As I said before I’m getting an education in the self-pubbed, indie author world. I’ve always been an traditionally published author, so I’ve neither lived nor worked in this world.
My books are, of course, available as e-books. My publisher publishes them in all formats. I just write the books.
Regarding books cheap or free, I’ve gotten an education there, too. What I’ve heard from various indie authors is basically this:
When this market opened years ago, those who chose to self-pub were able to take the time they needed to craft their story, do all the work required to publishe that work on line (it’s a lot). Most could and did–from my understanding–price their books at (rounding) about five dollars. Maybe more depending on the page count of the book.
At that price, the author earns 70% of the cover price. They’re doing all the work, paying–I hope–for a professional editor, paying for cover, for ads. It’s all out of their pocket, so they earn the lion’s share of the cover price.
They did the marketing, the advertising, the social media–while they worked on their next book. Maybe it took them three months, six months, even a year to craft that next book. Which they then published for about five dollars.
In this way, many could make a decent living.
A Broken System
Then came the scammers, and with the methods discussed in previous blogs, who flooded the market with 99 cent books. What a bargain! Readers couldn’t know these books were stolen or copied or written by ghostfarms. Couldn’t know about the clickfarms, the scam reviews.
At this price, the author receives only 30% (there’s a price point cut off on royalty rate). So all those out of pocket expenses may or may not be covered.
The legit indie saw her sales suffer, her numbers tank, her placement on lists vanish. To try to compete, many had to struggle to write faster, to heavily discount their work. Some had to give up writing altogether.
One other scamming method is to list a book–forever–as free. Not as a promotion, or incentive, but to toss up hordes or free books, so the reader wants–and often demands–free. They make their money off the scores of cheap and stolen books, and destroy the legit writer. Why pay when there are scores of free books at your fingertips?
Reporting bad actors, filing complaints didn’t do much. There have been, I’m told, some actions and improvements. But the scammers continue to thrive.
So those struggling authors have to devalue their own work, as many readers became accustomed to the fast and the cheap. Or the free.
I am NOT saying all books at a bargain price are scams, I am NOT saying readers should never scoop up a bargain or download a free book. I AM saying if you’re a reader who pushes for fast and cheap, who buys books simply because they’re under a buck, who hounds authors for free (and yeah, you know who you are, too) as I’m often hounded, this is a problem. This just plays into a broken system.
And I’ll happily say it again. Pay the artist, pay the creator.
Many authors–as Kasey Michaels explained so well in the comments on my previous blog–are and have been publishing their backlist on-line. Books they wrote for traditional publishers (for which they were paid) and now have the rights to. So many of them, like Kasey, offer a free book or a 99 cent one as a loss leader. But then up the price point for the rest in that series, or another group of books.
The straight to indie author is paid ONLY through those on-line purchases. And they can’t survive on thirty-three cents a sale. They wouldn’t have to without the culture these scammers created.
The scammers can survive, because of the volume they produce, of the bonuses they earn from incentive programs. I’m told some earn thousands, many thousands a week.
Feeding the Beast
Your honest, hard-working self-pubbed author? Not even close.
Writers are nowhere without readers. But readers are nowhere without those hard-working writers who pour their creative juices, their hours at the keyboard into the best book they can write.
If you want a book for a dollar, that’s your choice. It’s easy enough to check the author’s website, take a little preview of the story, see what else they might have to offer.
But if you’re a reader who’s just glomming those books because they’re cheap, because you’ve gotten used to cheap, it feeds the beast.
It’s still your choice–will always be your choice whether it’s buying on-line or buying paper.
For those–you know who you are, too–who’ve tossed my money back in my face, claim I’m elitist and mouthing off because I’m rich?
The count of my books lifted from is now five. And the count of writers victimized has gone up.
I’m getting one hell of an education on the sick, greedy, opportunistic culture that games Amazon’s absurdly weak system. And everything I learn enrages me.
There are black hat teams, working together, who routinely hire ghosts on the cheap, have them throw books together, push them out–many and fast–to make money, to smother out competition from those self-pubbed writers who do their own work. Those who do their own work can’t possibly keep up with the volume these teams produce by these fraudulent tactics.
They tutor others how to scam the system.
Some of them pull whole books in the public domain, stick a new image and name on. Sometimes Amazon’s algorithm catches it, sometimes it doesn’t.
There are those, like Serruya who simply steal, hire a ghost to put all the bits and pieces, the scenes, the lines together. No doubt in my mind she was tutored on how to do it. There is no doubt in my mind there are many others doing the same thing.
And often, when a writer without real clout calls it out, complains, they bury her with ugly social media raids.
If they’re caught, they simply go under, regroup, come back and do it all again.
Some of these grifters and thieves gather together in closed social media group to brag about how many ghosts they have working, how much money they’re making.
I haven’t learned nearly everything about these tactics, but I’ve learned enough to say this:
You’ve got bills to pay? Guess what, so do the writers you’re helping to ruin.
If you’re a ghostwriter who takes a job, cheaply, to hammer out a book this way, if you take a job from someone who sends you a bunch of lines, scenes, chunks and you work that into a book, you’re complicit. If you didn’t do the very minimum of due diligence, check those chunks, lines, scenes on the many available plagiarism search engines, you’re complicit.
You’ve got bills to pay? Guess what, so do the writers you’re helping to ruin. So do the writers who have to deal with the turmoil of having their work stolen. And you’re dragging legitimate ghost writers and the whole damn profession down with you.
You know who you are.
To those publishing ‘books’ using these tactics, whether it’s hiring ghosts then slapping your name on a book, whether it’s stealing work someone else sweated over, you’re thieves and liars. Every one of you. And none of you will ever be a writer.
You know who you are.
Enjoy it while it lasts, because it’s now my mission to turn over the rocks you hide under, then stomp you deep in the muck you breed in.
To the black hats who exploit, steal, tutor others to do the same, your day of reckoning’s coming.
I swear I’ll do whatever I can, use whatever resources, connections, clout, megaphone I have to out every damn one of you.
I’ll use the same to out every one pretending to be a ghost and exploiting the system. The same to every fake writer gaming the pathetic system to make a quick buck.
Writing, real writing, is work, it takes time and talent and effort.
And to readers, those of you who keep pushing for more and cheaper books, just stop it. Writing, real writing, is work, it takes time and talent and effort. By snapping up a book just because it’s ninety-nine cents on line, you’re encouraging this. The creator and the content they work so hard to produce is devalued.
Pay the artist, for God’s sake, or the artist can’t create. What you end up with is rushed from a desperate writer struggling to keep up to pay the bills. Or mass-produced crap thrown together by scammers.
Years ago during the Dailey nightmare, I had another writer at the RWA conference where it broke come up to me. Smirk. She told me I was over-reacting, it wasn’t a big deal. She said whenever she read a book, she had a notebook by her side. She noted down phrases, lines, bits that she liked. Then when she sat down to write, she wove them in, made their her own.
I looked her in the face, and I told her that made her a thief.
If you sit and read with a notebook, use the work and words an actual writer slaved over, you’re not just a thief. You’re lazy, pathetic, and don’t have a creative bone in your body.
And yeah, you know who you are.
Stand up for your work, those of you who are being knocked around, whose work is stolen. Stand the hell up for yourself. Stand up for the craft, and call these fuckers out.
And the next idiot who accuses me of using ghostwriters, you better be prepared.
One More Thing
These bad actors also hire ‘click farms’, where people using multiple devices click through books on KU, to make more money. And to reach award levels to make the scammers big bonuses.
They’re not writing—they don’t care. They’re not reading—they don’t care. They’re just using angle after cheating angle to rack in the dough.
I’m going to start with the then, to get it out of my system.
Back in the late 90’s, when those of us on-line used message boards to communicate with each other, a reader posted a concern about the similarities in my book Sweet Revenge, originally published in 1988, reissued in 1997, with Janet Dailey’s Notorious, published in hardcover in ’96, in paper in ’97.
It happened this reader read them back to back, and noticed, even cited pages. Initially, I was certain she was mistaken. I knew Janet, couldn’t imagine she’d plagiarize anyone. But it also happened my Jason was working at our bookstore that day. I asked him to bring home a copy of Notorious. Then I opened to the page the reader had cited.
I can’t describe what I felt in that moment, the shock, the grief, the sense of betrayal.
I flipped through and that shock, grief, betrayal increased as I recognized more and more and more of my work in her book.
I called my agent. While I vetted the books, so did my agency. It was massive and awful. My agent contacted her agent and her publisher, who of course, contacted Dailey.
And the first round of plagiarism bingo began. Absolute denial. Did not do this! But the theft was so blatant that didn’t last long. Assistant must have somehow . . . If she did it, it was totally unintentional, it was unconscious copying and so on.
I was asked to keep it quiet, to go through the manuscript for Notorious and remove my work. Because I knew her, because I’d never dealt with anything like this before, I agreed. (Hint: Never do this.)
I remember, clearly, sitting out on my front deck, crossing out line after line, scene after scene, and finally realizing it simply couldn’t be done. As I realized that, my agent called. Pretty steamed. Dailey’s agent had contacted her, very excited. Dailey’s publisher wanted to go back to press on the book, so could I hurry it up?
My agent, the magnificent Amy Berkower and I had quite a conversation about the sheer arrogance, the utter insensitivity or sense of responsibility. Decision? A big, fat no, and you’re going to pull the book. Period.
…and I was done playing nice.
She hired a lawyer. I hired a lawyer. At one point through this process, her people pressed me and mine to allow Janet to call me, to explain and apologize. I didn’t want this, but I finally agreed.
This turned out, as it happened, to be the right choice.
I won’t go through the conversation except to say, through a lot of tears, she swore to me it had only been that one time. She’d been in such a bad place, just that ONE TIME. Her excuses, her (I thought) contrition made me cry.
But when I got off the phone, I went to another of her books as my agent and I had decided I would read her stuff, in case we found more. Five minutes–I swear to God, five minutes after she’d tearfully sworn to me it had only been that one time, I found the second time in the second book.
And that’s when the full rage rose. She’d lied to me, manipulated my emotions, and I was done playing nice.
We found more, quite a bit more in quite a few books over a span of publishing years. My lawyer called her a serial plagiarist.
The lawyers did their lawyer thing, and Dailey and I both agreed not to go public, at least until we had some sort of resolution. I kept that agreement. She didn’t.
She went to the press with her sad story of emotional trauma she didn’t know she had, how her dog died (I’m not kidding on that), how she did it all without knowing she did it. And she went to the press when I was in Florida, speaking to the Friends of the Library on the eve of the RWA annual conference.
I want to say I got a lot of support from the RWA board, from a lot of fellow writers. But there were many who took her side. She was an icon! Why couldn’t I just be quiet? I should be flattered, I was being a bully. I should just forgive her and move on. (My ass!)
A lot of the press had a great time making jokes about it, denigrating the genre at large, its writers, its readers.
It was a brutal experience from the minute I read that message board until the end, two ugly years later. I stuck, because if I don’t stand for my work, who will? And I won. Then I donated every penny of the settlement to select literacy organizations.
It was never about the bloody money.
That was then. Obviously, I’m not over it. You don’t get over it, you get through it.
Since then, I’ve had a couple more less public and ugly cases which we dealt with firmly and quickly. Because I’ll never play nice with a plagiarist again.
That leads to now.
…it’s always a reader, and bless you every one
A few days ago, Laura had to contact me to let me know my name and a couple of my books were listed as plagiarized in a long list of writers and books.
Cristiane Serruya, a self-published ‘writer’ based in Brazil seems to have made a living stealing from actual writers. In this case, a reader again (it’s always a reader, and bless you every one) contacted Courtney Milan, a successful romance writer, a smart woman with a strong spine–and a lawyer, to tell her she’d been plagiarized. If you want to know more about this, check out Courtney’s blog–she lays it out really well.
Twitter exploded (I’m not on Twitter, but I felt the aftershocks). There’s now a hashtag–#CopyPasteCris that follows the ever-growing nightmare. Over two dozen authors, about three dozen books–so far. One of the other victims let me know this morning that she found a line from Whiskey Beach woven in to HER love scene in this woman’s frankenbook. That makes four of mine, so far.
Courtney didn’t waste time playing nice, which gets a solid fist bump from me. She went public, straight off. She stood straight up for her work, and for the other authors involved.
In the usual plagiarism bingo, Serruya jumped on Twitter to deny. She would never!!! But again, so blatant, so egregious, that couldn’t hold.
Here’s where it takes an interesting turn. She then claimed the ghostwriters (note the plural) she’d hired on Fiverr (which I’d never heard of until this) had done this! Shame, shame on them, and she’d fix it asap.
She fixed it by doing a vanishing act. Twitter account down, Facebook page down, website down.
Two of her ghosts–independently–contacted Courtney. And both stated, again independently, Serruya sent them a mishmash of scenes, lines then told them to make it work. And apparently stiffed them afterward.
So this plagiarist lifted lines, bits, chunks big and small, from a slew of authors and books, mashed them together then hired ghosts off a cheap labor site to cobble them into a book.
This was her MO.
She did this for–I think my information is–29 books, put them up on Amazon, used Kindle Unlimited for some. KU pays by the page read. The freaking page read.
This culture, this ugly underbelly of legitimate self-publishing is all about content. More, more, more, fast, fast, fast. Because that’s how it pays. Amazon’s–imo–deeply flawed system incentivizes the fast and more. It doesn’t have to be good, doesn’t have to be yours–as I’m learning hiring ghosts is not really rare. Those who live and work in this underbelly don’t care about the work, the creativity, the talent and effort and time it takes to craft a story. Just the money, and what they must see as bragging rights. I’m a published writer they claim–even if they didn’t write a damn word.
If a book has my name on it, I wrote it. Every word of it.
They disgust me. Please note, I’m not talking about all writers who use KU, but the ones who use it to steal and deceive for profit.
I personally don’t believe fiction writers should use ghosts. Celebrity auto-biographies and such, that’s the job. If a fiction writer uses a ghost to help flesh out a book, or hires a book doctor to whip a book into shape, I strongly believe that person should be acknowledged–on the book.
The reader deserves honesty. The reader’s entitled to know she’s buying the author’s–the one whose name’s on the book–work, not somebody that writer hired for speed or convenience. And I’ll state here as I have before. If a book has my name on it, I wrote it. Every word of it.
I do not, never have, never will comprehend how someone can feel any pride claiming a book they didn’t write.
Some will point to Nancy Drew and its like. Different kettle in my eyes. That’s work for hire, book packaging. And a great way for a ghost to make a living writing fiction. Everyone knows (or should) that V.C. Andrews is long dead and therefore no longer writing.
The late great Robert Parker’s books list the name of the authors who write the current books on the front cover. There’s no deception.
But the bigger point is ghostwriters, honest, hard-working ones can be used by the scammer without knowing. The writer just trying to pay the bills by ghosting can be used this way. Honest, hard-working writers who self-publish are being stolen from, demoralized, hammered down by practices like book stuffing, buying reviews, piracy and outright plagiarism that’s become too common on Amazon.
A creature like Serruyo can have a decent run, make some money–make some best-seller lists–before she (or he, or they, who knows?) is found out. And the pain, the scars, the emotional turmoil this causes to the victims of plagiarism never ends.
Serruyo won’t be the only one using that underbelly, exploiting the lack of real guardrails on Amazon and other sites for a few bucks.
I’ll have a lot more to say about this, all of this. I’m not nearly done. Because the culture that fosters this ugly behavior has to be pulled out into the light and burned to cinders. Then we’re going to salt the freaking earth.
If we determine Serruya’s theft of my work reaches the bar of infringement, I will sue. I can afford to while many of her victims can’t. If it’s determined it doesn’t quite reach that bar, I will support every one of my fellow authors she harmed. And I’ll use every resource I can to speak out, to help pull these practices, this bastardization of the craft, into the light.
As readers, you deserve better than spending your time and money on a book that turns out to be a lie. As writers we deserve to have our work respected and protected.
Here’s a warning for anyone who’s stolen any of my work and claimed it as his/her own. I’m coming for you.
Laura Notes: I was just getting to know Nora in 1997 and wasn’t her publicist then but I know that the timing of this was deliberate and cruel — it was the week Nora was honored with RWA’s Lifetime Achievement award, a week in which the honoree is feted the entire conference. So the revelation completely undermined anything good about that week.
If you ever see something that makes you uncomfortable about another person’s work compared to Nora’s email me at LMReeth@gmail.com and I will look into it.
I haven’t posted a blog in weeks as I’ve been hip deep in a book. The result? Brain drain at the end of the work day, and a zillion tasks to deal with on weekends.
Yesterday, finally, I sent the manuscript off to my agent and editor. And today I unlock and throw open the cage door for a couple of days.
After I finish this blog, I may sit in the corner and stare at the wall for several hours.
Things have happened besides the book in these first chilly weeks of the new year.
Our annual New Year’s Day Open House was–as they say in Regency novels–a crush. Lots of people, lots of food. Laura and Kayla and Kat helped me make and bake and stir and chop on New Year’s Eve.
For the crudite, Kat created a little Christmas tree out of broccoli, with bits of red peppers for ornaments and a star carved from a radish. Who else but Kat would think of that?
So I got to ring out the old, ring in the new with friends, family. And got plenty of Griffin time.
We had our annual January trip to the spa–which meant I had the glorious Griffin with me for a week. (Oh, and his parents, too.) One of the butlers brought in his personal rocking chair for our use–what a guy.
Griffin and I seriously appreciated it.
Then, despite the ugly and annoying head cold that struck me on my first day home, it was a return to work–with no afternoon massage.
And the start of my annual purge. Due to ugly cold this got a slow start, but progress was made. By the second weekend of purging, I hit my office.
For a zillion years I’ve kept a ton of research books–ones I really haven’t cracked open in about a half a zillion. This year, I determined to cull them down brutally, and give my office shelves some breathing room.
And poor BW had to haul the heavy boxes (box after box) downstairs. They’ll go into storage, then the next library sale. And my office is reborn!
I haven’t hit the lower level yet–always a big chore–but the third floor is purged, and I only have the library and guest room left on the main.
At BW’s request I cleaned out my candle cupboard. Apparently I actually have a candle cupboard. And okay, I didn’t purge there, because candles, but I organized it.
And as Parker suddenly developed–we’ll be delicate and call it heroic flatulence–my scented candles came in really handy. So does yogurt mixed with his dog food (thanks Google) as we seem to have solved the issue.
Thank all the gods as if was far too cold to banish the boy outside.
As January slid into February with those shockingly cold temperatures, I stayed snuggly and smugly at my workstation, and in the book. It was so cold, the house couldn’t keep up, so I worked with a blanket over my lap. We got some snow, which from inside, looked very pretty.
Writing can drain the brain, but you don’t have to shovel out your car and go out into the world.
The really good thing about February is it’s short–and spring training starts. This one’s been busy and eventful in my world. My running girl and her teammates took first in Regionals in indoor track (four years running!) In a couple weeks, she’ll compete in States. And she got her driver’s license.
How strange and lovely it is to have my first girl old enough to drive and my latest boy laughing and cooing.
We snuck in a signing at Turn The Page last Saturday that turned into a door buster. The cold finally broke, lifting the temps into the 40s–with sun! Actual sun. Maybe it was the break from frigid and sunlight, but we had the happiest group of readers and authors for our mid-winter event.
And I got more Griffin time. It’s incredibly rewarding for me to see happy recognition in his eyes when he sees me. He knows his Nana!
Mid-month we’re celebrating Inn BoonsBoro’s tenth anniversary. It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade. Especially when our truly incredibly staff keeps it looking as fresh as it did the day it opened.
I’ll end the shortest month with pals coming up to whip through the bags and bags (I’ll hang and organize) of clothes I purged from my closet. Girl time! (With Griffin attending as the token male.)
That’s a fine way to move into March, and start pining for spring.
But for today, before and after work out time, I’m going to play sloth as I expect to slam the cage door again on Monday.
And now the year can really start — Connections in Death arrives in stores/on e-readers today. And here’s the place to discuss it all.
A quick reminder of the cover copy:
In this gritty and gripping new novel in the #1 New York Times bestselling series, Eve Dallas fights to save the innocent—and serve justice to the guilty—on the streets of New York.
Eve and Roarke are close to opening build a brand-new school and youth shelter. They know that the hard life can lead kids toward dangerous crossroads—and with this new project, they hope to nudge a few more of them onto the right path. For expert help, they hire child psychologist Dr. Rochelle Pickering—whose own brother pulled himself out of a spiral of addiction and crime with Rochelle’s support.
Lyle is living with Rochelle while he gets his life together, and he’s thrilled to hear about his sister’s new job offer. But within hours, triumph is followed by tragedy. Returning from a celebratory dinner with her boyfriend, she finds Lyle dead with a syringe in his lap, and Eve’s investigation confirms that this wasn’t just another OD. After all his work to get clean, Lyle’s been pumped full of poison—and a neighbor with a peephole reports seeing a scruffy, pink-haired girl fleeing the scene.
Now Eve and Roarke must venture into the gang territory where Lyle used to run, and the ugly underground world of tattoo parlors and strip joints where everyone has taken a wrong turn somewhere. They both believe in giving people a second chance. Maybe even a third or fourth. But as far as they’re concerned, whoever gave the order on Lyle Pickering’s murder has run out of chances…
So, how fast did you read it? Did you find all the teasers?
Under Currents is Nora’s single title release this year — due in stores on July 9. (Isn’t the cover gorgeous?)
The official cover copy reads:
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author, a novel about the power of family to harm—and to heal.
Within the walls of a tasteful, perfectly kept house in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, young Zane Bigelow feels like a prisoner of war. Strangers—and even Zane’s own aunt across the lake—see his parents as a successful surgeon and his stylish wife, making appearances at their children’s ballet recitals and baseball games. Zane and his sister know the truth: There is something terribly wrong.
As his father’s violent, controlling rages—and his mother’s complicity—become more and more oppressive, Zane counts the years, months, days until he can escape. He looks out for little Britt, warning her Be smart. Be careful. In fear for his very life, he plays along with the insidious lie that everything is fine, while scribbling his real thoughts in a secret journal he must carefully hide away.
When one brutal, shattering night finally reveals cracks in the façade, Zane begins to understand that some people are willing to face the truth, even when it hurts. As he grows into manhood and builds a new kind of family, he will find that while the darkness of his past may always shadow him, it will also show him what is necessary for good to triumph—and give him strength to draw on when he once again must stand up and defend himself and the ones he loves…
Happy New Year — here’s something to help with your plans: The Rise of Magicks is in stores November 26, 2019 (a little earlier than we originally announced). Details, excerpts, conversations to come but in the meantime you can slot that in for 329 days from now.
Here are some of the early pre-order links. I’ll add more once St. Martin’s Press reopens for business.
Christmas is coming, and I’m sure, somewhere, there’s a goose getting fat. Around here, we’re ready for it.
It felt good to get a solid work week in, and now that’s in the rear view. Next week won’t find me at my desk very much, and that’s fine. It’s time to celebrate and enjoy the rewards of all the preparations.
Our tree’s trimmed with presents at its feet. All that wrapping and ribbon and bows will soon be pulled and ripped in the rush to find the wishes inside.
The stockings are hung, and happily stuffed as the kids won’t be around until it’s time to dig in. I love finding stocking stuffers, from the useful to the goofy. In our family tradition all the adults do the same, so those stockings will overflow and provide a lot of fun before the rush for the ribbons and bows.
This year I enjoyed creating a candlescape on my dining room table. Of course, I’ll have to dismantle it for the feasting, but in the evenings leading up, it’s given me a lot of pretty light.
I haven’t quite OD’d on schmaltzy Christmas movies yet. I’m fascinated by how many ways they can turn a misunderstanding or complete lack of communication into a conflict magically resolved into a happy ending by Christmas.
I’m a sucker for them.
We have lots and lots of cookies, thanks in very large part to Kayla. And for Christmas dessert, in addition to cookies, I do a sundae bar, so that’s easy and delicious.
Yesterday I made some mighty fine tortilla soup to get me and BW through the weekend. Today I’m going to bake bread, but other than my workout and this blog, that’s pretty much it for the day.
It’ll be nice to have the bulk of a Sunday afternoon without chores.
So as the hours count down, Laura and I wish you and yours all the magic of Christmas, warm times with family and friends, good cheer, happy faces, and a joy in those moments that last you through the coming year.
Since we do, I’ll end this with a picture of the sweetest of Griffin smiles.