Why Are Books Leaked?
The release of Stephanie Meyer’s Midnight Sun last month was an event fans had waited twelve years for. Back in 2008, Meyer was working on a companion novel for Twilight, telling the first part of the saga from the point of view of the vampire, Edward. Before the novel was finished, twelve chapters were leaked online, after which Meyer stopped writing. While she stated that she believed it wasn’t done with malicious intent, she felt too sad to continue and placed Midnight Sun on hold. Now, over a decade later, fans can finally get their hands on the whole story.
While Meyer didn’t consider the Midnight Sun leak as hostile, it certainly caused hurt to both the author and the fans. It prompted us to consider: why do people leak books ahead of time? There seems to be a culture across the internet of expecting to get hold of certain books before the release date, with numerous posts on Reddit and other such sites dedicated to the discussion. But, while this means readers can get hold of books early, what does the person who leaked the novel have to gain? And how does this affect all those involved in the process, from the author and publisher through to the booksellers?
American author Cassandra Clare, who has written the ‘City of Bones’ series, has also had her recent book leaked. This time however, the intent was purposefully malicious, with Clare writing on Twitter: “The excuse that it’s okay to steal from writers who are ‘problematic’ is not a great way to go because every writer is problematic.” The person behind this leak pretended to be a fan of hers to win an early release of her upcoming book, and once they received it, they translated it from the Spanish version into English and posted it online for everyone else to see. This act shows a lot of effort from the leaker to be malicious and hurt Clare in some kind of way, be it her reputation, financially or something else. However, Clare highlighted some other ways that leaking books not only hurts the author but also the other people associated with this work. For instance, her co-writer on this book was hurt, bookstores and libraries will suffer from this and finally the editors and designers who put in so much of their time as well.
There are other books which have encountered this spiteful act. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows was leaked before publication day, with the whole book appearing online. The leakers went through a tremendous amount of effort to keep it up online – even switching upload sites. Finally, the notorious Fifty Shades of Grey manuscript was also stolen before publication, but as a result of the quick actions of Penguin Random House, the manuscript was never leaked online. However, it is still unclear as to why these books were leaked in the first place.
Although there may be many reasons as to why somebody leaks a book or manuscript, it could be the particular genre having an effect. For instance, each book we have talked about in this article is either part of the fantasy genre or stemmed from it (Fifty Shades of Grey originated from Twilight fanfiction). Why is this? One possible reason could be the connection between the genre and its fans. Unlike other genres, fantasy allows fans to cosplay, attend cosplays and essentially create relationships between themselves and the characters. They feel a sense of ownership over the book and those inside it. Therefore, if a fan believes they have an element of control over the book, they may not see the wrong in leaking it; instead, they want to share it with others and discuss it on forums as soon as possible. One example of this is the notion that within the fantasy genre, there seems to be a culture online where fans actually expect books to be leaked. This is illustrated by a 2015 Reddit thread of Star Wars fans, who got so excited for the release of Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens that they wanted to know how to get the book early – almost as though they felt they were entitled to read it before it was publicly released.
In our opinion, leaking may always be part of the publishing industry. Some people go to extraordinary lengths in order to leak a book, as shown in the Cassandra Clare case.
However, practices such as sending out reviewer copies or pre-release for marketing without being certain who it’s going to, or NetGalley, where anyone can sign up and review books, adds another element of uncertainty and can increase the likelihood of books being leaked.