April 15th, 2009


Google Books and Twitter and other Distractions

I spent yesterday not writing, but searching for the next story to be written. So, I didn't really do much better than I did on Monday, despite the best of intentions.


Don't know how many of you have been following the Google Books fiasco. The Author's Guild and various publishers reached a settlement with Google back in October, under which Google is required to pay out $125 million dollars to the authors who have had (or soon will have) their copyrights infringed by the Google Books project. It's not much of a settlement. $60 per book, and if you don't claim your copyright and go along with the plan, Google will use your work, regardless. To quote Wikipedia, "In return, Google will be able to index the books and display snippets in search results, as well as up to 20% of each book in preview mode. Google will also be able to show ads on these pages and make available for sale digital versions of each book" (italics mine).

I mean, if this is the best the Author's Guild can manage, authors are well and truly screwed.

You can opt out, of course, and choose to file your own lawsuit against Google, but that's not much of an option. I haven't the money, the time, or the legal savvy. Anyway, there's now a website up that allows authors and publishers to "claim" copyright of their books that Google has already digitized. I've found sixteen of my own works listed on the website. Most are still in print. Oh, and I'm not counting those books of mine on the list that were done as "work for hire" (The Dreaming, Beowulf, etc.), as the publisher legally holds those copyrights.

I spoke with my agent on Monday regarding my options, and she replied I should accept the settlement, unless I plan to file my own lawsuit. So, Google Books has become a compulsory enterprise. I do not have the option I want, which is simply to deny Google the rights to display or sell anything I've written. And how this is possible is beyond me. This is my work, and I own the copyrights, and what Google is undertaking is blatantly illegal, and will seriously jeopardize my ability to make a living off my work, but I have no choice. In the end, I have to admit this mess baffles the hell out of me. To simply quote four lines of poetry in a novel, I have to jump through countless legal hoops. But no one is able to stop Google from forcing every living writer to be a part of this scheme. It makes me ill. It makes me want to never write another fucking word.


The last few months, I've had numerous people ask me why I'm not "twittering," or if I plan on "twittering," or will I please start "twittering." Back on February 3rd, I spoke my mind on Twitter, and nothing has changed. I started a blog in 2001 at the advice of my agent and other authors (most notably Neil), who thought it might help to promote my work. And it has. I began mirroring the blog at LiveJournal (originally, I was at Blogger) in April 2003, because, for whatever reason, people seemed to be flocking to LJ. I made a major concession to my lack of interest in the whole social-networking phenomenon a couple of years later by starting a MySpace account. Unlike the blog, whether or not MySpace has had any positive affect on the sales of my work is unclear. And then Facebook came along, and I reluctantly started an account, because, once again, I worried that if I didn't, I'd miss an opportunity to promote my writing. So...Blogger, LJ, MySpace, and Facebook.

And now I'm being told that I need to add Twitter to the list. After all, all the cool kids are doing it. It's the new wave of the future. But I find that I just don't care. Which is to say, no, I will not be joining the Twitter craze. I am already more "connected" than I wish to be, and I can think of nothing more insufferably dull than sending out trivial details of my life, trying to broadcast my every trivial thought (or reading the trivial acts and thoughts of others). I've already come dangerously close to doing this with the Facebook thing, and, for that matter, with the online journal. I have no more time for distraction. No more time for the latest internet fads. If anything, I'm more inclined to begin withdrawing somewhat.

I'm having one of those "Emperor's New Clothes" reactions to Twitter, and I think it's time to trust my instincts, which I too often ignore.

I do not do text. These days, I rarely even use the telephone. I will not "twitter."