If you’re just tuning in, my self-published play was already successful but I decided to sign with a traditional publisher even though it meant a pay cut. There are three reasons why.
#1 was: I wanted someone else to be the bad guy.
For all the advantages of self-published, this, to me, was one of the biggest disadvantages.
I love being the artist. I love getting emails from actors who’d been in my play, directors who had a ball producing it, and fans who quote my own lines back to me. I love having how the show gave me this connection with people I’d never met in person and that it was able to bring joy to people across the world. Knowing my words had that power, was huge. That was why I offered such big discounts on scripts and royalties if people contacted me: I just really wanted people to perform it. It sounds very hippy and artiste from the person regular readers know as the business woman called the Whine Seller, but it’s the truth. I just loved knowing that people out there were enjoying what I had written.
But, obviously, I couldn’t just totally give it away. I had to protect my copyright if for no other reason than to set a precedent for my future work. In other words, because I was my own publisher, I spent far more time than I would have liked having to be the bad guy.
I had to be the one who’d contact the file sharing site that had a bootleg PDF of the book to try to get them to remove it. I had to be the one to chase up the school who was performing the show without getting permission. I had to fight with groups that wanted to photocopy the book or otherwise put me in a bad position. In short, it soured what I loved about being the author because I also had to be the publisher.
I think the biggest reason I decided to go with a traditional publisher boiled down to this: from this point on, they would be the bad guy for me. They’ll be the ones telling people to cease and desist and I get to go back to being the artist. It’s awful but I’m actually looking forward to having someone to blame when a group wants to do something ridiculous in violation of my copyright. It’s no longer “the mean playwright won’t let us do this” it’s “well, it’s out of her hands.”
I think this is something about publishing no one really wants to talk about. The ugly side. How dare you expect people to pay for your work? Isn’t it enough that I’ve read it? While I understand that a play is a different animal than a book, we live in a world that really wants most things to be open source and there something a bit taboo in today’s culture about a creative type admitting they want to profit from their work. It’s the whole “content wants to be free” thing which is all well and good until you’re the person who worked your butt off on that content in the first place.
It was always amazing how fast turned things ugly when situations like this happened, everyone got immediately up on their high horse about, “Well, art should be free… Isn’t the important thing for the actors to enjoy the show?” like I was some greedy psycho who dared to make them pay when we should all be putting flowers in our hair and dancing in a circle. I’m not going to lie to you, groups that contacted me before the show to get permission got a much lower rate on both scripts and royalties then schools I had to badger into paying. I stress to you, I was charging a much lower rate than any publisher out there and giving discounts left and right. The most common response to my rate quotes was, “Wow! That’s all?”
In a perverse way, I realize it was a compliment. After all, if people didn’t really want what I had written, if there hadn’t been such an interest in it, people wouldn’t have been trying to get it without paying for it. I totally get that. But that doesn’t change the fact that I have to protect my copyright on my end.
I know a lot of self-published authors give copies of their book away for free and I did that as well with paper copies. For 2 years, I had a deal going where any theatre group or school that wanted a free copy just needed to contact me and I’d send them one. Obviously I paid for the printing of the scripts and the shipping costs but I felt like it paid off in goodwill (you could read the whole script for no risk or money) and because many of those groups later performed the show and bought scripts for the whole cast. I couldn’t give out PDF copies because they ended up everywhere (though what I think is somewhat funny is that my new publisher will let people read the whole thing for free online which I think is fantastic as long as I’m not the person who has to chase that up) but I know well the value of giving out free copies. But even if you do give out either printed or electronic free copies of your work as a marketing stunt, that doesn’t mean you don’t want to be paid for your content ever.
The last time I talked about this, I got a lot of wide eyes comments from people like, “You’re a capitalist jerk. If people pirated my work I’d be honored they care!” but I think for every person like that there are others who are suffering in silence because it really is so taboo to talk about wanting to profit from creative work. Artists are supposed to want to create for the love of art and butterflies and magic in the air, right? Only sell-outs are looking to profit.
Anyway, (see how this rant has been festering inside me!) while I’m not naive enough to believe all my copyright woes will disappear, having dealt with it for many years now, I’m really looking forward to being able to forward the stuff I catch to “The Man” who will follow up on it on my behalf so that I can go back to being the friendly author.
I know this is a hot button issues with authors so let me ask this, what would you do if you found out someone had pirated your work or was violating your copyright in some way? Have you been in this situation personally? How did you handle it?