The Problem with Plagiarism

Plagiarism has had a makeover. Find out what to look for so you can protect your work from thieves or, if you’re a reader, how you can alert an author who you think might be a victim.

Internet Marketers have been a persistent problem in the world of Indie publishing, and instead of dying out over time, they’ve evolved, becoming more devious than ever.

First they plagiarized erotica. Outright copied, pasted and published it. When that didn’t prove sustainable, they outsourced erotica production to third world ESL writers. On top of that, their covers made raunchy look tame and put a big target on the genre’s back.

Oh, yeah, we’re talking about erotica, which you don’t write so why should you care? Well, keep reading. It may have all started in erotica, but it’s grown so much bigger over time.

When booksellers cracked down on erotica, everything changed. For one, internet marketers moved into Christian Romance. Did you know you can actually buy a ‘pack’ of Christian Romance plots for $20 on internet marketing forums? (It’s at least good for a laugh, especially the carnie clown plot.)

Internet marketers buy these plot packets by the dozens and either outsource the actual writing or write the books themselves. Next thing you know, there are 15 books for sale featuring a bible thumpin’ clown in a carnival of sin. (Yes, this is what the seamy underworld of internet marketing busies itself with. Kind of amazing, isn’t it?)

While many Internet Marketers have decided to hang out in Christian Romance, some have focused on the Romance genre as whole and moved on to a more sophisticated form of plagiarism: Rewriting entire books.

Did the heroine have glasses? Well, now she wears contacts.

Was she skinny? Guess who’s gained a few pounds?

Did she love strawberries? It’s blueberries now.

Did she have a tic of twirling her hair? The rewrite makes her a lip biter.

While the phrasing is (mostly) changed, the pacing, the plot and the entire architecture of the story remain the same. Character attributes are named with a thesaurus. A confident cowboy becomes a strong rancher. Amazingly, they both have the same problem and the same resolution to their problems! And the heroines are oddly similar.

We’re not talking about two books that both feature firefighters or werewolves, we’re talking about a paragraph by paragraph rewrite of an existing book. The sequence of events is exactly the same, just with new wording.

As you can imagine, it’s a tricky thing to convince a bookseller that a book has been plagiarized when none of the details seem to match. The bookseller representative has to have the ability to discern that it’s the same story paraphrased in new words.

For the most part, the authors affected have prevailed in shutting down the plagiarists’ accounts. However, at times, booksellers have failed to see the problem. They’re completely unaware of the new face of plagiarism. They’re looking for copy/paste, not rewrites or theft of ideas and concepts.

Here’s what we want readers to know: More often than not readers are the ones who spot the rewrite plagiarism in the first place. No matter how the marketers mix up the words, readers can spot a fake a mile away.

What to do when you find one of these rewritten books? Please contact the author of the earlier work and let them know. (Note that publication dates sometimes update and a good way to determine which book was first is often by the date of the earliest review.)Then return the book. You’re the first line of defense, the most likely to spot something amiss, so please say something to the author.

However, don’t try to sort it out yourself, let the author handle it. It is possible for stories to be very similar due to the strict genre tropes used in romance (and other genres), so don’t openly accuse anyone of anything. Let the author deal with it, they’ll be able to tell if it’s a copycat or a just an unfortunate coincidence.

If we’re going to fight this kind of plagiarism, both readers and authors need to know what’s going on and take prudent steps to address it. The last thing anyone wants is a bunch of spammy internet marketers ruining ebooks. We hope this piece will raise awareness and give authors a reference point when this kind of plagiarism hits them.

Note: This piece is anonymous to safeguard the authors involved. Most of them did not even want to talk about their experiences and guaranteed anonymity was the only way they would come forward. If you doubt the risk in going public, look what happened to author Dylan Cross just this week when he took on a piracy site.

5 replies
  1. avatar
    Dylan Cross says:

    Thanks for the pingback. In spite of the issues encountered, I and the Erotic Authors Guild remain determined to fight piracy and plagiarism…


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