Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Piracy: Basically, You're Stealing My Kids' Lunch Money

I know, I know, when you download that book illegally it doesn’t feel like it matters. It doesn’t feel like it’s hurting anyone. Authors are rich, right? No one will notice that one little book.

But here’s the thing, *most* authors are not rich. I couldn’t survive on the money I make from writing—I’m lucky to have a spouse who brings in the income that helps us scrape by. My income? Well, it can hardly be called that currently. With no book deals in my immediate future and my advances from previous ones paid…this year I will be earning the least amount since I sold my first book in 2011. In fact, I am honestly considering not writing anymore because I cannot afford to.

So today I’m just hoping to put piracy into a little perspective. I’m sure people who steal books won’t care and I’ll still get flamed, but hey, I’m an author. I care about this. Piracy literally threatens my ability to feed my kids.

Here’s the hard numbers:

On my traditionally published US paperbacks, I make about .69 cents per sale. Yes, not even a dollar of that $9.99 price point goes to me.

On the traditionally published US ebooks, I make 25% of list, which is anywhere from $0.49-$2.00 depending on sales and how they choose to price the book.

On my indie books, it’s much more…but I sell drastically less. So we’re going to say it all evens out.
My kids’ lunch costs $1.75 each day.

I currently have TWO kids in school, so that’s $3.50 a day currently. When my last joins his siblings in school it’ll be up to $5.25 a day.

That might not sound like a lot to many people, but it is a lot to us. Some people might even say “Oh, well if you made lunch it’d be cheaper”…but I’ve priced that out and it’s about the same. Trust me, I try to save a buck when I can.

Let me throw more numbers at you. If I paid for this school lunch for all twelve grades, what would be the cost? Well, school here is about 180 days, so accounting for absences let’s say 165 days a year I’m forking out $5.25 for my three kids to eat lunch at school (and it’ll probably be more when they hit Jr. High and up and want to buy the fancier stuff).

165 x 3 kids = 495 school lunches a year

495 x $1.75 = $866.25 a year for school lunch

$866.25 x 12 years = $10, 395 just to feed my kids one meal a day

Add in school clothes and supplies, extracurricular expenses, doctor visits, college funds (which I can’t even begin to create)…supporting a family is hard. You think authors are rich? Honestly moment—I did not make 25% of that $10,395 sum last year.

Most days, I don’t even sell a book. If I had to feed my kids on what I sold each day…they would starve. Or one would get a meal if they were lucky. So if we’re cool with piracy because it doesn’t impact authors, please just remember that most days, I don’t make enough money on my writing to even buy my kids school lunch. When you pirate my book, maybe imagine that you are taking a meal from my kids. You’re kinda like that punk on the playground going around stealing kids’ lunch money because you’re bigger and you can and you don’t care. Maybe you even get away with it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt people.


  1. Piracy is unfortunate, but nothing anyone says is going to change the mindset of the folks who get their books this way. Not even if they think they're ripping off your kids' lunch money. I am a fellow FT author myself and if finances are tight there are only two options: write more, better, faster, or supplement your income in another way. We've all been at that crossroads at one point in time or another. I laugh at the perception that authors are all rich. Where that ever came from is beyond me, but the fact of the matter is, if pirates are stealing your work, they wouldn't have paid for it anyway. Maybe they'll tell a paying friend how much they enjoyed your story. Maybe they'll review it somewhere. Maybe nothing will happen, but then that wasn't lunch money to begin with. I hate to think how much of my work is given away for promotions (NetGalley reviews, etc). This is a tough business, Natalie, and we're not the only ones whose work is being stolen. You can send out DMCA take down notices to shut down the listings on the sites your books are listed on. Most of the time the admins comply. It's a lot like playing whack-a-mole though. Good luck.

  2. I didn't know you could download a book illegally; I always buy books (legally), either brand new or used, or borrow them from the library. On the other hand, I'm a broke grad student and can't afford to buy books very often. I can definitely understand why you don't want anyone to pirate your work, though, because that's your work and you deserve to be paid for it.
    One thing that's helped me figure out ways to save money is by reading articles and essays by personal finance bloggers, like Donna Freedman (she writes a blog called Surviving and Thriving and also several other articles about living frugally).

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  4. This. People don't get it until you put it in everyday terms for them. I'm trying to start a publishing company with a former professor of mine and one of the main reasons is to bring more money to the authors trying to put their work out there. Publishing is such a hard business, and not just to break into. I get wanting to stop because, you know, what's the point? But I sincerely hope you keep writing and trying, and as long as you do, I will be on the sidelines championing you, your story, and your works. <3

  5. Yeah, people just don't get it. Mostly. But there may be a few who hear from people like you and rethink their pirating ways, or never start stealing books to begin with. So it's good to speak up!

    And don't stop writing. Get another job if you must. But don't stop writing!

  6. I'm so disgusted that people would steal books, but I guess piracy is a huge things. I don't even know of any dvd stores in my town anymore because movie-piracy is huge. This really puts it in perspective though. I would definitely cry if I never got to read a new book from you, but I totally understand this struggle.

  7. I like to remind people that there's a legal way to get free books: the library. They have ebooks now, too! And library borrows do help authors, because libraries buy books.

  8. Considering how cheap most eBooks are these days, it's a shame people steal them. I mean really, you can't fork out three bucks for a book?
    My books show up on pirate sites often and my publisher does what they can to take them down. But it's like fighting a hydra.

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  9. I can't wait for someone to spout off about how digital piracy doesn't hurt anyone just so I can link them to this post.

  10. Great post Natalie! Way to put it into perspective. And I agree with the other commenters out here. If you want to read a book, fork out the money. If you disagree with the ebook price then don't buy it and wait to get it at the library or purchase it at a later date on discount (sometimes I just gape at the new ebooks I'm seeing that are going for 9.99 and makes me want to cry!).

  11. Amazing post, that makes it so clear and concise why pirating is nasty. Hopefully this makes a few people change their minds.