What am I going on about with all of this romanticizing of pirates, you may ask. That's a downright necessary question. After all, historically, most of these chaps were (and still are) ruthless scoundrels who flout the rules while stealing, killing, and destroying. 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?
Pirate Authors take back their narrative, recruit their own crews, sail under their own flags, and are beholden to only their readers.
As was the case in the golden era of sailing the high seas, today's publishing oceans are fraught with chaos and rival powers attempting to stake claim to the storytelling commerce and richness of content sailing the vastness of these publishing oceans.
We Live During the Era of the Information Dealer
Allow me to take the illustration one step further. 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. 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.
Rather than taking the form of national powers, the current information dealers are corporate ones. These info dealers have co-opted 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.
The institutions we used to trust to inform and educate us have betrayed us amidst their lust to monopolize the all-precious information trade routes. We must no longer blindly sail under their colors. We, the self-proclaimed storytellers, must no longer fly the flags of the harbingers of fear.
It's time to take back the high seas of storytelling—the high seas of publishing. Ours is the power to inspire. Ours is the power to educate, challenge, and confound. Our stories are meant to entertain, make no mistake! But our stories also compel critical thinking skills and human empathy. As a community, it is our responsibility to empower minds and expand worlds.
We can be a formidable threat to the profit-driven, fear-mongering Information Dealers if, and only if, we embrace the role of Pirate Authors.
Publishing Must Remain Independent of the Info Dealers
Traditional Publishers are NOT YET Information Dealers. Perhaps some wish they were. I'm not saying that Info Dealers don't publish content. I'm saying the institution that we recognize as Trad Pub is not to be equated with info. dealing. (Amazon is perhaps the first and largest of a dangerous hybrid.) It is critical that the evolution of publishing remains uncorrupted and unco-opted by the Information Dealers, but the vanguards of old have weakened.
In today's publishing ocean, traditional publishers have lost their former glory and sheen. They have some use, and specific gatekeepers make sense under certain circumstances. But, as an author, to owe one's blind allegiance to any of these flags no longer makes sense. The modern day author should have the awareness and wherewithal to shift their allegiance and fly whichever flag ultimately benefits their storytelling, their brand, and therefore their audience.
This sort of author is today's Pirate Author, and this is the sort of author I am advocating set sail upon the high seas of today's publishing industry. I'm openly advocating for the era of Pirate Publishing. Pirate Publishing is the best hope in our fight against the fear-mongering of the Information Dealers. The rest of this post will explain the advantages of being a Pirate Author.
Beholden to the Story, Beholden to the Reader
Whenever flying any flag other than one's own pirate flag, an author is ultimately beholden to those colors. There are rules that come along with creating and publishing any story under a publisher's flag. Certain types of stories are allowed. Certain trade routes are accessible, while others are off-limits. Even the size or class of the sailing vessel may be dictated by the rules of the flag.
Of course this isn't all bad. Flying a publisher's flag will sometimes come with benefits such as protection, prestige, distribution through vast trade routes, entry into diverse ports, etc. But there are always trade-offs of which the author should be aware.
When flying his/her own colors, the Pirate Author is beholden to no one but the reader. There's no escaping the reader, unless you have no commercial aspirations. The value of your cargo (your story) on the open market is always decided by the reader. A story told and published under a pirate flag has a much keener chance of being pure—of being true to itself.
Of course, that story is also free to suck, and therefore sink in shark infested waters, without any authorities insisting it remain in dry dock. But these are among the live-and-learn experiences of a Pirate Author. It's while stranded on a desert island we are forced to rethink our strategy. We barter passage on a tramp steamer, we gamble in a few seedy pubs, we do the hard and dirty work until we find ourselves once again sailing the publishing seas (this time determined not to capsize and sink).
Today's Publishing Oceans aren't what they were fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago. What used to require the assistance of a publisher and the power of their flag for a story to successfully navigate to readers is no longer the case. What used to be a few mapped portions of the ocean has now been blown wide open to include the entire diverse ocean of readers.
The few safe trade routes have multiplied into hundreds. Available niche audiences and genres have exploded in number. Sailing vessels have technologically advanced. In other words, flying the flag of a major publisher is no longer necessary for an author to deliver a good story to an eager paying audience.
Pirate be Nimble, Pirate be Quick
Along with the rules of sailing under a major flag also come the regulations and (often) bloated process. The outdated vessels, bureaucracy, and massive caravans of the traditional publishers take time to move. The major flags are slow to change their standard practices and slow to respond to reader demands. It's pretty well documented that the major flags are reluctant to risk on lesser known authors with untested cargo. It is my fear that desperation will render the large traditional publishers vulnerable to Information Dealers much like what happened to journalism.
Pirate Authors have the freedom to enter new coordinates and change their heading based upon the prevailing winds. Pirate Authors have the prerogative to avail themselves of any and all modern navigation techniques (like meta data, key words, courses, best practices).
Keister the Booty
Hey, pirates wouldn't be pirates without some concern for personal treasure and riches. That's only human. While most of us didn't get into the business of storytelling to become monetarily rich, many of us need to support our families and/or our drinking habits. I've said it before, and I'll continue to say it, "My kids need wine!"
Pirate Authors are able to follow the map to where "X" marks the spot. By maintaining ownership of your intellectual property and bartering for better royalties, Pirate Authors preserve their short-term and long-term earning ability.
Pirate Crew, Pirate Community
While pirates we should 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.
Don't attempt to sail alone. Sail as a part of a crew. Support each other. Invest in each other. Share your maps with other ships. Inform other crews of potential hazards. Information Dealers profit from isolation and competition. The most powerful weapon in their arsenal (when it comes to managing us authors) is the paid ad. Paid advertising forces would-be collaborators to compete for audience. Paid advertising pits us against each other so that we can be conquered and tamed. And it ads friction to the reader's experience.
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 misery by crafting stories that entertain, inform, and empower.
Power to the Pirate Author.