This week I performed my monthly exercise of trolling for web sites where my books are available to download. For free. You know, by pirates to thieves.
I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I’m probably one of the more generous folks you’ll meet. It’s tough for me to say no when someone asks me for something. I’ve even bought copies of my own books for people who’ve asked for a freebie when they were down on their luck and genuinely wanted to read the story. I can’t afford to do this for the world, but so far the world hasn’t come asking.
If you know me at all you know how desperately I want to make a living as a full time author. So far, I haven’t earned enough to do that. Not even close. Yet, while I was trolling sites for those pirated books so I could ask my publisher to plaster them with take down notices, I noticed something I’ve never seen before: the download numbers for each of my works on these sites.
Hypothetically, let’s say I earn a $1.00 in royalties for ever book I sell. (This is a bit low on average, but contractually I’m not allowed to tell you how much I earn per book and $1.00 is an easy number to work with.) To earn enough money to live off of, after self employment taxes, etc., I’d have to sell about 4,000 books a month. Now, let’s look at the download numbers for one site (NO I’m not posting the #@(!*& link).
150 copies. One site. One book.
There were 30 sites in my take down list this month before I got depressed and gave up, leaving countless others. 150 x 30 = 4,500. In one month. Because, remember, I do this once a month.
Now, I realize I’m using some squidgy math here, and this is nowhere near a scientific study. Let’s say if people were forced to pay for the books and couldn’t steal them, only half of them would actually buy it. So, we’re working with 2,250 copies a month now, just from the 30 sites I could bear to look at.
I will tell you, at 2,500 copies per month at my true royalty rate, I could actually squeak by with a living from my craft. I could write full time, put out more books and be fairly compensated for something I already spend 30 to 40 hours a week working at on top of my day job. And believe me, it is work even if it is a labor of love. You try to write a book and then tell me it’s only a walk in the park, all sunshine and roses. No matter how much you love the outcome of your toils, I guarantee you’ll lose at least a few strands of hair in the process.
So, what’s an author to do? Well, when I first saw those numbers I considered never writing again. Or at least never publishing anything I write again. Which isn’t realistic because I can’t not write and I love sharing my stuff with readers too much to stop. And hey, let’s face it, some royalties are better than no royalties at all.
So, then I considered finding a quiet corner and asking someone to put me out of my misery. This was too melodramatic for even my tastes, but for about 5 minutes I really felt that depressed.
Next, a friend suggested I put a retroactive payment button on my web site and hope some people who enjoyed the books grew a conscience and actually paid me for them. This is leaving the publisher out in the cold, however, and I’m betting that would cause me a rightful legal battle in the long run. Also? My conscience says my publisher deserves the money just as much as I do for taking a chance on me, doing all the work that goes into publishing the book, and being all around decent human beings.
Net effect, after all of these mental gyrations and internal angst, I’ve got nothing in way of an answer. Except to tell you that every time someone steals one of my books, one of Tinkerbell’s relatives snuffs out of existence. That is to say, a piece of me that used to believe in wonder and magic and hope and love bites the big one. I lose faith in myself, my dreams, people, and the idea that trying to be a good person means a darned thing.
For each of you who’ve bought my work and loved it, or even bought it and then found it didn’t scratch the itch in the middle of your back where you can’t reach, thank you. You’ve kept at least a spark of light and life alive in my creative soul. You are the people I write for. The readers I connect with and cherish. You are what keeps me moving forward on this journey even when that crummy little corner of nonexistence gets really tempting. For that, I can’t thank you enough.
As for the pirates and thieves? You’re all black hearted fairy killers with warts on your behinds.