Give a little, get a lot

You’re giving away stories on your website, which is fairly cool, but aren’t you worried that you’ll lose sales? What about copyright?


I’m not at all worried about losing sales — quite the opposite. I think there’s no better way to market writing than to give some of it away, and in that spirit I’ll be posting the first chapter of Solitaire on this website as soon as I can.

I think it’s vital to do everything I can to keep my short fiction alive and available. Stories are so ephemeral, particularly given the ever-shortening shelf life of anthologies and magazines these days. And I want people to read my stories, but most of them are no longer available in print, and I certainly don’t expect anyone to go to all the trouble of hunting them down. So the easiest thing is to dress them up nicely and make them available for a date.

I’m proud of my stories. I want to share them. I’m a more experienced and more accomplished story writer than I am a novelist. Not to say that the novel isn’t good! It is. But short fiction is a different beastie, and one that I’ve been living with comfortably for more than a dozen years. I love writing a good story, and reading one — it’s a concentrated, dense experience. If a novel is a feast, then a really well-written short story is like the best damn Belgian chocolate truffle in the world (or maybe a Butlers truffle from Ireland. Mmmm.)

It only benefits me to have as many people as possible read my short work. I hope that many of them will like what they read well enough to take a chance on the novel, and to follow me from there.

As for copyright, I’m not giving anything away by making the stories available online. They still belong to me, and I’ll guard them fiercely. I’m happy to share them, and happy for people to print them out for personal use or give a copy to their friends. To me, that’s like buying a CD and then copying it onto my computer (since I do 90% of my music listening while I’m working). (And ask me sometime how hugely pissed off I am about the notion of CD protection that doesn’t allow music to be copied this way.) But I wouldn’t buy a disk and burn copies for 10 friends for free. And just because I’m putting the stories online doesn’t mean I’m giving anyone the right to republish them on another website, or in a book, or on a disk.

There’s been a lot of agitation in the last several years about this issue, and about the length of copyright in general. Every once in a while, especially (it seems) in science fiction and fantasy, some bright spark gets the mistaken notion that if it’s published, it means it’s public. I will be very happy to disabuse anyone of this peculiar idea, should it become necessary.

Grrrrrrr, she said. And having said all this, I’m not in favor of perpetual copyright. Right now, in the case of my work (since it was all created and published after 1978), the copyright belongs to me and my estate for my lifetime plus 70 years. That seems long enough.