Posted in Book publishers, Writing books

What writers need to know about literary piracy and copyright infringement in the digital age

pirateI was surfing the net the other day and happened upon one of my books – I mean that in the truest sense.  I actually happened upon one of my books – in its entirety, cover scan included, every page in a PDF file posted for all to access.  I immediately copied the URL and emailed my publisher in London.  The rights editor got back to me very quickly indicating that this “piracy” would be uploaded to their “infringement portal” and that a take-down notice would be sent immediately.

Unbeknownst to me, my publisher (and presumably others) has this portal that identifies sites like this that pirate copyrighted material, and they are proliferating as we speak.  This one was a new one to them, not already identified (BTW it was – if you have a book out there, you might want to check it).   So I started to do a little research about the current state of online piracy.

Remember when the music industry clamped down and put Napster out of business?  It seems that some of the same activities have been happening in the literary world, but these sites continue to proliferate.  Here are the things that I learned from doing a bit of research.

  1. Your book may well be pirated.
  2. Even if your book is available only in hard copy, it may still be pirated. Literary pirates can procure book-scanning software easily. The book that I stumbled on is available also as an eBook, but this looked like a scan of the hard copy.
  3. There has been an exponential growth in online literary piracy since 2009.
  4. Although there is now a well-established anti-literary-piracy movement on the part of publishers, as fast as one site is shut down, another one pops up.
  5. Piracy sites may have no ethical concerns about ‘stealing’ your book, but evidently they are very concerned about being sued. This means that when approached to cease and desist, they usually do, taking down the identified book.
  6. If you are published by a traditional publisher, they will have an on-going anti-piracy effort (something you should probably ask them about – I didn’t), although some new sites get by as in the case where I identified a previously unknown one for my publisher.
  7. If you are self-published, you can search for your book regularly or better yet set up an on-going Google search for it. If it pops up on a pirate site, you can prepare and send your own take-down letter by identifying the site’s “copyright officer.”

It always saddens me that people think there is something different about stealing intellectual property – music, writing, choreography – than in stealing your cell phone, your car, your wallet.  But there is no difference.  I like to protect my work, and I hope you think enough of your own work to protect it too.

Posted in Publishing, Self-Publishing

The confusing world of 21st century publishing jargon: A glossary for writers

publishing word cloud

“So what are you writing now?”

This is a question I often hear from friends, relatives and colleagues alike.  They know that I’ve written a dozen or so books – among other things – but I don’t really think they get me as a writer.  I’m a hybrid writer.  Or at least that’s the word I used to use.  Maybe I’m just a promiscuous writer.  You see, I write both fiction and non-fiction, and I publish mostly through traditional publishers (which are…?) and independently (whatever does that mean…?).

So, what am I writing right now?  I have a fiction (sort of lifestyle satire again, but then what does that mean?) piece on the go, but the book I’m supposed to be writing is on writing and publishing in the twenty-first century using both research and my experiences.  This latter piece has me thinking about definitions of the confusing array of terms in the new world of publishing.  Since I’m a strong believer that we need a common understanding of terminology before we can discuss any issue, I thought I’d develop a glossary of terms – and I thought I’d share it with you as a work-in-progress.

So, herewith (great word, isn’t it?) I offer you the working definitions of publishing-related terms that I’ll be using in my upcoming book.



An author is someone who has published a book, article, paper, poem, report etc. The act of publication is what differentiates between someone who is engaged in the act of writing and an actual author.  Method of publication does not matter.


Traditional Publisher

A so-called traditional book publisher is an organization that takes the financial responsibility for all aspects of publication including acquisition, editing, publishing, distributing and promoting. Consequently, this publisher garners a hugely larger percentage of the book receipts than does the author of said piece.  Traditional publishers often make their publishing decisions from an array of solicited and unsolicited manuscripts based on their prediction about marketability.  Judging from the number of traditionally acquired flops, they are not very good at making these decisions (You probably know that J. K. Rowling’s original Harry Potter manuscript was rejected at least a dozen times.  See “30 famous authors whose works were rejected (repeatedly, and sometimes rudely by publishers”).


Trade Publisher

A trade publisher is, in contrast to a scholarly press, for example, a traditional publisher that produces books for what is referred to as a ‘trade audience.’  A trade audience is you and me in our everyday lives.  A trade publisher might specialize in fiction of a certain type or non-fiction – but only non-fiction that has a wide appeal.


Literary Publisher

This is a term that I struggle with.  A self-proclaimed literary publisher will be able to tell you, nose in the air, precisely what they do.  However, looking in from the outside, it is not quite so clear.  So, for my purposes, I am defining a literary publisher as a traditional publisher, usually of the independent variety (see below) who refuses to wear the title of trade publisher, believing that his or her works are a cut above in artistic or literary merit.


Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishing is when an author pays an organization a large sum of money up front for the following services:  editing (sometimes), formatting (usually), cover design (if you’re lucky), printing and binding (always), distribution (only if you count filling the author’s personal orders) and marketing (not on your life).  Of course, it is self-publishing.  The term may have been used as early as the 1940’s, but self-proclaimed Vanity Publishing expert Jonathan Clifford seems to think he coined it in 1959.[1] The term is never used in a positive way, just as the word itself would suggest.  As I discussed in a previous post where I admitted to vanity publishing one of my earliest books, “Presumably it was vain for an author to pay to have his or her book published.  I’ve never been sure why it isn’t ‘vanity recording’ when a musician pays to have a CD recorded and subsequently distributed…”  The term is often used when making snide remarks about the inferiority of self-published work.  Note: Vanity Publishers always publish(ed) works under their own imprint.



Self-publishing differentiates itself from vanity publishing in that the term vanity has been dropped.  That’s really all there is to it.  Make no mistake about it: self-publishing is vanity publishing without the moniker.  The twenty-first century has provided self-publishers with a digital world wherein the possibilities are almost endless.  Self-published books can be as bad as most publishing snobs always thought vanity-published books to be, or, equally, may be as good as any book out there.  Self- publishing is differentiated from traditional publishing in that the author takes complete financial responsibility for the editing, publishing, distribution and marketing aspects of authorship and reaps the lion’s share of the benefits.  It need not have the stench of “vanity” about it. But it might. Note: Self-publishing need not be done under the imprint of another entity such as a publisher.


Subsidy Publishing

Subsidy publishing is characterized by a financial subsidy that is provided to an author to partially cover the costs of publishing.  The subsequent publishing is usually done through a traditional publisher.  Some people suggest that subsidy publishing is the same as vanity or self-publishing.  However, that ignores the situations where subsidies are offered by non-profit or governmental organization to support the publication of the work of academics in a scholarly publishing world where there is no money to be made, but costs to be covered.  Thus, I think it needs its own category.


Independent Publisher

This is a tricky one because there is a difference between being an independent publisher and the act of publishing independently (see below).  For my purposes, an independent publisher is one that uses a traditional publishing model of acquiring work from an author and shouldering the burden of the financial responsibilities while at the same time maintaining independence from the big, corporate publishing houses.


Supported Self-Publishing

Supported self-publishing is a business model where a publisher provides services to a self-publishing author at a cost.  Packages are offered and services can be purchased a la carte depending on the size of the company.  There are large, corporate ones who try to sell a variety of expensive services (they make their money from selling services to authors, rather than on selling books.  In fact, this business model does not even require them to sell books – their profit streams accrue from selling unsuspecting authors services, that after the editing is paid for, they don’t actually need).  A whole cottage industry of services to self-publishing authors has spring up – for better or for worse.


Publishing Independently (also known as Self-Publishing)

When an author decides to forego the submission-rejection-submission-rejection merry-go-round of the traditional publishing world, he or she steps into the process of publishing independently.  The author takes full financial responsibility and can choose from a variety of types and sizes of self-publishing and supported self-publishing platforms.  The possibilities are endless: from companies who will simply print your book n demand (e.g. Lulu or Createspace), or distribute it electronically (e.g. Smashwords), offering only if you want it other services, to large behemoths like iUniverse who sell a wide variety of expensive packages and individual services and will continue to market to you even after you’ve said ‘no’ if you publish with them.


Indie Author

This is a widely used term among ‘indie authors’ themselves and for my purposes refers to anyone who chooses to publish without benefit of a traditional publisher.  It is neither a positive term, nor is it a negative term – it is simply a term.  It does not refer to an author who publishes through an independent publisher as I have defined it.



E-publishing is digital electronic publishing where both the process and the product are digital.  Traditional publishers, independent traditional publishers, self-publishers etc. can all utilize the concept of publishing for electronic distribution.  When e-publishing first began, it was often a route that was taken after a book was published in hard copy.  Today, more and more books (and journals and magazines etc.) are available only electronically.


Cooperative Publishing

Cooperative publishing is a publishing process independent of the traditional model where authors form a cooperative in which each one contributes financially and in writing-editing capacities to publishing works by each member of the cooperative.  As I said in a previous post on cooperative publishing:

“Some people who have written about cooperative publishing consider it to be a publishing model that represents the middle ground between traditional and print-on-demand publishing.  Although this might represent cooperation between an author (who pays) and a “publisher” who is contracted by the author, it still says self-publishing to me.  The model of cooperative publishing I’m suggesting here is based on a business co-op model where, as the CCA says, the business (in this case the publisher) is owned by the members who use its services.  In the case of a publishing co-op that I’m suggesting is worth exploring, the owners both use the services and are the “employees.”

In terms of financial compensation, the members of the co-op all take the same percentage of the royalties from any of the publications.


 Hybrid Publishing

I think that it’s safe to say that there is much confusion between the terms hybrid publishing and hybrid author.  Unless we can make a clear differentiation, then we can’t communicate about it as I mentioned at the outset of this glossary.  So, I’m going to go with a clear demarcation between the two.  Hybrid publishing is a situation wherein a publisher has a model that has aspects of both self-publishing and traditional publishing where everyone (from editors to marketers) gets a percentage of the royalties but that the author is not asked to pay for publishing costs.  David Vinjuarmi, who often writes about publishing, did a piece in Forbes on hybrid publishing that I think covers many of the bases.  For his piece see:  “How Hybrid Publishers Innovate To Succeed.


 Hybrid Author

A hybrid author is one who has published books and/or other pieces through both the traditional publishing model and via a self-publishing route.


That’s me.  I’m a hybrid author.  However, I’m also a promiscuous one: an author who publishes in a number of genres.

Let me know if you think the glossary is helpful – and if you’d like to see other concepts added. P.


[1] Neil Nixon.  2011.  How to get a break as a writer: Making money from words and ideas.  Troubador Publishing (U.K.) .  p. 311.  See also the archived web site Vanity Publishing

Posted in Book publishers

Do publishers really care about a writer’s life on Twitter?

I’ve been doing a bit of research lately on book marketing.  This will come as no surprise to my blog readers who have been with me through various book launches.  At every such juncture, I dig out my research skills to see if there is any actual hard evidence on what really works to sell books.  Lately j0316779there’s been an inordinate amount of material on the need for a (huge) social media presence.  Indeed, it seems to be the collective wisdom that publishers won’t touch you with a ten-foot pole if you don’t have thousands of Twitter followers, huge numbers of Facebook ‘friends’ or ‘likes,’ and more than a foot in the door of Google+.  And it’s not only the traditional route to publication that seems to beg for this: there are more blog posts for indie authors on this topic than perhaps any other single current issue.  But now, as it was the last time I tried to find real numbers, there doesn’t seem to be any data.  I need data, people!

This search for evidence comes at the juncture of three events in my life: the release of my most recent business-related book Beyond Persuasion by the University of Toronto Press, my search for a new agent, and my foray into fiction.  Add that to a media story I read last week (tweeted by a fellow academic) about the usefulness (or more specifically the uselessness) of current Twitter metrics, and I’m seriously doubting the collective wisdom.

Since publishers don’t seem to have the data, let’s start with an industry that has done their homework here.  The story tweeted by my colleague focuses on a study of the use of social media by charities.  Facebook users give their ‘likes’ — but not their dollars — to charities: study reports gives me some evidence.

A PhD student at the University of British Columbia studied the correlation between someone ‘liking’ a charity and actually being moved to volunteer or donate.  What he found might come as something of a surprise to the more naïve among us.  The more likely someone is to click like, the less likely that person is to actually give money.  The researchers characterize these people as slactvitists – a new breed of individual who likes the feeling of publicly supporting a good cause but then feels no need to actually do something about it.  So, if this is the case in the non-profit industry, can we not extrapolate to the book buying industry to theorize that the more likely someone is to follow you on Twitter, the less likely that person is to buy your book?  It’s an interesting argument.

Okay, let’s take this argument a step further.  Wait a minute, you say, even if that’s true (and maybe the book’s not for them), if they are active tweeps, then at the very least they’re more likely to tweet it.  This is actually unlikely if they follow more than a few hundred people (studies do show that if you follow numerous peeps on Twitter, you cannot possibly follow their tweets with any degree of regularity), but for the sake of argument, let’s say they do tweet it, and then someone else re-tweets it and on and on.  If our original premise is correct, none of this matters.  Your book will be tweeted all over cyberspace and still not a single person might buy your book.  Indeed, many indie authors would be millionaires (or at least making a luxurious, regular wage) if this were true.  So, we’re back where we started.

It seems to me that the notion of a platform and a social media platform are two different but related concepts that need differentiation.

Just as I’ve always thought, a non-fiction author still needs a platform – and that doesn’t necessarily mean thousands of Twitter followers.  That means the credentials and expertise to actually write the book.  You can rest assured that neither the UTP editors nor the reviewers cared a bit about my online presence for the new book mentioned above.  What they did care about was my background, education and experiential credentials, and my ability to write authentically, clearly and correctly.

Those thousands of Twitter followers might also be impressive, but they are at the lower end of what’s needed at least initially.  According to one agent, this is the kind of platform you need for non-fiction and for fiction, well, it is just as I suspected, unnecessary.[1]   Interestingly, though, she does indicate that when she looks at a potential fiction client’s tweets, she’s looking for the unique voice.  She further considers blogging and what it might mean if you have a blog that is outdated and never used.

Literary agent Carly Watters says, “Twitter is a place for authors–who live a very solitary existence–to engage with other writers going through the same experience, follow industry veterans, follow writers they admire, and learn about how the book business works.”[2]

In her very good post A Definition of Author Platform, blogger Jane Friedman give us this useful advice: “Your platform should be as much of a creative exercise and project as the work you produce. While platform gives you power to market effectively, it’s not something you develop by posting “Follow me!” on Twitter or “Like me!” on Facebook a few times a week.”

So what might your social media presence be good for?

  • Finding beta readers far afield.
  • Doing background research and getting tips.
  • Finding support from like-minded, unknown writers.

And as for this last bullet, I’m reminded of the phenomenon of co-dependency – next blog post.