Why all the romanticizing of pirates, you may ask. Aarrrr, that's a downright necessary question. After all, historically, most of these chaps were (and still are) ruthless scoundrels quite willing to (if I may quote a classic movie) "Burn the village! and rape the horses! and ride off on the women! and uh, plunder! and uh...prune...the hedges...of many small villages!"
To be perfectly clear, this is NOT what I am proposing we authors do within the publishing oceans. So what do I mean by Pirate Author, and by extension, Pirate Publishing?
As was the case in the golden era of sailing the high seas, today's publishing oceans are fraught with chaos (information dealers) and rival powers (information brokers) attempting to stake claim to the storytelling commerce and richness of content (our personal narratives) sailing the vastness of these publishing oceans (information distribution network).
Allow me to explain...no, there is too much. Allow me first to sum up.
We Live During the Era of the Information Dealer
At one point, the high seas were circumnavigated by the spice dealers. Then we evolved into slave dealers. Then arms and munitions dealers. Welcome to the era of the information dealer as the Ruler Supreme of the high seas. Pick your information dealer du jour. We've got the grifty-domestic flavor, the disenfranchised Macedonian lot, or the Russian Web brigades.
Just as the arms dealers and profiteers of the past stirred up murder and chaos for the purpose of profit, so too the information dealers pander to the lowest common denominator for the purpose of profit. Their weapons of choice are link-bait, fake news, click farms, and spammy content.
The golden era of the information dealer has been ushered in via the sudden rise of large information brokers. The largest brokers are companies like ATT, Amazon, Facebook, and Google. The brokers have arisen due to the blossoming of the digital frontier--an expanse of digital real estate based on our personal narratives that most of us don't think about or perceive by the same set of rules that the information brokers do.
The information dealers utilize the platforms and structures built by the brokers to turn a quick and dirty profit. This utilization creates a quiet, symbiotic relationship between the brokers and the dealers at the expense of the rest of us. Only when the abuse by the dealers grows too rampant does it begin to harm the bottom line of the broker (by pissing off us regular folk so much that we finally change our online behavior).
Not all digital marketers are information dealers, and there are obviously still legitimate uses for digital advertising and marketing. But the industry has become so deluged with bilge and bad actors that even widely accepted practices have become manipulative in an effort to scratch out a better return on investment (ROI) in the face of a tidal wave of outright immoral practices.
At this point, I recommend you check out the Youtube video, "The Good Fight Short: Russian Troll Farm" if you haven't seen it. It's just 1:19 long. I'll wait.
These bad actors are the information dealers.
One report claims, that during 2018, digital advertisers wasted $51,000,000 a DAY on fraudulent ads (ie. ads that displayed on spammy and fraudulent sites created by information dealers for nothing more than generating clicks and getting paid for the ads displayed). From what I can tell, that doesn't even include much of the low-quality, polarizing rhetoric barfed into the digital ecosystem to keep all us chattel on edge enough to deplete our bank accounts on temporary solutions or to vote yes on proposition 24. ("Will someone please think of the children!")
These info. dealers have coopted our stories (our personal information is our story), commodified them, and weaponized them in their successful efforts to stir up fear and hatred for the purpose of profit. This affects writers directly because Amazon is an emerging favorite target for information dealers (ala page-stuffing, fake reviews, click-farms, fake books, plagiarism, thinly-veiled rhetoric, and straight-up garbage writing). And with Amazon being THE behemoth in publishing, its deteriorating trustworthiness has the potential to tank the livelihoods of thousands of authors (see Youtube as an example).
Avail ye of the Pirate Author Code, all ye pirates!
Okay, so I'm trying to make a colorful analogy ala Pirates of the Caribbean, you know, in an attempt to make the point more memorable, marketable, and viral. Anywho, let's all channel our best Captain Jack.
Pirate Authors differentiate ourselves from information dealers in five distinct ways. These five differentiators are the core of the five tenets of the Pirate Author Code.
Pirate Authors are all about 1.) increasing reader engagement by 2.) increasing brand assets via 3.) brand loyalty tactics with 4.) increased collaboration that combine to 5.) promote an abundance mindset.
All of this abundance leads to empathy and critical thinking, and that's the end goal of Pirate Authors. (Here is where I'll spare you my rant on how reading is vital to us connecting with others and interpreting the world around us, and how without quality narrative fiction we as a civilization are racing toward our ghettoized doom.)
In direct contrast with Pirate Authors, Information Dealers choose to 1.) increase reader conversion by 2.) eroding brand assets via 3.) brand friction tactics that 4.) increase isolation and combine to 5.) promote a scarcity mindset.
Scarcity leads to fear and hatred. These are the consequences of the information dealers.
The Code is not a formula.
These five tenets are not the five steps toward success. There is no treasure map to riches. There is no easy life for Pirates. Not until our code is adapted far enough and wide enough to reshape the storytelling industry into something that punishes information dealers and allocates brokers to their appropriate places. (See the call to action at the end of this.)
In general, formulas (like "The secrets that Adsense doesn't want you to know!" or "How to 10x your Amazon ad revenues!") work less and less effectively as more people learn about them and implement them. Formulas are driven by scarcity.
The beauty of a Code is that it becomes more effective and more powerful as more people commit to it. Codes are driven by abundance. The broader we spread the message, the greater and deeper the impact Pirate Publishing will have on our beloved industry of storytelling.
It's time to take back the high seas of publishing.
Without further ado, here are the five tenets of the "Pirate Author Code."
1) Pirate Authors are beholden to reader engagement.
Engagement Vs. Conversion
We've been set up to fail because we've been tricked to gauge our success by the wrong metrics. The metrics we've been spoon-fed are for tracking consumer conversions rather than reader engagement.
"What's the big diff?" you may ask...if you grew up in the eighties. Well, my fellow Generation Xer, the big diff is that conversion gauges the effectiveness of your marketing package. Engagement gauges the effectiveness of your storytelling. Which is a better indicator of your success as an author? (Hint, the answer is engagement.)
I hate to be the one to tell you this, and by "hate" I mean "relish," but if you are generating written content and you are concerned about conversion at the expense of engagement, you are an information dealer concerned about quick payouts via spammy content over quality storytelling. (Oofah!)
I'm not saying you shouldn't be concerned about conversion. Of course, you can't engage a reader unless you first convert that reader as a consumer. But Pirate Authors understand that conversion metrics such as reviews, rankings, and royalties are for evaluating the effectiveness of marketing success and not author success.
For evaluating success as a writer, Pirate Authors rely on metrics such as read-through and direct call-to-action click-through (ie. ask people to do something and track the percentage of them that do it). These metrics can tell you how much a reader is engaged with your Author Brand. Now that you have an Author Brand, it's time to protect it.
2) Pirate Authors cover their assets.
Author Brand Vs. Broker Brand
This is one of those things we have to hold as an ideal while accepting that our reality ain't gonna reach that ideal much of the time. But hey, pirates should be comfortable with shades of grey. Some trade-offs are absolutely worth it. That doesn't mean we shouldn't dream of a perfect world were those trade-offs aren't necessary.
Maintaining ownership of assets comes into play more with contracts and traditional publishing, but we need to be mindful of ownership when signing with Audible and other platforms as well. Pirate Authors spend time understanding rights and intellectual property.
Control of assets deals with the two-sided coin of distribution and discoverability and includes such things as pricing, exposure, exclusivity, DRM, meta-data, and branding. As with ownership, there may be times that giving over control is worth the value you're getting in return.
Access overlaps with ownership and control but differs enough to be mentioned separately. Think of access as the amount of information and data pertaining to your assets that you are given...well, access to. Do you know the names or emails of your readers? Are you allowed to contact them?
As writers, we spend our creative lives making assets. If commercialized, those assets will belong to someone. That someone will most likely be us or an information broker. Pirate Authors fight to maintain as much ownership, control, and access to their assets as feasible in order to emphasize their Author Brand over broker brands as much as possible.
3) Pirate Authors grow brand loyalty.
Loyalty Vs. Friction
This tenet is less about who owns the brand and more about the methods used to grow the brand. StoryShop has an internal policy known as "Trips Neg D." This moniker is short for "Don't be a dick, douche, or dumbass." We're quite serious about this policy as a guiding force on all of our relationships and business practices. Anything less will generate friction between us and our audience.
The same goes for Pirate Authors. If brand loyalty is what you want, then don't be a dick. That's what information dealers are all about. If a marketing tactic feels sleazy to you, then find something more authentic to your brand.
Paid advertising is friction. This friction can be mitigated when advertising is done well, but it will always be friction.
I hear the masses crying out, "How the hell am I supposed to market my content without paid advertising!?" I'm not insisting we abandon paid ads. In the current market, it is next to impossible to find traction without them. Pirate Authors must be mindful of the friction these ads generate for their readers in order to maintain a higher ledger of loyalty.
In addition to the innate friction generated by legitimate ads, the increasing abuse of paid advertising by information dealers will increase this friction which will in-turn lead to diminishing returns for legitimate ads. So to sum up, expect increasing friction and diminishing returns from any paid advertising system.
All of this is the reason why Pirate Authors should not abandon tried-and-true methods of loyalty marketing and traction building. When done well, email marketing, content marketing, and community building generate loyalty. Popular examples include thought leaders such as Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss and companies such as Patagonia and Zappos. Connect readers with your author brand and provide them value on a regular basis.
4) Pirate Authors sail as a Pirate Crew.
Collaboration Vs. Isolation
While a pirate I be, it's not the lonely life for me. I draw within myself when I put words to the page, but I don't create content in a relational vacuum. I need my pirate crew. I think we all do. Storytelling is a collaborative process. The richer our relationships, and the richer our collaborations, the richer our stories will be.
On top of it all, the result of being constantly assaulted by information dealers is isolation. We are being prodded and provoked into "us vs. them" groupings in order to be targeted more efficiently by adverts. Reading and writing needs to bring us together.
The only "us vs. them" we should acknowledge is Pirate Authors vs. Information Dealers.
Pirate Authors are intentional to sail as part of a crew. Support each other. Invest in each other.
5) Pirate Authors support the broader Pirate Community.
Abundance Vs. Scarcity
Pirate Authors live out of a world-view based on abundance. Creativity itself insists on a foundation of abundance. By snatching words or images out of the air, do we deplete the available stock of creativity? Preposterous!
By shaping words into story we make the world richer. And the more those stories are shared, the richer we all become! Share your maps with other ships. Inform other crews of potential hazards. We can never out-write the global demand for reading, as long as we are working together to strengthen and protect the storytelling industry.
For the time being, paid advertising pits us against each other (as we attempt to outbid each other for eyeballs), while also adding friction to the reader's experience. But our competition is not other authors. Our competition is the information dealers and their efforts to tear down our industry by pumping it full of bilge and by polluting our reader's expectations and trust.
To succeed over the longterm, the publishing industry must find a means to connect the abundant creativity of storytelling with our abundant audience without brokering the connection with an ecosystem built on a foundation of competition and scarcity.
Between now and then, Pirate Authors will counter the brokers and the dealers by refusing to be isolated. By fostering community, we will pioneer a solution.
The Future Promise of the Pirate Author Code
The Call to Action
Together, as pirate authors, we can force a better future. We can take back the high seas from the dealers who would profit on human division and fear-mongering. We can craft stories that entertain, inform, and empower. We can advocate for and incentivize the emergence of a platform driven by connectivity and empathy rather than competitive ad spend and the bottom dollar.
These are the goals of the Pirate Author. There are two possible ways by which we will accomplish them. When our numbers swell to the tipping point we will either:
- spur the necessary changes or
- orchestrate them ourselves.
But to achieve this goal of prompting or building a platform that connects readers with writers according to the five tenets of the Pirate Author Code, we must swell the ranks of those who would profess allegiance to the Code!
Please sign up below to officially join the ranks of Pirate Authors, and then use the Pirate Author Emblem branding tool to spread the word!
#JoinTheStory #FlyYourFlag #PiratePublishing