golen pens and ink on notebook

Pirates Avast!

Karin Kallmaker Business of Books

Female figure angry

Dear Pirates:

Alas, I wish this were tongue-in-cheek, with a hearty har-har and Keira Knightly in breeches.

In all likelihood, we haven’t met, or maybe we have at a conference or reading. I write books and if you’re reading this, you probably like them. I also have two kids, a mortgage I help pay, a 10-year old sedan, a brand new water heater and a 9-year old van making funny noises if I brake too hard.

In other words, in a lot of ways, my life is just like yours. The lives of my many colleagues in lesbian fiction are much like yours too. We have partners who are ill, parents with Alzheimer’s, cars that don’t start without an incantation to Gaia and ailing computers we desperately wish we could afford to upgrade. Many of us can’t afford the latest ereader that you may already have, are raising kids we hope to educate, and working at day jobs that are just as threatened by this economy as yours may be.

Not enough time, money and too much to do and pay for. So this open letter is to book pirates. Given the hurrahs shouted out on pirate sites when my latest book was uploaded, you’re eager to read my book. But you really don’t want to pay me for it. What’s more, most of you are happy to let other people read it for free too, because you spread the file even further, encouraging more people to read it and not pay for it.

I’m not talking about using libraries or swapping books with friends. I’m talking about making a copy of lesbian fiction books on sites where hundreds of people can read it for free. I know there are lots of reasons each person decides that it’s okay to upload or download ebooks. (See Mythes of Ye Old Piracy). Are you thinking it’s just you and a few people you know? Only your book club? It’s not–there are dozens of “just me and a few people I know” groups, plus the pirate-site users, all combining together to make sure we sell fewer books.

Maybe you feel like you’re just a pebble, but you’re part of an avalanche. From the bottom of the mountain looking up, it’s not pretty.

If any of us were Nora Roberts or James Patterson we perhaps wouldn’t notice that you’re reading for free. But we’re not, so we do. Our sales potential is limited because we expressly chose to write about our lives–your life–and create entertainment that reflects who we are. When one of us chooses to write something even more refined in genre, like lesbian pirate stories and lesbian fantasy with swords and sorcery, our sales are even lower. How are we supposed to pay for new tires or air fare to a conference if a growing number of readers never pay for their books? How do we convince our families to give up nights and weekends with us when the only thing that we get in return is thanks we can’t take to the bank?

Most lesbian fiction writers make enough from their books to keep themselves in computer upgrades and conferences…and not a lot else. In a single day, the lost sales–people who used to pay for their books and now get them for free–could be a tank of gas to get to a reading. It adds up. You can’t afford a pay cut either, can you?

Here’s the bottom line, and I won’t waste any more of your time: 

If you’re not willing to pay for books, you’re going to get a different kind of books.

I know that some of you think that in sharing my books you’re spreading the word, and maybe a few people will become paying fans. But from my side of the desk, every time you teach someone else how to get my books for free it feels like something someone who hated my books would do, not someone who loved them.

It makes me wish I could ask you, “What did I ever do to you?” Because the biggest difference between us is that you can and are giving me a pay cut, and I can’t do the same to you.

Please reconsider… Support lesbian writers by paying for what you read. We’re the only ones writing for you, about you.

Copyrighted material.