Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Piracy and the Indie Author

It's tough being an Indie Author at times.

You write for months and months on your novel until at last you are done. But you're not really done because you have to:

1. Rewrite, revise and edit

2. Have your test readers dive in and point out where you screwed it up

3. Seek out qualified people to edit your work

4. Hire an artist to create a beautiful cover that will leap out at readers

5. Format the book yourself and work endless hours fixing any errors

6. Deal with the POD company you select whenever there is a gaff and deal with the headache of frustration while doing so

7. Promote the hell out of your upcoming book

8. Publish your book, sit back, and watch the sales trickle in

And I do mean trickle.

It can take awhile for an Indie book to find its audience sometimes. Even though As The World Dies had a big fan base, the first month As The World Dies: The First Days was out it sold 25 copies. It would take two more months for it to get its legs and take off.

I know I've been very blessed. As the first book plows toward 3,000 books sold and the two followups continue to rack up sales, I know that this is not the norm for an Indie book. If anything, it is highly unusual. Of course, all expenses to publish and the promote the book have been paid out of my own pocket.

So then how does it feel when I see my books on the bit torrents or other similar sites?

I hope the downloaders like the book and buy the paperback version.

My husband uploaded the books for me for one simple reason: someone was going to do it. It might as well be us. We might as well make sure it's a good copy, with a good cover, and contact information for those who enjoy the book.

Piracy is going to happen. We can't stop it. So we decided to use it as a promotional tool to build up my reader base.

Has it worked?

Sales continue to grow for the books we released on the torrents. Recently, I began posting Pretty When She Dies: A Vampire Novel for free on its own blog. Sales have picked up slightly. I was ticked off when someone posted it for free on Scribd, but mostly because I felt it stole my thunder in posting the novel for free on

I did find a yahoo question a week or so ago asking for a download link for As The World Dies. The person who responded said they had bought it off Smashwords and uploaded it. They actually seemed quite pleased with this, as though they were somehow giving it to "the man." Though, in this case, it would be "the woman." The question has since been deleted. (I had nothing to do with that, btw.)

One of my friends, a fellow author, was upset by all of this. He felt I was being robbed, since I an an Indie, and I do want to be a full time author one day. He was afraid that by having my work out there for free, I am losing money. I told him not to worry That it is okay.

And it really is.

The reality is this: people buy books all the time and loan them to friends. Libraries have been doing that for years. If someone buys an electronic copy and passes it on, I can't argue that its not the same thing. All I can hope is that the person downloading the free copy will like the book enough to snag a paperback for their shelf the same way people have bought a book after reading their friend's copy.

Do I lose sales because of the downloads? I think I probably don't. People downloading any type of media are usually A) broke or B) they have never heard of the book/film/show/band/game and want to see if it sucks C) they were not going to buy what they believe should be free anyway.

Frankly, I believe having a strong, loyal readership will benefit me in the long run and if it takes free copies on the bit torrents to build that readership, then that's okay by me. As The World Dies grew its fan base while it was free online.

But...I do hope that one day they buy a book. :)


  1. This is a great article Rhia. I am with you. I think when you provide people with a free copy it only helps sales in the long run. There is word of mouth if nothing else. Writers like David Wellington thrive in that market. Most of his books are available for free on his website. I also think that a lot of people will download a book, decide that they like it, and then purchase it. I applaud your bravery.

  2. Most writers HATE giving any of their work away for free. Many have told me they have worked too damn long, too damn hard, and spent all their energy on their writing and they'll be damned if they give it away. Some get mad at me for my free work.

    My answer: they're missing out on building their readership. If someone has never heard of you, chances are they won't buy your book unless you have a ton of good reviews on So if they can read something online, see you actually can write a good story, and that you are worth the investment of their money, that free story just sold a book.

    I strongly believe that.

  3. Good post, Rhiannon.

    In the music industry, the theory is that people downloaded stuff for free in the 90s because the industry wasn't doing enough to make legitimate downloads available. Most people are honest. If you give them a way to download the music cheaply and easily (iTunes, Amazon MP3, 99 cents) they'll pay for it.

    Like you say, the people unwilling to pony up for a paid download probably weren't going to buy it anyway. But that makes me wonder if they'll want to ever want to buy a book.

  4. Derek,

    I do think there is a breed of downloader who will NEVER want to BUY any form of media. They will always find a way to get it for free. Therefore, I hope they enjoy the book they downloaded, tell their friends, and that those friends buy a book. I'm aware that there is a section of the population that will never buy my book no matter what format or pricepoint it is set at. I can't regard them as lost sales though.

    I have had people contact me after downloading the book and reading it ask me where to buy the book where I would get the most royalty.

    The Smashwords editions of the books came about because several people said they wanted to download it, but not from the torrent sites. They wanted to pay for the books.

  5. This is a really good article, Rhiannon, and it makes me feel better about giving free copies of my book away in contests and the like. I went with a smaller publisher who's only doing e-books, to build up a base for the print versions, and it's sort of the same -- write, work hard, then promote the heck out of it hoping someone will notice and buy it. Thanks for giving me hope!

  6. Nicole,

    Whether your are an Indie, with a small publishing house, with an eBook publisher, or a big NYC publishing house, free books as promotions always help. In the end, all authors are in the same boat when it comes to marketing our work and getting it out before the public. Having an online presence and being willing to give your work away for free are great ways to reach a public that may not be willing to invest their money in you quite yet.

    When I started on this path, I promised myself I would do what was best for the books. In the case of the zombie trilogy, it was publishing it myself. In the case of my new vampire novel, it was going with a small press.

    It's not easy being a writer in this day and age as the publishing world is having severe growing pains, but at least we now have greater opportunities to reach our readership.

    I think you're doing an awesome job!

  7. Great article, thanks for writing it. I admit, I wouldn't have bought your first book if I hadn't downloaded the free chapter from Smashwords. I liked it so much, I've bought all of your books.

    You mentioned yWriter by Simon Haynes, the author of the Hal Spacejock series. He gave away the first book in the series and because I liked it, I donated and bought the rest of the series. I have done that with several other Sci-Fi/Fantasy series, so I think it is a valuable marketing strategy. There is so much competition out there that I think it pays to get people hooked on a series/author with a free introduction.

  8. Wow, I believe I may just buy your books because of this.

    Have you thought about Creative Commons'ing a book, then? You might get some serious notice from a serious amount of people.

  9. I will have to admit, I have downloaded books. But you know what. 9 times out of 10 I end up buying a hard copy. The electric copy is fine, but there is something about holding the book in your hand.

    When I get going on my publishing. I think I will do what you did and make sure the copy that gets out there is a good one.

  10. Ill admit I d/led your books, never heard of you, didnt know what to expect in terms of story all I knew going in was "zombie story". D/ed it read it (first book), ordered book 1 and 2 off :) Anybook that can make me care about the characters as I did/do with Jeni, Katie, Travis, Juan etc deserves not only our cash but our thanks. Though never ever kill off loca zomba killah Jeni :) I absolutely love the character.

    There are always going to be those who wont pay a cent for books, movies etc but there are also alot of us who will gladly fork over the money once we know what we are getting is something we like. Frankly I loved books and look forward to years of buying the fun tales you churn out in the future.


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