*This is an post from 2011 from my old blog, but the information is still good and I hope it may be some help to others, so I’ve included it in this blog.
Plagiarism. It’s an ugly word and an ever uglier act. I know some of you are aware that I was the victim of plagiarism a few months ago. I’ve yet to tell my side of things, and I’d like to do so now in hopes of informing other authors how to protect themselves.
I received an email from a concerned reader asking me to check out an upcoming author’s excerpt on the author’s website. The reader said that she had not checked the excerpt side by side with my novella With Love, but she could swear just by reading it that it was very similar. I went to the site and checked out the excerpt and from just a quick glance it did seem familiar. More than the actual story, the flow and voice felt like mine. So, I sent off a note to my friend Kris and asked her opinion, then I pulled up my final copy of With Love. Before I got through the first paragraph of With Love, Kris had already emailed me back. She wrote only: Contact Samhain immediately because this IS your story. I read a few more lines and realized that it was indeed With Love. Only the names were changed with a few original sentences thrown in. The plagiarist didn’t even bother to change the color of the character’s clothes, only their names. It was quite shocking because it wasn’t even paraphrased. It was word for word. My words. And it was set to be published the next week.
I contacted my editor who sent an email off to Christina Brashear, the owner of Samhain. Crissy sent an email, to the publishing company, set to publish this story. She asked for a copy of the entire manuscript for comparison and offered a copy of With Love, so they might compare as well. Crissy then sent me, my editor and some of the office staff copies of the book from the other publisher asking us to dig in and see what we could find. I pulled up With Love in .pdf and the manuscript from the other author in .doc form and compared them side by side. I was amazed, with the exception of the names, the sex of one character and the addition of a few sentences here and there, the manuscript was nearly word for word With Love. Shortly after I received a phone call from Crissy asking me if I was seeing what she was seeing? We were both in shock at the blatant plagiarism as were the others comparing the two works with us.
The other publishing house pulled the story from their line-up immediately, but that wasn’t the end of it. They called Crissy later after talking to the other author. The other author alleged that I had stolen it from her. She told her publisher that she had posted it on a blog back in 2000. Crissy, without even talking to me, told the publisher, “That is not true. Because of what I know of the work and the author that is not going to fly.” She pointed out that the author had used my edited, final manuscript to copy. The other publishing house agreed and indicated that they would be going after the author for breach of contract and the money they had already put out for edits (though there weren’t any that I could see other than my editor’s) and cover art.
When next Crissy and I talked, I told her I could prove it was my story, because I had all my notes from conception to completion as well as my rough drafts and the testimony of my critique partners who witnessed With Love from the beginning. Apparently, the other author didn’t realize that With Love, was a collaboration with Ally Blue and Willa Okati for the anthology Hearts From the Ashes. The very concept of the anthology and the individual stories were discussed in length by Ally, Willa, our editor Sasha and myself. Crissy assured me she knew it was my work and would do whatever necessary to support me. I have to take a moment here and praise Crissy, not only for her faith in me, but also for her involvement with her authors. Had she not known me and my work as well, she would not have been able to support me so thoroughly.
Nothing else came of the situation. The other publishing house was very cooperative and satisfied that I was indeed the author of the story.
Now all that said, I’d like to point out a few things and issue some advice to my fellow authors. Some good has definitely come out of the whole situation because it has been a learning experience and helped, not only myself, but those close to me be prepared should this happen again.
Number one, and most importantly, keep all your notes, rough drafts and edits even after a manuscript is published. I did not need this, but it was very comforting knowing I had them. I know the plagiarist’s accusation against me was made in a panic, but she would have been in sad shape had she persisted because of the overwhelming evidence. So, keep your notes, rough drafts and edits in a file where you know where they are. I deleted them all after the manuscript was published and had to scramble around looking through my back ups to find them. I now keep everything pertaining to a manuscript in one file after the manuscript is completed and back it up on a drive as well. This way should the need ever arise again, I have all the things to prove my case right at hand.
Number two, this is another function of a critique group that we all overlook. Not only can they provide character witness, they see your work from conception to publication. If you use a group on Yahoo or Google you also have group archives discussing ideas, brainstorming and critiquing at your disposal. My critique partners and I make a point to post every scene in our group. We also save copies of one another’s works and our critiques even after the manuscript is published. If you do not use a group, save your critiques and important emails pertaining to your work. Not only is it good evidence in a court case, but it’s very amusing to go back and see some of the harebrained ideas you discarded. It will give you a good chuckle.
Number three, register your copyrights. Yes, it is true that a work is copyright protected from the moment you put words to paper (or screen), but without that registration you cannot go to court. And the sooner the registration is done the better. If you don’t file your copyright until you need it you cannot sue for court costs. Not to mention, those certificates are neat to have as a sort of a final accomplishment; they make a nice THE END. As a side note, a lot of small presses do not register copyrights. It is left up to the author, so please make certain that your publisher registers the copyright. Just saying they do is not enough. You need that piece of paper.
Number four, be good to your readers. Readers are so very important. If it hadn’t been for a faithful reader that book might have been published, and it would have caused a lot more problems for not only me but the two publishers involved.
As for the emotional side of things, plagiarism hurts. I, as all the authors I know personally, give their everything to their work. With me it seems like every manuscript is an emotional ride. There is the excitement, of course, but there is also the worry of getting it right, the anger when things aren’t working, and the endless hours of research and pondering plot problems. Writing a book is an emotional rollercoaster—overall a very positive and wonderful feeling—but it’s a long journey. It’s very distressing to think someone would claim your hard work as their own and really has nothing to do with the loss of money. Although the thought of someone getting paid when you’ve been the one to do the job is not a nice one. I feel I’ve earned the right to claim credit for that work be it a fine piece of fiction or a complete failure. I cannot even describe the rage one has at being wronged and then being accused of wrong doing. It would have been easy to try and make the other party involved pay dearly, but at the end of the day, is it worth it? Should her family have to pay for her mistake? Her lack of judgment has probably cost her dearly if she held any dreams of being a published author because her name has been tarnished. It’s a big business but word gets around. I think this has been a bad experience for everyone one involved. In the end, I hope it’s also been a learning experience. If I can help others and impart some wisdom on how to handle the situation then it hasn’t been all bad.