Extracurricular: Why it’s timely.

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My next 3-book women's fiction series, Extracurricular, is being launched just as one of its plot points has caught national headlines: the college admissions scandal.

In my plot, we see it happen in real time when a private high school is caught up in the same exact scheme.

But, like everything in life that never makes it into an attention-grabbing headline, there is a real backstory to the who, what, where, how, and why parents, students, school administrators, and admissions consultants may have gotten caught up in these illegal shenanigans. In Extracurricular, the story begins twenty-two years ago, and envelops two generations of a family in the trauma.

As with most of my books, Extracurricular is sprinkled liberally with satire. Not to worry, there is enough trauma and drama to go around. But, as in all sensational stories, there is a farcical element to the way we live now. I hope I captured it aptly in this three-book episodic series. The first book launches Friday, June 28, 2019. To read an excerpt, click here. You'll also be able to partake in my fun contest celebrating its release.

Enjoy,

—Josie

 

I write daily. I must. Creators—painters, photographers, musicians, and writers too—are like athletes: to keep in the game, you must stay fit. In order to strengthen our plots and dig deep into our characters, authors have to stretch their minds.

We can't do this by sitting in front of a computer for five to eight hours (or more) a day.

For me, even a hour or two's worth of scenery allows me to rethink work in progress. And because I have the great blessing of being married to a writer, we do our best to take our breaks together.

When we do, we walk.

Martin and Josie Cascade Falls MV

We are very fortunate in that we live in a beautiful place: San Francisco, California. If you're not opposed to taking in a few hills when you come upon one (a great cardio workout) it truly is a very walkable town. They say San Francisco is seven miles long by seven miles wide. On a normal day, we'll walk four to five of those. On a day in which we really want to get out of our heads, we'll walk as many as ten miles.

During that time, we talk: sometimes about our three wonderful kids, but mostly about our plots.

If you're a writer and you have a critique partner, you know the drill: you've chosen someone who knows and appreciates your work, understands your characters, and with whom you feel comfortable enough to explain the plot hole you may have fallen into.

Maybe they'll come up with an insight that you somehow missed. Maybe not. But just hearing you explain the concern out loud, you'll work through it. You'll have some sort of “Eureka” moment. 

Even if you don't, you'll be in sunlight. You'll hear others' conversations as you pass them. Something in the sky will catch your eye. Or maybe it'll be something on the bay. Or a front door of a house you've never seen before. Or wisteria is in bloom, and you it stops you in your tracks.

By the way, if you write but have not yet found a critique partner—and for that matter, if you are just dipping a toe in the process—check out the writers' collective known as the 85K Writing Challenge. There, you'll be inspired and challenge to come up with a daily word count that may result in the book you know lives within you. It is the brainchild of Author Julie Valerie, whose debut novel, Holly Banks, Full of Angst, will be out Fall 2019.

If we have the time, sometime we cross the Golden Gate Bridge and take in one of the many hikes in the trails in and around the tiny gem-like towns of Marin County. One of our favorites is in Mill Valley, California. Many of the houses are built on the lanes that zig and zag through the foothills leading up to Mount Tamalpais—or, as the Miwoks (first people of the area) called it, “the sleeping lady.”  This time of year, especially after a rainy season, a few of the falls that in the area are at full strength. The most accessible, and perhaps the most beautiful waterfall in this town is called Cascade.

I want to share it with you.

If you click onto this video you'll enjoy a tiny moment of zen.

—Josie

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Why Authors Choose to Self-Publish

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Most authors walk a financial tightrope. 

Hey, don't take my word for it. In a September 2015 an article on a recent Authors Guild survey of its members' incomes,  Publishers Weekly put it this way:

 

Authors Guild Survey quote

Yikes.

Thank goodness for self-publishing. It saved my career, and those of many other authors I know.

Even with four novels (one optioned for television) and two-nonfiction books published traditionally, as early as 2010 I'd dipped my toe into the choppy waves of self-publishing. My subsequent success with it is why I now self-publish exclusively.

Whereas self-publishing has grown by leaps and bounds in the past ten years, ours wasn't the first generation to discover its financial rewards. Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Marcel Proust, and Walt Whitman self-published their books. Misery loves great company indeed.

But before self-publishing became a financially viable option for the current generation of writers, traditional publishing—that is to say, print books, primarily by one of the Big Five New York publishing houses—was the only venue for the sale and distribution of books. Even ten years ago, the thing authors love to do most—write novels—was not possible without running an unwieldy gauntlet that put their manuscripts in front of any literary agency that might deem the book sellable to a publisher, and any publishing house editor who might actually like it enough to purchase it. 

Besides editing, printing, and distributing a book, part of the publisher's job is also to promote it. For doing so  the publisher holds on to anywhere from 80-92 percent of the book's retail price.

(Yep, some authors get only an 8 percent royalty. Worse yet, royalties are paid twice yearly, and they are only paid if their books "earn out"—that is, return any advance paid, which may not happen for years if at all, what with the other variables tied to this equation, including book returns, of which there are no cut-offs; and perhaps the payback of advances of other books as well.)

Sadly, in traditional publishing, marketing is the last consideration—never the first—when purchasing a book from an author. Compared to other products as a whole—and entertainment products in particular, including films, music, magazines, and video games—it gets a negligible budget, if any at all.

Steve Hamilton Publishers WeeklyDon't take my word for it.  In this article regarding the breakup between bestselling thriller writer Steve Hamilton and his former publishing house, St. Martin's Press, Publishers Weekly outs its industry's dirty little secret: there is no there, there:

 A book can be beautifully written, have scintillating dialogue and a page-turning plot. But without the adequate marketing and promotion that puts it in front of a targeted audience, a book is as dead as a beached whale. 

At this point in time, most Authors Guild members are traditionally published. Coupled with the Hamilton/SMP breakup, the Authors Guild survey certainly makes an excellent case for the guild to reconsider what it must do to protect its members. For example, the guild—along with literary agents and intellectual property attorneys—should insist that any publishing contract contain clauses that:

(a) Succinctly spell out a yearly quantitative financial base for the book, with instant reversion to the author if not met. Right now, most publishing contracts hold onto rights forever, under the assumption that digital distribution means that a book never goes out of print.

(b) Outline an advertising budget, tied to an actual, very specific media plan for the marketing of the book—at least for the first full year in print—and allow for immediate reversion of rights if there is no follow-through.

Is it any wonder that hybrid authors—that is to say, those authors who have been published traditionally, but then, like me, elected to publish their books independently of a publishing house—are a growing breed? Of course not. Like everyone else, authors have to eat. They have to pay rents and mortgages. They raise children, and pay for health insurance, taxes, and all the other expenses that come with being self-employed.

I personally know many hybrid authors. Under the traditional publishing model, their advances and sales shrunk along with the demise of both chain bookstores, and the winnowing of independent brick-and-mortar bookstores in the most recent recession. Several of these authors were at the brink of financial disaster (homes soon to be repossessed, couch-surfing, near bankruptcy) when they made the decision to walk away from traditional publishing contracts. After doing so, they rolled up their shirtsleeves and did what they had to do to self-publish: write good books; have their books professionally edited and digitally converted; distribute their books—primarily as eBooks.

The successful one know they must also promote their books.

The good news for their readers: the books are priced lower than their offerings still distributed by their traditional publishers. 

The great news for these authors: now that they retain 70 percent of the book's retail price, they are making a sustainable living for themselves and their families.

Some are doing better than that, having already sold millions of books since starting this journey. Sylvia DayBarbara Freethy, Stephanie Bond,  Bella Andre, and Kate Perry are perfect examples of hybrid authors who took advantage of the changing bookselling marketplace to not just survive, but to thrive. And whereas Ms. Day, Ms. Andre and Ms. Bond still have one foot in traditional publishing, Ms. Freethy and Ms. Perry are in total control of every facet of their books' design, distribution and promotion. 

Another hybrid author who made the leap to indie publishing and never looked back was thriller novelist Barry Eisler. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview him for the International Thriller Writers Organization's e-zine, "The Big Thrill." Some of what Barry says regarding the advantages of self-publishing versus traditional publishing can be found in the article linked here.

However, some of our Q&A was cut. Since the questions are relevant to this post's topic, I've included them here:

JB: If there were one (or two, or three) things you could change about the publishing industry and the novelist’s role within it, what would it be?

BE: The first thing I’d like to change is the popular perception that organizations like the Authors Guild and Authors United primarily represent authors rather than establishment publishers. I have no problem with organizations advocating for publisher interests, but the dishonest way in which the AG and AU go about their publishing industry advocacy misleads a lot of authors. I could go on at length about this topic and in fact I have—so for anyone who wants to better understand the real agenda and function of these “author” organizations, I’d recommend starting with this article I wrote for Techdirt, Authors Guilded, United, and Representing…Not Authors.

JB: But isn’t it true that the AG speaks out on various topics of concern to authors, like unconscionable contract terms?

BE: Hah, the AG going after publishers is like Hillary Clinton going after Wall Street. I’ve had a lot to say about this, including thecomments I wrote in response to this post at The Passive Voice.For anyone who’s curious, just search for my name and you’ll find the comments, the gist of which is, when the AG wants to accomplish something, it names names and litigates; when it wants authors to think it’s trying to accomplish something but in fact isn’t (or, more accurately, when what it’s trying to accomplish is maintenance of the publishing status quo), it talks.

When the AG talks, it’s a head fake. The body language is what to look for in determining the organization’s actual allegiances and priorities.

Another thing I’d like to change is the generally abysmal level of legacy publisher performance in what at least in theory are legacy publisher core competencies. Whether it’s cover design, the bio, or fundamental principles of marketing, legacy publishers are content with a level of mediocrity that would be an embarrassment in any other industry. I’ve seen little ability within legacy publishing companies to distill principles from fact patterns (particularly patterns involving failures) and then apply those principles in new circumstances. Institutional memory and the transmission of institutional knowledge and experience are notably weak in the culture of the Big Five. My guess is that the weakness is a byproduct of insularity and complacency brought on by a lack of competition.

JB: Agreed. Having spent fifteen years in advertising before becoming a novelist, I was abhorred as to what passed for “marketing and promotion.

BE: I'd also like to increase awareness of the danger a publishing monopoly represents to the interests of authors and readers. No, I’m not talking about Amazon; “Amazon is a Monopoly!” is a canard and a bogeyman. I’m talking about the real, longstanding monopoly in publishing (or call is a quasi-monopoly, or a cartel), which is the insular, incestuous New York Big Five. An important clue about the nature of the organization is right there in the name, no? See also the Seven Sisters

Okay, another thing (and then I’ll stop because I could go on about this stuff forever): I’d like to see more choices for authors; new means by which authors can reach a mass market of readers; and greater diversity in titles and lower prices for readers.

Wait, that last set of wishes is already happening, courtesy of self-publishing and Amazon publishing—the first real competition the Big Five has ever seen, and a boon to the health of the whole publishing ecosystem.

Hybrid author success stories are now numerous. As author advocate Jane Friedman's wonderful blog points out,  Claire Cook, Harry Bingham, and William Kowalski are just a few other examples of hybrid authors who made the leap and never looked back.

Products are created from a perceived need. Industries are created by providing sales and distribution venues for products.

But sometimes how the product is distributed changes also how the product is purchased by its consumers. 

Books—in whatever form they take—will always be needed. They entertain, they provoke thought, they provide knowledge.

In publishing, books are the products. Still, how books are distributed and sold doesn't change how they are made: by authors with the perseverance to write a good story, and then do what they can to find readers who will fall in love with it. 

 

Like Mr. Kowalski, Ms. Cook, and Mr. Bingham, I love what I do. Now that 2015 has come to an end, I now know that all my hard work toward creation and release of the my latest four books and a novella (The Housewife Assassin's Garden of Deadly Delights, The Housewife Assassin's Tips for Weddings, Weapons, and Warfare, The Housewife Assassin's Husband Hunting Hints, Totlandia Book 5, and Gone with the Body) was worth it.

It is confirmed by my bookstore royalties. More importantly, it is substantiated by the many kind comments received from my supportive readers. 

Thank you, readers, for taking a chance on me, loving my characters, and chatting up my books with others who they felt might enjoy them, too. 

Here's to a wonderful new year filled with more great stories from your favorite authors.

—Josie

 

Gotta love this headline in The New Yorker: “The Pay Is Too Damn Low.” Duh, yeah.

I don't feel the need to elaborate on this New Yorker article.

America, isn't it time you vote you pocketbooks, instead of letting the lobbyists decide your fates?

–Josie

THE FINANCIAL PAGE / The New Yorker

THE PAY IS TOO DAMN LOW

BY AUGUST 12, 2013

A few weeks ago, Washington, D.C., passed a living-wage bill designed to make Walmart pay its workers a minimum of $12.50 an hour. Then President Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage (which is currently $7.25 an hour). McDonald’s was widely derided for releasing a budget to help its employees plan financially, since that only underscored how brutally hard it is to live on a McDonald’s wage. And last week fast-food workers across the country staged walkouts, calling for an increase in their pay to fifteen dollars an hour. Low-wage earners have long been the hardest workers to organize and the easiest to ignore. Now they’re front-page news.

The workers’ grievances are simple: low wages, few (if any) benefits, and little full-time work. In inflation-adjusted terms, the minimum wage, though higher than it was a decade ago, is still well below its 1968 peak (when it was worth about $10.70 an hour in today’s dollars), and it’s still poverty-level pay. To make matters worse, most fast-food and retail work is part time, and the weak job market has eroded what little bargaining power low-wage workers had: their earnings actually fell between 2009 and last year, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Still, the reason this has become a big political issue is not that the jobs have changed; it’s that the people doing the jobs have. Historically, low-wage work tended to be done either by the young or by women looking for part-time jobs to supplement family income. As the historian Bethany Moreton has shown, Walmart in its early days sought explicitly to hire underemployed married women. Fast-food workforces, meanwhile, were dominated by teen-agers. Now, though, plenty of family breadwinners are stuck in these jobs. That’s because, over the past three decades, the U.S. economy has done a poor job of creating good middle-class jobs; five of the six fastest-growing job categories today pay less than the median wage. That’s why, as a recent study by the economists John Schmitt and Janelle Jones has shown, low-wage workers are older and better educated than ever. More important, more of them are relying on their paychecks not for pin money or to pay for Friday-night dates but, rather, to support families. Forty years ago, there was no expectation that fast-food or discount-retail jobs would provide a living wage, because these were not jobs that, in the main, adult heads of household did. Today, low-wage workers provide forty-six per cent of their family’s income. It is that change which is driving the demand for higher pay.

The situation is the result of a tectonic shift in the American economy. In 1960, the country’s biggest employer, General Motors, was also its most profitable company and one of its best-paying. It had high profit margins and real pricing power, even as it was paying its workers union wages. And it was not alone: firms like Ford, Standard Oil, and Bethlehem Steel employed huge numbers of well-paid workers while earning big profits. Today, the country’s biggest employers are retailers and fast-food chains, almost all of which have built their businesses on low pay—they’ve striven to keep wages down and unions out—and low prices.

This complicates things, in part because of the nature of these businesses. They make plenty of money, but most have slim profit margins: Walmart and Target earn between three and four cents on the dollar; a typical McDonald’s franchise restaurant earns around six cents on the dollar before taxes, according to an analysis from Janney Capital Markets. In fact, the combined profits of all the major retailers, restaurant chains, and supermarkets in the Fortune 500 are smaller than the profits of Apple alone. Yet Apple employs just seventy-six thousand people, while the retailers, supermarkets, and restaurant chains employ 5.6 million. The grim truth of those numbers is that low wages are a big part of why these companies are able to stay profitable while offering low prices. Congress is currently considering a bill increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years. That’s an increase that the companies can easily tolerate, and it would make a significant difference in the lives of low-wage workers. But that’s still a long way from turning these jobs into the kind of employment that can support a middle-class family. If you want to accomplish that, you have to change the entire way these companies do business. Above all, you have to get consumers to accept significantly higher, and steadily rising, prices. After decades in which we’ve grown used to cheap stuff, that won’t be easy.

Realistically, then, a higher minimum wage can be only part of the solution. We also need to expand the earned-income tax credit, and strengthen the social-insurance system, including child care and health care (the advent of Obamacare will help in this regard). Fast-food jobs in Germany and the Netherlands aren’t much better-paid than in the U.S., but a stronger safety net makes workers much better off. We also need many more of the “middle-class jobs” we’re always hearing about. A recent McKinsey report suggested that the government should invest almost a trillion dollars over the next five years in repairing and upgrading the national infrastructure, which seems like a good place to start. And we really need the economy as a whole to grow faster, because that would both increase the supply of good jobs and improve the bargaining power of low-wage workers. As Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, told me, “The best friend that low-wage workers have is a strong economy and a tight job market.” It isn’t enough to make bad jobs better. We need to create better jobs. ♦

ILLUSTRATION: CHRISTOPH NIEMANN

(c) The New Yorker. All rights reserved.

 

TheHousewifeAssassinsHandbook_JosieBrown (134x200)My way to help the wage slave is to offer THE HOUSEWIEE ASSASSIN'S HANDBOOK for free. Download it here:

(Book 1) Signal Press  

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FREE EPUB VERSION HERE!

Read an excerpt…

We have a homeless guy in our apartment building’s boiler room.

Homeless-teen

Turns out the guy has picked the lock, and made it his home: bedroll, pictures, personal items.

This breaks my heart. I can only imagine what it's like to have to sleep on a cold concrete floor every night, let alone  park bench or a sidewalk. At the same time, should something happen in that boiler room. it affects the whole building, and the tennants in it.

We will change the lock on the boiler room door to a deadbolt, perhaps put a gate in the passageway leading to it as well.

But first we will also box up his belongings.  I will put a few bucks in an envelope, along with a note explaining why he needs to move on. 

Like most homeless, he's not on the street (or in the boiler room) by choice. He's there because, somewhere along the line, he's had a fall from grace. Maybe mental health issues are involved. If so, I truly feel for him, because the governmental safety net for the mentally ill is broken in too many ways.

He is someone's son. Perhaps, someone's brother, father, or uncle or nephew.

He cannot deal with his problems. And his family is probably brokenhearted about it andworried about him, but also weary of the burden of carrying him.

Out of sight, but truly out of mind? We all know that's not the case.

He is the ghost of failure: not his own, but ours, as a society.

He is one of us.

We need to fix it. Whether we want to believe so or not, it is a reflection on each of us

— Josie

Okay, here were my favorite Oscars dresses…

 
Sexiest-Dresses-Oscars-2013

So many dresses, so little time to review every fold, hue, cut, and designer
making us ooooh and ahhhh during Sunday's Oscars 2013 presentation…

But I'll try my best. Okay, here were my favorites:

Halle Berry in a glitzy Marchesa gown…

Jessica Chastain in a copper, Art Deco-inspired gown by Armani Privé…

And  Naomi Watts is also in an Armani Privé gown,
in a glitzy silver with an intriguing cut-out.

 

Also…

Amy-adams-vanity-fair-oscars-party-2013-03

Amy Adams in gray fringed Oscar de la Renta…

 

Charlize2

 

Charlize Theron wore a peplum-waisted Dior Haute Couture gown…

 

JLaw

And Jennifer Lawrence's Dior Haute Couture
pink blush gown, with voluminous train.

 

All beautiful, don't you think?

 

I'm soooo inspired, I'm off to get my own little princess a gown!

 

— Josie

 

My NaNoWriMo Tip #20: Become the George Clooney of writers.

NaNo20

It's NaNoWriMo Month! (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated…)

For those of you who have begun writing your first book, every day I'll repost my fave creative writing tips here, just for you.

Here's Tip #20, for Tuesday, the 20th…

The previous day's post can be accessed on this page, too. The previous day's post can be accessed on this page, too.

Here's to your success as an author,

— Josie Brown


Don’t forget to enter my HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN’S GUIDE TO GRACIOUS KILLING contest, for a chance to win a $100 gift card to the bookstore of your choice!

 

 


HAH Hanging Man V2 THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN'S HANDBOOK 

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What Not to get Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds as a Wedding Gift

LivelyReynolds
I love celebrity marriages! They give us something to aspire to: dreamboat spouses, fancy affairs of the heart, and  a chance to beat Vegas odds as to whether yet another Hollywood marriage will go to the wayside, and if so, how long it will take to implode.

From what I read in People Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds seem fairly grounded, having had their fair share at hard knocks, both personally and professionally. (And you know how I believe everything I read!)

That said, I'd like to propose a toast to their living happily ever after. And for you who feel compelled to help these lovebirds get off to a great start on feathering their joint nest, I'd like to suggest you skip any of thes following as wedding gifts:

+Coleman+2Mantle+Lantern+Green

 1. A green lantern.
Yes, they met on the set of the movie. However, I presume that other than that, neither views this joint project the pinnacle of their careers, therefore a household or garden accessory that subliminally suggests otherwise may not get you invited to the frequent dinner parties they are sure to hold in their new abode in Bedford, New York.

 

 


220px-Titanic_poster 2. A DVD of Titanic.
No doubt, anything that reminds Blake of the Leonardo DiCaprio she loved as a teen won't be welcomed in their home. You'll never want it said that you broke them up, now would you?

 

 

 

 

 


Pearl-earring-Johannson3. For that matter, forego DVDs of Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Match Point as well.

I have a feeling the way the camera caresses Ryan's ex-wife Scarlett Johansson would not appeal to Blake.

Makes me wonder: are you better off with a great marriage and less of a screen career, or a great screen career and fleeting relationships? Or does a Hollywood career mean you'll forego your own "happily ever after"?

I wish the happy couple both. But if I were to say which was more satisfying I'd say the former.

Here's hoping they can have their wedding cake, and eat it, too.

 

— Josie



Guide-to-Gracious-Killing (2) AHBThe Housewife Assassin's
Guide to Gracious Kil
ling

 In bookstores on September 30, 2012!

In the meantime, order Book 1,
The Housewife Assassin's Handbook

Murder. Suspense. Sex. And some handy household tips.

Read an excerpt here… 

In the US, just $2.99:

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In the UK, just £1.96 (Kindle UK) and £1.99 (iTunes UK) :
 

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 Read an excerpt here…

Sign up for my eLetter
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or a gift certificate to your favorite bookstore!
Details to follow, by September 30, 2012,
with the launch of my new book!

TGIF!

Washington-Square-Park
Today was one of those cinematically picture perfect San Francisco Spring days. Everyone was in sundresses, shorts and camisoles, and flipflops.

The sky was California blue. (Sorry, Carolina folk! We claim it, too!)

Our walk took us from Pac Heights, through Fort Mason Park and down beside Gashouse Cove and the Maritime Museum, cutting away from the tourists into North Beach, in order to score some fresh-baked bread from an Italian bakery there.

Martin likes a bread they make called a "stubby," because it is wide, and just long enough to poke out beyond the bag they wrap it in.

Frankly," I told him, "I think the name is emasculating."

He answered, "Hell, I don't know a man in the world who wouldn't be proud of this as a…."  

SPEAK TO THE HAND.

The route we take drops us into Washington Square, North Beach's premier park. It is flanked by Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church on its north side, which is famous because newlyweds Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, had their pictures taken on the steps of the church, after a civil ceremony. I'm guessing that the Yankee Clipper's previous marriage and divorce kept them from going down aisle in his hometown parish's church.

Because we the the grandeur and solitude we find there, invariably we stop in and take a few moments to bask in its grace, and to say a prayer or two.

Do prayers work? They do for me. I don't know if it's because the Supreme Being feels my pain and deems it worthy to grant relief, or if it is what the universe had in mind for me all along.

I do know one thing: it's much more than, "Try it, and see what happens."

I'd say it's more like, "Some things we just can't explain…and that's okay."

No doubt about it: where there's a will, there's a way. But when the will isn't enough, I've got all the proof I need that faith picks up the slack.

Yep, thank God! It's Friday!

— Josie

 

HAH Hanging Man V2
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A Must-Read for any author, novelist, or writer: Lloyd Shepherd’s dialogue with a book pirate.

JackSparrow
I love it when someone tells me they've read one of my books, and enjoyed it.

But let me tell you: I wince inside when they add: "My sister [daughter, girlfriend, whatever] lent it to me."

Admittedly, it also hurts a little when they tell me as much they took it out of a library. But because I too love libraries ( besides being a big user, I also support my library during their fundraising efforts, and by donating books I no longer use) I figure, "Okay, well then maybe they'll buy the next one…and the next one…"

I write because I have to. It's my life. It's in my blood.

And I'll do it for as long as others want to read what I write–and are willing to pay for it.

Aye, there's the rub…

I have to tell you: it kills me when I discover my books are being sold illegally on the Internet.

And no, I'm not fond of the fact that people are file-sharing them, too.

You see, not all pirates are Johnny Depp.

Let me explain something:  I spend months (and in some cases, years) research, plotting, and writing my books. I see only 8 – 12 percent royalties on books that are published via large publishers.That's only $1.14 per book, and that is after I pay back an advance–in which the publisher subtracts any (gulp) returns from bookstores.

On the books I've published myself and put up as digital files that are distributed by online bookstores, I net somewhere between 35- 70 percent of my reasonabe $4.99-$2.99 retail prices. That's only $3.50-$2.10 a book — and I see that, only after I pay a graphic designer, and editor. Let's not forget my taxes.

And I still have to make my rent. And pay for my own healthcare, like every self-employed person.

So, yeah: I'd prefer if you paid for my books.

As would every other author I know.

This isn't a rant. It's a plea. For the few hours of enjoyment you get, shell out what you would for a lunch. Or for that matter, a cuppa joe.

Call it your cuppa Josie.

In this article, which appeared in the UK Guardian, Lloyd Shepherd, who wrote the wonderful novel, The English Monster, put it quite succinctly to one book pirate.

Click onto the article to read the comments.

Guilt sucks. Here's hoping it also works.

— Josie

*Picture: Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.

 

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Lloyd Shepherd: My parley with ebook pirates

When the author of The English Monster found a request to pirate his novel circulating on discussion board Mobilism, he decided to respond himself – and was surprised by the results.

My novel The English Monster was published on 1 March. A week later, a Google alert dropped into my inbox with a link to a forum post on a site called Mobilism, on which a character called "Fe2" was offering a reward to anyone prepared to produce a free ebook version of The English Monster for him to use.

Most books these days are pirated in some form or another, and having worked on the web before I was a novelist I was anticipating that with a fair degree of sang-froid. But this was the first piratical move on my book, and it was also an oddity – more an incitement to piracy than piracy itself.

This, I discovered, is how Mobilism works. The site is essentially an enormous discussion board. It started, as far as I can make out, as a place where people made "mobile" versions of games and other stuff and offered them to each other. It now offers mobile (read: pirated) versions of movies and music as well as games. And books. Lots and lots of books.

However, I need to be careful about my terminology, because Mobilism is very, very careful about its own. It states, often, that it does NOT host any files of pirated material on its own servers; it only links to them. It also provides a kind of currency mechanism for people to reward each other for producing pirated material; you earn things called "WRZ$" by posting on the site, and you earn a great deal more by producing versions of content and making them available for other users.

But – and I am being careful to repeat this – these versions are NOT hosted by Mobilism. All that Mobilism requires is that you put your pirated material at a website address where other users can download it, for free, without registration. Mobilism is like a catalogue of links to other people's warehouses. It's an index, not a repository. It's exploiting a characteristic of the legal arrangements around the internet – that you should be able to link to something without becoming liable for it. This is an essential element of what makes the web work. It also allows Mobilism to create entire cathedrals to pirated content, without hosting any of that content itself.

(As an aside, this legal arrangement is now under some attack. Richard O'Dwyer is right now facing extradition to the US to feel the wrath of the Hollywood entertainment industry for building a site that contained thousands of links to pirated material. It's hard to understand why O'Dwyer is attracting this kind of legal firepower, while no one seems to be extraditing Mobilism's owners. Perhaps because, as far as I can see, no one knows who they are.)

Many writers in my position, I know, have gone into a rage when their books are pirated – particularly those with no experience of the legal ways of the internet. How can it be, they yell, that these clowns are stealing my livelihood? And I felt some irritation, of course. But blind anger wasn't getting us anywhere, and here was an opportunity to ask this guy (in my head, he's a guy, although she may well not be) what he thought he was doing. I went on to the forum to put it to him. This is what I said:

So, I'm the author of The English Monster. Can it be that you're offering to pay someone to create an ebook of the book I wrote? I'd be interested to hear your justification for this. For your interest, this book took me two years to write, and represents (on a rough estimate) perhaps 500 hours of work on my part, not to mention the time and effort put in by others to design, print, copy-edit and produce the final version. And you're proposing to pay someone else – someone who had no part in the making of the book – to produce a copy for you. Is there a good reason why you can't pay through normal channels for my book?

Please understand me – I am genuinely interested in what you've got to say about this. This is my first book, and this is my first experience of someone attempting to produce a pirate version of it (I do not use the word "pirate" pejoratively, mind). Is there any reason why I shouldn't expect to be compensated for the time I have put into this?

To my surprise, this attracted a response.

Mr Shepherd, I can tell by your measured reply that you are trying to be as fair and nonjudgmental as possible, so thank you. I am not sure how to answer you – and our messages will no doubt be deleted soon.

Bottom line is, there is no justification or reason that would or should ever satisfy the author of original content. Anyone that tries to make sense of this process (that publishing houses are greedy; that knowledge should be free … just two reasons that I have seen bandied about) is just fooling themselves. There is also a Robin Hood aspect to this, that perhaps you may understand. Either way, I don't think there is a way of putting this digital information era genie back into the bottle.

I wish you every luck in future.

This was the point at which I did, I confess, lose it for a moment. This was such a stupid collection of cliche and childishness. It's the kind of pseudo-anarchist garbage we've come to expect from the more militantly dumb wings of the anti-copyright campaign. I wrote a long reply (you can see the entire discussion here) which said, in summary, that if authors couldn't get compensation for their work there would be no authors, and didn't he know that Coleridge and Wordsworth only wrote Lyrical Ballads to fund a holiday in Germany, and why was he blaming this "digital information era genie" for his own bad behaviour. But, you know, friendly-like.

At this point, two things happened. First, the mysterious powers at Mobilism moved the forum thread from its original location under "ebook requests" to a new place called "fulfilled ebook requests". Meaning, I suppose, that they had recognised I had a problem with what was going on, but didn't want to delete the topic. For this I give them some credit (perhaps in the form of WRZ$).

The second thing was that "Fe2" sent another reply, which again I reproduce in its entirety.

Mr Shepherd, again I thank you for your considered, elegant reply. I felt replying to you was not only appropriate, but mandatory.

A small note in closing, as the thread has been moved (but not deleted – my thanks to the moderator who made that decision): it was not I who advanced those reasons that you read. I do not for one minute think that any author is being "greedy" for wanting payment for their labour, nor do I think all knowledge should be free. In fact, I cannot fathom anyone thinking that, but I wrote it because I have seen some people in other fora write those very reasons as to why they want ebooks without remuneration. Slavery, which is work without payment, was abolished in all civilised lands a long time ago, so I wish said people would read our thread and understand that.

Me, I have lived in Africa and Asia, in such remote locations that it is difficult to get internet, let alone ebooks, even if locals could afford that. Yet I've met some who try to reach for better things in life, such as current or helpful books to read, and find their options curtailed by circumstance. I know it is no excuse, but since you ask for elucidation, that is mine.

I veered from rage to puzzlement. I even wondered if this post was the product of some kind of bot. The reply did posit a reason for this guy's behaviour. There was a sort of psychology at work. But it was pretty thin: he says, for instance, that "I have lived in Africa and Asia", where presumably ebooks are hard to get hold of legitimately, but he says it in the past tense. He doesn't let on where he lives now. As a friend pointed out, he basically seemed to be saying, "Yeah, you're right, but, you know, what's a guy to do?"

I decided to go into the main Mobilism forums and start a new topic, called "Novelist seeking understanding". I asked people to explain how they justified to themselves what they were doing, or whether they even needed to. I also wondered whether they thought what they were doing would damage the culture in the long run, if authors became disincentivised to write. It's had some pretty interesting responses. The reasons and justifications given for pirating ebooks include:

• that sharing a book is great publicity for the author. Lots of quoting of Paolo Coelho and Neil Gaiman here, who've both said this sort of thing recently;

• that people who travel a lot like the convenience of ebooks, and if they already own the book in physical form they feel justified in getting a free copy;

• that this kind of "free sharing" allows people to sample books (again, it's great publicity, is the argument).

Now, two of these are not justifications for freeloading; they're after-effects. If I let people pirate my book, this argument goes, I get publicity and create a "debate" around myself which gets me noticed. Only one point (the second one) is an actual attempt to justify piracy itself.

But all of the people who replied to my original post denied being "freeloaders" – they claimed to still buy books, as many as they ever did, if not more. Their argument seemed to be that Mobilism provided a platform for discussion and, yes, sharing of books – and that this kept up a high level of appetite for, and interest in, new authors.

Obviously missing on the forum were the voices of those "pirates" I had demonised in my own head: the ones who pirate gleefully and indiscriminately, who host vast folders of free content, who give the finger to anyone in a suit and tie and believe they are changing the world one cracked DRM at a time. You know. Pirates.

I'm not naive. I do believe that in the long run I am damaged by piracy more than I am helped by it. I also know that my publisher, on whom I depend for income, support and promotion, is severely damaged by it. On that level, I want it to stop. This feeling is made even stronger by the realisation that Mobilism can sell advertising (and presumably generate a bit of revenue for someone, somewhere) on the back of well-organised and ongoing larceny. Somebody, somewhere is making money from my own labour.

But I see the sense of what the well-mannered people who responded to my question were saying, and I have some sympathy for what Gaiman and Coelho have been saying about piracy – that the more it happens, the more people find out about their books. Neil Gaiman's recent point – that no one buys their first book, they are given it by someone – is a strong one. But then, Gaiman and Coelho are established authors. Is this kind of free-for-all the best way to launch a new author? I simply do not know.

Whatever my own response, publishing as an industry could respond to this. Is there a mechanism that allows people to discuss and share books, sampling them and even giving them away, in such a way that encourages the social appetite for books and reading? Could there be a platform for people to access books in places where local deals have not made them available through traditional channels; a kind of global meta-copyright which stands where no local copyright licence has taken place? How we do either of those things is beyond me, and perhaps beyond anyone. What I can't deny is that my parley with the pirates was more fruitful than I expected it to be, and there's a lesson in that for all of us.