First, the ground rules:
- I have been published for nine years and pirated for eight of them. Whatever pro-piracy, “chillax” argument you are going to make, I have heard it. And I don’t care. Your comments on this subject will not be approved.
- Speaking of, I have a very detailed comment policy. In a nutshell, when you visit my blog and step into my virtual home, you are entitled to my opinion; I am not entitled to yours.
- Since the point of this post is compassion and empathy, or lack thereof, I do recommend you step back and consider that before reacting in a way that proves my point.
- You can believe that piracy is great and right and STILL respect others’ wishes/opinions in this matter. I think vodka is great. I do not force others to partake of it.
Zara Lain is dead.
I’ve had very simple policies regarding books in the Demons of Oblivion series and its continuation.
The first is that future books depend on sales. As it was initially conceived as a five-book series (and only when I realized how Oblivion ended did I know there should be more books) with a particular arc that came to a conclusion with the fifth book, I knew I could end it at five and hopefully readers would be satisfied, but that there was room for more. And even after I said last year that I needed to let go of the possibility of book six and beyond since sales were so poor (despite being 3x what they were with a publisher) and it was stressing me out, I have always left the door open for more (for confirmation, check the description of the Patreon milestone “Oblivion and Beyond”).
The second policy was that if Exhumed ended up pirated, that was it. I would never, ever publish another Zara Lain book. Ever.
Searching for illegal copies of my books leads you to my site first where I make this abundantly clear. This has led to some people, over the past year, legitimately buying the books (including Bloodlines, which has been out there for pirating for a year and a half now). I have also reached out to/confronted any attempted pirate I found and asked them not to steal from me. It’s an exhaustive process but, generally, appealing to someone’s humanity as a fellow human is more effective than ranting and threatening legal action.
For some time these policies, combined with the sheer obscurity of me as a writer, has worked to keep most of my books from being illegally distributed.
This is no longer the case.
Therefore, Zara Lain is dead.
When a google alert on Sunday popped up to tell me Exhumed was being requested at a forum devoted to illegally distributing books, my heart sank but I headed over to try my best. I reached out to the pirate–who I have no doubt hit my website first, as they always do–and very nicely, very calmly asked her (I’m assuming “her” as, sadly, I find a great number of pirates are, because women seem to enjoy fucking over other women) to please not do this.
This book, I said, has sold little in the past month. I am not some big time author, I am really struggling with basic things like affording food and vet care for my ailing cat. Readers and writers have a symbiotic relationship; I cannot do my part–producing more books to be read–if readers do not do theirs by obtaining books legally. I suggested that perhaps she could visit her local library and request that they order a copy if she cannot afford the book.
This was one instance where appealing to someone’s humanity didn’t work.
“jdscott666” (aka “jd25” aka “bookho”) is responsible for the death of any potential the series had left. Unequivocally.
“But Skyla, YOU are the one choosing not to write them! You can’t punish everyone for one person’s actions!”
I get it. I do. But here’s the thing: I am the one who has to write these books.
I am the one who has to make financial sacrifices to write something that doesn’t earn a living wage. I am the one who has to face the word processor plagued by the knowledge that this book I’m pouring myself into is going to be illegally distributed more than bought; that if I bear my soul in this thing, this piece of art that has emotional resonance with people, I will eventually have my rights violated and consent disregarded.
I can tolerate low sales. I can tolerate piracy. I cannot tolerate both at the same time.
This does affect legit readers. I feel terrible about that, I really do.
But however much you might love the characters and books, remember that they come from my brain. I live and breathe these fictional people. I’ve invested over a decade of my life into this series. These stories have parts of me in them.
I am also, whatever my faults, a woman of my word. When I say “If you do this thing, there will be a consequence”, I’m not making an idle threat. It’s been almost six years since Wolfe came out. Has there been another River novel? No. There hasn’t even been a short story(1). Like I said, piracy guaranteed I would never, ever go back and write another of those books. I said that if you pirate Exhumed, you will kill this series too.
I don’t bluff.
Exhumed…just about killed me to write.
I cried through most of it. It absolutely terrified me to go to the places I did with the book. I put my blood and tears into everything I write–those who know me see glimpses there in everything–but never as openly as I did with that book. That is my soul bared on the page. Out of the thirty+ books I’ve written, there are maybe half a dozen I can say that about.
It didn’t sell well. It was rarely reviewed and barely read. People spoiled the twists for readers within the first week of release. It didn’t make any favourite book/top reads lists.
But the handful of die-hard fans bought it, read it, and loved it. And it was a book I was tremendously proud of.
And now I cannot even describe for you what it feels like to have that book illegally distributed. The reader/writer agreement is, “Okay, here is a piece of my soul; you can have it and do with it what you will–hate it, tear it up, whatever–if you’ve paid for the thing.” Then NOT paying for the thing? Having my rights violated, my consent stomped all over? When I am having to have conversations with myself about whether or not it’s time to break down and go to the motherfucking food bank?
It is heartbreaking. And it hurts too much to even contemplate putting myself in this position again with these books.
A lot of people, when dealing with pirates, say, “It’s a shitty thing to do, but I don’t think you’re a bad person for stealing.”
Sometimes, I’d agree. I don’t think illegally distributing books in itself makes you a terrible person; I think intent matters a lot and I ultimately believe in a human being’s potential to do better.
But I do think that when the creator of something reaches out to you and says, “Please don’t do this; this harms me and those I care for, and has a tangible, negative impact on my life,” and you do it anyway…well, yes.
Yes, you are a TERRIBLE FUCKING PERSON.
You are lacking in empathy, either because you are an actual sociopath or because you have deluded yourself into believing your entitlement to cheat the system and read without abiding by the rules in place that ensure I can make a living outweighs my rights as the person who CREATED THE BOOK IN THE FIRST PLACE. You knowingly, deliberately, maliciously set out to hurt another person, and for what? A couple of hours of entertainment? This book would not exist without me, and to thank me for the contribution, you completely fuck me over?
If you do this, you are a shitty person. Period. Full stop. No justification or excuses.
This dearth of empathy, quite frankly, scares the hell out of me.
Like the more and more we’re connected, the more we see avatars instead of people; the greater our access to content creators, the less human we see them as. If someone came to me and said, look, this thing you are doing that violates my rights is having a real negative impact on my life, so please do not do it? Fuck, I’d feel like shit. I’d try to find a way to make it right. I sure as hell wouldn’t double down.
I regularly write from the POV of murderers and monsters, and yet this is still baffling to me, how someone can feel so entitled to a book, they will disregard the creator’s wishes–how they can refuse to see that creator as human. How they justify their mentality of “want, take, have” and believe it trumps my right to things like groceries and veterinary care for my pets.
This lack of empathy is nothing to be proud of; in fact, I think we–as a society–should be shaming the fuck out of people who show so little regard for others. If we could take the amount of energy we put into shaming people for stupid shit like obesity or promiscuity and put it toward having no tolerance for actual character flaws like lacking empathy and willfully harming others, maybe humans wouldn’t be such a shitty species.
This bears linking to again.
The bottom line is that artists’ rights are workers’ rights. You are not being progressive or radical by denying artists the right to control their own work. You are not helping the underprivileged by making it impossible for anyone who isn’t already rich and privileged to take up artistic careers. Your pirated Taylor Swift song isn’t feeding the poor. If you want to fight the power, maybe try hacking JP Morgan instead of pirating a vampire romance for your Kindle.
As a writer, when you spend a lot of time sending takedown notices and dealing with this aspect of the business, you get pretty familiar with piracy sites. You see the same things over and over.
You see dozens of people thanking and giving praise to “all the hard work” someone put into a torrent of three hundred books.
These people are able to disconnect the book from the author so much that it doesn’t even occur to them to THANK THEM FOR WRITING IT IN THE FIRST PLACE. Not that we can live on praise and thanks alone, of course, but that the writer is left entirely out of the equation is very telling.
I fully support ebook (and movie) piracy in specific instances, like smuggling content across the border to North Korea. That is hugely important work making a difference within that country. But we are not talking about distributing work across tightly controlled borders to help oppressed people see what’s happening elsewhere in the world.
We are talking about people who claim to love books and yet actively work to ensure the people who produce them can’t make any more.
And this is absolutely baffling to me, in part because for a long time I have been very poor and therefore very aware of how I spend my money. I shop local as much as possible, even if it means spending a bit more money. I buy books by my friends even if they’d give me a free copy. If I like a thing, I try to ensure my pennies to toward supporting it, and even if I DON’T like a thing, other than boycotting, I wouldn’t go out of my way to cause someone harm.
“Nothing you say here, Skyla, will make a difference.”
That? That does not make me feel better, you realize.
I am fully aware that I am shouting into the void. That talking about piracy makes me a target for more of it (because, again, their entitlement blinds them to the fact that I am an actual person and that it is a shitty thing to work to harm another human being and her family for no reason). That it would be much easier if I could just flip a switch and stop caring about my work being stolen.
Let me tell you, you do not want to see what kind of person I will be if I stop caring about all these un-winnable fights.
I am told the same thing every time I take in a stray dog off the street, feed it, and try to find its home, or take in a cat when dear god I do not need another but it’s starving and freezing outside. “Just care a little less.” But as soon as we shut off that little part of us that empathizes and connects with others, the closer we get to being the kind of person who willfully disregards the rights and wishes of others.
And I don’t ever want to be that kind of person.
So I care. And I will speak up. Loudly. Even when it doesn’t appear to make a difference. Because the alternative is sitting back and pretending it’s okay, and I am not going to do that. I abhor dishonesty of any kind too much.
Please do not tell me to stop caring when someone violates my rights. Please do not tell me to stop caring when someone’s actions make it that much harder to keep the heat on. Please do not tell me to stop caring because “it’s never going away.”
How about instead, you start trying to care a little more?
“Seriously, Skyla, what the hell does this mean now?”
- Nothing has changed for Oblivion. Either I get to it when I get to it or, miracle of miracles, somehow Patreon reaches my sustainability goal first and then I will buckle down and prioritize it.
- This has not changed the potential resurrection of Amends on Patreon. If that milestone is reached, Zara will rise again there, for that book only. I am undecided about whether or not, when it’s complete, I’ll release it for sale; it might remain exclusive to patrons.
- Dial V for Vampire remains exclusive to my website shop and this is the only place a post-Oblivion world will be glimpsed.
- Solace, Zara’s next full-length book in the series, will be written eventually because it’s a story I want to tell. And then it will sit on my harddrive, except for when it goes to visit close friends to be read. Absolutely no one will stop me from writing, because writing is breathing for me. But publishing? I will not publish a book only to have it stolen more than bought.
I am not rage-quitting writing or closing up shop. I have more stories to tell. More books will release at some point. I’ve been through this before and the wheel keeps turning.
Maybe the next books will sell better.
But, like River Wolfe, Zara Lain is dead, and will remain so.
tl;dr – piracy killed another series, wheee!
(1) Rebellion is still on my plate here, but I am so fucking depressed right now (and still dealing with med dosage changes fucking up my moods), I’d rather tackle my pile of paying work for a while. Hopefully it’ll still be done by the end of the month.