Of Snow Storms, Plagiarism, and The Walking Dead

Last week was a really crap week. The weather went from cold to warm to cold to warm again so I had migraines tag teaming with sinus headaches so that I had one day when I didn’t want to peel my face off. I went grocery shopping and forgot my list. During the crazy weather ups and downs, we had a very short blizzard. It started snowing at about 6 and stopped about 9. During that short period we got 4 inches of snow which made the roads messy and everybody cranky. I went to Home Depot to get supplies to finally finish my kitchen backsplash and for the first time ever there, had a hard time getting help. When I finally did get help it was lackluster.

And then there was the plagiarism.

If you haven’t heard, a best selling “author” was revealed to have plagiarized large portions of her books from (when I stopped following) 29 authors including Nora Roberts, Courtney Milan, and Michelle Pillow. (I’m feeling a little left out, actually. What? My books aren’t good enough to plagiarize?) She gave ghostwriters a collection of scenes and lines and asked them to knit them together into a cohesive story which she marketed as her own ultimately landing her on the USA Today Bestseller List.

Now, there’s a lot to unpack there.

For several years now it has been “good practice” to publish fast by hiring ghostwriters to write your books. Romance readers are voracious, we were told. To stay on top you must publish fast. I watched a video series that promised to make me a Amazon All Star. It turned out to be a lead up to get me to buy a system that included a website, the names of some top ghost writers, and a list of keywords that would launch me onto bestseller lists. I felt a bit sick when i finished that video series. The whole idea of somebody else writing the book and me just selling it seems cheap. The writing is the fun part. If you just want to be a marketer, there are millions of things to get into. Luluroe for instance. And if you want to sell something you make, try beading jewelry or planner stuff.

This cheat compounded her sin by stealing other writers work. I said before that the writing is the fun part, but when I say fun I don’t mean WooHoo! PAR-TAY! fun. It’s more like making a great meal fun or remodeling a room fun. It’s a lot of hard work, but when you’re finished there’s something in the world that wasn’t there before. By plagiarizing, this cheat skipped all the fun part, and the satisfyingly hard part, by taking other people’s work. It’s sort of like if somebody nicked part of your paycheck without giving you anything in return and used it to buy a lottery ticket that won her millions, which she claims are entirely hers.

And this doesn’t just hurt the writers she stole from. It hurts the readers. We buy books from a particular author because we like the kinds of stories they write or we like their sense of humor or we like the way they turn a phrase. Whatever. If you have a stable of ghostwriters cranking out books frankensteined from bestsellers of years past then you aren’t getting a consistent voice or story. You aren’t getting a gourmet burger made entirely of beef from one cow on a bun baked with flour from an independent, organic farmer, you’re getting a McDonald’s rip off using “beef” that might be from China and might contain 10% cardboard on a bun that has more in common with Styrofoam than bread. I might have gotten carried away there, but my point is valid. When you follow an author, you do it because you like their writing, not the writing they can steal or have someone else do for them. When they cheat, when they break that trust, a casual reader will move on to movies or video games. A serious reader will retreat to reliable names and reread rather than try anyone new meaning great new writers will never get their break (and might move on to movies or video games instead of spending months writing a book.)

Now a big part of this problem is KU. Between exclusivity and bonuses for top earners, KU encourages gaming their system while trapping honest writers into a system that makes it very hard for them to win. And there are alternatives.

Scribd and Playster are both subscription services like KU. I have books on both and if I got more business from them, I would make a point to get the rest on there. So would a lot of other authors.

So last week pretty much sucked.

But, one of my students who has math anxiety was entertained by my story about figuring out the area of my backsplash and it really brought home to her that she’s not the only one who struggles with math. I got to spend the week hanging out at my friend’s house watching her dogs while she was in New Zealand. My handyman patched my butler’s pantry ceiling and my kitchen ceiling and fixed the leak in my tub so I’ll once again be able to take a bath. My boss gave me chocolate. I got to catch up on The Walking Dead (and it’s getting back to the creepy goodness it used to be.) And the kids I tutor for the court were well behaved and are making progress. So it wasn’t all bad.



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