Have you ever played Angry Birds? It is a game craze where angry cartoon birds attack evil green pigs who have stolen their eggs. There are level after level of pigs to destroy in all sorts of interesting scenarios such as space, Rio, and in different seasons. My kids introduced me to Angry Birds when I got my new smart phone. I have been addicted ever since and now demand that my 12-year-old not play any new levels on my phone. Mom gets those.
In reality, however, I have realized that as a writer, I can also be an angry bird. If you have ever had the opportunity to observe nature, birds do go a long way to protect their eggs. I remember as a child watching the barn swallows dive bomb my cat whenever they got to close to a nest. And if you have ever had the “privilege” of having a Canadian goose nest in your yard, you gladly give up ownership of your property for a few months.
As a writer, several things can make me angry. First and foremost, we now share the plight of the music industry where the general population feels that it is perfectly acceptable to steal our income by pirating digital copies of books that sometimes took us years to write.
Then, there is the disrespect for freelancers. You seriously want 150 articles by this Thursday and you only want to pay me $25? A few years ago, I could make decent money freelancing. It may not have been full-time work, but it was a good supplement. Now most freelancing offers are not worth my time to even consider. Considering that most freelance writers hold 4-year degrees, such offers do not even constitute minimum wage.
Another thing that some writers struggle with in traditional publishing is the perceived loss of control over their work. The editing process can sometimes be brutal. Not even the title is sacred. It can be difficult when a writer feels that they must give up their most cherished sections in order to make a book more marketable. This is the stage where many novice writers decide to dive bomb their agents, editors, and publishers and often give up their own chance of a successful writing life in the process. Many turn to self publishing where they maintain control, but let’s face it, most self-published books rarely sell many copies.
So what is a writer to do? Do we sit around being angry? Do we dive bomb every cartoon pig that comes our way? Do we give up and allow the world to steal our precious eggs from out of the nest?
There will always be predators out there who want to steal and devalue what we have, but we also have a lot of new venues for exposure. Getting our material out in the world has never been easier. While we can’t always prevent our eggs from being stolen, there are things that we can do to protect ourselves.
In a culture that believes it is entitled, it is impossible to completely prevent theft of our work, but we can learn some lessons from the music industry who has gone this road before us. I believe that the issue is perfectly illustrated in the article and comments of an article about limiting music piracy. The author advocated using digital watermarks and protective IP laws to counteract piracy. From the comments below the article, however, it is easy to see the backlash. One commenter states that they steal music because they will not pay $15 dollars for what they consider worth less than a dollar. They even connect the dollar value to the cost of materials for making the CD. They place absolutely no value on the artist’s contributions. Our first step should be in educating the public about what we do.
People can offer ridiculous prices because they know that someone is always desperate enough to accept it. That has to stop. As writers, we need to have more pride in what we do. No one else will value our skills if we do not value them ourselves. When we sell ourselves short, we sell our industry short.
The last area is difficult. Whether or not to compromise with your agent/editor/publisher comes down to a decision about your purpose for writing. If you are in it to make money, definitely listen to the experts in the publishing industry. After all, they don’t make money unless you do. If you are so strongly connected to your work that you don’t want to change a thing, I suggest you try self-publishing. The best scenario is to find a compromise. Choose your battles. Be willing to give up a few eggs and fight for some eggs.
The bottom line is that we will never be able to save every egg, but we can save many. Think of it this way, bacon and eggs make a really good breakfast.