I may not Tweet or follow anyone on Twitter but, thanks to my Facebook feed, I often see odds and ends from the Twitter-sphere that catch my attention and provide fodder for blog posts.
Back in June there was #CockyGate, where an author registered and received a trademark on the word “cocky” and then went after other authors for using the word in their titles. Months of outrage and lawsuits ensued before she eventually surrendered her trademark registrations and withdrew her lawsuit(s). On the positive side, many people now know a lot more about copyright and trademark law than they used to, including the fun fact that a book’s title cannot be copyrighted.
Early this year the #CopyPasteCris plagiarism scandal reared its ugly head (as I posted about here). In that case astute readers identified what appeared to be the blatant “recycling” of bits and pieces of other authors’ published stories. The list of authors whose work was thought to have been plagiarized read like a Who’s Who of Romance – Courtney Milan Tessa Dare, Bella Andre, Loretta Chase, Victoria Alexander, Sarah MacLean, and Nora Roberts – just to name a few. The author in question initially claimed innocence and then later blamed her ghost-writers. She has since virtually disappeared, but the fallout and legal wrangling continues. On the positive side, Nora Roberts is now on the warpath.
I started reading Nora’s blog after the plagiarism scandal broke and it has been eye-opening to say the least. She has, as one might expect, a way with words and is clearly (and understandably) furious with, as she calls it, “the culture that fosters this ugly behavior.”
“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.” ~ Nora Roberts
Her posts and the broader discussions on the internet have been a crash-course in Amazon algorithms, click-farms, and the dark underbelly of self-publishing. As if self-publishing wasn’t scary enough.
“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.” ~ Nora Roberts
The topic of ghost-writers has come up a number of times in the discussion. Not the folks who write celebrity auto-biographies and the such, and not the Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew) type work-for-hire writers either, but rather those who are helping generate the content that scammers are then using to game the system, to the detriment of all of the legitimate authors out there.
I know a number of people who are prolific ghost-writers. They do it for many reasons – frequently to supplement their day jobs and to make ends meet. Some are writers themselves but choose to ghost-write and get immediate payment for their work, rather than self-publish their own stories which may or may not generate timely, measurable income.
I get it.
But who are the people are who are hiring these ghost-writers and what they are doing with the books once they’re written? Are they using them to game the system somehow or do they just want to be “published” so much that they’re willing to pay to put their name on something someone else wrote or is there some other reason? Again, there is legitimate ghost-writing and not everyone who hires a ghost-writer is doing it for nefarious reasons, but how can you tell which is which?
“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.” ~ Nora Roberts
The bottom line, and a rather discouraging one at that, is that there are people out there that are opportunists, out to make a buck however they can regardless of who they negatively impact in the process.
One can only hope that, now that some of these issues are coming to light, there will be some changes for the better.
One can hope.
In the meantime, next time I’m tempted by a “free” or $0.99 book, I’m going to take the time to check out the author (website, social media, etc.) and make sure they’re a real person who has written a real book before clicking “buy”. I may not have a solution to the scamming issue(s), but I can certainly try to avoid compounding the problem.