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7+ Things You Can Do About Book Piracy

book writing coach lisa tenerToday, an author I worked with who had gotten a 6-figure book deal from a major publisher and whose book has won awards and been featured on Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 told me that free downloads of pirated versions of his book have had a major impact on sales of his book as well as recent books by other authors in his field.

While current industry-wide data is scarce, according to Publisher’s Weekly, a 2012 report from the Association of American Publishers estimated that “U.S. publishers across all categories lose $80 million to $100 million annually to piracy.” An earlier article from 2010 on The Millions, Confessions of a Book Pirate, pointed to a study by Attributor estimating the cost of book piracy as much higher: nearly $3 billion, or over 10% of revenue.

Whatever the losses, they certainly matter. And book piracy trends seem to vary geographically, based on cultural norms and values, as well as people’s ability to acquire certain books where they live. While book and ebook piracy may be modest in the UK, according to the UK Guardian, the Guardian implies that piracy is worse this side of the Atlantic. And this New York Times article reveals Google Play’s growing role as a new avenue for book pirates.

Unfortunately, garnering significant media attention–as happened with my client–can also make a book more vulnerable to book piracy.

One may wonder who these people are who scan a book, re-edit it and then offer it for free downloads, when it harms authors and eats into their book sales–and is actually a somewhat time consuming process! But rather than ponder the inscrutable (and you can read The Millions post above for some hunches, as well as this post on an investigation into book piracy from Melville House books) I’d like to explore what you can do about book piracy. For, in fact, there are some very specific things you can do to protect yourself–and you can even find  a way for piracy to benefit you!

The main thing you can do to combat book piracy is to focus on sales of physical books. Click To Tweet
  1. Public Speaking: Speak at conferences and corporations where your book will be sold in the on site “bookstore” or book sales can be included in your speaking fees / contract. Also arrange for an author book signing as part of the event, if you can. People are more apt to buy your book when they’ve connected with you and they’re turned on by the ideas you’ve shared. Without being salesy, do let them know that they can go deeper with the book, mention additional information or benefits they’ll find in the book: “We only have time for one brief exercise, but you’ll find more great ways to improve your energy in Chapters 8 and 9 in Wag Your Tail and Other Energy Tips from My Dog.”
  2. Workshops, Webinars and Teleseminars: Include the cost of the book in the fees for your online and in-person classes. Make the book part of the syllabus.
  3. Organizations, Associations, Websites and Groups of People: It’s ideal to reach people in person, where they are likely to want a physical copy of the book. However, you can also partner with relevant organizations to post the book  on their website or in their newsletter with a link to buy. When there is an actual link to buy, you are at least making it easy to buy on Amazon or the publisher’s website vs. seeking out a pirated version.
  4. Price Your Download Version Competitively. Of course, if your book is traditionally published, your publisher calls the shots. However, perhaps a competitive price of the ebook is something your agent can negotiate. In addition, if you self publish, you may want to a) start with a free download of the ebook (this helps boost Amazon sales even once you raise the price) b) move to a very competitively priced book so that it’s not worth the hassle, guilt or potential legal risk of pirating (yes, this may sound naive, but if you read the article from the Millions, you’ll find that the book pirate interviewed felt that a low price (below $10 for a new, popular book) would likely curb his pirating efforts).
  5. Develop a Relationship with Your Readers. When pirates tell themselves they are just cheating a faceless corporation (the publisher) and that authors don’t get paid much by the publisher anyway (what’s a dollar?), it’s easier for them to pirate. When someone has a relationship with you, it’s much harder for them to rationalize this behavior. If you create a loyal community–write useful blog posts, respond to their questions on your blog, offer free, helpful tip lists, offer free live webinars where you deliver powerful information and transformative experiences, answer their emails, and find other ways to be of service, they are much more likely to feel great about spending money on your book. So great–compared to the potential guilt–that it outweighs any leanings toward hyper-frugality.
  6. Report the book pirate to the copyright officer if this site is not a pirating site. This wikihow article tells you how to combat book piracy on a legitimate site (i.e. a site that is not purposely flouting the law).
  7. I also came across a 2014 Publisher’s Weekly article that offered several technical solutions to the problem of book piracy, though as technology continues to change, some of these options may have become obsolete, while others are still valid.

The big bonus is possibly the best thing you can do about book piracy: take advantage of book pirates by re-employing them as your unpaid marketing team. If you use your book as a marketing tool to attract new customers, clients or opportunities, you may actually make significant money from pirates. This means that right in the text of the book you offer readers ways to take a next step with you–from offering a free quick that requires they share their email address to reminding them in on the final page that they can book you as a speaker through your website:

the healing codeHere’s an example: while I did not, nor will I ever, buy a pirated version of a book, I did recently borrow a book from the North Kingstown Public Library called The Healing Code. The book promises the ability to heal any illness–and the authors claim to have healed both Lou Gerig’s disease in one co-author and the long-term depression of the other co-author’s wife.

Intrigued, I followed through on the book’s invitation to visit the book website and download the free additional tools and take the quiz. In addition to the resources downloaded, I then received an email offering me the next resource up from the book, which offered to teach me a system that took things a step further–for $97.

I may well spend the dough for step 2. I’m still working through the book and seeing how it goes, but I’d say there’s a 40% chance they will have a customer. So even though they have not yet made money on my reading the book, yet, since it came from the library, they may actually make quite a bit more.

Now, if this sounds manipulative, I’d like to point out a few things:

  • Offer too much in your book and you may just overwhelm your readers. By having a next step, you actually break things down for your readers so they can start with the book and then move on to an ecourse–which can be delivered by emails, videos or other methods–and which can expand upon their experience in an organic and bite-sized way. (Pardon the gastronomic metaphors. It’s past my lunch time).
  • By offering services beyond the book, you offer readers additional ways to “own” and experience the material.
  • Additional, multi-media offerings can also help people with different learning styles or it can expand the experience of any reader.
  • Offering a next step helps your readers deepen their commitment to learning your system or program, putting it into practice and turning a novelty into a powerful practice.

algebrasnowLet’s say your book is not a self-help book like our example of The Healing Code. Let’s say your book is fiction. Here, you may need to be a bit more creative. My colleague, the novelist Ginger Moran, recently re-released her Pushcart-Award nominated first novel, The Algebra of Snow, and offered several free gifts to those who order early:

  • A video of Ginger talking about creativity, where the idea forAlgebra came from and the ONE thing all novels and memoirs have to have—something she’s never heard anyone else talk about this way.
  • A podcast of Ginger reading from a section of the book where Dr. Amelia Grant, mathematician and grieving daughter and wife, bridges that time of her solitude and the surprise appearance of her estranged husband for Thanksgiving.
  • A booklet about the way publishing has changed over the last 30 years and where we are now, as seen in Algebra‘s story.
  • A 2016 calendar with scenes and quotes from the novel for each month and a writing tip for each month.

In this case, the author is also creating synergy with her expertise as a book coach and editor, as a way to connect with her readers and have the marketing and sales of her novel impact her coaching and editing business. While she is making this offer outside of the book, I submit that she could also offer these types of free downloads to all readers of the book, through a link within the ebook or book. In this case, pirated versions could help fuel downloads of the free tools and perhaps convert a less committed consumer (one who downloads a free version without paying) into a committed customer, once they get to know the author better, and if they are indeed interested in editing services.

Sure, it’s not going to work with the average freeloader, but reading the article on a typical book pirate made me realize that some of these book pirates actually buy–and yes I mean put their money down on–a ton more books than most of us. Pirating is just one part of their extensive book consumption. These people may, in fact, be potential clients and customers in other ways–or for your next book.

The biggest takeaways for what you can do about book piracy? Develop a strong relationship with your potential readers and online–and offline–community; use in-person opportunities to sell books; and–my favorite–let the pirates help you expand your business.

Do you have ideas for how to combat–or take advantage of–book piracy? Please share them as a comment.

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Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions


  1. richard says

    Hello Lisa,

    I would like your advice.

    I have been reading your emails for several years. I do want to write a book.

    A writer approached me to ghostwrite a book for me. He will do all the work. All I have to do is furnish them material I have already produced and write a forward. I believe the plan is to e-publish the book. They also wants to collaborate with me to write three additional books in the next three years. They have a plan and a vision they has not shared with me at this point.

    This is appealing to me because, despite your good advice, I have not taken the time to write the books myself. I have numerous other business interests and between them and my writing I am stretched for time.

    What is a fair percentage of the net profits they would be entitled to if I were to enter into an agreement? I realize this is a negotiation but is there a “range of reason?”

    This may be out-of-line to be even asking you, but you seem to be very transparent and approachable..

    Any advice you would proffer I will appreciate.


    • Lisa Tener says

      Thanks for you question Richard. Some of the financial break down depends on the way the author is listed. Will you be named author and this person listed as “With”? or will you both be authors, equally but your name first? Or what do each of you want? You provide the ideas (and you already have) and they provide the writing, but how do you end up agreeing on the tone, etc? I would have some agreement from the start. Perhaps have them write 5-10 pages and see if you can tweak it so you both are happy with it. This will be a good test for whether you are on the same page with the tone of the book and also how well you work together. I would definitely do that before signing anything. In addition to ideas and writing, there is the issue of marketing. Who would be responsible for that? What is the marketing plan? Who will implement which parts of it? This should be determined before you determine percentages of royalties or profits. Once you determine roles more clearly, you can clarity how much each of you is contributing time-wise and ideas-wise and come up with a fair figure. If he is doing all the marketing, you might want to go as high as 50/50. However, I would be sure he has plans that are realistic and he’s got clear ways to reach the markets. If he is not doing all the marketing, perhaps he gets less, but again it might depend on answers to the other questions above. You may also want to start with what his expectations are. I also wrote a blog post with more details, as well, about what questions to ask a co-writer or collaborator–things you should then put in your co-author / collaborator agreement.


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