Plagiarism, Ghostwriting and Reader Demand.

As I’m sure many of you will now be aware, at the start of this week a story broke across Twitter that a bestselling romance author had been actively plagiarising the work of other romance authors, and passing it off as their own.

Their defence was that they’d hired a cheap ghostwriter to write their books for them, and that the ghostwriter was the person who’d done the copy and pasting, not them. Honestly, I’m really not sure how they could have made the situation worse, but saying that they hadn’t even read their supposed ‘own work’ takes the cake.

As the whole messy situation unfolded, and continues to burn on, it’s been noted that the practice of ghostwriting is rampant within the indie publishing industry, especially within romance. And other commentators have openly hinted that they know of several authors who engage in the practice.

I don’t think ghostwriters are to blame in this situation. Ghostwriters have existed for years (think 99% of celebrity written novels) and they do some excellent work. The fact that you can hire someone from Fiverr to write you 5000 words for $5 speaks to larger economic issues, and the value that we as consumers put on writing and our constant demand for more, rather than ghostwriters themselves. At least in my opinion.

But I do want to focus on the way that rampant plagiarism and constant demand affects authors like myself – ones who are pouring their blood, sweat and tears into their work in the hope of sharing their stories. We can’t release a book or two a month, like those engaging ghostwriters can. All we can do is work our damned hardest to write our stories at our own pace.

Readers reactions of finishing a novel and then saying ‘where’s the next one?’ puts an incredible amount of pressure on authors to churn out work, lest rampant fans turn on them. I’ve seen people in author’s Facebook groups, on the release day on their new novel, saying ‘I’ve finished this, when are we getting a book about X?’, and happily celebrating their own impatience.

Patience is a virtue, except when it comes to reading apparently.

Author’s are human beings: we get tired, we have real lives to live, families to deal with, day jobs to work – we are not there to relentlessly churn out work to fulfil your every whim.

Is it any wonder that some less scrupulous authors then turn to someone who can cheaply write their work for them? But if you’re going to pay very little, you’re going to get very little effort – hence copy, pasting and re-wording is likely to occur.

Let me be clear: I am not defending plagiarism or any form of copy and pasting. It is fundamentally wrong and damages more than the reputation of the person who engages in it. It damages the lives of the people who have been copied from, it damages our community and it damages the reputation of our genre and publishing as a whole. In my opinion, it is an utterly unthinkable thing to do. I am merely speculating on the reasons that may fuel this practice, and broadly considering the issues which cause it people to engage in it.

Overall, it’s a horribly messy situation, and I don’t think there’s any straightforward way of untangling it.

But, I think if an author can’t keep up with demand or doesn’t want to put the hard work in – please admit that or stop publishing, rather than deceiving people. It would be a much better thing to admit you are struggling with the demand, and to take your time writing your own work, than to cheat your way out of the situation. (Although, I am not naive enough to think that people will always choose honesty. Why lose readers when you can pay someone cheaply, make money and keep interest in your work high? And thus the cycle begins anew.)

And readers, I know you’re excited to get the next story. It’s great that you love people’s work, but give your friendly neighbourhood author some love and support, and celebrate what they’ve already produced rather than constantly demanding more.

In the mean time, I want you to know that if you ever read something with my name on it, it’s genuinely mine. I’m the one spending my evenings pouring over a laptop or editing on paper with a pink pen, pottering along at my own pace. I’ll get there when I get there, and I’ll be damn proud when I do. Because it will be an achievement I’ve earned, not bought.