This week we would like to introduce you to police officer turned novelist Ron Alvarez. You can visit Ron’s IP investigations and protection blog called IP Probe. Ron’s most recent novel “The Sons of Mount Carmel” can be found on Amazon. He also recently released a new eBook for his book “The World of Intellectual Property Protection and Investigations—An Overview.”
What was the inspiration behind you becoming an author?
Halfway through my police career, I developed an almost obsessive interest in fine art theft and started to read all I could find on the subject, taking art history courses, attending seminars, and visiting museums and auction houses. I learned of various global organizations that maintained stolen fine art data, as well as about law enforcement teams and private international art theft investigators.
In my final years of being an officer, I was assigned as the NYPD liaison to the Fine Art Community, which entailed maintaining relationships with the directors of security for museums and auction houses and coordinating art theft investigations with federal law enforcement such as the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI.) It was at this time (1997) that the bug to write fiction struck me. I wrote my first short story and loved the process. I realized that I wanted to create my own work and I have not looked back.
Can you take us through your creative processes? How long does it take? Does everything you create or work on make money?
The way I approach any writing project—fiction or non-fiction—is to show up at my laptop or desktop computer and commit to sitting there for a set period and to resist distractions.
Writing a post for my blog or an article for another publication is customarily a three-day process. With novel writing, I put in the same amount of time to start—two hours—but I usually work for at least 4-6 hours. I know some novelists look to have a certain number of words or pages written each day before they leave their desk, which I understand. But that does not work for me. My commitment is to show up and stay for at least two hours each day even if I do not advance the project. I’ve come to learn that if I stay no matter what and re-read what I wrote the previous day, something will eventually bubble up inside of me and appear on the page.
The novel I am working on now, for example, currently titled “Cherry Blossom M.I.C.E.,” is the first in my intellectual property (IP) crime novel series. It took me eight months to write the first draft (95,000 words.) For the last six months, I have received feedback from my readers and from one professional freelance editor for her contextual edits. From that feedback, I have written several new additional drafts. I hope to have a publishable novel in time for the 2022 summer season.
As for making money, I haven’t made much yet. The articles I’ve written on spec for a couple magazines paid a modest fee. The royalties I’ve earned from my first novel have been modest as well. But here’s the thing for me: I love it. I love the process. I love the process of creating stories and wrestling with language. I will continue to do it even if I do not make another penny. I think, for most writers, only passion will sustain you over time. And for me, the financial rewards have been modest, but the creative rewards have been fabulous.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about your line of work?
The biggest misconception is that people think writing comes easy for writers. I’ve heard this quote attributed to different writers, which goes something along the lines of, “Writing is easy; all you have to do is show up at the page and bleed.” In my experience, it’s not easy getting the first few words down on the page, but once you get into the flow—if you stay— it’s hard to put into words how rewarding it can be.
Another huge misconception is that people think the fabulous book they’ve just read was composed by the writer in one draft. There’s no accurate recognition of how much rewriting is involved in making something that good. I remember telling a friend over twenty years ago of my aspiration to write novels, and he referred to Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” and said, “Look how simply that’s written. Piece of cake.”
When did you first become aware of copyright and why?
During my police career, I was aware of the global problem of copyright piracy—then through the reproduction of CDs and DVDs, and, these days, through illegal downloads and online infringement.
But my first direct involvement with copyright came in my capacity as a private investigator, in which a plaintiff claimed that parts of their manuscript(s) were used for our client’s TV show.
Acting as a licensed private investigator, two common themes that would come up time and time again whenever a media defendant called us in to investigate the claimant’s background: The claimant had no notable production credits, and the claimant was broke. Of course, being broke and having no significant production credits (at the time of the claim) does not automatically discredit one’s claim. But for media companies—often faced with having to defend themselves against disingenuous copyright infringement claims—it could shed some light on what is truly motivating the claimant.
Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially?
To my knowledge, personally, I have not been the victim of copyright infringement. Still, as a writer, it is alarming to see how many bad actors are out there and how careful we need to be as creators in paying attention to whom we are communicating with concerning our work—especially in the digital space. And although I do not know anyone who has found their unpublished manuscript on the web or dark web, illegally republished by some other entity, it’s not much of a leap to imagine fraudsters do this sort of thing regularly. They publish a stolen manuscript under a different title and author name and draw a profit in a market the actual author may never learn.
What is (or was) your biggest copyright-related challenge?
One of the most significant copyright challenges I expect to face with my novels is counterfeiting. As we all know, e-commerce has exponentially increased the sale of counterfeit products over the years, and fake copies of copyrighted books are no different. Third-party sellers—with no way to verify their background—can sell counterfeits on the various e-commerce sites with little or no persistent oversight. It’s tough to stop.
One example of copyright infringement in publishing is books that are summarized and sold without the author’s knowledge or authorization. Unfortunately, popular novels are frequently subject to that kind of exploitation.
And then there is the outright counterfeiting of the entire book. Criminals will replicate your book and sell it online. And in these days of print-on-demand technology, it is simple to do. And often, the copyright owner first learns of the counterfeit replicating of their book through a reader who lets them know that they purchased their novel with misspellings and other grammatical and formatting deficiencies.
What is the best piece of advice that you would give fellow creators about copyright and how to protect themselves and their works?
Monitoring your content as best you can in the global digital space is critical. However, we first must recognize the unfortunate fact that as our content achieves more and more of an audience, it will almost certainly come to the attention of IP thieves and be pirated.
Fortunately, even before our content develops a vast audience, we can take steps to protect works in case they are infringed by registering them with the U.S. Copyright Office. Also, due to the CASE Act being passed into law last year, there will soon be a small claims court put into place that will enable content creators to make small claims against alleged infringement without having to file suit in federal court.
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