety of reasons why people pirate books, and tell publishers and authors to take note and address these concerns. A typical example quoted in GalleyCat:

 “I’ve pirated electronic versions of books I already own physically.”

“I limit myself to pirating things that are out-of-print or otherwise unavailable through a legal digital outlet.”

“I’m poor and I like to read, but I can’t pirate food, so I pirate everything else.”

“The library rarely has the books I want to read.”

“I only pirate textbooks from school … They are ridiculously priced an I have a hard enough time paying tuition.”

“If the ebook is more expensive than the paper-version I sometimes pirate it out of annoyance.”

“Pirating also lets me sample things i would not be willing to pay money for up front”

Hang onto that last for a moment. Now, here’s a lovely exchange one author had.

lawrenceThanks for clearing that up, Emmanuel, your a star lol.

But, sarcasm aside, look at that line:

I do believe in being able to read or listsin to someone’s work before taking home for good books and music being especially of those sins there a million of you guys all calling your selfs artist

Which I interpret to mean:

As there is a great deal of work on the market and quality can be variable, I like to sample goods before spending my money.

Hang on to that one too as we go back to my pirate site experience.

So I went to the site that came up on the first Google page for Think of England. It’s a forum for filesharing, where you post a request for a book or game or film and other people post links to offsite places you can get it for free. Here’s the request. If you are profprofferson, please feel free to step on Lego any time.

mobilism 2

Now, we’ve all heard plenty about the benefits of piracy. Exposure! People discussing your book! Building an audience! As it goes, my bank doesn’t currently accept exposure for the mortgage, but hey, it would be better than the nothing I otherwise get…if it actually happens. So I joined up and asked.

mobilism 1

Yes, I like to stir.

Within five minutes they’d deleted my comment. No kidding. However, I also got this message.

mobilism 3(NB that I haven’t sought or received Lee’s permission to reproduce this private message. What goes around comes around.)

Several things to note here:

  • Apparently, I ought to be pleased that people steal my books in an enthusiastic rather than a lackadaisical fashion. Oh, wow, you guys really like me! I feel so…unpaid!
  • They did indeed take down all my books on my request, at once.
  • Total lack of apology. Friendly chat, smiliness, pleasant, genuinely positive and helpful, from the person who had uploaded my book illegally for people to download for free. Remorse? Embarrassment at being caught? A sense of having done something wrong? No.

But mainly

I adored it, so bought it. … If I like something I’ll buy it.

Lee even linked me to a thread on her forum where members discussed how many ebooks they had actually bought rather than stolen. (I think this was meant to be encouraging.) There were people saying, ‘Well, I have at least a hundred books I paid for!’, claiming the moral high ground in a forum dedicated to taking things without paying. All of them were adamant that you should buy the book post-piracy if you liked it.

I do actually believe the people who have told me that they take for free and pay if they like the book. (‘Believe’ should not be confused with ‘approve of’. You can get a 10% free sample off Amazon if you want to try before you buy.) I think it is actually probably true that piracy helps many new authors build a name and a readership because it’s done by enthusiastic booklovers to a surprising degree.  I know really nice, committed, passionate booklovers who give their own time and effort for free to promote books, yet who have pirated. I know of people who will upload the books of authors they love to pirate sites, apparently in the belief it’s doing the author good, or no harm.

It simply seems that the burden of risk, for some people, has shifted from the buyer to the author. Previously if you bought a book and didn’t like it, you were out of pocket; now the author takes the hit. I suspect Emmanuel the Illiterate’s comment was referring to the explosion in availability of poor-quality product that’s happened with the self-publishing boom (and NB that the quality of trade editing has dropped like a rock in recent years as publishers cut costs, so that is not a dig at good self-publishers). It is undeniable that there’s a lot of crap out there. Equally, there have been some gigantic successes of authors who started publishing free fiction on the net, whose fans have gone on to buy the same work in book form over again.

Basically, it looks like a section of the market is moving to a model of payment by results, rather than payment in advance. Which is not, of course, legal, and it’s not how meals or haircuts or widescreen TVs work. But it looks more like that, in these cases, rather than simple theft to me.

Ebooks have brought much wider availability along with much wider stealability; access to bigger markets means we reach wilder shores. Maybe being involuntarily moved to a ‘payment by results’ model for a section of the market is part of the price of the huge reach authors now have.

I don’t have a neat conclusion for you. I might be completely wrong. But it’s worth authors remembering, for our own sanity, not every pirate is a thief, not every pirated copy is a lost sale, and piracy is not necessarily the catastrophe it feels like.

I still hope they tread on Lego.

 

Think of England is on dozens of torrent sites, or you could buy it here and my children will eat. /big puppy eyes/

Advertisements

Good Bad Language: a post about swearing

Warning: This is about profanity. Stop now if you don’t like swearing, because there will be a lot, and I am not going to use asterisks except once, in the next sentence. There is liberal use of c***; skip to the end for a postscript if this word particularly bothers you, or just abandon ship now. My advice is not to text-to-speech this one in public. Right, here we go.

Every few days, a post floats by on Twitter or pops up on a writing advice forum about profanity. Generally, the advice is the same: Swearing betrays poverty of imagination and language; you can convey the same effects without using rude words; you might upset people who don’t like swearing and what’s the point in turning off potential readers?

This is not the advice you are about to receive here.

Poverty of imagination/language

Swearing is just a lazy way to get an effect, we’re told. Shoving a few fucks into the dialogue isn’t the same as writing an effective character. Can’t you do some real writing?

To which I can only say, have you not seen The Thick of It?

No, he’s useless. He’s absolutely useless. He’s as useless as a marzipan dildo.

I’ve come across a lot of psychos in my time, but none as fucking boring as you. I mean you are a really boring fuck. Sorry, sorry, I know you disapprove of swearing. You are a really boring f star star cunt.

If you do think about running with this pill story, I’ll personally fucking eviscerate you, right? I mean, I don’t have your education, I don’t know what that means. But I’ll start by ripping your cock off and I’ll busk it from there.

The creators of The Thick of It are not linguistically impoverished. They invented the brilliant word ‘omnishambles’ and created my favourite insult line ever (without a swear in sight):

My theory is, Malcolm built him in a lab from bits of old psychopath.

Swearing can be elaborate, hilarious and glorious. But even monotonous swearing of the kind that makes people tut about ‘poverty of vocabulary’ can be used to brilliant effect. Look at Trainspotting, which uses monotonous swearing to convey everything about its narrators – Scottish, rage-filled, of varying education, all of them spiralling into heroin and self-destruction and a mass of unfocused fury, turned inwards as much as out:

You fucking knew that fucking cunt would fuck some cunt.

You can hear the character in that line (roughly translated, ‘It was inevitable that the individual we’re discussing would one day cause severe injury to somebody’.) The accent, the words spat out like bullets, the incoherent emotion overwhelming any powers of expression. That’s character through poverty of language.

You can do without naughty words

Some say you can do just as well by telling the reader that the character swears without larding the dialogue with profanity. I dispute that. Here’s a scene from my book The Magpie Lord. Lord Crane has only just survived a magical murder attempt:

Crane got up on the second try, poured himself a very large brandy, spilling quite a lot, knocked it back in a single, painful gulp, sat on the floor again and began to swear. He swore fluently, inventively and with spectacular obscenity in Shanghainese until he ran out of epithets, switched to English, and started at the beginning again.

“You’re feeling more yourself, then,” said Merrick, when Crane reached an impressively foul climax.

“No, I am not. What the fuck, what the fucking, bloody devil-shit, what in the name of Satan’s swollen cock was that?”

“Do you speak in the House of Lords with that mouth?”

Magpie LordCould I have achieved the same effect by leaving out Crane’s line? Just say, ‘He swore foully’ and allow the reader to use her imagination? Really? ‘He swore foully’, unsupported, has about as much effect as claiming, ‘He spoke brilliantly about Wordsworth’s poetry’, or ‘She was a world expert in symbology’ and never letting us hear the character say anything on the topic.  The reader won’t believe you know what you’re talking about. I didn’t have to spend paragraphs on Crane’s swearfest, but imagine that scene without the single line of extreme foul-mouthedness and see how much weaker it is. (I may add, in response to the “lazy writing” thing, I spent ages getting that swear exactly right – stunned repetition, slightly foreign cast, an elaboration to convey the richness of his imagery, all of it with rhythm, structure and build – and I’m proud of it.)

There is a reason that George Bernard Shaw in Pygmalion insisted on including the line, ‘Not bloody likely,’ rather than having it implied – the watcher has to hear Eliza say this shocking thing in her new cut-glass accent to understand how Higgins’ experiment has cut her adrift from class structures. There is a reason that Larkin’s poem doesn’t begin, ‘They mess you up, your mum and dad.’ And, because swearing is not a modern invention, let me give you one of my favourite poems by the Earl of Rochester (born 1647), ‘Upon His Drinking a Bowl’. I know the language is a bit flowery but don’t skip, the payoff is worth it.

Vulcan, contrive me such a cup
As Nestor used of old;
Show all thy skill to trim it up,
Damask it round with gold.

Make it so large that, filled with sack
Up to the swelling brim,
Vast toasts on the delicious lake
Like ships at sea may swim.

Engrave not battle on its cheek:
With war I’ve nought to do;
I’m none of those that took Maastricht,
Nor Yarmouth leaguer knew.

Let it no name of planets tell,
Fixed stars, or constellations;
For I am no Sir Sidrophel,
Nor none of his relations.

But carve theron a spreading vine,
Then add two lovely boys;
Their limbs in amorous folds intwine,
The type of future joys.

Cupid and Bacchus my saints are,
May drink and love still reign,
With wine I wash away my cares,
And then to cunt again.

Many bowdlerised versions of this poem replace cunt with ‘love’ in the last line. Love. Love?! Cunt here is a depth charge, blowing the classical imagery out of the water so the poem’s graceful elevated lyrics land in shards around us, leaving only the bare sordid truth of debauchery. ‘Love’ turns it into any other tedious seventeenth-century poem ever.

Not upsetting readers

It is true, some people don’t like reading profanity. Some don’t like reading sex. Some don’t like reading violence. Many don’t want to read queer romance. Some don’t like reading about magic because it’s tampering with the occult. I refuse to read YA, hard scifi, shifter romance, or any book containing a cute robin called Robbie. Do come back to me when you’ve thought of a story that will appeal to every single person in the world and I’ll agent you. I take 15%.

And, bluntly, if the main thought in your mind when writing is ‘How do I maximise my appeal to readers?’, rather than ‘what’s going to make this scene powerful and this dialogue convincing’, your book will suck, no matter how often you take it to a focus group and optimise for search engines.

 ****

As ever, it comes down to do it well.

Ask yourself why your character swears. You can convey a lot about them by what words they use – who says cunt, who never exceeds sod, who doesn’t swear at all? Is their swearing mostly sexual or religious, specifically abusive or just verbal decoration? Consider where they get their swears from – Army past, foreign travels? What about their social class? How can a Regency upper-class heroine let rip? Do they swear with spluttering fury, or elaborately worked eloquence? Does someone who normally swears like a bastard mind their language around just one person, or vice versa? Can you use an inadvertent ejaculation to betray your character’s shock or anger, and at what level of extremity will that kick in?

Know your registers. A Regency heroine cannot toss damn about in public; bloody obeys grammatical rules and cannot just be dropped randomly into a sentence to convey Britishness; calling someone a sodding tart is not the same as calling them a fucking whore.

Consider context. What impact does each swear have on the people around them? Are they trying to shock, or does it go unnoticed? If swearing is routine and similar among a variety of characters, that can be very boring. I am mostly a big fan of Richard Morgan’s fantasy series that began with The Steel Remains, but everyone swears identically. There is no difference between the battle-hardened social reject mercenary and the (non-fighting, political) emperor in the middle of his court. So we don’t get any sense of social or power divide between emperor and soldier, and because the emperor uses fuck all the time, his register has nowhere to go when he gets angry. This doesn’t seem to be making a point about the emperor’s court or ruling style. Everyone swears, it is grimdark, the end. Before you create a register in which, as Anthony Bourdain puts it, fuck is used principally as a comma, ask yourself how you’re going to escalate when people are really cross. (No, you may not put the swears in capital letters for emphasis. You’re not JK Rowling.)

FlightOfMagpies300Swearing lends power to not swearing. In my Charm of Magpies trilogy, Crane is spectacularly foul-mouthed throughout; his love interest Stephen uses four-letter words during sex and never elsewhere. When he swears for the first time outside the bedroom, in the third book, I hope the extremely mild word he uses will have all the impact of the most baroque explosion from Lord Crane – because it’s breaking his usual register and reflects a couple of extremely significant changes.

Swearing has power, and effect. It conveys mood and character. It can be explosive, done right. It can be monotonous and ineffectual done wrong, in which it is exactly like everything else we do with words.

Of course you don’t have to do it. If you don’t want to write swearing, then write characters who aren’t inclined to swear by personality or compelled by circumstance, and nobody will complain about it. Though you need to accept that if your battle-hardened Marine says, ‘Bother!’ when he stands on a landmine, people will laugh at you.

All I ask is, whether pro-swearing or not, pay as much attention to the rude words as to all the other ones. After all, you don’t want to be Terri in The Thick of It.

Terri: We don’t exchange insults with bloody Simon arsepipes titty-twat.

Ollie: Is that honestly the best swearing that you can come up with?

 ****

A note on cunt: Many Americans in particular regard cunt as a sexist term, and it can indeed be applied in a particularly unpleasant way as a synonym for woman. However, Brits most often use it as a swear without any specifically sexual connotations, either as a high-impact word on the tit – arse – cock – twat register, or, in some regions, as more or less a synonym for ‘person’. (‘My round, any of you cunts want a drink?’) Use it or don’t, as you see fit, but be aware of the cultural baggage.

_____________________

ThinkOfEngland72webKJ Charles is a perfectly civil human being on Twitter and Facebook and just debases the English language in her books. Her latest, Think of England, is hardly sweary at all, except for the line ‘you fucking shithouse cricket,’ which was irresistible.

Thanks to Marian Perera for the inspiration for this post, and check her blog post that tackles swearing in fantasy.

Selling books, not yourself: musing on writers and social media

As a writer, you have to sell yourself. We all know that. We have to market our books, our brand, our writerly personas. You can’t just sit around being JD Salinger these days. You have to have a Facebook account and a Twitter feed, a blog, a group. A bio, a picture, a persona. You have to sell yourself.

And you have to talk about stuff that isn’t your books, because nobody gives a damn for a Twitter feed that’s just “buy my book”. If you want “social media outreach” you have to give value. And that requires something interesting to talk about. Um… Other people’s books? What you saw on TV? Your commute? The weather?

Or, you can talk about your life. Because that’s always there, and it’s what you are, and we can all talk about ourselves endlessly. You can be funny, maybe, or political off the back of it, and once you have readers, they might even be interested in details about what your existence is like.

And also, it’s comforting. If you spend much of the day alone with the imaginary people in your head, a bit of human sympathy is lovely. My cat recently disappeared for five days. I tweeted and Facebooked about it, and the number of people who got in touch and sympathized and said kind things, and rejoiced with me when he turned up again, was wonderful and touching. It feels  natural to turn to the people out there to be happy with you in the good times and feel for you in the bad.

But…

When my cat came back, my first thought was to give him a hug and check for injuries. My second was to put a picture onto Facebook and Twitter. I don’t ever want that to be the other way around. I really don’t ever want that to be how I think about my relationships with people.

You may recall Julie Myerson, who wrote revealing personal things about her son, even after he begged her to stop, to the point where they are estranged. Or the columnist who wrote a column about how her husband had asked her to stop writing her column about him. The next column announced they were divorcing.

Everyone on social media needs to decide how much of their life to share and with whom. As a person, my FB profile is locked down. As an author it’s wide open, but I have a solid mental wall. I don’t name my kids or show their faces, and I don’t talk about non-trivial aspects of my marriage, to the extent that I’ve been known to delete my husband’s comments off this blog to stop him identifying himself. (I swear it’s that and not the damn fool things he says.) I’m not ashamed of any aspect of my life or particularly scared of being stalked. But this is my life, for me. I don’t want to spread my reality so thin it’s in danger of tearing.

That’s my choice, based on my (let’s face it, misanthropic) nature. Other people share a lot more, or a lot less. I follow many authors who blog movingly and generously on deeply personal issues of their identities, pasts, struggles with illness or disability in themselves or others, and much more. Some people simply share everything – partners, dating, domestic squabbles. Each to her own.

But what happens if the aspects of your life you’ve chosen to share as part of your professional persona become things that you don’t want to share any more?

Something I realised while I waited for my cat to come back: If I’d had the phone call telling me someone had put the moggy to bed with a shovel, I wouldn’t have wanted to go on Twitter to discuss it. I woudn’t have wanted anyone to ask about my cat, ever again. I’d have been curled up, wishing I’d never, ever said anything in the first place because it was my grief, not for others to see or poke at. I’m not a very extroverted person, granted, but that’s how I’d have been about a cat.

I really wonder how you cope when it’s a relationship, or a child.

I wonder if it can be good for anyone with their life falling about their ears to feel they have to blog or tweet about a terrible thing that happened. I wonder if it brings comfort, or if it’s adding another set of raw nerves to be scraped, another place to fear exposure and criticism and unkindness, another level of pain. I wonder if people feel obliged to update, or worry that readers will turn on them if they don’t approve of the author’s life decisions. I wonder how often, in our post-privacy world, people look back and wish they’d kept more behind the wall.

Writers have to promote ourselves. But we also have to keep ourselves whole, in our own lives, for our own sakes. And I don’t know how you pull back when you’ve put too much out there. Or how you can retreat from talking about intensely personal and distressing matters to tweeting a 99c special offer on your backlist.

This post started by talking about how you market yourself as a writer. We all want to sell books, God knows. But you’re not obliged to throw in yourself as a free gift.

_________

Think of England, a searingly honest expose of the sordid truth of my marriage*, is out now.ThinkOfEngland72web

*It’s actually a gay Edwardian adventure romance, but don’t let that put you off.