Of the multitude of world problems to concern a reasonable human being over the last few months, one has lingered in the back of my mind in a more personal and, dare I say, private, way. I think about my writing a lot. It’s the main reason I have this blog, as a space to write about writing–my ideas, the writing process, the publishing process, the connective tissue of good storytelling.
I also think about my place as an “author” a lot. Not my level of notoriety or what I earn from writing — negligible in either case — but in how my writing and my “profile” is seen online. Privacy is always a consideration for someone who has a presence among the online public.
Every time I get a new idea or see a new tool for my writing, I consider whether I should be doing more to protect my own privacy and security online, as well as protecting my data and copyright. In an era when AI-generated tools are quickly gaining the ability to look, sound, illustrate, or write like real people, I question whether I should have an online presence at all.
With search engines becoming harder to navigate and the overwhelming glut of Content out there, it’s hard to find cogent, well-thought-out answers to these types of questions. So, I just want to pose my questions in a general way, talk a little about my thought process, and see what other writers or creators of any type think.
Is copyright sufficient to protect my writing in the chaotic realm of the internet?
I have registered US copyright of my only published novel, and automatic copyright over all of my writings on this site, a short story in an online litmag, and a 12-part series published on Wattpad. (See a rundown of my writing here.) My writing is generally available to anyone who happens upon it online. My novel costs money to purchase, but that’s it.
Is this enough to protect my work from billions of users who may find it online? Legally, yes. But practically? I really don’t know. My novel could have already been lifted, translated into another language, and republished under someone else’s name, and I’m not sure how I would find out about it. The odds of that happening are probably slim, but IP theft definitely exists online.
Should I care?
At a certain point, I feel like worrying about copyright infringement online is like chasing ghosts. In my broader existentialist view, I will have no control over the things I write and publish after I’m gone, so is it worth fretting over it now? To some extent, I think, but honestly — I just want to be able to publish my own work and sell it to people who want to read it. I would hope I can carve out a space to do that much.
Are free publishing platforms “safe” for putting content out there?
I published my short mythology series on Wattpad in 2019, mostly as an experiment to see what kind of readership I could get publishing one chapter per month. The short answer is: not much. Wattpad is social media for writers, so you have to be really prolific to gain a real following there. A lot of authors use Wattpad to publish first-look drafts of their novels, section by section, to gain a following ahead of self-publishing it in full. (Traditional publishing will generally not publish something that has already been published, so Wattpad is a readership-building tool for self-published authors.)
I don’t doubt the success that some authors have on Wattpad, and I have definitely read some good content there. But is it worth the effort for me to provide my writing there, for free? I’m not really concerned about providing free content. I have given a lot of thought to doing just that to build readership of my work. But Wattpad is a platform where anyone can sign up under anonymous usernames and scrape content from millions of stories by nearly as many authors.
Is that really a “safe” place to put my work? I’ve already done so, but only with a side project, not my primary novels. Wattpad is in the business of bringing authors to its platform, so I would think they take copyright infringement and data security seriously, but it’s a free service (that has a premium user tier).
Is cloud storage really secure enough for my writing content?
George R.R. Martin famously stores all of his writing on a DOS computer in his basement, which has no internet connection. I don’t use cloud storage for my writing yet, but I’ve thought about it. Currently, every outline, draft, and finished manuscript of my writing is stored on a flash drive. I’ve used it for years, but I’ve always had a little fear in the back of my head that it will break, or burn out, or get lost, and all of my work will be gone.
Cloud storage offers a back-up plan, if not a primary storage option. I pay for a cloud storage solution for personal/family photos, but I still hesitate to put my writing there. Cloud storage servers can get hacked, data can be corrupted, and work can still be lost.
I don’t have solid answers.
But these are the questions that pop up every time I think about doing something different with my writing. I can (and probably will) do a deep-dive into the writing/self-publishing threads of Reddit at some point to see how others feel about this. For now, I just wanted to voice my quesitons.
Who else thinks about this stuff? How do you approach it with your creative work?