Guest blog by Joanna Penn

New authors worry about piracy, especially in this age of digital publishing and online marketing.

Yes, piracy happens, but here’s why you shouldn’t let fear keep you from putting your words out into the world.

1. Serious readers prefer to buy books rather than download stolen copies

Most of the reading public are book lovers, law-abiding (usually) citizens, and want to compensate you for your creative work. Trust your readers.

A Personal Example

I noticed a customer had bought two copies of the same ebook from my website. I emailed her, assuming that she must have clicked twice by mistake, and I wanted to refund her. She explained that she had bought a copy for herself and one for a friend. I was thrilled, of course, because she could have just shared the file.

Hugh Howey, the bestselling sci-fi author of WOOL, shares on his site that one reader downloaded his book through a pirate site, then sent him money later in recognition of a good book.

Most readers want to help authors, not harm them. Those who download from pirate sites are not likely to be your target market anyway.

2. Some authors use piracy as a marketing strategy

Paulo Coelho, author of the worldwide hit The Alchemist, deliberately leaked his ebooks in Russia on piracy networks . His sales went from 1,000 per year to over 1 million, because those free books gave him more visibility in a hard-to-reach market. He says of piracy, “It’s a medal to any writer who understands that there is no better reward than being read.”

Self-help writer, Tim Ferriss, used Bit Torrent file sharing site for the launch of his New York Times bestseller, The Four Hour Chef, and generated hundreds of thousands of sales from free downloads.

Fantasy writer, Neil Gaiman, talks about piracy as a modern-day version of lending a physical book. Broader distribution means a broader audience and a broader audience means more sales. After all, the most pirated books in the world are by the most successful authors, like JK Rowling or George RR Martin.

Tim O’Reilly says, “For a typical author, obscurity is a far greater threat than piracy.”

So, is it better to be pirated and have your book read or have your unseen manuscript sit in a drawer?

3. What are you really afraid of?

If you’re not writing or publishing because you’re afraid someone will pirate your books or your ideas, you might need to consider other issues.

Steven Pressfield talks about creative resistance in his book, The War of Art. Stopping writing because you fear piracy is a form of resistance. It’s something your lizard brain—that primal part that tries to keep you safe—can distract you with, when really you need to get your butt in the chair and finish your book.

It’s scary to put your words out into the world. You might be judged. You might fail. You might get a one-star review. Maybe no one will even notice your book. Such fears are part of the creative process we all go through. Don’t let the pirates stop you from fulfilling your goals.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

  • Register your copyright so you have proof if you need to challenge anyone. This is not technically necessary, as you automatically copyright a work when you create it. But I’ve found it useful when challenged by Amazon to prove my ownership because someone tried to publish a duplicate book.
  • Make sure your book is available in all formats and in all countries at the same time. If your ebook is not available in the UK when your US publisher launches it, don’t be surprised if an avid fan gets a bootleg copy because they just can’t wait. If your book is available only in print, why be surprised if it is scanned and uploaded as an ebook? Plenty of people (myself included) read only ebooks now, and you will lose a sale anyway if it’s not available in digital format.
  • If you’re an indie author (self-published), you can release your books globally on the same day. If you’re traditionally published in one territory, consider self-publishing in other countries. Basically, if your book is available when and how a reader wants it, they are less likely to look for a pirated version.
  • Set up an alert with a free service like Google Alerts. Use a couple of unique lines from your book so you will be notified if the text appears anywhere on pirate sites.
  • If you use digital ARCs (Advance Reader Copies), consider a service like BookFunnel.com to deliver them. They can include a digital watermark and track who downloads the book.
  • If your work has been pirated, email the site and ask for the material to be taken down. If they don’t comply, issue a DCMA takedown notice. You can also notify the various search engines of infringement. For more detail on this, check out A step-by-step guide to dealing with content theft from attorney Helen Sedwick.

Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of supernatural thrillers as J.F.Penn. She also writes inspirational non-fiction and is an award-winning entrepreneur and speaker. Her site, TheCreativePenn.com is regularly voted one of the top 10 sites for writers and self-publishers. Connect on twitter @thecreativepenn


In comments, pose any questions or share your experience with literary piracy.

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