QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Plagarism and the Indie Author

Recently I read a disturbing article about an author who’d discovered that someone had plagiarized her book, causing such substantial physical and financial distress that she eventually pursued the offender in court.

Plagiarism is not a new concept (in fact, you can revisit Carolyn's article here) but it seems to be finding a new group of easy targets: self-published books on Amazon.

If a thief tries to steal a traditionally published book, you can bet that the legal team employed by the Big House will descend like bees on a honey-stealing bear.

But self-published authors don’t necessarily have that back-up plan. And Amazon is full of self-published books, ripe for the plucking.

This isn’t an article meant to deter writers from choosing self-publishing. Many writers seeking agent representation still opt to self-publish other work not deemed generally query-able: short stories, anthologies, or poetry books...

...and, yes, novels, usually those that failed to find their footing with agents or editors. Those books aren’t automatic failures—they are just projects that didn’t get picked up. That’s not necessarily a condemnation on quality. That's why many authors pursue publication for those novels on their own.

In fact, putting forth a great self-published book can be a stepping stone to finding a dream agent because it provides an opportunity to start building an audience. An established audience is a huge enticement for an agent.

So self-publishing, when done well, isn’t the kiss of death. But it does open up an author to the plague that is plagiarism.

The vast majority of self-published novels on Amazon is romance fiction. Needless to say, those books are often the most plagiarized. (That doesn’t mean that everyone else is safe, though.) The market for romance fiction is massively huge, making it easy for a copy-cat to find a niche and sell well without being discovered. And that’s the problem—those copies have to be detected, discovered, and decried in order for Amazon to take them down.

While Amazon will take down individual offending books, so far they do not have a policy in place that will take down an author’s entire list if any of their titles are plagiarized. It’s up to authors to protect themselves when putting their products out for sale.

Here are a few things an author can do to reduce the chance your work will be plagiarized.

  • Enable your Digital Rights Management (DRM). Kindle publishers should activate this safe guard , which limits the devices upon which the book can be viewed. By doing so, you limit the ability for a person to lift your book, drop it into a word processor, and use it as their own. (There is a downside to enabling DRM, as many readers like to read between multiple devices, so do your research before making the decision that is right for your situation.)

  • Register your work with the US Copyright office. It gives you legal protection and the ability to seek damages. It doesn’t keep your work from getting stolen, but it really helps deliver the payback by giving you a case in court. (I'll be discussing Copyright Registration in an upcoming post, so stay tuned.)

  • Use websites to find your lines online. There are a few sites that scan the internet for you, such as Copyscape and Plagiarism.org using the “check for plagiarism” button. What else can you do? Author Ally E. Machate recommends using Smart Google Search to be the watchdog. Simple enter in a few random lines from your text and, if a new page pops up with those words (or very similar), you get an alert.

  • Protect your blog! May authors use their blogs to provide fresh, enticing content to keep their readers on the hook between books. Post copyright notices on your web pages and disable the right click copy function to prevent easy lifting. Use Java code as discussed in this article or look at this Java-free method tutorial. The addition of such coding helps to deter a plagiarist from lifting your blog and copy-pasting it to their own document. You can also go so far as to register your blog with the US Copyright office.

  • Watermark your images on your blog and the pages of your review copies. Adding a transparent copyright notice catty-cornered across the pages of your PDF review copies will also make it harder for pirates to throw your book up on the torrentz.

Keep this very important thing in mind: there is no way to prevent your book from getting plagiarized. Deterrence and vigilance is key.  Authors must do all that they can to post copyright notices and to make it harder for work to be swiped. Monitor the internet periodically for evidence that someone is passing your work off as their own. Obtain copyright registration so that, if you find it, you can fight it and claim your damages.

Authors put in immeasurable amounts of time and effort into creating their work. The same should go into protecting it. It’s YOUR book. Do all you can to keep it that way.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. She's the author of the urban fantasy trilogy The Books of the Demimonde as well as WORDS THAT BIND. She also writes for YA and NA audiences under the pen name AJ Krafton. THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, her Victorian dark fantasy inspired by Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”, is now available.

1 comment:

ProvidenceMine said...

Good article, btw!

I hate to say this, but it seems to me that the internet has made piracy so much easier these days. I can remember reading an article on how Ursula K LeGuin was surfing through the website eScribe and discovered a novel of hers published on the site IN ITS ENTIRETY! I don't remember if she had to get a lawyer or anything, but her work was eventually taken down. Also, something similar happened to Harlan Ellison who ended up contacting the offending college student and raised hell, so his work was taken down as well. I know that Mr. Ellison makes it his mission to track down plagiarizers of his work, and has been known to say that he hates the internet because of this stuff that goes on.

Back in the days of print, stealing people's work, while it happened, was not as widespread as it is today-especially when you consider the fact that the web is worldwide and that it's much harder to pursue a case of plagiarism in a foreign court.

While I do understand that published writers from large publishing houses are able to sic their cadre of lawyers on the thief, who the hell wants to go through all that? It just seems all too common, like identity theft! I can only imagine the headache it must be for independent writers-possibly even for writers from small publishing companies who might not have the resources to pursue a lawsuit for many years. The internet and the lurking sociopaths who inhabit it have just made pursuing a creative life all the more difficult and disheartening. I'm not saying give up on your writing dream, but it seems like you need a fortitude nowadays that you didn't need before. It's hard enough just to get your stuff out there :P