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.
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.