Archive for January, 2012

The post I made on 27 January certainly got a lot of people stoked up, that’s for sure. Which is really good, because I want people to read this blog, because I want people to know who the hell I am and consider buying my books, but more on that later. And now, some more on the subject. You’ve had emotive me, now here’s something a little more reasonable.

I warn you, there are more questions than statements in today’s blog. The topic is: Pirates – evil sea-rapists who terrorised shipping for a century, or lovable cultural memes and suitable subjects for children’s parties?

1. Entitlement

Referring to the first part of my previous blog, it seems that an awful lot of people feel entitled to download free things off the internet. From a strictly “Thou shalt not steal” point of view, that’s baaaad. But is it as simple as them being very naughty, amoral villains, and me being a poor little author? Shall we see? Okay then.

2. Try before you buy

There’s suggestion (not just you lot, but research and that) that some pirates are super-consumers, ie, they’ll consume creative stuff, and if they like it enough, they’ll pay for it. If they like it a lot, they’ll pay for a lot of it. They just might try it for free first, or pay for it when they feel like it, but enough of them generally contribute money to a creative venture to make it worthwhile.

The problem is for creators and publishers is that this removes all control (control is a loaded word, I choose it deliberately). How do I know if my book will be paid for by the majority of people who try it for free, or none of them at all? This is frightening for me, and my mortgage.

3. This is not a new problem, and is it a problem?

Copied tapes, bootleg videos, unauthorised reprints of Dickens – this has been going on forever. Is it, even, a necessary corollary of the distribution of entertainment? (Let’s leave other idea “sharing”, like patent infringement, out of this). One comment on my other post suggested pirated copies should be regarded as shrinkage/wastage. Maybe it should.

Here’s a positive example, again inspired by a comment – the entire anime SF subculture in the west might never have been as big as it is were it not for those bootlegged, home-translated videos of Japanese shows doing the rounds in the 80s and 90s. I’m no otaku, but I’ll bet there are still self-taught anime freaks translating the latest Naruto before the official DVD comes out and banging it on the web. Without that, there’d be no action figure, spin-off/original manga or dodgy little schoolgirl cosplay costume sales. Or even legit Naruto sales. Is anime an entire geek subculture, a lucrative one at that, founded in piracy? I don’t know, answers in the comments box please.

4. Someone is making money

Whether it’s the operators of upload sites coining it in off advertising (have you seen how many advertisements are on those site?) or it’s the more obvious villains selling copied DVDs at a car boot sale, someone is generally making some money off the distribution from illegal copies. You might do it because it’s free, if you’re of a particular mindset you might think you’re getting one over on “The Man” – those Hollywood coke-snorting whoremasters, or Wicked Publishers Inc, but instead you’re giving money to criminals. At the lower, non-internet, car-boot (yard-sale) end, a lot of this cash goes into more serious crime. So, er why not just give the money to the person that made it?

I’m not for a second suggesting upload sites should all be shot down in a cyber-orgy of digital destruction while we all wave the Stars and Stripes (why the hell would I do that? I’m English) and hit people offenders in the face with rolled up SOPA manifestos. Upload sites do have legitimate uses, I use them for such. However, I don’t have the facts, but I’d be really surprised if the majority usage is legit… Still, they do have legitimate uses. Like guns, yeah.  You can shoot targets with them, not just people! (I’m joking, chill out). And the people who run them can stop it dead themselves: Don’t allow illegal crap on your sites. Easier said than done, but if there’s enough legal threat, they’ll employ people to do just that. Enough legal threat to outweigh the ad revenues, at any rate.

On the other hand (there’s a lot of hands in this post), the advent of the digital age actually cuts out revenue for baseline crims. A copied physical book sold on by Mr Dodgy does not the same social impact as Joe Average getting my book for free.

I still don’t get paid mind, but I’m thinking bigger. Isn’t that big of me?

5. This is not just you

I’m no psychologist, but a large number of the responses I’ve had (except for the one in Spanish that told me to have sexual congress with my dear old ma – funny, I didn’t approve that one) have come from people who are attempting to justify copying. I use justify, because they kind of sound like they know they’re doing something a bit wrong. But it’s not just you. What about those corporations who advertise on upload sites which have a large amount of illegal content – they know that site has a large audience because of its illegal content. Do they care? Um, not really.

6. Fair usage

“But I loan books!” Yep, so do I. And DVDs, and I copy my CDs onto my computer, and I buy second-hand books. So what? But, someone, originally paid for even that secondhand book. That’s the killer difference. And it’s legal.

My industry relies on sharing, it’s called word of mouth. More on this later. It’s the killer question, I’m saving it for last. Is potentially millions of people not paying for something the same as lending a book to your sister? No, but then I ask myself, is it really “millions” of people downloading this stuff?

7. The nightmare scenario

This is the thing that keeps scaredy pants like me awake at night: What if we get to a situation where NOBODY EVER PAYS FOR ANYTHING EVERY AGAIN. And I don’t mean in a Captain Picard “Oh, hero Cochrane from the past, we do not have money anymore, we’re all communists now, and it works!” kind of First Contact way. I mean in a culturally inculcated, why should I pay when I kind have it for nothing,?kind of way. It doesn’t matter if it’s still there when it’s been taken, if no one pays, no art, and no job for me. This is happening in some countries/ cultures.

8. What will happen

But honestly, do I think this will happen? No. I think people are in the main too moral. I think people who enjoy the kind of stuff I write aren’t that stupid. I think people are of this mentality: “Hey guys, if we like oranges, let us pay the orange growers to grow oranges and we can all have yummy oranges forever and a day.” And not the “BURN ALL ORANGE TREES AND STEAL THE FURNITURE!” Viking-types (heck, even the Vikings were more of the former, not the latter, unless you were a monk. I don’t think they ever really saw the point of monks).

People do pirate, have pirated, and always will pirate. But it’s important it does not get out of hand. SOPA and the rest are not the answer, that’s a 20th century solution to a 21st century issue.

People pirate not just for free stuff, but for flexibility, to try things out, to experience new, foreign stuff. The solution to the “Oh Christ, they’re downloading my crap for free!” is one of accommodation. The current situation has arisen from an imbalance between what people expect, the technology that enables them to do what they want, and the slow response by the industry. The equation’s a complex one, but it can add up for everyone.  Rock stars might not be living it up quite like they used to, but then I don’t see many begging on the streets either.

And “free” can work. Spotify? Artists get money per play. Libraries? You actually get money every time someone takes your book out. Very cheap and instantly available works even better. iTunes? I buy a ton more music than I ever did and funny, all of it is legitimate. Do I think Ebooks are overpriced? Absolutely. Would I rather sell ten million books for £1.00 (at my 8% I’d get £800,000) or ten thousand for £7.99? (I’d get £6392) What the hell do you think?

9. Publicity and exposure

The internet is a very powerful tool, that’s for sure. I was advised by my publishers to start this blog. I use it as a kind of diary, and an archive of work I’ve done –there’s a fragment of my journalism here, but when I have chance, I put more up. (By the way, the copyright on that I do not own, but I asked permission to reprint it). On average, I’d say I get about one hundred hits for every post.

By deliberately choosing something contentious, like piracy (heartfelt though, it’s not fake, I wouldn’t do that, but I did think about it), I’ve had well over six hundred hits. I’ve sold books. A lot of people who have no idea who I am have at least glimpsed me, even if some of them think me a jerk. That’s me exploiting the internet, not the other way around.

By that extension, is the wide availability of my book for free on the internet actually good for someone like me? Or is stealing simply wrong?

I give work away for free for publicity. Here is a sample from Reality 36. Here from Champion of Mars, here’s a free Richards & Klein short story. Here’s another free short, and another. There’s plenty on this site, I’ll be putting more here over time.  But that’s my right to do so, it’s not a pirate’s right, because it’s my frigging stuff.

And I will say, people do expect to have everything given to them for nothing. And I will also say, when my book is available as cheaply as you want, as conveniently as you want, when there are free samples of it here and on my publisher’s site and it meets all the other halfways and market forces we’ve been discussing and you still choose to download it for free? Then you really are ripping me off.

It’s all going to change. New encryption systems and bigger computers will eventually put the lid on this (mostly). I wouldn’t be surprised if every piece of entertainment in the world has free elements, but then quantumly encrypted, embedded programming demands payment every time you get past that. Whatever, I reckon this whole debate will be of far less importance in a few years time. Seeing my work given away for free by people who have no right to do so upsets me right now, though. Still, creators and consumers will meet halfway.

Thanks for reading, and commenting.


Before I begin, I would like to wholeheartedly thank all those people, and you are in a fantastic moral majority, thankfully, who have paid for my book. Whether you loved it or hated it or fed it to the dog, thank you.  Loving message ends. Rant begins.

What’s up with Western civilisation right now? A burning sense of entitlement. That idea we have rights and expectations of reward just for breathing. Yeah, of course I mean the dole cheats and the folk who never work, the chaps that claim disability allowance and get caught doing backflips. I don’t have an issue with the government wanting to cap benefits (unemployment payments, American people. Not your rights to holidays and sick pay). The social safety net is one of the greatest moral achievements of Western democracy, and marks the human race out for being if not individually even-handed, at least somewhat corporately. But benefits and rights have gone  too far, it’s doing stuff it never was intended to do, like trapping people, like giving people an excuse not to get off their lazy arses, like bankrupting the continent.

The SF community is left-leaning, so I expect some bother for that. But before you cut up your The Guardian to send me anonymous hate mail, hang on, here’s a digression. Author Neal Asher, whose books I really enjoy, tweets a lot of stuff that is deemed right-wing. I retweet it not because I agree wholeheartedly with him, but because I want to see the other side aired. One thing that winds me up about politics and people is that both are wholly partisan. I hear dross peddled from all sides by folks who don’t question their political convictions, convictions often inherited from their parents. (No, of course I don’t mean you, you are much too intelligent to be taking things at face value just because they accord with your micro-cultural preprogramming).

I’m also saying this: The super-rich at the top, the plutocrats, also have a ludicrous sense of entitlement, an entitlement to massive bonuses they don’t deserve, to not pay a fair amount of tax, and to squander money and resources because they can. I’m sure many SF types will agree with that, so flame off? ‘Kay?

But then, I’m also going to say, it’s me and you too. I assume you’re in the squeezed middle. SF is, after all an overwhelmingly bourgeoise pursuit. Pardon me if I’m wrong.

I grew up expecting to live in a big fuck off house. To effortlessly get a good job, to be able to piss around and do what I damn well please provided it didn’t impact on anyone else (this last standpoint I clung to for a very long time, but even that kind of watered down moral relativism — leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone — doesn’t help societies work, so I’m re-evaluating). A lot of people like me spent a good part of the 90s and noughties  living high off the hog on fake money. Credit cards and profits from house sales buoyed me through endless drunken nights, hallelujah and pass the beer. All non-money enabled, in the main, by New Labour’s economic miracle, which was miraculous in that it conjured money out of thin air by the very bankers we purport to so loathe now. Don’t blame them, we were all at it.

In the “middle class” (whatever the hell that is these days), we get do much hand-wringing, without thought as to how we can pay for all the good, honest, well-meaning services and so forth we wish to provide our fellow men so we can get on with our privileged lifestyles guilt free. An argument you’ll hear in the right-wing press, but it goes much further than that. We might complain about our slipping standards of living, but compared to some poor dude working on a dump in Lagos stripping wire from junk, and the hundreds upon hundreds of millions of others like him the world over, we’re frankly still having a ball. As much as the hippies I know make me grind my teeth sometimes (I grew up among hippy refugees, fleeing the end of the sixties, I know a lot of neo-hippies now. I must be attracted to them), at least they’re trying to do something about their outmoded 20th century lifestyles with their pigs and ducks and druids in their orchards. Never mind that they proselytise this lifestyle in a somewhat patronising manner, and overlook the fact that you have to be loaded to be able to afford to do what they say we should all be doing. At least they try.

Somehow, I can’t see all we hand wringing pseudo-liberals (I am one too, from time to time) wanting to give up our multi-room houses, cars and regular meals so we can all equally enjoy the bounty of Mother Earth any more than bankers want to give up their obscene bonuses. We’re all hypocrites, just a little bit, if you think about it.

Which brings me on to my real point here: Illegal downloads. We’re so damn entitled, we think we should get stuff for free, all the time! Hooray! I have people who are related to me (I won’t say who) who insist on giving my son copied DVDs, despite the fact that I tell them not to. They maintain copying is not illegal in their country of residence (it most certainly is, but sadly it is so culturally acceptable it has destroyed the arts industries there. A further note – I am not saying all copyright laws are the same worldwide. But the differences in the territories I am talking about are not that great), and they can’t see who they’re hurting. In fact, they’re often congratulating themselves on how much money they have saved, and on the great quality of whatever movie they have ripped off.

The gentleman of this couple was most offended this Christmas. He had produced an illegal copy of a famous animated movie to watch, and he said “Good isn’t it? It did really well in its day, made $30million dollars!” To which I said, “Well, they won’t be getting any money for that copy, will they?” Cue shocked look, and mouthed upset.  I don’t see Mega-Entertainment inc being fleeced of a few pennies here, I see some poor ex-kid actor or struggling screenwriter living off his residuals who ain’t going to be having Christmas next year because of people like you. (Yeah, I know most of the money goes to Mega-Entertainment inc, but the people at the bottom won’t be getting what pittance is due them either).

I tell you who else they’re hurting, through their furtherance of the acceptability of stolen entertainment, they indirectly hurt their own family. They’re hurting me, they’re hurting my kid.

I’ve found several illegal copies of Reality 36 knocking about on the web. Every time I do, I tell my publishers and they shut it down. These copies are usually tailed by dutiful thanks from all the mendacious, thieving bastards who were too damn tight to prise open their wallet to pay the £2.00 it costs to get it legitimately. On one forum, I found a lady thanking the person who had provided the copy to copy, saying “the epubs I use are usually my own, but…” What?! That’s not your book, that’s my book. It’s not yours to give away. You didn’t write it.

Another note – I don’t expect to make my living from this book, nor I am not out to get rich. It stands on its merit on lack thereof alone. What I do expect is to be paid for goods I provide.

Am I being precious? Someone’s getting rich, aren’t they?

I’ve spent twenty years trying to get published. I’ve had dozens of rejections. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words. I’ve had my work demolished over and again, and I kept doggedly coming back for more. Why? Because one day I wanted to get a book published. Because I wanted to be writer. Writing of any kind, unless you are lucky or really good, or both  doesn’t pay well.  I am hugely in debt. I live in a small terrace house, I don’t have an office. I work in a gap on the landing between the bannisters and my bedroom wall. I spend hours writing this blog to publicise my work and provide a point of contact for those lovely folks who do pay to read my stories. Seeing as my old job went when Death Ray closed, what I earn from writing fiction is more important than ever.

I get 8% of every sale price of each book. So, each time someone downloads it illegally, I lose 16 new pence, give or take, at the current discounted price for the e-version  (really! You can get it in the Angry Robot sale for two quid! Go on, buy it). You might say, so what’s the big deal? It’s only 16 pence (give or take, remember). But I say, every 16 pence I lose is a 16 pence more I have to earn twice, effectively, as I tread the slow road to paying off my (small) advance.

More importantly, every illegal download goes uncounted by publishers who use sales figures to determine if they commission more books from an author. At the early stages of a writer’s career, like now for me, every tick in the box is crucial, one more penstroke in the flimsy wall of ink between me and a job behind a till at a supermarket.

You’re not entitled to my work for free, just like you’re not entitled to unemployment payments while you are working a job, and I’m not entitled to make you carry my bags around and give me pedicures for nothing. I assume that the people who do look for free copies are intelligent. I also pray then that they are moral. Here’s a message for you: You are literally taking food out of my kid’s mouth. Literally. He’s three. I might be an angry fucker worthy of your contempt, but he’s an innocent casualty in your quest for free shit. (Okay, I admit, I’m overegging it there. Sorry. He never goes hungry).

And you do yourself a disservice. A lot of people who download Reality 36 for nothing might love the book. They might well want to see more Richards & Klein adventures. But if  enough people pinch it, there won’t be any more. Not because I’m sulking, but because I’ll be processing your shopping at the supermarket, if I’m lucky enough to find a job.

Or I’ll be chasing you out of the door as bacon slides out from under your coat and skids all over the floor. Downloading stuff is exactly the same thing as shoplifting. Exactly the same thing.

I paraphrase a quote I read the other week, I can’t find the original, but it went something like this:

“A society that is unwilling to pay for art will have to learn to live without it.”

For art also read Star Trek, and novels about cyborg detectives.

It’s pennies over £2.00. For God’s sake, don’t be a twat.

At the very close of 2007,  ex-Games Workshoppers Gav Thorpe, Matt Keefe established a short story group called The Quota. Our goal was to write a short story a month in order to improve our writing. We didn’t manage it, but it was a very useful exercise. I wrote about eight stories specifically for the group before it fizzled out early in 2009.

The idea with The Quota was to incentivise ourselves to write fiction, and to have searingly honest criticism on it Personally, I found the experience enormously helpful. To have a collection of like-minded folk, all of whom had some experience with writing, but who nevertheless wrote very differently, giving feedback boosted both my abilities and my confidence.

The single most important characteristic of a would-be writer who is successful in ditching the “would-be” part of their title is taking criticism. My mantra when learning anything is “Seek out people who know, ask them how to do it, listen, and then do what they say“. I italicise this last part as I think a lot of people get the first three steps right, but disregard the precious advice they sought because it does not fit with their own opinions. WTF? You ask an expert, because they are an expert, and you are not. Obviously, you can add in your own experience and opinion to what they say, but their experience invariably trumps your own. It can be demoralising, and learning when to take advice to heart and not is a difficult, subtle act, but you first have to let it into your head. Listen! And obey. This applies even when it feels like a professional is telling you your wife is ugly and is murdering your babies.

Scratch that, it applies doubly when people are murdering your babies. If they tell you those word-kiddies won’t amount to anything, then man, they won’t.

Some people don’t listen. Some get huffy and upset (I think some pros are deliberately harsh, to see if you can take it. Those that can are easier to work with than Captain Precious-Pants). Misplaced self-belief is the main culprit. Last year I sat on a panel at a convention where the topic was the new digital era, and how it was going to revolutionise publishing. The panel’s consensus was that it undoubtedly is, but not in an” overthrow the state and behead the monarchy, vive la revolution!” type way. This did not go down well with the audience, who seemed impatient for the ancien regime of paper to fall. I got an impression of impatience and disenchantment with the traditional gatekeepers – agents, publishers et al. I suspect that was a room full of people who didn’t think “My book might not be good enough”, but “They can’t see my genius, and digital offers me a way around these elitist know-nothings.”

I had a few angry letters on the same theme, back in my full-time journalising days.

It’s not just writing.  I see it especially in dog training too. Both bad dog-training and self-publishing can result in unwanted piles of shit, although I suppose a badly written book isn’t going to bite anyone’s face off.

The maulings you can get from agents and publishers are worth it, because if they care enough to maul you, they see some promise. If they think your stuff is awful, they’ll not bother. If this happens to you, then go away and write something else. (I speak from experience, you know, I’m not casting paper planes of wisdom from an ivory tower here).

Although not made up of pros, the great benefit of a writing group is that you can get feedback quickly. Because, let’s face it, when it comes to unsolicited submissions the publishing engine operates at three settings: dead stop, glacial, and slightly quicker than paint drying.  It can be blood-boiling to hear your mates tell you your story is a bag of bloodied monkey balls, but at least they’ll tell you this week, not when the Age of Aquarius grinds to a close.

A writing group offers a good halfway point too. They’re people you know and trust. They may not be the bloody-toothed publishers you want to deal with eventually, but they’re also not your family. The feedback you get from your mum and dad or baby sister is worth nothing, really. They love you, hey, they told you the cack-handed daubs you made at primary school were great art. You need someone with a little more objectivity, really, don’t you? Eh? Good.

I subsequently sold a few of the stories I wrote for the group. Some of them became parts of other works. I also trialled bits of novels there, so it honestly was all really useful and helpful. So it’s great that we’ve reopened The Quota, (imaginatively titled “The New Quota”! Are we not wordsmiths?).  It’s a secret group for now, although we may open it to the eyes of the public at some point. Anyway, the great thing about now, as opposed to then, is the progression of tech. We used to have The Quota on Facebook, but we’ve got our new group set up on WordPress, like this blog. A blog site gives you a ton of capability, everything’s in one place, there are fewer emails whizzing around, you can stream the content into categories, there’s space for stories and comments… Need I go on? Top stuff.

Give it a try. Set up your own paddling pool of literary endeavour and build up your wordchops, before you throw your paper babies into the ocean and see which can outswim the sharks.

But above all else, when you do make it to the quayside, if those sharks tell you your efforts taste like sheep doo-doo, listen to them, okay?

2011 in review

Posted: January 3, 2012 in Random wifflings

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Hi there folks. Short post today, in the latest Morpheus Tales Supplement, Reality 36 gets a glowing review. They even call me a visionary! I don’t think that’s ever happened before. It should have, dammit.  When 800-foot high statues topped by  my beaming face adorn golden palace-churches the world over, this moment will be remembered with solemn respect.

Sorry. A touch of 2012 megalomania there. I will flagellate myself into a humbler state of mind while you download the magazine for free from here. (The review of Reality 36 is  in issue #15, which is the one at the top).