Thursday, 30 October 2008

They'd steal my book, but I'm too clever for them... an idea you often come across in the unpublished writers' circles I frequent. Some people fear that, if they expose their novel on the internet, it will be stolen by unscrupulous agents, publishers, or another author. The next thing they know, it will be in print, with someone else getting the credit and the money.

It's no good telling them that if they can't persuade an agent to take their book on, it's unlikely anyone else will have better luck with it. Pointless saying they'll be lucky if anyone wants to read it, let alone steal it. Because they know better, and you are being naive.

So when a nicely-designed website called Online Novels appeared, giving lists of titles, authors, brief synopsis and a link to five hundred entire novels available to read online, what do you suppose happened?

Well, as soon as I found out my two novels (Torbrek... and Trav Zander) that I'd posted in full on Authonomy were on the site, I wrote to thank the website owner, and I put a link to it on my blog. Yippee, more exposure for my writing! And, given that they are about to be printed on Youwriteon via POD, I hoped I might sell the odd extra copy through the site.

But the news caused pandemonium on the Authonomy forum. There was talk of 'giving your novel away for free', of manuscripts being 'pilfered'. People rushed to take down some of their chapters on Authonomy so they were no longer complete. One chap said,

'What I actually just realized is that there's the damn archiving robots out there and now there is a slight chance a full copy of my book may be archived. '

Another said, 'God, that's scary! Glad I haven't put all of it online!'

Several of us argued that it was in fact excellent publicity; but others emailed so rudely to the nice woman who had set up the site that she decided to take it down.

Online Novels no longer exists.

And I'm rather fed up about it.


  1. Any plans on how to get buzz for your book?

  2. I have no plans to promote Tor and Trav, apart from my websites and Youwriteon. I'm playing it by ear.

    I'm concentrating on getting Catch a Falling Star finished now.

    Publishing is in a state of flux, and I wait with interest to see what happens.

  3. You can't help some people, can you? But there's a steep learning curve to doing this writing thing properly.

    That said, though there's nothing wrong with stuff being archived and available for free, I think I'd want the choice of what went up. But that's just me.


  4. PS And it can be a really useful thing: Neil Gaiman's given whole books away and it's not done him any harm...

  5. Yes, it would have been wise to ask people first, though she did get permission from Authonomy.

    And it was just a link: not copying the novels to her site. Links are good, aren't they?

  6. Links are great (I think a good number of my posts contain links to other people's stuff so people can go there and see it), so long as those linked want to be, I suppose.

    Shame it's had to be scrapped.

  7. It is pretty incredible what some people choose to fear. And even more incredible the desirability they assign to their "intellectual property". I'll bet they shred their first drafts because they are quite certain the garbage man sifts through their trash each week in eager anticipation of financing his early retirement by auctioning it off to the highest bidder.

    As much as I love mankind, it is surely true that you don't have to travel far to find a ready supply of idiots. They may not be idiots in regards to everything, but on at least one subject they are certifiable morons.

    Makes me wonder what my subject is.

    Ah! That's right!

  8. Alan, you've just made me laugh out loud again.

    (I'll be keeping a beady eye on the dustman in future.)

    And you're hardly moronic at all.

  9. What's wrong with these people?

    Please believe me when I say that copyright in an unpublished novel by a non-name writer is, regardless of quality, quite worthless. Nobody will steal your work because nobody will pay to read it.

    If you have no connections and your name is not saleable, then you should seek maximum exposure for your work. It's your copyright anyway, so you have full redress in the beyond-biblical miracle event that someone should try to publish it under their own name.

    As it happens, I think that for unconnected nobodies fiction-writing is a mug's game anyway. In my defence at my trial for Culpable Cynicism, I shall tell the court that the late Auberon Waugh was in full agreement with me (though he said he knew many publishers who were 'happy to pretend' that they were on the lookout for new writers). I shall also quote this anonymous contribution to the (sadly defunct) Grumpy Old Bookman blog.

  10. My link in the above post doesn't work. It doesn't work because God hates me. God hates me because I'm an atheist. But I'm not scared of Him, and I'm going to give you another way of accessing the relevant information. Google the following: "leonard's rules"

    All right, God. Your move.

  11. Oh C'mon, I think you're being a bit harsh there. They're not idiots, and there's nothing wrong with them, they just don't want their work out there for all to see. It is theirs and it's up to them who gets to see it. There may also be a factor of not wanting something unfinished on display, which is fair enough. I wouldn't want people other than trusted readers or eds to see my stuff before it's public-ready (and that includes stuff good enough to sub).

    Still think it's a shame the whole site got taken down as there were clearly a good number who were happy to be involved.

    So that's what I think.


  12. Lexi, I had no idea this had happened. This has made me a bit paranoid now.

    Thing is, I may not be able to attract any agents to my work, but what about if a published writer took a liking to something I'd written, and submitted it. Then what?

  13. Anne,

    This is really not going to happen so please do not worry about it.


    Harsh? Maybe. But I would wager all the cash in my wallet (seven dollars, which is seven dollars more than usually keeps company with my library card) that I am right. I just don't think that the folks who got themselves all in a lather over this had anything on their minds other than the prospect of somebody else getting rich off of their genius.


  14. I'm sure you are right, Alan. I just think that realising that people aren't going to steal your work is one of the lessons writers have to learn if they're going to become writers. It's silly that it's resulted in what sounds like a really useful site being closed, but I wouldn't hold it against them. If they're serious about writing then they will grow out of that way of thinking. But thinking that way doesn't make them stupid. Just naive.


  15. Nik,

    I didn't say they were stupid, just idiotic about something. And aren't we all?

  16. Alan, sorry, I wasn't quoting you; I was just saying that, in my opinion, thinking as they do doesn't make them stupid, or idiotic.

    Aren't we all? Well I can only speak for myself - and that would be a definite yes. ;)


  17. Well, I tend to shred my work before I put it out for the bin-man.

    Not 'cause I'm worried about the bin-man stealing it. But he might accidently start reading it and laugh so much at its awfulness that he falls in the dustcart and gets mangled.

    I could get sued.

  18. Point well taken, Welshcake.

    Such concern for ones fellow human beings is admirable.

    Not to mention the good sense to avoid legal consequences.

    Garbage collection agents are sensitive creatures, subject to fits of laughter (or tears) quite unpredictable.

  19. It's a shame the website's closed because of paranoia. If an author is so precious about their work, why hasn't an agent/publisher snapped it up?

    Having said that there does seem to be a real caze for inflicting mediocre writing onto online writing sites willy-nilly. I think a would-be author should follow their gut instinct and keep submitting through the time-honoured channels and face the the relentless flow of rejections. One day it might pay off !

  20. Hi Jo, thanks for dropping by.

    Yes, there are some truly dire novels about on the internet. I used to visit 'New Authors' and laugh heartlessly - I'm less inclined to now, as I realize we're all in the same unpublished writers' boat.

    Are you a member of Authonomy, or Youwriteon?