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Old May 14 2009, 01:30 PM   #15
D. M. Domini
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Chicagoland
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Fan of: Afra Lyon, and Robinton!
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Default Re: So--who does original fic?

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Originally Posted by Anareth View Post
It's not about fear or lack thereof. It's about US copyright law and what publishers are paying for. I'm not taking the chance on a piece of fiction. When I sold a story to a magazine, they not only bought the right to print it, they bought control of the ability to REprint it for a set amount of time, plus the right to have their name attached to the copyright forever--even though it's now "mine" again, if I publish it anywhere it must have attached "First appeared in...." as part of the copyright detail.
If I sold the story FIRST, then yes I'd not stick it up without permission from those I sold it to, or until the rights have expired. And if I had the story online first, then I sold it, I'd pull the story down (unless I could work out something otherwise).

But currently there's no framework online that will give a random story by an author so much exposure to the same demographics that read original fiction physical paper books that there would be a measureable dent in profits if a publisher was to later buy that story, after it was online, and sell it in a traditional format.

Yes, there's little incentive for people to buy something if it's available for free (in theory--in practice, some readers will "donate" to their favorite authors if a virtual 'tip jar' is put out)--but it is incredibly damn hard for an original fiction story to get that sort of attention online. Writing isn't consumed like artwork and video is online--it doesn't draw loads and loads of people. You can put up a crap video of some poor guy getting hit in the crotch with a large object and it can have fifteen minutes of fame online and thousands upon thousands of hits. Writing just doesn't DO that. You can't write a short story that's SO good the site it's on is Slashdotted (or Dugg, or Farked or otherwise imploded into a mass of molten server architecture because so many online people want to read it RIGHT NOW.) Words on a page don't wow those with no imagination of their own...and a lot of people prefer to be fed special effects rather than generating them in their head that I don't see this changing.

And if a story DID do so well online it got thousands of hits, it wouldn't put any sane publisher off--they would have firm proof, as in this super-large number of readers hitting the story, that the book is, if not GOOD, very attractive to readers. Very marketable. Hard data like that, in the form of your webserver traffic logs or in the form of being able to read thousands of comments from online fans, is very, very tasty to anyone in business. Typically they just buy books on the Editor's gut feelings. Which as we know can be very wrong. But numbers don't lie.

Essentially--if a publisher is not going to buy your story because you stuck it in an online forum or on your site and an entire 10 people saw it (and maybe even saved the document to their hard drive!), they probably have greater issues with your story. You CAN'T just get traffic--real, meaningful traffic--on the net to a novel-length story at a drop of a hat. There's no framework in place for people to FIND you if you're an unknown, or to let others KNOW about you even if they do manage to find you.

(Again, this is also why online fanfic is such a fast-acting ego boost--the author and publishers have already done the legwork of making an author name or a book name or a world name out there and known. You just sort of hang onto their coat tails and scoop up addict!fans looking for another "fix" no matter how terrible it is. You as an author are found fairly easily this way.)

I do agree that putting your story online after the fact, or NOT pulling it off your site after you sell it, is a concern. But putting your book online first, before anyone has bought it? Nah. It's the internet age. I'm on the tail end of a generation of authors that perhaps didn't grow themselves on fanfiction (I wrote original fic far, far before I ever wrote a scrap of fanfiction). But the ones after me? The ones younger than 26? Most of them will have known the rabid culture of fanfiction online long before their first original character pops into their heads. Keeping their original story offline will be alien to them. And any publisher EXPECTING that will be very, very behind the times.

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And I've never actually heard of a book being published that WAS on-line first (fiction, at any rate--columns are different.) If people can get something for free, they're not going to pay for it. I also don't know any authors who put stuff on-line before selling it. Publishers aren't buying based on quailty--there's a metric ton of total garbage that gets published. They're betting on what they can make money from, and something available for free is not a great money-making proposition. Never putting it up in the first place spares one having to take it down and means you know it wasn't copied to anywhere without knowing it.
Cheryl actually mentioned an author--John Scalzi. (Scalzi's works read a little like Heinlein, but more modern of course, and less quirky.) He's been a pro freelance writer for a long time--used to do opinion columns on AOL, also had a non-fiction book published--but with his first novel he just stuck it up on his website, for free. Didn't market it, didn't approach agents or publishers with it. And he has a very large blog readership in comparison to your average someone-who-sticks-their-story-on-their-site. Didn't make much of a diff. I've never heard of anyone emailing around a copy of the novel from then...most likely people only bookmarked it when it was up, and when it was down their bookmarks became invalid.

A Tor editor saw Scalzi's book online and bought it. Bought the sequels too. If you go into a bookstore, you'll see his books on the shelves right now, including the one that was available online for free for a time.

There's also some SFF authors that have concurrantly released a FREE ebook on their site of their newest book THE SAME TIME it was released in paper form in the stores. I haven't heard that it's made any measureable negative impact in sales. (Also, haven't heard any measureable positive impact directly, but many people in forums like this one speak of how the Baen free library introduced them to authors they wouldn't have grabbed in the store. Which isn't surprising...Baen cover art is fugly. Guess it's sort of catty to say this, but they almost need that extra incentive (free books online) to get some folks to pick the books up. Heh.)

In theory it's easy to find tons of free stories on the net. But in reality, so much of it is unmitigated crap. Until some enterprising soul (and I admit I do have a business plan tucked away--I'm just too lazy and too broke to put it into practice) creates THE MySpace or Newgrounds for writing that has a *working* filter for quality, and a large community rating the stuff, putting your work online for free isn't going to endanger your sales specifically. It's just too hard to get readers in numbers enough that it will hurt your bottom line.

Edit:

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There is also the far-fetched possibility that someone having read a work online could claim it as their own, should the author get a publishing deal. Proving it would be tricky, to say the least.
The original author would have proof it was theirs. The newcomer trying to claim it was theirs could only track it back to when it appeared online, whereas the real author would have timestamped documents (and hopefully hardcopies scattered around their house) proving it's theirs. I'm pretty sure the timestamping on my computer has all of my work timestamped from somewhere in February 2004 (although some of it dates from 2001--timestamp just got changed to 2004 when I did an upgrade). If I put my novel up today, as an example, and someone tried to claim it as theirs, they would have to match my 5 years worth of character and world notes, scenes, and documents, not to mention some old-school notebooks from highschool. I can't see any other author NOT having that sort of stuff.
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Read my Pern and Talent fanfic on Archive of our Own.

Fanfic WIPs: The Day Benden Went to War (Pern/Talent); Slosh (Pern); Weyrbred Lads (Pern); When You Fall Asleep /Between/... (Pern)

Completed Fics: Flight (Pern), Flight v2 (Pern), Golden Glow (Pern)

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