Thursday, August 4, 2011

Giving it away for Free

by Maria Geraci

The other day I received a Google Alert telling me that my first two published books are available for free downloads from a site called Imagine that. Penguin USA is giving away my books. NOT. I've received these kinds of alerts before, but I confess I've never done anything about them. This time, I decided to let my agent know, so I forwarded her the link. She informed me that, yes, indeed, these are "pirate" sites and of course, this happens all the time. She said she would forward the information on to the legal department at Penguin.

I have to confess, I'm conflicted about these pirate sites. On the one hand, I realize that what they are doing is wrong. It's stealing. No bones about it. They are ripping off my publisher and they are ripping off me. On the other hand, I really don't think that the people who are going to download my books for free are people who would pay to buy them. At least, I don't think so. Not knowing anyone (or at least anyone who will admit to it) who rips off books from free sites, I'm not certain what their demographic is. So in some ways, these pirate sites put my books in the hands of people who probably wouldn't have read them any other way. Crazy thinking? Maybe.

But it leads me to the point of my conflict.

Isn't getting your book into as many hands as possible the ultimate goal? I would probably feel differently if I was the type of author who had a large back list that was making her lots of money, but I'm not. I'm on my fourth book (due this week!) and I still haven't earned out the advances on my first three. So any indignation I feel is on behalf of my publisher.

Last year at the Novelists, Inc, conference in St. Petersburg, Fl, I was in the audience for a panel of group experts discussing the future of publishing. There were some big names on the panel- editors, agents, PR people, and authors, including self-pub guru Joe Konrath (who, by the way is doing a great give away for anyone donating $30 or more to the charity to benefit Leslie Banks, who many of you in the publishing world, knew and admired). Joe Konrath surprised me when he basically said (and I'm ad libbing here) not to sweat the pirate sites. These sites get your books into readers' hands, which ultimately will increase your readership. I think he was talking about foreign sites, and let's face it, I'm not on the same level as someone like Joe Konrath, who has made hundreds of thousands of dollars off his books. Still. It got me to thinking some more.

Justine Musk, author of the Tribal Writer blog wrote a piece titled, Why you need to give it away. Everything she says makes so much sense to me. Of course, she's talking about giving it away voluntarily, but in some ways couldn't the end result be the same? I don't know. I just know that in this digital age, when authors are self-pubbing fantastic books at streamlined prices (in some cases, under a dollar), it's kind of hard to compete when your publisher puts your ebook price at 10 or 12 bucks.

What do you think?

Maria Geraci writes fun, romantic women's fiction. The Portland Book Review calls her latest novel, THE BOYFRIEND OF THE MONTH CLUB, "immensely sexy, immensely satisfying and humorous." Check out her website at


  1. Very interesting topic, Maria! I think the publishing world had better realize they are soon going to be in the same boat as the entertainment industry. Black market movies and pirated songs have been not the exception, but the norm for many years now (unfortunately). And our 'getting-younger-by-the-minute' society doesn't seem to see the wrongness of this (again, most unfortunately). As for me and my family, I won't even allow my kiddos to share songs on their Ipods with their friends. I tell them, 'You know how long I've been writing? Well, someone else worked just as hard on that movie/song.'

    Who knows where all this is going to go? But as with most things in life, I just adjust my grip and hold on.

    Wishing you continued success with your fourth book!

  2. Its wrong and people shouldn't do things that are wrong. I give all my friends and family 'the evil eye' when they steal movies, songs and books. They say it doesn't matter, the person is rich and doesn't need the money. Its. Still. Wrong.

    What should we do about it? What can we do about it? Nothing. (And when I say 'we' I mean those who are published... which will hopefully be me someday :))

    We just need to turn it around and look at the positives. We'll have more people reading our story even if they are criminals :)

    That sounds harsh, but you know what I mean...

  3. Great post, Maria. Thanks for showing me both sides of the question. I'll be thinking about this!

  4. I met a man at my husband's high school reunion who asserted that intellectual property rights were all nonsense, that making a book was like making a chair, you should sell it and that's it. The conversation was very useful to me as a crime writer. I got to experience the sensation of wanting to kill a complete stranger, in case I ever need to write about that.

  5. I do know a lot of tweens and teens believe you should never pay for music. Thanks to Pandora, I rarely buy music unless it's someone I love (MICHAEL BUBLE HAS A CHRISTMAS ALBUM COMING OUT THIS WINTER, FOLKS.) :)

    All that said, big things come to popular authors, no matter how the word of mouth and exposure happens.

  6. Maria, I remember the first time a fellow author alerted me to a site giving away copies of my books. I told my agency, which basically said, "It's like playing Whack-a-Mole. You strike down one and another pops up." After sweating a lot of small stuff throughout my first dozen years (and dozen books) in the biz, here's my new mantra: if you can't control it, let it go. So basically I'm focusing on the writing and the words...and trying to put the rest in my "let it go" pile. I'm not a pro at this yet, but I'm doing better and better every year with every book. ;-)

    Can't wait to read THE UGLY GIRLFRIEND! Remind me when it's out in 2012? (Yes, that's me, the overeager puppy, my tail thumping, hardly able to keep still!)

  7. Maria, thanks for this post. I've thought about this, too, because I've gotten those pirate site alerts and could do nothing more than forward the links to my publisher...

    I want readers to sample my work. I'm happy to give away story excerpts to anyone on the planet who wants them and free copies of books to contest winners, reviewers and bloggers who spread the news about my novels, but these are all people who are aware that I'm sharing something with them. That it's a gift, not a product they can simply steal. It's the attitude that goes along with piracy that bothers me most.

    And, like Susan, I can't wait to read The Ugly Girlfriend, too!!

  8. Very interesting topic, thanks for giving me something to ponder on!

  9. Thank you for all the wonderful and insightful comments. AS I'm sitting at my computer today (trying desperately not to get on the INternet so I can finish the dang fourth book and turn it in to my editor!), I'm trying to concentrate on the important things- the joy of writing and telling a story. Like Susan says, trying to go after these piracy sites is like playing 'whack a mole.' Not much you can do about it, except maybe hope you get some paying readers along the way? (hey, a girl can hope, right?)

  10. Maria, I have rewritten my comment to your post twice today. It is wrong? Clearly. Is it going to happen? You bet. Should we make lemonade out of it? Maybe... I have chapters to a book that will never be published posted on a popular author site. It gets a lot of hits. I keep thinking, if i give the whole thing away, let readers have at it, maybe I'd earn a few who are willing to pay for my book. It's an interesting gamble!

  11. I agree with Joe Konrath that we shouldn't sweat piraters. Most people are going to buy the book, and I consider the people who pirate it the same as people who borrow it from the library. In any case, they're reading the book. I do know a lot of people on Pandora, including me, but the upside is that if I really like a song, I have to buy it for my iTunes collection -- I don't just listen for free, and I think that's how most Pandora users are. I think it's a bit unfair to compare piraters to Pandora as Pandora is paying for the right to play those songs. Also, if a pirate site gets too big, as big as Pandora, say -- it gets shut down. The point being that I consider people who pirate my book the same as library borrowers. There's not so many of them that I really think it makes a difference.

  12. I'm such a nerdy rule follower type, I too insist my kids download music from iTunes and not the free infuriates me. I only download books from reputable sites, amazon etc, and while I know it's going to happen, it does anger me that there is a clear sect of readers who believe getting things for free is good.
    I do like when a publisher has a low price, like $2.99 or less for an older book from an author I've just found. I consider those such a deal in the ebook world!

  13. I think both points are valid. It is stealing but it is also publicity. I do agree that a person getting a book for free would not have paid for it if the free download was not available, they just wouldn't have read it at all. In the long run I think it isn't all that bad for the author, I never have downloaded a book from a pirate site, I don't have the need for it because my library tends to have all the books I'm interested in, but if I had done that and found a book that I really liked I would buy it and I would recommend it to other people.

    I guess it comes down to what the author considers a loss. If it's just the money then I think you are losing very little of it, only a few people who get the book for free would've paid for it if a free version wasn't available, the rest would've never bought it at all. If it is the intellectual property then you are losing something because by not paying those people haven't earned the right to have access to it. But at the same time even if those people do not end up buying your book they might recommend it to someone that will.And it does help to get your name out there, even if it isn't exactly how you would've wanted. Also if someone is pirating your books, it means that you are doing something right and people actually do want to read them.

    Personally I think I would be OK with a little bit of piracy (not that I would encourage it) if I had written a book, the only problem is that you can't really have much control over it. I mean once it becomes a bit out of hand and more books are stolen than bought then you can contact the lawyers but by then I think the damage has been done.

    I think people need to rediscover libraries,then they could read books for free without having to steal them.

  14. I believe in this digital era you have to relinquish the illusion of control or you will drive yourself insane. Even brand new movies are pirated just as music has been for ages.

    If you can reframe it and see it as a compliment that someone wants to read your work THAT bad it might help. And I agree, those are not the people that would buy it or get it in their hands anyway. Maybe you can perceive it as your charitable donation. Now, if you could just right it off on your tax return!

    Thanks for sharing your experience!