I’m on a Roll!

Posted on January 11, 2012

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I’m transitioning into a new job, and for the past week, I’ve had time to surf the web and write.  This is why I’ve been able to post five or six new pages between three blogs.  At the same time, though, I’ve been building up a lot of thoughts about all kinds of topics, so it seems natural that I take a moment to write them down.

This post will deal with a Kickstarter project I stumbled across (thanks Michelle): Leebre.org.  It is “a web application that will encourage Creative Commons novels and provide resources for independent authors.”

I had two reactions when I read this: 1) a resource for independent authors?  Cool!  I’m an independent author.  I need resources.  And when I scanned the page, I saw several references to free resources, which is even better.  So they caught my attention, and I decided to learn more.  2) Oh.  Wait.  Creative Commons.  I remember this conversation.  Creative Commons is an idea aimed at counteracting the rampant misuse of the American patent system.  It’s not intended to be used for publishing books.  That’s not to say that it can’t work, but when people try to apply principles from one industry to another, I find my spider-sense tingles like crazy.

Is it possible?  Yes.  Will this website do some good for aspiring authors?  Definitely.  Will established authors be drawn to it?  Probably.  But let me clarify my answers…

Of course it’s possible for a website like Leebre.org to function.  All it takes is a community of contributors and users dedicated to making it work.  But will any of the authors make money with their writing?  Maybe.  See, Leebre.org will include links to donate to an author (or, at the author’s option, to a charity or cause), so it’s possible that readers will give something in order to support an author and keep him/her writing.  The concept has been around for a couple years at least.  This is a concern to me, as a potential user of Leebre.org, because if I don’t make money with my writing, I’ll never have the time to produce more than I already do.  (And while I have written a lot lately, my track record is less than stellar.)  So will Leebre.org be a boon to the aspiring writer from the financial point of view?  Maybe.

There is a broader question, though, that deals with the overall benefit an author may receive from this site.  Cash for writing is only one aspect; publicity is another, and it may be more important.  Let’s say I convert this website into a permanent writing venture.  I use it to publish–online mostly, but with a print-on-demand option–my fiction stories, and I ask that my readers donate, if they enjoy my writing, whatever they can to support my work.  I don’t know how successful other writers are with this approach, but let’s say I get one donation out of a hundred readers (I have more faith in my abilities than that, so this is just for the sake or argument).  If the only place I advertise my website is through search engines, I won’t see much traffic.  If I link it to Facebook, I increase my pool of potential readers.  If I post to writers’ forums, my readership will increase.  Any additional exposure will help, so my involvement with Leebre.org is a good thing, especially if it’s successful and popular.

It is for that reason, also–additional exposure and good PR–that I believe that established authors will be drawn to Leebre.org.  If successful, if they get the number of users they want (or more), it’ll be a cool place to post short stories or portions of upcoming novels.  And if an author like Patrick Rothfuss decides to support the site with a “donate to this charity” option, attached to a short story, then the site and that author both benefit from amazing PR.

It’s clear to me now that I think Leebre.org has the potential to be an awesome website, and I should probably pledge to support it and take advantage of its services.  So why do I still have reservations?  I think my concerns come back to the issue of copyright and ownership.  I’d love to put my work on this site and let them help promote my writing.  But what if I write a series of short stories, connected by a common setting or theme, and later decide to publish them in a book?  Do I leave them online at Leebre.org?  Can I pull them and retain full rights?  What about people using my work?  It’s generally accepted among the literary community that one author can borrow ideas from another; one can quote another, too, so long as the original author is given the proper credit.  But to flat-out take someone else’s writing to use as your own?

Maybe I’m misunderstanding how the creators of Leebre.org intend to apply the Creative Commons concept.  From Leebre.org’s FAQ: “When uploading books, you can select from the suite of Creative Commons licenses to license your work.”  And when I read the Creative Commons Attribution License, I find this:

“You are free:

  • to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
  • to Remix — to adapt the work
  • to make commercial use of the work [my emphasis; see below]

“Under the following conditions:

  • Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).”

This sounds like what I said above about reproducing another author’s work, except that it’s been codified in writing.  Under a Creative Commons License, anyone can reproduce the author’s work, so long as they provide proper credit to the original creator.  How, then, is this any different from what writers used to do?  Well, third item above stipulates that anyone may “make commercial use of the [author’s] work.”  It may be a minor concern, but it’s a still a concern.  If someone is going to benefit from my work, I’d appreciate more than just a simple nod in my direction.  Then again, that’s not much different from quoting someone else according to one of the many standard writing formats.

So I guess I’m worried about nothing?  Well, if that’s the case, then it makes it easier for me to pledge support to Leebre.org.  Either way, I genuinely hope that they’re on to something cool–like, iPhone cool–cause it’d be really neat to be involved from the beginning.

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