Piracy: Free Advertising and The Best Defense Against Obscurity

Hollywood, publishing

Guys, I’m giving you permission to pirate stuff.

This isn’t gonna stand up in a court of law. You can still be arrested or sued or fined or whatever the fuck they do.

But I’m giving you moral permission. And this from someone who derives her entire income from the shit you wanna pirate: T.V. and movies.

Here’s why this is still a good deal for me: the enemy for anyone who makes stuff, and who pays her rent and buys sunflower seed butter at Trader Joe’s off of making stuff, is obscurity.

The less obscure the stuff I make — or the stuff I receive residual checks for — the better.

Put another way — the more people who have heard of the crazy sex scene at the end of Sons of Anarchy Episode 306 — the more people talking about it, passing it around, trading it peer-to-peer, telling their friends some of whom don’t know how to pirate, or who have so much money it’s not worth the hassle, or have a moral compunction against it and find legal ways of obtaining the show they’ve heard so much about, partly from friends who may have heard about it from friends who watched it for free – the more of those wonderful god-sent green envelopes full of money turn up in my mailbox.

Piracy is good for me, not bad.

A lot of people I work with in Hollywood don’t realize this yet. They will soon.

I think it’s easier for me to see this because I started in books.

As a novelist, I know that the more exposure a book gets, the better for the book. People keep making the argument that those who “steal” (pirate) materials will never buy those same materials — that’s a sale that’s lost forever. That’s not true. Sometimes people download something because they want to make sure they’re going to like it, then go to see it in the theatre to get the full experience. Sometimes people get started on a TV series via piracy, then love it, and wind up buying the full series. Or in the most likely scenario — the pirate likes or dislikes what they saw and talks to their friends about it on their twitter and their tumblr and their facebook and their blog. Isn’t this the holy grail? How much are studios currently paying to achieve this? Considering it can cost as much as $100 million to market a movie nowadays — and this is free — why not try this?

50 SHADES OF GREY is a good example of this strategy succeeding. First the manuscript was traded freely between friends who knew each other on a Twilight fansite. Then the author E.L. James self-published it — and it was still traded freely between friends and via piracy. Then E.L. James sold 50 SHADES OF GREY to Vintage — and it was still traded freely and pirated. In the first six weeks after that sale, the book has sold over 10 million copies. Did piracy hurt sales of 50 SHADES OF GREY? No.

American TV shows spend literally 10 times as much on marketing, advertising and promotion as they do to make the actual show (at least the ones I’ve worked on do). I want to get my work in front of as many eyeballs as possible. So word can trickle up through the culture, the way it has for 50 SHADES OF GREY.

This is how much I believe in the power of piracy as free advertising: when I have movies or TV shows coming out, I will personally upload them to bittorrent sites myself.

This is a time of technological change. Whenever consumer behaviors change because of new technologies, there’s always upset and market correction.

Steven Spielberg was outraged about VCRs. That seems loony now, right? And turns out VCRs only made him and all of Hollywood even more money.

Video on Demand (VOD) is already here, and already the desired means of consuming media for most people. Why Hollywood is resisting the ways their own customers want to consume their products feels like companies that are way too big for their own good thinking they can stop change from happening and control the future.

Piracy is a free focus group to instruct corporations on consumer behavior. A huge waving banner saying “THIS RIGHT HERE – this is how we want to watch your movie and T.V. shows — instantly, whevever and whenever we want, without a lot of hassle. Give us a way.”

This WSJ article comparing the early days of digital music to the early days of ebooks finds that “actually selling things to early adopters is wise”. Music and publishing both proved that consumers behave how we want. No amount of finger-wagging or lawsuits or criminal charges will stop people from doing what feels good in the moment. You can’t stop progress because your business hasn’t changed with the times. What inevitably happens is the times change, consumer behavior changes — and your business either dries up or smart new upstarts scramble to give the consumers what they want, then you realize you have to change and copy them.

Don’t be dumb. Don’t stand around arguing about morality while the dinosaurs go extinct.

This book influenced my thoughts about price, piracy and the possibility of giving stuff away and still making money. “FREE: The Future of a Radical Price” by Chris Anderson

Why The Publishing Industry Can Suck My Dick

novels, publishing, women

I decided a year ago that I no longer want to publish books through the traditional publishing industry — even though that was my singular dream since I was nine years old.

The publishing industry is dead. Between ebooks overtaking print sales and chain stores dictating what gets published, the business is finished. It’s inefficient, outdated, bloated, corrupt, and it has willfully buried its head in the sand all these years, to the devastation of writers’ careers and literature.

It deserves to die. The publishing industry is racist, sexist, and it heavily favors white male authors over others, especially in literary fiction, which produces the next generation of American literature. If women and non-whites can’t get published and can’t get reviewed and can’t get on prize lists, we will not be able to contribute. For that reason alone it deserves to die.

Meanwhile, the rise of internet technology has brought authors closer to our audiences and given us the chance to give ourselves careers. No longer can an elite group of racist, sexist anachronisms shut the door to the rest of us. Any of us can make literature. The gatekeepers that kept so many of us out are failing because prejudice always fails — how can a business that limits the chances of large groups of people possibly succeed? Greatness always surges through.

I’ve been working on a new novel project that I’m very excited about and that will involve interaction and participation with readers. I’m not ready to publicize the project yet. However, Seth Godin’s announcement that he’s leaving traditional publishing behind is huge, and since I’ve already decided to do the same I decided I should say so. With a huge bestselling author like Godin going, the world will follow. I have no sympathy for big publishing. They had their chance, and thousands of young novelists like me had their careers thwarted or redirected because of their incompetence. I am very happy to have the T.V. and screenwriting career I have today, which I wouldn’t have had were it not for the inadequacy of the publishing industry. But now the way I feel about it is — they don’t fucking get to publish my novels. I will publish them myself. Because I’m better at marketing myself than they are. I’d rather sell ebooks than print — because that’s what I would rather buy.


I just spent an hour searching the internet for statistics about the racism and sexism in the publishing industry. Couldn’t find any — I know I’ve read some before, so if anyone can send some, please do. However, anyone working in this business knows about it already. Here are a few pieces I did come across:

Literature Gender Gap. Majority of readers are women but 30% or less of books published by literary houses are by women: http://su.pr/2Ag3sO

Some male critics review male writers by a 3:1 ratio. http://www.bookslut.com/blog/archives/2011_02.php#017213







And these statistics excerpted from an article by T. K. Kenyon (see link below): Percentage of book reviews for male authors vs. female authors for 2006 in major review publications: 56%:44% Percentage of book reviews for male authors vs. female authors for Jan-June 2007 in major review publications: 63%:37% Percentage of book reviews for male authors vs. female authors for at the New York Times Review of Books (very influential): 72%:28% Ratio of male book reviewers to female reviewers at the New York Times Review of Books: 2:1 Percentage of articles written by men to those written by women in the five “thought leader” magazines: 3:1 Percentage of male book buyers to female: 45%:55% Women constitute only 17 percent of opinion writers at The New York Times, 10 percent at The Washington Post, 28 percent at U.S. News & World Report, 23 percent at Newsweek and 13 percent at Time. Overall, only 24 percent of nationally syndicated columnists are women. From: http://www.bloggernews.net/112350

You’re Entitled To The Work

advice, publishing

I got my first book agent when I was 25.

What followed was a few years of the publishing industry stringing me along, keeping me on the hook with the hope that my novel would be published if I would revise. It ended in wasted years of my life that could have been better spent elsewhere. I wish I hadn’t spent so long revising one book because editors and agent told me if I did it would be published. I wish I hadn’t spent so long living in poverty. Because that did something to me, that imprinted on me in a way I can’t shake. I wish that hadn’t been acceptable to me. I wish that for myself as a child. Most of all — I wish I could let this go.

I tend to lapse into self-pity.

When I see others whom I perceive have had it easier than me, my habit is to tell myself the story of that injustice over and over, rehearse it. Going “see?” is an excuse for why I’m not doing better, evidence that injustice exists in the world, or … I don’t know what it is. A bruise I can’t stop touching. My fear is that by constantly being on the look-out for these stories, feeling them so keenly and obsessing about what they mean for me and my life —

I create this. My behavior conforms to my expectations. I am so keenly sensitive to this that I subtly reproduce it. That’s the working theory anyhow.

“But why has is it taken me so much longer than so many other people to succeed?” whines the childish, self-pitying voice.

I quiet that voice by reminding myself of a mantra I read August Wilson posted above his desk. I find this mantra comforting and remind myself of it often, because no matter how hard this life might feel to be — I get to spend my life writing. I create works of art. I keep my mind loose and uninhibited because I like it that way. Because the work likes it that way. I have work that gives my life meaning and that is in itself meaningful. And all I have to do to earn the joy I get from doing it is to do it.

What August Wilson posted above his desk is a Buddhist mantra —

You’re entitled to the work, not the reward.

I Am Thwarted


Just now I was curled up on my side in the bathtub, crying and repeating “I am thwarted. I am thwarted. I am thwarted. I am thwarted.”

For maybe five minutes: “I am thwarted.”

I needed to relax after getting all worked up over this article about how you should be male if you want to publish literary fiction. Stuff I knew from personal experience, but this stirred up my fear and seemed to confirm my experience:

Playwright Julia Jordan pointed me toward a recent study about perceptions of male and female playwrights that showed that plays with female protagonists were the most devalued in blind readings. “The exact same play that had a female protagonist was rated far higher when the readers thought it had a male author,” Jordan said. “In fact, one of the questions on the blind survey was about the characters ‘likability,’and the exact same female character, same lines, same pagination, when written by a man was exceeding likable, when written by a woman was deemed extremely unlikable.”

I try to be careful about what I think about and talk about repetitively. My friend points out if you say something over and over, it becomes a mantra. I believe in the magic of daily life. I believe we create the world around us. I believe there’s power in our spells.

I fear the danger in giving in to this kind of grief: indulge in grief, and you create a world in which you are grieved.

Let yourself break down in the bathtub — let yourself say out loud those terrible, magic words — I am thwarted — and you feel relieved in the moment. It’s a catharsis, an emotional release, an acknowledgement that you exist and you matter and your reality deserves to be stated, or repeated over and over in a dramatic manner. But the fear is that if you indulge this way — or God forbid make a habit of it, let this become a way of life — the grief, the acknowledgement becomes your reality —

I am thwarted.

Did the words come first? Did I have “I am thwarted” inside me — did I believe in that mantra and then use my internal magic to create “I am thwarted” in my life? This is the question that keeps me up at night — the question that scares me. Because if I can’t tell, how can I keep it from happening again?

What’s worse — having these terrible words inside me and not giving voice to them, or having them inside me and giving voice to them and seeing them become reality? Is there a way to not have them inside me at all?

Perhaps they’re not even true. I know the truth is not only am I not thwarted, I am thriving. Many people are thwarted. I don’t want to diminish their suffering by taking it on as if it were my own.

What brought on the sobbing and the volley of “I am thwarted” was this — I posted about the article on Twitter. I don’t talk about this stuff very often in public because I’m afraid of how I’ll look — in the male dominated industry I work in, I am afraid of looking bitter or difficult or man-hating or whatever stigma might apply to outspoken feminists. But –how we live shows up in our writing, and how we write shows up in our lives. To protect my writing, I have to be honest, present, and emotional.

We live in the future, but women writers work in the past. It’s true that some women writers succeed, but shouldn’t the successful be more successful? Where are all the women showrunners, directors, working screenwriters? Pointing to fields where women get ahead like chick lit, rom-coms, and their TV equivalents as evidence of us succeeding reminds me of the women who were allowed to be film editors because it was a lot like sewing.

I don’t know the stats on women getting literary fiction published, but the male-exclusive lists and prizes certainly tell a story. And my experience tells a story: people loved my first novel. They should, because it’s good. And all the editors raved about how good it was — but said the main character was too unlikable. Or it was too original and Barnes & Noble wouldn’t know how to market it.

Many women writers don’t talk about this for fear — consciously or subconsciously — that talking about it will affect our ability to get work. I think women in Hollywood have Stockholm Syndrome. We know who we need to please to get ahead, so we pretend sexism isn’t as significant a force as it is — subconsciously, we identify with our captors. Our captors are not men, it’s thousands of years of bio/cultural forces that makes women and men feel like a woman cannot create A Great Work of Art. She can run a studio because that job seems like a glorified assistant — it’s less mythic. But there’s something so epic about making art that at a gut level most of us still feel like women can’t do it.

I have been afraid to speak about this publicly because I don’t want to drive away people who can hire me. The fact is — as a young woman trying to get writing jobs in Hollywood, I feel less afraid to write publicly about sucking the dick of some married Hollywood guy years ago than I do about my fears surrounding this industry’s sexism. I know I’m sticking my neck out here. But that’s my job. I stick my neck out, then I stick it out further.

When I get raw and emotional and vulnerable and honest, this is me practicing in public what I do when I face the script.

I am thwarted.

So when my friend on Twitter said that female authors sell much better than literary fiction authors do — and when I pointed out that I AM A FEMALE AUTHOR AND I WRITE LITERARY FICTION — he amended to say he meant pop versus literary fiction — and I responded — My point is that as a woman, I’m allowed to write pop books. I’m not allowed to write literature. I am an artist. I am thwarted.

Saying it in public is what sent me to the bathtub. It felt dangerous — like by saying it out loud, I was making it true. Conjuring the mantra. And waving a flag to the world — this is who I am. I am thwarted. But it felt good too. I felt recognized, I recognized myself. Because I matter, and my reality matters. I deserve to tell the world what my world looks like. And I think that’s why it came out over and over in a flood — it felt so good to say it publicly, I couldn’t stop saying it.

I am thwarted. I feel thwarted.

I hope I’m neither. But if that’s what I turn out to be, you’re gonna fucking hear about it.

The Book-Club Hustlers


To be successful, most book writers now have to peddle their books door-to-door at book clubs:

“The focus on book clubs has spurred the evolution of a new breed: the author-hustler, the writer who succeeds in large part because of door-to-door salesmanship. After the writing comes a new challenge, one of industriousness, perseverance, and charm. Since 2000, Adriana Trigiani has averaged two to three book clubs a week by phone, and this past April, she led “The World’s Biggest Book Club,” a 300-person event run out of New York’s Convent of the Sacred Heart High School (the very set of Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga’s [mis]education). Chris Bohjalian, whose book Midwives was an Oprah selection in October 1998, began phoning into groups after he was forced to cancel his book tour in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Requests keep increasing, and this year he anticipates talking to 120 groups. As soon as The Divorce Party came out, Laura Dave was reaching out to book clubs at the suggestion of her editor and publicist, both of whom recognized her book’s potential appeal to the middle-aged woman. “Every time I speak to a book group,” Dave says, “almost without exception that book club refers me to another book club that emails.” Dave has done over 100 discussions in person, by phone, and on Skype. She says that Gwyn, the middle-aged narrator of her second novel, is a composite of some of the women she’s met in groups.

The average book club tends to want neither an airplane novel, nor Proust, but something in between: a novel relevant to the members’ lives but also with enough texture for a good discussion. And so reaching out to book clubs is becoming a marketing strategy for more literary works. “I think it’s a rare writer I know who hasn’t done any,” says Henkin. “A lot of people like me, literary writers, whose reputation was to sit back and be snobby, well, it’s really changing.” Khaled Hosseini, author of the The Kite Runner, allegedly took a year off and went to every book group he could. Despite being a bestselling author, Robert Alexander, whose historical fiction trilogy is based on the Russian Romanov family, continues to schedule chats. As does Dara Horn, who has a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard and has taught courses in Jewish literature and Israeli history at Harvard and at Sarah Lawrence College. Even the notoriously shy Jhumpa Lahiri will awkwardly sit through a discussion of her own book—at least when that discussion is attended by Ellen Silva, one of NPR’s senior editors. (In that case, Lahiri’s publisher paid for her to get there.)”

via The Book-Club Hustlers – Page 1 – The Daily Beast .