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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Writing Wibbles

An interesting coincidence: Chuck Wendig has proclaimed this Don't pirate my book day. His post lists points and counterpoints that present the anti-, pro-, and who-cares positions. In keeping with the confusion surrounding the whole piracy argument, he wisely does not put the points in any discernable order.

I set up a Google (Ego) Alert thing—you know, it searches your name in hopes it will (won’t?) turn up links to pirated copies of your books. So far, no pirate links. The thing I've seen with Accidental Sorcerers, rather than outright piracy, is the occasional return. It started out with 1 out of 31 copies being returned (like clockwork for the first 124 sales, in fact), and is currently 1 out of 60-odd. I find it amusing rather than rage-inducing… I mean, the book is 99¢ (US), I can’t bring myself to imagine someone cheap enough to do that for a freebie. My guess is that people hit the purchase button (that 1-click thing can get’cha) instead of the “download excerpt,” or maybe they send it to the wrong device, return it, and send it to the right one (not realizing they can send copies to all their devices). Meanwhile, over a dozen people have bought The Crossover on Amazon, and I’m giving it away for free on Smashwords. And nobody has returned it, which I would expect if they found it was available for free elsewhere. Go figure.

J.A. Konrath and Neil Gaiman (not to mention Cory Doctorow, who provides free downloads for his books anyway) maintain that piracy actually boosts sales, a point that Chuck makes in item #10. Me, I’ll worry about it when I get popular enough to get pirated. Seriously, there are so many free eBooks now, you could spend the rest of your life reading without spending a dime or pirating a single book. As I pointed out a couple weeks ago, I even got one in my email. (I read it, and it turned out to be not bad.)

Meanwhile, Accidental Sorcerers continues to hold its own. It has bounced in and out of the Fantasy top 100 on Amazon since Thursday, and reached its highest ranking so far as I started typing:

An interesting thing happened soon after Mik and Sura made the big-time: the book got one “meh” review and a negative review. And the positive reviews started getting marked “not helpful.” That put the lower-rated reviews first, and sales began to sag. Then I got another positive review, and it got enough “helpful” ratings to push it to the first slot. And sales rebounded.

So there’s at least anecdotal evidence that reviews—or at least what kind of review gets listed first—can affect book sales. I’m trying to not worry about it; after all, it’s just a numbers game in the end. Obsessing about this stuff can distract from writing the next book, but I thought this was interesting data and worth sharing.

One really good thing about those not-so-wonderful reviews: I got some good solid beta feedback for Pickups and Pestilence this week, and it didn’t faze me a bit. I have 10 whole weeks to the scheduled launch date—which, when you start looking at it, really isn’t that far off. Better get to work…


  1. Interesting stats, Larry! Thanks for being so transparent about this.

    Don't forget to add Cory Doctorow to your list of authors who is pro-piracy -- although he's a bit difficult to pirate since he always makes free versions available anyhow.

  2. Sure thing, Katherine! We're all kind of fumbling our way forward here…

    And thanks for reminding me about Cory Doctorow. I've made that addition.

  3. I think emerging writers have more to lose by going anti-piracy. I've done extensive conversations with pirate communities, and every time I've found that if an author speaks out against piracy, then piracy of their work spikes and many more pirates claim they'll never buy their work. The Gaiman/Coelho/Doctorow approach is smarter because it doesn't aggravate a defensive community, and instead cajoles whatever money that community might have ever paid thanks to the good will.

  4. I'm on the side of I hope you do buy my book (or get it for free when I offer it) instead of pirating it, but if you do pirate it, I hope you read and enjoy it. A review would be nice, too. Honestly, at this point, I'd much rather someone get one of my self-published (indi) books without paying if they leave a review.

    As for people buying your book on Amazon rather than getting it for free on Smashwords, I've found that there are some out there who won't get a book unless it's on Amazon. They either don't want to go through the hassle of signing up for Smashwords, or they prefer the convenience of having it beamed right to their device from Amazon. Whatever the reason, nice that you're getting a bit o' money out of it when you were more than happy to give it away for free.

  5. JohnW, I'd be inclined to agree with you even if you hadn't done the legwork. I've always figured that a pirated copy isn't a "lost sale," because there would not have been a purchase in any case. I certainly don't have any evidence that it helps, but I don't believe it hurts. On the other end of the spectrum, you get authors having public meltdowns over piracy, maybe because agents and publishers "educate" authors to believe that piracy means real lost revenue.

    Eric, I agree. A good review is well worth the price of a free copy. Good point about the Amazon-only folks; it's not that difficult to sideload a book (or even email it to the free account), but for a lot of people, the convenience is worth a buck.

  6. Congratulations and best of luck, Larry! I'm glad that White Pickups got some good feedback. I enjoyed reading it in this space.

  7. I can't believe that anyone would be so mean as to return a 99c book just to have read it for free - shakes head... glad it's still going well for you Larry.

  8. Congrats on the solid sales :). You are so right about the free books. So many to compete with. To me it's kind of flattering someone would take the time to steal my book, but if they like it they should at recommend it to others. And hopefully it even compels them enough to buy the sequel.

  9. I think that I have two ways of viewing piracy. There's the whole "is it good for sales or not" angle. With my business head on I think, maybe it's a good thing and even if it isn't, ranting about it won't help. I also take the above point about it being unwise to antagonise sections of the online community. Never good for sales.

    And then there's the ethical side. Simply put, it's wrong. Somebody is taking something that doesn't belong to them. Yes it may be easy. Yes it may be impossible to stop. Yes, the author might benefit from it. That doesn't make it right.

  10. I really don't get why you'd return a 99c book...to me, that's just crazy. Thankfully anyone who has bought my 99c titles has just not bothered to leave a review if they didn't like them!

  11. Thanks, Boran. I intend for Pickups and Pestilence to wrap it all up.

    Helen, neither do I. I think most either made a mistake, or expected something else.

    Thanks, Craig. I wouldn't have a problem trading a free copy for a good review, or some good advertising. Cheap at twice the price!

    Peter, those are good points. But "business is business" and free samples and loss leaders are often good ways to drive sales. If some of the sampling is involuntary… what matters in business is whether it helps the bottom line. If I could prove a "pirated" copy got me more sales, I'd give them a mast to raise their Jolly Roger on. :-P

    Icy, that would be the best way. Speaking of reviews, did you see I finally got around to reviewing Dead Man's Hand?

  12. I'm glad to hear Accidental Sorcerers is doing so well!

    I'm still not certain what I think on piracy. On the one hand, I don't think it hurts authors as much as we think it does. Most people who download books for free probably would never have bought them in the first place, so it's no real loss in sales. At the same time, it's wrong to pirate work that is up for sale. *shrugs*

  13. Cherie, me too! :-D

    I would be more sympathetic to the Big Media stance if they acknowledged that. Instead, they insist on treating every copy as a lost sale, and thus coming up with hysterical numbers like "we're losing $85 billion/year to this scourge!" Um, no. If that were true, DRM and copy-protection would have pushed sales through the roof. They haven't.

  14. Thank you for the info.

    Found you through Indie Life.

    Hugs and chocolate,


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