Thursday, 7 January 2016

Fear and Trust as a Writer

I was doing a little review of "stranger-danger" with my kids when I got hit by a little "what am I really teaching them?" moment.  Over and over, throughout our lives, we're given the message that we need to be suspicious, that people are only pretending to be nice to us.  And I'm not going to advocate a "trust everyone" approach but it occurred to me that too much suspicion is particularly bad for a writer.

Let's start with the big one: plagiarism.  It comes in a huge variety of forms, from thinly-veiled rewriting (switching a MF romance to a MM or FF romance, for example) to outright theft where the exact same book is published under someone else's name.  We're warned to be careful of requests for review copies or even submitting to editors or beta readers we don't personally know.

The problem with being too suspicious here is the missed opportunities.  Launching a book is difficult at the best of times.  If someone contacts you with an offer to review your book, then it's important to do the research to make sure it's a legitimate site and that they review the kind of books you write.  And yes, you'll discover that some of them will happily take your book and you'll never hear from them again.  But some of them won't.  Limit your losses as best you can by not sending print books.

This is also an area where a writers' group can be invaluable.  It's a resource to cross check anyone you're considering working with.  Reviews, editors and beta readers aren't optional.  Every writer needs outside opinions to improve their work, particularly if they're self-publishing.  (The outside opinion is included in traditional publishing.)

The next biggest issue is piracy and lost sales.  There are lots of sites where people can get free books.  My husband always had a great argument for those who argue that music piracy or other creative piracy isn't really bad since the distribution companies take so much of the revenue.  His response: Maybe so, but I bet the artist could still really use the dime.

Fact of life, once your book is out there, it will probably be copied and end up in the hands of readers who might have otherwise paid for it.  However, an important fact to realize is that most of the people who get packages of free books weren't actually going to buy them anyway.  You can look at someone who gave away a thousand downloads of your book and mourn those sales, or you can accept that 995 of them would vanish if a price tag was attached.

My view is that piracy is inevitable and while it's important to still fight it, trying to prevent it is like trying to prevent the wind from blowing.  It's not worth the inevitably failed effort.

The last issue which usually comes up in the dark warnings is bad PR.  Don't comment on anything which might be considered politically sensitive, don't do reviews, don't post anything but kitten pictures, keep your opinions to yourself.  The warnings come in infinite forms but they all boil down to: be careful or someone might not like what you're doing and they'll make you pay for it.

Now it's a fact that personal opinions of the artist affect the sales.  Michael Jackson disappeared from the radio after he was accused of child molestation, Orson Scott Card's book sales dropped after he publicly admitted he was against gay marriage.  It happens and so some effort to be the quietest, cutest, best version of yourself is good.

But writers also have to create a media presence and when was the last time anyone checked on a website because it was inoffensive?  People like humour and insight, both of which are likely to provoke some disagreements.  Someone can always be offended, perhaps a dog-lover who feels that the kitten photos are getting out of hand.  My advice is to think twice before posting anything and never post in anger or drunkenness, but otherwise, trust your personal discretion.

Fear is a tricky thing.  The things we're afraid of are inevitably real, even though the odds are in our favour.  Finding the fine line between being aware and being trapped is a delicate and ever-shifting balancing act.

Tune in tomorrow to see the first quote card from Metamorphosis.

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