Author Contests (and Why They are Disappearing)

This is a subject I hate to have to write about, but it’s a growing trend that could mean the end of the line for many authors. Which means the books you enjoy won’t be written.

Ebook piracy is taking off like it did in the music industry a decade ago. When bands discovered their sales were dropping, many had to go back to live tours to make a living. Authors can’t do that. I mean, seriously, how many people would really pay to go hear La Nora read her latest novel? It’d be great at first, but how long does it take most of us to read a novel? Could you sit and listen to someone read that long?

But I’m jumping ahead. Ebook piracy isn’t only affecting the new releases published in ebook format. Pirates are scanning copies of print books and offering them for free. Or better yet, some are SELLING collections of ebooks. Some publishers are refusing to release their books as ebooks. J.K. Rowling insisted that Harry Potter not be made available in e-format. Yet it’s out there, thanks to the efforts of some scum.

Already there are authors who have ended certain series because of the number of prior books circulating for free. They’re focusing on print publishers instead.

There are those who insist that copyright is taking rights away from them. Huh? I will never understand that one. What I understand is they can do their 9-5 job and get paid for the work they did, without question. But we authors are expected to do our job for free. Cool, set me up mortgage free, with a working car, groceries, utilities, and all, and I’ll work for free. As it is, I work two (or three) jobs to be able to keep a roof over my head while my writing backlist grows. Those hours away from my computer mean stories that will never be written.

Another argument is that authors can afford to lose some sales. Or, the pirates would never have bought the book to begin with. Or, if they like the free book they’ll go buy it, or the rest of an authors books.

Get real, people. Does your grocer let you eat a steak before deciding if you’ll buy it? If you’re concerned, look for excerpts and reviews before buying a book.

Back to contests. The latest thing to do is surf the Internet, Twitter and other social networking sites, and join the author loops to try and win free ebooks. Then offer them up on a file-sharing site so others can read it, too. It’s a game to them. They do it because they can.

Big name authors and publishers are getting involved, though, so prosecution and fines will finally be handed down. Sure, some ebook pirates will just go deeper underground, but a majority are like the woman who recently got fined in the six-figures for downloading files illegally.

Most importantly, authors are discovering that giving away ebooks hurts their sales more than helps it, because of pirates. They’ll give away print copies or items other than books instead.

I apologize to those who enter contests for the right reasons, and tell their friends about the books they enjoy, without sending the ebook to all of them. You are the reason we still write, and why we fight to keep the pirates at bay. We’re spending more hours sending take-down notices and filing complaints than we should, but maybe one day we’ll be able to use that time as we should: to write MORE BOOKS!


4 Responses to “Author Contests (and Why They are Disappearing)”

  1. 1 Tracey D
    5 January, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    This really sucks. A group of us chat (on-line) about books and manga. When one states about what a great ebook she’s read, no one and I mean NO ONE asks for it. All of us run to the ebookstore and buy it.. and then chat about it.

    I hope these scabs who are making things hard for the authors and readers will be heavily fined…slap them behind bars for a while, too.

  2. 2 yearzerowriters
    5 January, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    I’d like to offer a different author’s perspective if I may. I know you’ll have heard Cory Doctorow’s assertion that obscurity, not piracy, is the real enemy, and I’m sure you disagree, but for msny of us it’s true. We want to be read. We want readers, who, because they love our work, become fans. Giving our work away electronically is a way to remove the barriers to being read.

    Fans WILL pay for work by their favourite authors. People who’ve read your ebook for free and love it WILL then pay for the next thing you do – possibly in a permanent format, rather than moving on to the next free thing – I think we do readers a disservice when we assume they want free for free’s sake – most often they want free so they can find what they love and spend their money on a product they know they’ll enjoy. As an author, that’s my goal too – I don’t want readers buying my book only to find they don’t like it – I want long-term fans – I want them to be excited about buying something of mine.

    Piracy of course IS a problem. From my perspective it’s a problem because in traditional models it punishes the very people I don’t want punished – the honest fans who pay whilst the pirates get it for free. For me giving away my ebooks answers that problem. And fans who want more can buy the physical books; in standard or special editions.

    Which brings me last to your first point: people don’t want to go to live readings. I’m afraid that’s a statement that comes from a different world from the one I inhabit. Storytelling arose as a communal, oral artform. Readings are part of that long tradition – face to face reading is the natural home of storytelling. And in my experience, as a listener and as a reader, people love it. I’m not sure who started the “people don’t like readings” myth – but like many such myths I have a feeling it was a writer not a reader.

    There’s an account of my last reading here, on Harper Colins’ Authonomy website


    Year Zero Writers, of which I’m a part, will be taking our latest anthology (free to download, as are our 7 novels) on tour from February – starting with a gig in London (at Rough Trade Recrds in Brick Lane) that you would be most welcome to attend. The gig itself is free – but there’ll be books in, posters, and T-shirts.


    Seriously, I don’t want to get into the “giving in to criminals” debate – but: piracy is wrong, but it’s with us. Whilst we should do all we can to stamp it out, but it exists, and it needn’t be the end of us.
    (I’d like to point out to the many authors who will jump on my back about this, that I was an active member of the campaigns on last year’s Anti-Plagiarism Day, which is often [but by no means am I implying it of your readers] a lot more than many of those who disagre with me do to take a stand against piracy)

    And sorry if that sounds negative – it’s something I feel strongly about, and I came here through twitter because the issue matters to me, but I’m sure I’ll be back to the less controversial posts too šŸ™‚

    Dan Holloway (this is my opinion, and whilst most of us at YZW agree, I am not speaking on their behalf)

  3. 3 C.
    6 January, 2010 at 12:00 am

    That’s a slightly depressing thought, especially since I was getting ready to hold a contest next month to celebrate the release of my latest e-book. Now I’m having second thoughts…

    On the other hand, I’ve seen decent sales of my ebooks so far. Nothing that makes me go out and quit my day job, but enough to provide for a nice vacation. I know one novella in particular is on a pirate site. I got tired of repeatedly telling them to take it down. In the end, I’m still making money off sales, and those pirates and hoarders will continue to put my stuff up there for free, no matter how much hot air I blow. To them, it’s no different than checking a book out of the library or borrowing a book from a friend.

    It’s all about where you want to focus your energies and the gamble of offering a free e-book to hook a new fan vs. the risk of e-pirates.

    Just my two cents

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