Pirates of the Seven Servers: The Brutal Truth of Pirating Books and How it Hurts Authors
If you publish a book, it will likely happen at some point.
You'll go google your book, see if you can find all the places with all the ratings and see who has loved your book, shared your work, raved about you in a facebook group or on reddit.
And you find it.
It hits you straight in the stomach. It twists in your chest. It hurts to see that you have found the pirated edition of your labor of love.
It breaks your heart.
That's how it felt for me to stumble upon my book on a pirating site, to find message boards where people were asking where to find Ranger of Kings for free. It was a blow to the heart and a knife in the back.
After I discovered this, I wanted to sit in a room and question humanity in the dark, to write only printed words so the buggers would have a harder time stealing it. I wanted to question if I had done something wrong in asking for $2.99 for an eBook that took me 12 years to release. I wanted to doubt if my work was worth it. I wanted to dwell in misery and feel sad.
I don't do well feeling sad, however. So, I told myself it was a waste of time and that there were other things I could do. What I could do was share my experience, learn about others, and bring awareness to the fact it does hurt an author when their work is stolen.
I went to TikTok with my experience and here are three things I learned from and with my fellow authors and reads.
First: It happens too much. So many authors shared heartbreaking stories of their experience. We're talking authors who are trying to scrape through their living, trying to recover the expenses they put into their book in the shape of editing, cover, and formatting, not to mention marketing. People who want free things tend not to think about the cost of them. Instead, they seem to think it's theirs for the taking.
Second: On the bright side, a lot of your pirate sites don't discriminate. This means that if you they providing work they stole from you, they are often trying to steal information from the people who try benefiting from stolen work (It's a small bit of karma and still money in the wrong pocket, but hey, I'll consider it a form of slight justice.
Three: "You should be honored." This one was the one that took me aback the most. People literally said I should feel honored that people wanted to read my books so much that they were stealing them. Excuse me? Did I understand that correctly? So if I remodel my home and someone takes my cabinet doors, should I thank them for liking my taste in work? I don't believe I will, thanks...
But there are a lot of readers who really have deluded themselves into believing that they are owed this from you. "It's publicity, it helps you sell more books."
Wrong. If you are talking about my book, you're probably telling people how and where to get it for free, meaning that I am losing more and more each time you open your mouth.
"It is so humbling that that many people wanted to read your book. Why are you upset?"
Why am I upset? Because it's not free. It didn't just pop into existence. It's a book that took hours, years, tears, sweat, doubts, trials, and more money that I admit to anyone but the government at tax time. It took a lot of bloody work - at my desk and at an 8-5 to afford this dream.
"Not everyone can afford books, you should be more understanding."
Oh, lovely, yes, that's the ticket. If you can't buy it, steal it, I forgot that was the motto of an honest soul. Absolutely not. Authors don't make a killing. We don't even make profit often. We write and work and strive to make our dreams a reality like anyone else. We understand that some months can be tight and, the worst part is, I'd give someone a book. I have done it several times. If they want to read my book and told me they are saving to get it on their budget next month, I'll send them a kindle copy without hesitation. All I ask is that they let me know if they enjoyed it. No money is needed for that. If they liked it, I set them up with the sequel often (or as often as I can afford it because I have to pay for my kindle copies just like the next person.) Blazes, I even offer a book for free 24/7 on my site. So, no, I don't have to be more understanding of theft, thank you.
"It really helps you because more eyes are more reviews."
No. They aren't reviewing the book, I know this. I know this because I put just as much if not more work into rounding up reviews as I do any other piece of my marketing. Even some of the worst reviews I have ever received were people I provided the book to for free in exchange for honest feedback. And when I say for free I mean what I said before: I foot the bill because I have to buy a kindle copy.
Why am I buying copies? Because I can't share PDF, Mobi, or ePub editions...
Because I've been trying to avoid this.
I don't share those so I can avoid the pirates of the seven servers...
In one of his books, Dick Francis has a quote regarding illegal drugs and how it is the users who ought to be locked up, not the supplier. Suppliers exist because of demand. So, don't be the demand. Stop reading pirated books if you do read them now. It hurts authors financially and emotionally more than you realize until you've had your hard work stolen time and time again.
Even the smallest amount of money adds up. If 100 people pirate my $2.99 ebook, I've lost more than I make in a month from writing. Let that sink in. That's a lot of money for me and about what I spend each month on marketing.
So, after my experience, what would I change as an author?
Well, unfortunately not much. There aren't a lot of routes to go that keep you safe. I still won't provide Mobi and pdf versions most times of my book unless it's to someone I trust. I keep my Beta Reader list pretty exclusive with readers I trust and correspond with, and even then, I remove access after launch and sometimes I'll change names in the book just so I can track it better.
What I can do is remind people that they're hurting authors by pirating. If they want to read the book for free, go to a library, please. Libraries buy their copies so at least we get paid there, and no author will ever begrudge a library, I can promise that. We have all used a library to get our fix before.
And authors? We can support one another. We can remind people that even $7.99 isn't over priced for an ebook. You spend that on a coffee without batting an eye and that coffee isn't going to provide hours of entertainment (usually) nor can you pick it up in a year and enjoy it again (don't drink old coffee, please. You may get sick.)
I know this has been somewhat of a tangent - I feel pretty strongly about this - but I do hope this helps readers realize why you shouldn't read free versions of a book. They are stolen. You are breaking an author's heart and hurting them more than the cost of an ebook will hurt you.