Do Yer Worst, Ye Scurvy, Book-Piratin’ Dogs!

You’re an inexperienced writer; you finally get a book accepted and published. Now some pirate website is giving your book away free, and paying you nothing. What do you do about it?

A modern book pirate’s treasure chest

Before I answer that, what exactly is a book pirate, and how do their sites work? A book pirate takes your ebook (or scans your print book and converts it to .pdf) and gives it away to anyone who wants to download it. They don’t pay you or your publisher. This is illegal.

Giving away the product doesn’t sound like a successful business plan, does it? They do sell advertising on those sites; that’s how they make their money. Some may not care about earning money at all; they may believe information should be free in this Age of the Internet.

When my first story was published, I set up a search engine alert to inform me when that story title was mentioned anywhere on the web, and I’ve done this for every subsequent published story. Much to my surprise, about half of these mentions turned out to be on pirate websites.

The first time, I got angry and wondered what I could do about it. There are steps you can take, but emailing notifications followed by legal warnings can get time-consuming, and may not cause the pirate to quit giving away your book.

The funniest case was when the anthology Avast, Ye Airships!, in which my story “A Clouded Affair” appeared, was pirated. Yes, a book about pirates fell victim to piracy. I wonder if the web pirates even noticed the irony themselves.

Again, how do you respond to this villainy? I know the pirates deserve to be keelhauled, whipped with a cat-o’-nine-tails, and forced to walk the plank. But how do you find the low-life, hook-handed, parrot-toting rapscallions? And where do you get a fully equipped sailing ship?

In the real world, your response depends on your level of anger about piracy, your available time to send repeated e-mail warnings, your level of tolerance for frustration, and your willingness to take on a cause that (while moral and right) has only a tiny chance of succeeding.

If you’re a first-time author, the pirates may be doing you a favor. Hard to believe, I know, but follow my reasoning. At this early point in your writing adventure, exposure is more important to you than earnings. That pirate represents one more website mentioning you and your book, one more website popping up in internet searches of topics related to your book, one more website’s worth of evidence you’re an established author.

You’re still not buying that, I can tell. How about this; try the Genie Test. (I know, genies and pirates—mixing genres. Just go with it.) Author Robert Kroese introduced the Genie Test in a guest-post on Joanna Penn’s website. Suppose you rub a magic lamp and a Genie materializes. (I’m visualizing Barbara Eden.) She offers to download your ebook on one million e-readers, but you won’t earn a cent. She’s ready to cross her arms and nod, making the magic happen. Do you stop her, or let her do it?

Think of it—a million Kindles, Nooks, etc., all containing your book. If a small fraction of those people read your book, and a small fraction of them enjoy it enough to read more, that’s still a sizable following, a readership. Isn’t that what you really wanted? Thanks, Jeannie!

I’m not defending book piracy. It’s theft. It’s illegal. It ought to end. (Hey, Jeannie, are you still there? Why not magically end all book piracy while you’re at it?) I’m just suggesting, on your prioritized list of things to fret about, book piracy ought to move down a few places, maybe just above your fears about planet-ending meteor strikes, sharknadoes, and the zombie apocalypse.

That’s why I say, do yer darndest, ye snivellin’ pack o’ book-stealin,’ grog-swillin’ pirates. Ye ain’t gonna stir one hair on the head o’—

Poseidon’s Scribe

What a Great Time at BALTICON!

Although I’ve attended the major science fiction and fantasy convention in Baltimore for many years, this year marked the first time I spoke as a participant. It’s been a wonderful experience!

b49_banner_1First, I spoke on a panel called “Being Out in Fandom.” It was about the issues faced by the LGBTQ community as fans at cons. My thanks to fellow panelists Stephanie “Flashcat” Burke and Hugh J. O’Donnell, and to moderator Jennifer R. Povey for helping me through that unfamiliar territory. I think I learned more than the audience!

I felt more conversant about being on the panel called “Engineers Can’t Write—Some Known Counter-Examples.” I had suggested that idea to the BALTICON staff, after all! I greatly enjoyed the experience with the other panelists Karen Burnham, Gary Ehrlich, and Walt Boyes. Jack Clemmons did a superb job as the moderator.

The next panel was part of the weekend-long tribute to the late C.J Henderson, who was the con’s Ghost of Honor. It was titled “Do You Want Pulp With That?” and we talked about what pulp fiction is, and Henderson’s forays into that realm. It was the first panel I’d ever moderated. I’m grateful to panelists John L. French, Michael Black, and Michael Underwood for keeping things interesting and informative for the audience (and for me).

On Sunday morning, I was honored to be in a reading session with Melissa Scott and Ada Palmer. (Despite the ‘ladies first’ adage, I should have gone first. I see that now.) After they read wonderful excerpts from upcoming works, I read a passage from “A Clouded Affair” in the anthology Avast, Ye Airships!

That afternoon, I sat at an autograph table with Jack McDevitt. Yes, the Jack McDevitt, winner of the Nebula Award, and recent winner of the Heinlein Award. He was wonderful to talk to, and a few of the fans who’d lined up for his autograph spent some time at my end of the table.

We had a packed session for a panel I moderated called “Bars, Inns, and Taverns: Fiction and Reality.” Panelists Katie Bryski, Ada Palmer, John Skylar, and Nathan Lowell kept it fun and instructive. BALTICON’s Guest of Honor, Jo Walton (Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell Award winner!), also attended and shared her knowledge of the history of English pubs.

Among those who attended the launching of my story “Ripper’s Ring” were friends Kelly A. Harmon and Trisha Wooldridge. I thank them both.

Late Sunday night, I moderated a panel called “Knowing That I Know That You Know: Xanatos Gambits and Chessmasters.” The only panelist was Grig Larson, who was both funny and knowledgeable about this rather arcane topic.

On Monday I moderated the “Long YA, Short YA” panel discussing the explosion in long novels for young adults. Panelist Michael Underwood and Compton Crook Award Winner Alexandra Duncan kept the audience engaged.

Lastly, I moderated one more panel on “Tropes in Young Adult SF/F.” The lone panelist, Alexandra Duncan, was marvelous in this one too. I’m learning how to be a panel moderator, and it’s nice when a skilled and expert panelist makes up for any shortcomings in the moderator, (like when he runs out of questions).

All in all, a spectacular weekend! My sincere thanks go to the BALTICON programming coordinators for giving me a chance. I’m grateful, as well, to all the more experienced authors I met who told me, and showed by example, how to have a successful convention.

This BALTICON will linger long and fondly in the memory of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Recalling the Moment

When people ask, “how did you get the idea for that story?” it’s useful to be able to remember that exact instant when the lightning struck, when the light bulb glowed, when the muse whispered. For some of my stories, I can. For others, I have no idea.

People expect you to remember. They want to hear about the light bulb moment. After all, that’s a bit of a story in itself.

220px-Suzanne_Collins_David_Shankbone_2010Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games series, has a great story for how she came up with the idea for the first book in the series. As reported here, she was channel-surfing between a reality show involving a competition among young people, and some news coverage of a war. The two TV shows blurred in her mind, and she came up with her book idea. She also claims that the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, which she read at age eight, became the inspiration for the plot.

This is often how it happens. Two or more ideas get merged in your mind, and they can be widely separated in time. Some of these ideas could be something half-remembered from childhood.

On occasion, an entire story coming to a writer in a flash, so that it becomes a race to get it written down before the memory degrades. Other authors refine and mature a basic idea over time before they are ready to write. Whichever method you use, it’s still a good thing to write down the initial idea right after the bulb illuminates, perhaps in a daily journal. That way you’ll be ready when people ask.

What’s that you’re thinking? You’re wondering how I got the ideas for some of my recent stories? How nice of you to ask.

A Clouded Affair” came from a clash of two ideas. I was in a dieselpunk mood, having never written in that subgenre. Then I saw the call for stories for an anthology titled Avast, Ye Airships! Clearly, they wanted steampunk. What to do? How about a battle between a steampunk pirate and a dieselpunk pirate?

For “Time’s Deformèd Hand,” I was responding to a planned anthology of Steampunk Shakespeare stories. I wanted a lighter tale, so I reviewed the Bard’s comedies, and selected “A Comedy of Errors.” Clockpunk seemed a better fit than steampunk, so I went with that. While my story didn’t get picked for the anthology, it found a happier home as part of my What Man Hath Wrought series.

The Cometeers” is one story whose genesis I don’t recall. For some reason, I must have been thinking about save-the-Earth-from-destruction plot lines, and thought about how I could set such a story in the steampunk era.

Here’s a sneaky notion, to wrap things up. Since you won’t always recall the “ah-ha moment” when a story idea occurred to you, and since your zillions of fans will demand to know how it actually happened, it’s probably okay in this instance to make up a story. After all, you’re a fiction writer—making up stories is what you do. Moreover, who would say your explanation is wrong? Certainly not—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Facebook Launch Party

Attention, Poseidon’s Scribe fans, and Steampunk party hounds: there will be a Facebook launch party for the anthology AvastYeAirshipsAvast, Ye Airships! It will happen Saturday, February 28th, from 7:00 to 11:00 PM EST. That’s 6 PM to 10 PM CST, 5 PM to 9 PM MST, and 4 PM to 8 PM PST. You’ll have to calculate it yourself for all other time zones.

My tentative timeslot for this party is 8:30 to 8:45 EST, and I’ll put out a new post or update this one if that changes or is confirmed.

I’ve never participated in a Facebook party before, but my understanding is that it’s like a chat, where you can ask me questions. As a service to my fans, I thought I’d give you some tidbits about the story I wrote for the anthology. These may prompt some questions you can ask:

  • Story title: “A Clouded Affair”
  • Backstory and Setting: It’s an alternate 1920, where large, dirigible airships in Europe have been preyed upon by sky pirates for decades. They’ve developed strong defenses, which forced the pirates to become crafty, hiding in the clouds as a tactic. In the New World, air piracy is a more recent thing, so the big cargo airships fly without escorts, nets, or defensive weapons.
  • Main Characters: William Starling leads an aging gang of English pirates flying a steam ornithopter. They’ve abandoned Europe for the greater promise of American aerial loot. Last to join his gang was young Nell Remige, a female adventure-seeker who worked hard to become William’s first mate. If William isn’t careful, he’ll encounter Crank Deco and his Chicago-based gang who fly a modern, diesel-engine biplane. That could bring on a steampunk vs. dieselpunk contest in the air, the last thing William needs. As for Nell, if she and William somehow make it out of this alive, what does she really want?

Remember, this Saturday night is your big chance, if you’ve ever wanted to party with—

Poseidon’s Scribe

February 22, 2015Permalink