The move to e-publishing has made stealing digitised books as easy as stealing digitised music and my books are widely pirated. And because so many books are read for free in this way, people have got the idea that books aren’t worth paying for. Writers and publishers rather encourage this with masses of free promotions. And Amazon get in on the act by letting those with Amazon Prime read a lot of books for no additional payment. In fact, authors do get paid if you read their books on Prime, but it contributes to the idea that readers shouldn’t expect to pay directly for their books.
Blackbeard could get very irritated if download speeds on his Torrent feed weren’t up to scratch
I get a lot of my books free, partly because I blog about books from time to time and partly because I know a lot of publishers and writers and I get a lot of freebies. And I use my library. But I do buy books as well, because authors put a lot of work into their writing and deserve to see some return, but also because when society ceases to value books, it is soon deluged with bad writing. The amount of truly terrible writing now available very cheaply (mainly but, sadly, not exclusively as e-books) is putting people off the idea that books are a properly crafted good for which the artisans responsible (writers, editors, cover artists) should get paid. The hideous vicious spiral is whirling round so fast you can practically see it.
Nobody ever makes real money out of writing fiction. Well, not nobody, but maybe just a few hundred people. I used to write business stuff that paid quite well, but I consciously gave that up, so I can’t complain that writing doesn’t make me rich. But we live in a money-oriented society and it’s pointless to pretend that sales aren’t an indication of the worth that society puts on you. I used to be reasonably relaxed about this until ‘Back Home’ was published. It won an online award and strangers said how good it was but sales suggested that only a handful of copies got out there in the world. Even now I can’t bring myself to talk about how few. It made me weep and, more practically, to change my publisher. You need to be very, very strong not to care about sales. Plus, if the book makes any money, publishers make more effort and sales increase. Hence the situation where a handful of writers make all the sales. (I don’t begrudge JK Rowling her success, but that’s a lot of people who aren’t reading less high-profile fantasy series.)
It would be nice if critical acclaim meant more sales, but that’s far from always the case.
I blogged on this last year (http://thewhiterajah.blogspot.co.uk/…/grumpy-old-writer…) but for those of you who want the 30 second version, here are the bullet points:
- I spend about a year writing one of these books. The implication that it isn’t worth the £2.99 my publisher charges for it is pretty upsetting.
- I have already written two more books in the Burke series. Endeavour have decided to publish them, based on sales of the first three. Fortunately my loyal readers have bought the first three (have I mentioned that I love you all?) but not everyone is so lucky. Publishers are discontinuing series where sales are dropping, often because of piracy.
Three books people have been paying real money for. Thank you all so very much
- The scale of piracy, which I have always in the past dismissed as being not as important, has now got to the point where it is having a real impact on the economic viability of publishing some books.
- Because there is no money in fiction, it’s mainly people who are well off or retired who get to write anything. The result is lots of older, middle class people and very few others produce novels. The lack of diversity in fiction ultimately damages our cultural life. (You will notice that I always end rants like this by suggesting you buy a book by a lesser-known author, whether or not it’s me. You could try making it by somebody from a minority group.)
There’s no point in blaming someone you know who once read a book for which they hadn’t paid the author. Charity shops, for one, rather rely on sales that don’t benefit the author and I’m hardly going to object to that. More practically, if you read this and it occurs to you that you haven’t bought a book for a while, why not buy one now? It can be one of mine (check the book page on this site) or one by somebody else – but please make your purchase make a difference by buying a book from someone who is not already established.
If you’ve got this far, thank you for reading.