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Doing it Wrong

Fandoms, marketing, self-promotion, success… all the wonderful complications of becoming an author. Some people handle it better than others do. Let’s face it, in the days of Trad Pub, you could potentially be a hermit and still be successful because there was a slim chance akin to winning the lottery that the publisher would push the book even if you never faced the fans. Now? Now we have twitter mobs turned to ill gains. Look for instance at the scurrilous attempt to call Nora Roberts a plagiarist.

By accusing me, in public, of attempting to ‘shamelessly profit’ off of her creativity, she incited her readers into attacking me–on her feed, then on my pages, then on the internet in general. She did nothing to stop this. I have been accused of theft, of trying to use this first time writer–whose book has been well received–for my own profit. To ride her coattails as I have no originality. This after more than thirty years in the business, more than two hundred books.

So what I’m seeing here is a classic case of projection. The writer who I shall not name here – no point in rewarding shitty tactics, after all – wanted to feed off Nora Robert’s longstanding career and fame. So she accused her target of doing just that.

With two minutes on Amazon, and judicious use of ‘look inside’ I can tell the two books are almost entirely unrelated, save some repeated words in the title. One is the story of a thinly-veiled African fantasy, the other is (looking at book one, book two has no look inside) seemingly based on celtic mythology set in modern day. So… why the accusation?

Because publicity. This foolish author bought into the myth of ‘any publicity is good publicity’ and forgot that in shining a light on herself, she was also illuminating her accused, her victim. Guess whose book I am more likely to buy, now? If you guessed this one, you’d be correct. The author isn’t exactly an underdog – she’s had a massive career with great success – but it irks me to see such foul strategies put into play, and I’ll do my small best to counter them.

I’ve said it here before, as have most if not all the Mad club members. Be aware that whatever you do in public is going to reflect on your work. If you are reacting to a reviewer – don’t. Not unless you have something positive you can say. Besides, it really is true that often a bad review can sell you more books than only having 5-star reviews. If you’re going to make a public accusation of plagiarism, base it on far, far more than ‘muh title is similar!’ because not only will you look like a self-aggrandizing idiot, you’re committing libel, and you can only hope your target is as nice as Nora Roberts is.

Twitter mobs are a noxious weapon. We’ve seen them deployed against us, here. We’ve seen them destroy the careers of writers, scientists, and others. I have to wonder why it’s easier to use them as an offensive (in both senses) than it is to use them to help out others. Would this young writer have done better to say ‘hey, my book and hers share words in the title, but they are totally different and both good, you should try them both and report back!’ than to have denounced the fat target of a successful writer with millions of fans? With the proper hashtags to bring her work to the attention of Nora fans, I suspect she would have seen an uptick in her sales. As it is, I’m going to guess she’s getting mixed reactions at best, and a serious side-eye from any legitimate agents and publishers. I know this reader is giving her a judgy look and no sales.

Because here’s the thing. Riding the wave of a controversy – no matter whether you artificially generated that wave or not – is not a long-term strategy. You might pick up some new fans, but more likely it’ll be here today, and gone tomorrow. I don’t know about you, but I plan on making writing a career. At 42 years old, basing my calculations on the longevity of the women in my family, I’m not even middle-aged. Right now I’m more focused on the science career, but I’m slowly writing on the side. You see, my writing was never supposed to be my primary career now. It was supposed to be my retirement plan. As I’d spent most of my adult life self-employed, I didn’t have funding for retirement stashed. So I thought I’d write some novels, and when I retire from the science thing, I’d write more, and the backlist would be a support in my old age (Look, my grandmother is 82 and recently changed her facebook profile pic to one of her brandishing an axe, because she’d been out clearing brush around her house. She started publishing about a decade ago. I have reasons to believe the way I do). If I tried to surf from one controversial wave to another for the next forty years, I’d be dead of exhaustion long before my time. So that’s the plan. Live long, and prosper. Peacefully.

 

(Featured image of that low-life scavenger feeding off other’s kills from Pixabay)

62 Comments
  1. I went to the original tweet just now and started scrolling through the responses. Gave up when I reached 11/28 and just sat back and smiled. Nora’s fans found the tweet and were responding, including sharing screen caps of all the other books with the title words in them. The general consensus is that the 25 year-old newbie author is both inexperienced and clueless and trying to ride Nora’s coattails in the most shameless of ways. Oh, and the demands for her to remove the tweet are legion. As one person put it, and I’m paraphrasing, “you will forever be known as the woman who accused Nora Roberts of plagiarism.”

    December 1, 2018
  2. That sort of thing does not bring stability or long term fans or profit. They are mere fads of a negative sort.

    December 1, 2018
    • Right? I know she might be a great author, but I’ll never be able to read her because my impression of her work will be through this filter of perceiving her as a slimeball.

      December 1, 2018
      • Yep. And because they are so shallow, they have to constantly gin up outrage to try maintain interest… and eventually that stops working, and they’re done, no more successful in truth than before.

        December 1, 2018
      • “she might be a great author, but I’ll never be able to read her because my impression of her work will be through this filter of perceiving her as a slimeball.”

        Slime doesn’t stay in one place. It bleeds through.

        December 1, 2018
        • Yes, that it does. I had no idea how evil MZB was until I was an adult. I do know that I read Mists of Avalon as a teen and it was physically repulsive.

          December 1, 2018
  3. Weird. Hollywood does flat-out remakes all the time, and nobody cares. But now using common words in a title is plagarism? Only a matter time before somebody sues because another author used the same alphabet. 😬

    December 1, 2018
    • snelson134 #

      Already happened. “Begun, the font wars have.” And it’s the second round; the first one was in the 80s when the fonts included with word processors became part of the software copyright.

      December 1, 2018
      • Yep. That’s why when we talk book covers we urge caution on font choices.

        December 1, 2018
        • Draven #

          yeah, proving that $Sans_Serif_Font is not an unlicensed use of Helvetica is problematic.

          December 2, 2018
    • Well, a studio has the rights to do the remake (either from an original screen or stage play, or the book from which the movie or series came). They usually do it poorly, of course, but they are perfectly legitimate.

      What they do not do (and many of these people do attempt) is try to lock down the ideas, or the “memes” if you will. One can look at most movies and assign a standard plot to them, and standard characters moving through that plot. The sets are different, the actors are sometimes different (I had great confusion about John Wayne when I was a child – he kept on changing his name, but was the same person…).

      Bit of personal confession here – I’m a fifty-eight year old male who’s a sucker for rom-coms (which the wife is not, go figure). There is currently a Christmas movie on NetFlix, and a sequel – obviously based on yet another retelling of the “commoner meets Prince, Prince falls in love, they get married after various comedic episodes” plot. That plot has been popular and recycled over and over again for centuries – whether fictional or real life.

      December 1, 2018
      • Dorothy Grant #

        Given the number of men I know who like rom-coms and the hallmark channel, while their wives are not, I sometimes wonder if the marketing for such things is way off the real customer base.

        And yes, trying to copyright plot elements and memes is hopeless; that’d be like trying to copyright the 4-chord progression that runs from Pachelbel’s Canon in D through metal to modern pop. Joseph Campbell was a bit of an odd duck and did some serious stretching to try to fit all fable under a monomyth. On the other hand, he was very right about the universality of the hero’s journey, from when it was scratched in Sanskrit on clay tablets up to Star Wars. And if Disney’s IP protection lawyers haven’t been out in force, then it’s really, really not defensible.

        December 1, 2018
      • The Hallmark Channel shot one of those Christmas romances in my parents’ town last November, and when I came home we watched it together with some neighbors. Just about every plot point was called out ahead of time by somebody. In one of the scenes, the main couple in the story were chatting at a restaurant and I realized it was where we’d sat for dinner two nights earlier. And then, when it gets to the end, one of our neighbors says “and then the camera pans upward to the night sky, and shooting star goes by” and sure enough, that’s what happens.

        December 1, 2018
        • Christopher M Chupik #

          I would have expected those to be filmed during the summer.

          December 1, 2018
        • Evenstar #

          Those comforting Hallmark films are the entertainment equivalent of chocolate chip cookies.

          December 1, 2018
          • Mary #

            And who wants to pick up a cookie labeled a chocolate-chip cookie and discover someone’s being having fun with the recipe?

            December 1, 2018
            • Evenstar #

              Exactly. Comfort foods, books, and movies are predictable for a reason.

              December 1, 2018
  4. Christopher M Chupik #

    The sad fact is, any industry has its parasites, people who contribute little to nothing but demand an equal share of pie nonetheless.

    December 1, 2018
    • I’m hoping that by shining a light on their activity, they’ll scatter like roaches. And maybe we’ll discourage those who are clinging to a fragment of sense, if not ethics.

      December 1, 2018
  5. I see this as part of what I call “The Myth Of The Good Idea” that so many authors seem to fall prey to. There’s this delusion that fiction sells because it is based on a particular central concept–that the Harry Potter books got big because J K Rowling was “lucky” enough to come up with idea of the school of magic and that whoever had come with that concept first would now be the best seller.

    I have seen this a lot in writer’s groups. I recall one woman who went to an in-person group for years and never shared anything of her own because she claimed to be scared we would steal her idea. Every week she would show up at talk about how she was working on her story and that everyone would be blown away when she was finally ready to release it to the public. (And as an aside, those hints she did drop about it always compared it to existing SF franchises. “Like Star Trek and Star Wars, but better.”)

    Given that mindset, I can see how authors would react like this to another author who was selling books with the “same idea”. It’s kind of sad, really.

    December 1, 2018
    • This isn’t even that. This was a young author who may have decided that a similar title meant the ideas were the same. Which they are not. And that is putting a kind interpretation on it.

      December 1, 2018
      • Thing is, that’s not an uncommon mistake to make. I remember happening to glance at the comments section for a song on Toutube (yes, bad life decisions), and someone was complaining about how all bands did these days was rip off older ones, and he named the song and the band.
        Trouble was that the only things that were the same was the title and the overarching theme of bringing hope and relief to the oppressed. Everything else was completely different.
        (For anyone interested, the song title was A Light in the Black, and the bands were Sabaton (newl and Rainbow (old)

        December 1, 2018
        • Have you seen the one with the fan complaining Tolkein ripped off JK Rowling?

          December 1, 2018
          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

            That’s silly. Everybody knows that Tolkein ripped off “D&D”. 😈

            December 1, 2018
            • Well one local bookstore has a display up labeled ‘the books that created D&D’, with Robert Jordan and ‘Game of Thrones’ Martin being most prominently displayed.

              Oh, and the first Shannara book.

              December 4, 2018
              • Mary #

                Was in an interesting discussion recently about Appendix N. We stuck to the original.

                December 4, 2018
          • snelson134 #

            Someone needs to tattoo this on them with a dull needle.

            “When ‘Omer Smote ‘Is Bloomin’ Lyre”
            INTRODUCTION TO THE BARRACK-ROOM BALLADS IN “THE SEVEN SEAS”
            When ‘Omer smote ‘is bloomin’ lyre,
            He’d ‘eard men sing by land an’ sea;
            An’ what he thought ‘e might require,
            ‘E went an’ took — the same as me!

            The market-girls an’ fishermen,
            The shepherds an’ the sailors, too,
            They ‘eard old songs turn up again,
            But kep’ it quiet — same as you!

            They knew ‘e stole; ‘e knew they knowed.
            They didn’t tell, nor make a fuss,
            But winked at ‘Omer down the road,
            An’ ‘e winked back — the same as us!

            December 1, 2018
          • Zsuzsa #

            Even leaving aside the time travel issues, if I was trying to come up with two fantasy authors who have virtually nothing in common with each other, Tolkien and Rowling might very well be candidates.

            December 1, 2018
      • It may also be that she was hoping Roberts would just settle out of court to make her go away rather than pay a lawyer to fight it.

        December 1, 2018
        • Zsuzsa #

          Seems to me that if that was her hope, she really went about it wrong. If she’d gone to Roberts directly and tried to raise the issue, then there might be a chance. By making the accusation publicly, she pretty much left Roberts no choice but to fight back to protect her reputation.

          December 1, 2018
    • Mary #

      Combining the idea of a school like the ordinary schools we all attended with magic was clever. I read a lot of magical schools before that, and boarding school though it was, Hogwarts was a lot more like those I knew than those I had read before.

      December 2, 2018
  6. At least the guy suing over “Stairway to Heaven” was familiar with the song. Alas, the note pattern he’s claiming Led Zepplin stole has been used in Western music since [looks at something] since the Renaissance.

    How long until someone claims the Brothers Grim stole the Wicked Stepmother trope from Mercedes Lackey?

    (And as a random aside, if you want plot fodder from the past, look at the catalogue of Child Ballads.)

    December 1, 2018
  7. Actually, the “low-life scavenger” thing is a scurrilous myth. Spotted hyenas are excellent hunters and mostly kill their own dinner (up to 90%, vs around half that for lions), tho they’ll eat pretty much anything they can scrounge, and in the veldt everyone is fair game. In some areas lions live entirely by driving hyenas off their kills.

    Spotted hyenas have other virtues too… they may be smarter than chimps (unlike chimps, hyenas will collaborate to solve a problem without being first taught to cooperate, and they understand mirrors on first encounter) and they readily become semi-domesticated (look up Harar and its urban hyenas; there’s even a whole book on the topic: Among the Bone Eaters). If they hadn’t lost the dewclaw and all chance to evolve an opposable thumb, they might have given Homo sapiens a run for their money.

    /pedant

    December 1, 2018
    • Pedant away. I was originally looking for a nice photo of a buzzard and found the hyena (keyword scavenger).

      December 1, 2018
      • I was expecting a micrograph of slime mold.

        December 1, 2018
  8. “Let’s face it, in the days of Trad Pub, you could potentially be a hermit and still be successful because there was a slim chance akin to winning the lottery that the publisher would push the book even if you never faced the fans.”

    An interesting point, and one that is not limited to the writing/publishing sphere. A graphics artist or programmer working for a company is not going to be a dependent on their own self-promotion skills their counterparts setting up as independent contractors on their own. Indeed, even within a company, success within a ‘deleveled’ and highly matrixed organization is likely to require higher social skills than in a traditional hierarchy, at least at the lower and middle levels.

    December 1, 2018
    • I’ve either managed or been sole owner of a tiny entertainment business for close to 16 years, twenty if you extend it to my art/writing. Being likable and dependable is crucial to success. If people don’t think they can trust you, they’ll hire someone else. Freelancers are a dime a dozen – literally, just look at Fiverr. Even when we were in a tiny market with very little other competition I worked hard at my core strengths. I knew very well that the clients would toss us aside in a heartbeat when someone cheaper came along. I also knew that they’d come back, if I had earned their trust and the cheaper act didn’t (which they usually didn’t, not understanding what they were getting into other than ‘easy money’ hahahaha).

      December 1, 2018
  9. l just came up with a new plot idea that I call “boy meets girl”. Anyone who swipes it will be hearing from my attorney.

    December 1, 2018
    • Wait, I have one! Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy MAKES girl! Genius!!!

      December 1, 2018
  10. Uncle Lar #

    Cedar, I do owe you an apology.
    Quite a while ago I made a rather harsh comment on a review you placed on Amazon.
    While the comment may have had some merit, my primary motivation was based on things told to me by the author in question. I have since learned to my regret that the person in question suffers from severe anxiety disorder and paranoia, so nothing she says can be trusted without independent verification.
    Been meaning to tell you how sorry I was to allow myself to be manipulated in that fashion, and this seemed to be the appropriate place.

    December 1, 2018
    • I hope she’s been able to get some help. Seems like that would get cold and lonely after very little time.

      I was never mad at you. You were trying to help a friend.

      And I pretty much stopped writing reviews after that. Not you – but the other people who took it under orders to come after me publicly and privately on that one when I first did it a year or so earlier. Which led to a mentor asking me just what I had done…

      December 1, 2018
      • So now offering an honest and fair review gets you a pitchfork party? Nice!

        I have to say, I rarely consider reviews for anything less that a $1,000+ purchase. I really don’t trust them. Too easy to manipulate.

        December 1, 2018
        • I appreciate the ones for non-fiction books that list major problems, errors of fact, and sometimes recommend better books. (I did giggle at the two star “I wrote a similar book and mine is far better” review on an environmental history title.)

          December 1, 2018
          • BobtheRegisterredFool #

            One, reviewing the competition is ethically unsound. Two, I can see situations writing in non-fiction where other authors need a review, and there are very few competent to review books in the subject. What is the least bad way to write such a review?

            Never outright say this book sucks, buy mine.

            Is the emphasis wrong? Introduction to a unusual way of looking at the subject.

            It is wrong due to flaws requiring additional coverage of the topic from other authors? Provide a list of titles from people that compete with you. Best read in combination with a, b, c, and d as a survey of perspectives on x.

            Is it not even right? So deeply flawed that one should never read it? If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all. If you are building a reputation as a reviewer on that subject, let your silence speak for you.

            December 1, 2018
            • *wags paw* Eh, I do academic reviews for a few journals in my fields. Generally we do a brief synopsis of the thesis and supporting evidence, mention what works (if anything) and then mention the worst problems, and conclude with a use recommendation (classroom, reference work, supplement to another older work). We have a hard 250-400 word cap, including the bibliographical information, and that’s the pattern I use. I have given negative reviews on the Zon for non-fiction. The good news is I have yet to encounter something so bad it detracts from the field. Yet.

              December 1, 2018
            • Good lord, I would never say ‘this book sucks buy mine’

              I am also a reader. I was a reader before I was a writer. I was doing book reviews before I was an author. I continued to do them until such time as a few disgruntled authors – three to be exact – decided they took exception to my reviews of their books. Reviews which were not comparative, except to facts or coherent plots or suchlike.

              December 1, 2018
            • I was thinking just the other day (as I considered my “must review these books” list) that once I actually have book/s out I should probably not do any more reviews.

              I hadn’t thought in terms of how a bad review might be seen as trying to undercut competition, but “trading” positive reviews or *appearing* to trade positive reviews can get people in trouble from both ends.

              December 4, 2018
  11. TRX #

    > it really is true that often a bad review can sell you more books

    Tom Kratman has made a few sales that way, to my personal knowledge. He posts excerpts on his web page…

    December 1, 2018
  12. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    OK, I decided to see “when this started” and apparently it started in the last month or so.

    However, what made me wonder is Dark in Death (an Eve Dallas novel).

    Eve Dallas is investigating a murder when her reporter friend asks her to speak with a “Best Selling Mystery Writer”.

    It seems that the murder (and an earlier one) are murders straight out of the mystery writer’s novels.

    Apparently the murderer wrongly believes that the mystery writer “stole her idea” so decided to “do the writer’s murders correctly” (ie the fictional murder doesn’t get caught).

    I wonder if Nora Roberts thought about her Eve Dallas novel when this garbage started. 😀

    December 1, 2018
    • Ha! That’s the plot of the “Castle” pilot episode. 🙂

      December 4, 2018
  13. Mary #

    On a total tangent — since at one point I mentioned at one point on this blog that I would try NaNoWriMo, I will now mention I got the 50,000 words.

    (And almost fully half way through the outline!)

    December 2, 2018
    • Woohoo! Congratulations!

      December 2, 2018
      • Mary #

        Thanks!

        December 2, 2018

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