Last year, Liturgy of the Ordinary was a Christian bestseller. It sold 15,000 counterfeited copies, representing almost half of the total copies sold. Most of those readers were probably not aware that they were dealing with a counterfeit book- they were just looking for the lowest price. In the process, they ended up hurting an author whose work they loved.
Now wait, you might be saying- that author still sold thousands of copies. Was she really that hurt? Well- considering that she spent three years of her life writing it, and probably made $2 or less per book– you do the math. In the article, the author says that she really could have used the money. That doesn’t sound like it “didn’t hurt”. In the world of publishing, books not meeting sales expectations can result in the other books in the series not being published. After reading all the evidence, I’m astonished by how many times I might have unknowingly contributed to hurting authors I care about.
In Christian science fiction and fantasy, budgets are even more lean. Most authors I know (and I know quite a few) work a regular job during the day. If one of their books sells even 1,000 copies, many would consider that a cause for wild celebration. When you’re relaxing with your favorite TV program, they’re writing. They’re up early, writing before they need to cook breakfast for their families. Some are teachers, using their summers to write instead of taking a summer job. Many dream of the day they can retire from their “real” jobs and be supported by their writing. For most, that day won’t come.
you, the reader, are the person who can make or break that dream for them. Authors are like gardens. They need to be tended and watered.
You, the reader, are the person that can make or break that dream for them. Authors are like gardens. They need to be tended and watered. Yes, Christian authors should write for the joy of serving God, but there are lots of other responsibilities- to our families, churches and communities- that weigh on us. If you like an author, we need you to allow God to use you to encourage that author to keep writing. It isn’t just big authors that get hit by pirates and counterfeiters. I have heard plenty of horror stories from my author friends, and not one of them is rich (and yes, I am intentionally not sharing their stories because I don’t want to encourage piracy).
This isn’t a lecture that will go on and on about the many ways people pirate (selling or giving away stolen ebooks) and counterfeit (selling illegal copies of) books. Articles about that exist, and you can find them in places like The Guardian, The Atlantic, Vox, and The New York Times. I’m just going to distill them all for you into a simple, easy to use list.
- Never, ever use pirate sites. Any site that offers you a book for nothing is a pirate site. This isn’t just for the author’s sake- it’s for yours. Some ask for a credit card number to verify your identity- then fraudulently use that number instead. Some transmit viruses. You could even face legal action for illegally downloading copyrighted material. The only legitimate places to get books for free are your library, places that offer a sample novel or novella in exchange for signing up for the author’s email list (like Instafreebie), and sites that offer free advance copies with a request for a review. If you can’t afford to buy the book, request your local library to buy it for you, or ask for a Kindle Direct membership as a gift. You might be surprised how easy it is to get libraries to buy books. They are going to buy books anyway, after all- they might as well buy ones that people want to read. You can also find free fanfic on places like Wattpad.
- Never upload a review copy on a pirate site. You aren’t providing an opportunity for the author to get more reviews- you’re actively hurting their sales. The author has trusted you with the review copy because they are looking for a review from you. They would much rather have 10,000 sales than 10,000 reviews.
- If you know that a friend frequents book pirate sites, don’t lend your books to them. You don’t want your book to be the source of an uploaded pdf that contributes to the series not being finished.
- Buy E-books from reputable sources like Amazon, Kobo or Barnes & Noble. Even though they usually cost less for you, the author makes more from each ebook than they would from a physical copy. You won’t lose them, you don’t need to buy a new bookshelf, and Kindle books can even be loaned to friends (they return to you automatically when the loan time expires).
- When you are buying paperbacks on Amazon, look closely at your choices, and don’t just use the “Buy Now” button. Here’s a sample. See the row that says seller information? One of the sellers is listed as “Amazon”. This is most likely the author’s account. If you buy the one listing the seller as Amazon (not fulfilled by, that is different), you can be reasonably confident that your copy is legit. Now, all those other vendors may be just fine, too. If they are more expensive than the Amazon seller, they probably are just legal resellers (since they probably have to buy it from Amazon first and then sell it to you). If they are cheaper, especially a lot cheaper, that is a red flag that they might be a counterfeiter. It’s always possible, of course, that they could just be having a mega sale on unsold stock, but why take the chance? (Especially since it’s unlikely for print-on-demand operations to carry stock).
- If you do choose to buy from someone other than the author, check for signs of counterfeiting. These can include missing pages, blurred or creased covers, different paper or book size, and low quality binding. Other signs may include the ISBN on the rear cover not matching the ISBN on the inside, a different cover, or the layout on the pages being a little “off”, as though photocopied. Check especially closely if you buy a “used” book that is “Like New” – because it’s possible that it is a new counterfeit copy. I have purchased a lot of “Like New” books, and I’ll be checking them a lot better from now on.
- If you buy a book (or read one on Kindle Direct) that seems to have been counterfeited or plagiarized, let the author know through their web page contact form, and complain to Amazon. Amazon still makes money on counterfeited and plagiarized items, so asking that they refund your money gives them an incentive to do something about the problem.
- If you’re at an author event, consider buying paperback books from the author instead of buying them at the lowest price online. Since the author is the retailer, they make more money per book this way- that is, after they finish paying for the expensive table fee that allowed them to sell books there.
- If you buy hardback and paperback books from a brick and mortar store, it usually results in the establishment buying more. It’s even more helpful if you ask in-store for them to order it for you, because they might continue to carry the book if there is a demand.
- If a particular author’s message resonates with you, and you can do more for them than buy books, consider looking to see if they have a Patreon or Subscribe Star page.
Are there authors whose work you really love? Real love for an author isn’t downloading their book from a pirate site because you “just can’t wait” for the release date (this happened to an author friend of mine). Real love is doing your best to care for your authors and their families, and making sure that their writing survives the test of time. Real love is leaving them reviews after buying the book, signing up for their newsletter, attending their online launch parties, or signing up for their “launch team” to tell your friends about their latest release. Most people don’t have enough time to do all of that, but we can all do our part to make sure our favorite authors keep putting out the works we love.
Once tasked with mapping our world, H. Halverstadt now forges her own with the help of her rocket scientist husband. She has a degree in Geographic Information Systems, but her favorite way to use it is writing clean, far-future, multi world science fiction filled with adventure, mystery and intrigue. Her first flash fiction story, Toby’s Call, was recently published in Havok magazine, and she has a novel in the works. To keep updated on her writing, subscribe to the H. Halverstadt Books newsletter! (Scroll to the bottom)