April 2, 2019

Stop copying and start working on your craft


Every time self-publishing inches closer to becoming a more acceptable and viable choice for writers, something like this happens. In fact, it keeps happening. The idea of self-publishing affords a degree of freedom and immediacy that extends beyond traditional publishing models. Some writers have flourished using self-publishing technologies like Print-On-Demand and Kindle Direct Unlimited, effectively cutting out any other cooperatives and becoming the lone collaborator on all-things writing, editing, and design. Even so, the question of consistency and quality act as major hurdles for self-publishing as a widely accepted choice. Add another, much bigger hurdle: plagiarism.

Plagiarism is plaguing self-publishing. When there’s little to no quality control, the lone reader often being the writer, there’s a lot that gets tossed aside (or should I say, inside?). Recently, a number of authors have become victims of plagiarism, adding them to a growing list of artists that have had their work stolen and cannibalized by strangers. Alison Flood, for The Guardian, reports that a Brazilian romance novelist named Cristiane Serruya had lifted the work of dozens for inclusion in her own self-published releases. One novelist is none other than Nora Roberts. Yup, the very same Nora Roberts whose work graces countless bookstore shelves. Take a look—

From Nora Roberts’ Untamed: “Leisurely, he began to loosen her hair, working his fingers through it until it pooled over her shoulders. ‘I’ve wanted to do that since the first time I saw you. It’s hair to get lost in.’”

From Serruya’s Forevermore: “Leisurely, he began to loosen her hair, working his fingers through it until it pooled over her shoulders and cascaded down over her back. ‘I’ve wanted to do that since the first time I saw you.’”

Coincidence? I assure you it is not. Roberts has gone on record about just how angry and upsetting this is, “everything I learn enrages me,” and points fault at the industry itself and its poorly produced books that are published under pseudonyms at such a rapid rate most authors can’t compete. Author Courtney Milan first revealed the underbelly of plagiarism when it was discovered that her book, The Duchess War, had whole passages essentially lifted and dropped into Serruya’s Royal Love.

We’re living in a time of immediate access and new publishing technologies are disrupting the conventional model. Ghostwriting isn’t new, yet it has become a bit of a scapegoat for the increasingly frequent cases of plagiarism across digital and physical self-published books. A ghostwriter named Shiloh Walker suggests it’s so frequent that “we might as well play plagiarism bingo or have a drinking game every time a plagiarism scandal pops up, because they always follow a pattern.” The pattern? It goes something like this:

The blame is passed on, frequently to ghostwriters who are paid to write for someone else. But ghostwriters are equally under threat. “Most ghostwriters are probably unaware that their work might be being used by scammers,” says Walker, “I can’t count the number of times I’ve received ‘requests’ to write a ‘fun and sexy romance in the billionaire sub-genre’ with a word count of 25,000 and I’ll be paid a whopping $250.” The low-cost and high turn-around might just be enough to make a writer lazy, but that doesn’t excuse the influx of plagiarism in an area of the publishing industry where it’s still very much the wild west.

It seems like it’s only going to get worse. However, Roberts brings up a good point: the exploitation of Amazon’s technologies is unsustainable and the community of writers is proactive, often so vocal that cases of fraud are outed in mere hours. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” says Roberts, “I swear I’ll do whatever I can, use whatever resources, connections, clout, megaphone I have to out every damn one of you.” I, for one, can’t wait for the day when we can see Print-On-Demand in a brand new light.



Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.