This is a story about me. It’s not a list of why pirating illegal ebooks sucks.
(Although it does, because do you see that stack of pages above? That’s the Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare manuscript. I worked every day for two years on those pages. Have you ever worked that hard on something only to have it stolen? Would suck, right?)
It’s just a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down, and a tiny piece of advice I would have loved to have heard when I was a kid. So I’m sharing it.
No biggie. Mkay? Here, have a little Fresh Prince appetizer.
So here’s the thing. I totally get why people download pirated ebooks or any other pirated entertainment for that matter. We’ve created an illusion of a FREE ENTERTAINMENT society here in the States, especially for those of my own generation, because we like giving our citizens access to art. Growing up in a lower middle class home in the 80s and 90s, much of my entertainment was free. Here’s how it worked in my little, carefree child mind:
1) Checking a book out at the library = free.
2) Listening to my favorite tunes on the radio = free.
3) Watching my favorite TV shows via antenna = free.
Little did I realize none of it was actually FREE. When I got older, I obviously learned that:
1) Libraries pay for the books they loan to me, so even though it’s free for ME, they paid for their copies and it’s totally legit.
2) Radio stations pay for the music they play with their revenue stream from commercials, etc.
3) TV commercials do the same, supplying a revenue stream for the TV stations to pay for their shows.
You see the trend, right? The art gets paid for in one form or another before it is distributed.
But pirates DON’T pay for the art before they distribute it.
(And even if they did, they didn’t pay for the right to distribute it.)
When I was in college and my music tastes grew beyond the Billboard Top 100, I grew tired of the limited options on the radio. Radio stations didn’t play the bands I had discovered and loved. This new music was *underground* man. So, like most, I became a fan of Napster (a program that allowed me to download every song known to man, from Abba to Zappa).
I didn’t realize fully, even in my early 20s, that this was different from listening to music on the radio for “free.” I’d been getting 99% of my music for free my entire life up until then on those sweet, sweet airwaves. So naturally, music would be free for me everywhere, always and forever, amen. Right?
It took a long while for me to get it through my thick head that not only was no one getting paid for my Napster downloads, but that someone actually SHOULD be getting paid for my downloads, that radio stations paid for the music they played, and that I was acting like a selfish douche every time I clicked on a track.
It took an embarrassingly LONG time, guys.
And I made excuses. They were facts, but still excuses. My society taught me that art should be freely accessible. I didn’t have money to buy CDs. I was in college, paying for my tuition myself and working two jobs. And I needed this music to get me through some heavy stuff.
So I get it. That urge and sudden need to HAVE THIS ART RIGHT NOW OR OMG I’M GOING TO DIE.
I totally get it.
But that didn’t make me any less of a selfish douche. My lack of money for music was just a fact of life, and I was in the same boat as pretty much every other college kid. It was a fact that wouldn’t have harmed me in any way. NOT downloading or listening to that music — going without — wouldn’t have killed me, even though it felt like it would at the time.
It may have even made me better.
Let me explain.
I wasn’t just a douche because I was withholding a viable revenue stream from those artists, but also because I was denying myself a path of artistic endeavor, one where I DIDN’T download that music.
Stay with me here.
As a kid, I *loved* to read. But I lived too far from the library for my parents to drive me. They also didn’t have the money to buy me books, so I didn’t have much access to them at all. If any, the books came from yard sales and they were about 20 years old. They certainly weren’t the latest releases.
When the Scholastic Book Fair came around, I was the kid who stared at each book, nose pressed to cover, with nothing but lint-filled pockets to show for herself. I was the kid the teachers pitied. (So much so that in sixth grade, my teacher pulled some strings to get me a $5 gift certificate to the book fair. I bought MATILDA, still one of my favorite books of all time, a pencil, and an eraser. It was one of the best days of my life. But I digress.)
It’s a sad truth, but most kids are in this situation. Some have it much worse. It’s why we try our hardest to get new books into school libraries, and why I give new shiny hardbacks away on my website each month, YABooksCentral.com.
But here’s the thing: Even though more books in my life (in anyone’s life) would’ve been an amazing privilege for me as a kid, I wasn’t ENTITLED to have those books. Books, and any other form of entertainment, weren’t automatically owed to me simply because I was a literate human who happened to like being entertained.
I needed to have money to buy them or a way to get to the library. I had neither, so I was shit-out-of-luck.
And it sucked.
But you know what happened BECAUSE I didn’t have access to all the books I wanted? BECAUSE I was shit-out-of-luck?
I pulled out my dad’s typewriter and I became obsessed with writing my own stories. If I had a pencil and something to scribble on, I was never without entertainment.
Actual free entertainment.
I wrote ghost stories and mysteries and love stories, and stories about princesses who hated wearing dresses and fought the prince when he came to rescue her.
I became a WRITER.
Much much later, when I was out of college, had a job and a car, and could actually pay for the books I wanted, I stepped into a bookstore for the first time. I was 26 years old. *gasp!* I had espresso for the first time. *gasp!* I had a paycheck that could stretch a little each month for a splurge on a new release now and again.
I was no longer shit-out-of-luck. I was a book-buying badass adult. And it felt good, because I had earned my way there.
And it was OK that I had been shit-out-of-luck as a kid. It was OK that that was my path. Because it led me to discover my dream.
As I earned a living, I bought books as often as I could, some good, some bad. I taught myself how to write something that would sell. And I became an author – an artist who gets paid for their art.
Sometimes it’s OK to be the one without the money or means to buy music or books or see the movies your friends are seeing. It’s OK to miss out on those things. It’s OK, because that artistic drought might push you to create something of your own. Music the world needs to hear. Short films the world needs to see.
Books we need to read.
And that I, and others, will happily pay for, and then maybe donate to those who can’t afford the luxury.
So here’s my advice when you’re about to click on that illegal download, whether it’s a book, a song, or an episode of Game of Thrones:
Turn off the computer.
Find your dream.
Do your dream.
Those books and songs and shows you want so desperately will still be there for you when you have the means to pay for them. We live in an age where entertainment doesn’t disappear when you turn off the TV or walk out of the bookstore.
And in the meantime? Between Netflix marathons? You’ll create something GREAT.
Something I want to experience.
So get on it. I’m waiting. I have a little bit of money now, and I’m waiting my turn in line with cash in hand. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.