Readers, Writers & Editors Beware: the Season of Plagiarism is Upon Us!

Dear Writers,

I realize that being a writer is hard. Coming up with concepts, characters, dialogue–all of those things which take an idea and flesh them out into a living, breathing story–can be extremely challenging, even torturous, no matter how talented you are.

Then, when you take those challenges and add the strain of watching your fellow writers succeed (seemingly overnight, in some cases) while you, on the other hand, continue to toil… it’s easy to feel discouraged. Maybe even get a little bit desperate. And believe me, I’ve been there. I can understand reaching that point where you wish there was some kind of shortcut, or some magical button you could push to take your brilliant and so-full-of-potential rough draft story to completed and publishable status. Not over the course of weeks, months or years, but NOW.

But writers, know this: that magical button is NOT CTRL+C / CRTL+V.

A few days ago, I read a post on Tammara Webber’s blog about an occurrence of blatant plagiarism involving Tammara’s Easy and Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster. Reading this article, I remember being filled with dread, but also thinking “Seriously? That’s so despicable! Who would ever be stupid enough, or desperate enough, to do that?”

If you don’t have time to read this article–and you should, whether you’re an aspiring or published author, an agent, or an editor–the basic gist was that a young male writer, using a pen name, took sections from various popular and best selling New Adult books (though I have no doubt there were other, less popular books plagiarized in this work as well, which weren’t quite as easy to pinpoint) and he either directly copied or loosely rewrote crucial scenes from each, then came up with a similar sounding title and marketed this book–quite brilliantly, I might add, which only makes this situation more sickening–wait for it…to the very fans of the writers he had plagiarized. Where I come from, that’s called having Serious Huevos. (And I do not mean that in a good way.)

The worst part? It worked. This book sold thousands of copies in just over a week’s time. And even though according to Ms. Webber, legal action is now pending, there’s a good chance this writer is going to get away with it. In a sense, he’s already gotten away with it, at least to some degree.

Actually, scratch that. That’s not the worst part. The worst part is, after reading this article, I told myself that this guy–size of metaphorical huevos notwithstanding–was an isolated offender. A radical literary terrorist whose crimes, now exposed, would not soon be repeated.

I was wrong.

Not even 24 hours later, I found a similar example of an eerily…unmistakably similar opening scene to a published NA book I’d just finished reading. Where? In my submissions inbox, of course. Not only did this writer have the gall to plagiarize, but he or she was actually SO lazy, he/she decided to let someone else publish it. I can’t even tell you how upset this makes me, that there are writers out there (and I use the term loosely) who would not only risk legal action, but also be willing to drag an unsuspecting editor or publisher down with them. All for the sake of a dubious chance at making a dollar.

Is this what you really want, to spend your days worrying whether you’re going to get caught? Is this why you chose to become a writer? Does it give you satisfaction to know that you’re profiting from someone else’s story? For your sake, I hope not. But the thing is, we can’t control what others believe or choose to do. But we CAN keep our eyes out for situations like this, and call attention to them when they happen. If nothing more, we can make it more difficult for these people to get away with this kind of creative violation. And best of all, we can keep them from profiting, because we will NOT recommend these books or consider them for publication.

To quote a popular phrase, IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING. If it hadn’t been for a conscientious reader, Tammara Webber might not have found out that her work was being stolen. Thank God I’m the kind of editor who does a lot of research in the categories I represent, otherwise, I might not have even caught it. This work might have taken precedence over an author who was actually original, and much more deserving of our time and consideration. In a word: UNACCEPTABLE.

Here are some links to services (most of them free) that can help you research whether something suspicious you’ve read is actually a work of plagiarism: