A Letter to the Narration Community

Dear Narration Community,

No one hates you. Well, at least I don’t. As an author, I like you. I like that you want to read my work. To me, it’s a compliment that you wish to share my stories with your audience. It’s wonderful you wish to bring them to life with your own words. I also appreciate the time and effort it takes to make these narrations. All the recording, editing, creating graphics, thumbnails, uploading, etc. Trust me, I’ve done it myself  for YouTube and a couple of podcasts. I have nothing but respect for you choosing to take this up as a hobby or if you’ve made the jump into doing it professionally.

However, we’ve gotta talk about how you get the stories to narrate. While you may or may not be aware of it, despite being posted online in a public form, my stories (intellectual property) still belong to me legally. You are required by law to get permission from the creator (Me) of the work to use it. It doesn’t matter if you are a new narrator, a mid-sized channel, or you’re a celebrity rolling in a bed of dollar bills, asking for permission is critical.

You might be asking,  Why, Mr. Gravy? Why should I ask for permission? After all, you posted them online, in a public forum/website/blog/subreddit, this tells me that you are okay with sharing it with the world. Why shouldn’t I be able to use it? Why is your creepypasta story not fair game?

As I mentioned above, it’s legally required to ask for permission to use the work of any author as they are the copyright holder. Using work without permission violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Additionally, what I post online isn’t “Creepypasta”. The intention of posting these stories online isn’t to have them shared, expanded upon, or to become the next internet urban legend like Slenderman, Siren Head (That’s a new one), and whatever else falls into this category. My intention in posting them online is to share them with people who might enjoy them and build a following. Let’s be honest, I also wouldn’t mind it at all if a Hollywood big-wig optioned them or if an agent or publisher wanted to work with them.

While the legality of it is very important, I’m way more interested in what it means to ask someone for their permission. To me, it’s an acknowledgement of the time and effort it took me in creating and crafting my story. It shows you care about the work enough to seek my approval to interpret the story into another form than the original. Frankly, it’s also just common courtesy and politeness.

Ultimately, the relationship between author and narrator should be symbiotic, which makes it mutually beneficial to both parties involved. Yes, both parties can find success without the other, but where’s the fun in that? By working together, we get further than going at it alone.

If you’re a new narrator, you might not know the etiquette of asking for permission or that you even need to do it at all. Personally, I’m not going to bust balls if a new author makes a mistake. I most certainly won’t be asking you for money either. It’s just not how I work when it comes to these things.

(While I do believe it is common practice for authors not to charge newer channels, I won’t state this as being a hard rule or a standard practice. Frankly, authors do have the right to charge for their work regardless of the status of whoever wishes to use their work.)

If you’re a new narrator/podcaster, at minimum, your only concern with regards to getting content should be:

  1. Asking for permission to use someone’s work
  2. Asking how they’d like to be credited.
  3. Ask if the author has anything they’d like plugged like a website or a social media account.

Here’s a template if you need one:

Dear (Insert username/real name),

Hello, my name is (insert your name/username/whatever) and I’m a narrator for (insert YouTube channel name or link/podcast name or link). I really loved your story, (Insert title of story) and was wondering if you’d be inclined to allow me to narrate it. Right now, I’m getting a new channel/podcast off the ground and I cannot offer you any compensation, however, I’d be more than willing to plug any websites, books, or social media accounts on our channel/website.

Of course, we are going to credit you as the original author and link back to your original post so any interested parties may seek out the source. If you are okay with this arrangement, please let me know how you’d like to be credited and send me any links you may want to include. Once again, I loved your story and hopefully, I can bring it to life in a way we both can appreciate.

Thanks,
(Insert name/username/whatever)

You might be wondering how an author benefits from a new narrator. Well, there’s a simple explanation. At least, it’s simple in my thoughts.

I WANT YOU TO BE SUCCESSFUL!

As a new narrator, I understand you’re looking to present excellent material to the audience you’re hoping to build. That’s where the author comes in. We provide that awesome story for you to add your personal touch to it and present it to your audience. I want you to grow your fan base. I want you to get subscribers. I want you to get monetized. Therefore, I’m not going to be charging you for using my work. You aren’t making any money off me, so I’m not going to ask you to compensate me for it. At least, not yet!

Flash forward down the line, and you and I, we’ve been working well together. Cheers, my friend! You’ve reached the point where you’ve gotten monetized. Congrats! I’m glad to have helped you reach this milestone. Now, we’re going to have to have a somewhat awkward conversation. It’s going to be about money.

Remember how I said I respect the time and effort it takes to do these narrations? I haven’t forgotten about it. I’m glad you are finally being rewarded for your efforts. But keep in mind, if you are going to make money off my stories, doesn’t it stand to reason that I should too? I would hope considering how we’ve worked together in the past, you’d be totally down for getting both of us paid.

Now, I cannot say I have the solution to this in-between period of being a small channel generating a nominal amount of revenue. I’m going to have to say at this point, it’s in the author’s court to decide whether or not to request compensation for their work. Once again, it is within the author’s right to ask for compensation at any point in the relationship.

Now personally, I wouldn’t ask for compensation at this point. I want the narrator/podcast to make their money and see the result of their work reflected in their bank account. It stands to reason that asking for the $5 the narrator is generating in revenue isn’t beneficial to either party. Remember, I want you to grow! I want you to reach a wide audience!

Rather than damage a relationship over $5, there are several avenues available for authors to generate a nominal income. Self-publishing on Amazon is the first step which comes to mind. Next, I can sell my work to other podcasts or YouTube accounts or submit the story to a paying anthology. The only loss for the narrator is exclusivity, however, if a narrator is asking for exclusivity at any point, they should be willing to pay for that right, and it shouldn’t be a nominal fee.

Let’s get into our time machine and head to the future. Your blooming channel for horror stories is now several thousand followers. You’re raking in much higher amounts of revenue. Hell, you’re actually making money now! Remember, this is a symbiotic relationship, if you are making money, I would also like to be compensated for my hard work.

When we reach this point, I’m not going to be asking for a nominal amount. I’m going to ask for something a bit more substantial and since I’ve been helping you out from the start, I don’t think it should be an issue to recognize my contributions and talent. That’s the right thing to do. And if you don’t agree, think about it this way.

If I ask you to narrate an audio book for me, you think I’m going to ask you to do it for free? Hell no! I respect your talent and the time it takes to put together an entire audio book production. Hence, I’ll be paying you. Why does my writing not deserve the same courtesy and respect?

However, let’s think about this symbiotically again. If the narrator has been using my work for a while and there’s a decent backlog of audio available, wouldn’t it make sense for the narrator to put together the author’s audio book? The work is already done! The narrator has already benefited from the author’s unpaid work. If the narrator agrees to do the audio book, the author gets their cut on the back end once the audio book is released. There’s also the option to share royalties if there is additional work to be done by the narrator. Personally, I wouldn’t mind this arrangement. It’s another example of working together beats the shit out of trying to do everything alone.

Now, let’s get to the part of this letter where I’m hopefully not speaking to you and it’s someone else.

If you took my work without my permission and used it, it’s an admission of one of two possible scenarios.

  1. You didn’t know you had to do so
  2. You knew you had to ask for permission and you didn’t

If you fall into category 1, that’s totally okay. You didn’t know! That’s fine. I’m not pissed at you and I’m not going to be filing any DMCA copyright strikes against you. You made a mistake. But you are going to have to fix it. That’s simple depending on how amiable you are.

Referring back to our younger years, it’s a simple matter of accepting responsibility for your mistake, apologizing, and asking the author how to make the situation right. For some authors, it might be as simple as including links to the original story and asking to be credited. Some may go a step further and ask for a link to their books, social media, or website. If you are working with a larger fan base, the author is once again within their rights to request monetary compensation.

Unfortunately, there may be authors out there who want their work removed from your channel completely, no matter what and you cannot change their mind. While this does in fact negate the work you did on the narration, please remember, you have violated the author’s legal rights. You are in the wrong here. Apologize, delete, and move on.

If you fall into the second category of offenders, those who know they have to ask permission and don’t or those who don’t feel they should have to apologize or work with the author after being told they are violating the author’s rights, you are nothing but a parasite.

In being a parasite, you are literally just taking from me to your own benefit. You are straight up telling me you think it’s okay to steal from me. When it comes to posting to online communities, narrators and their audiences tend to think that because it was posted on a public site, it is fair game to use however they wish to use it. As I explained above, this isn’t the case. If I post a story to Reddit, this doesn’t mean everyone is allowed to do whatever they want to do with it.

By this logic, if I left my bike outside on the driveway, it’s okay to take it and ride it around the neighborhood because it was left outside where the public had access to it. Hell, my car is outside too. I guess you can drive it around.

It also means you have no respect for me, my talent, or the time it took for me to write my story. Frankly, it also makes you a huge fucking asshole and a thief.

Now, out of both categories, which one do you think I’m willing to work with, and which one do you think I’m going to file a DMCA copyright strike against?

It doesn’t stop at a copyright strike either. Authors talk to each other. We let each other know who is a pleasure to work with and who is shady. If we find our stolen content on a channel, it’s more than likely, the narrator has stolen from other authors as well. Steal from enough authors and the DMCA copyright strikes will rain down upon your head. YouTube will remove the videos, possibly the channel as well. It negates all the hard work and effort put forth by the narrator, demolishes the fan base which took time and effort to amass, and if you’re monetized, you’re going to be losing out on whatever revenue you are generating.

I don’t write this to sound like some internet tough guy or something silly like that. It’s merely telling the truth about the consequences of IP theft. Now more than ever, authors are being protective of their IP. While we don’t have a legion of  lawyers fighting to protect us, we do have some tools available to fight back against theft and there’s more folks out there willing to fight against them.

It’s a damned shame I needed to include this part at the end, but with all the content theft occurring, it’s something that needed to be said.

I’ve experienced online content theft since first posting my stories online over 7 years ago. After so many years of finding my work used without my permission, I decided to remove them from Reddit so no one else could find them and use them again. You can read this post if you are interested in my thoughts at the time.

I’ve since changed my mind about posting stories online as there has been a surge in authors fighting against content theft. With the TheWritersBlackout raising awareness on IP theft and a group of volunteers called SleeplessWatchdogs helping authors with their copyrights and bringing to light content theft for the community, I feel a bit more comfortable posting my stories online again.

While I do understand a lot of what is written here may be common sense, there’s a lot going on right now which clearly illustrates there is a lot of misunderstanding and animosity. Nothing is ever as clean cut and black and white as we’d like. At the end of the day, at the core of our hearts, everyone is just trying to engage and entertain their audience. We aren’t supposed to have an antagonist relationship with each other. If anything, we should come together for the sake of getting better results.

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