The Robin Hood WIP diaries (16) – Plagiarism or My Book was Stolen
Let’s talk the p-word.
Disclaimer: I myself would click away from this article if I saw it a year or two ago. You see, I used to be (and still am) a writer who fears the p-word so much, I am scared that being associated with a simple post about it, even reading it, will somehow bring upon me the curse of being plagiarized.
Turns out, I was afraid of it for a reason.
First of all,
let’s look it up, shall we?
p l a •
g i a
r i s m
the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.
Synonyms: copying, infringement of copyright, piracy, theft, stealing, poaching, appropriation.
As some of you might already know, if you have been following this blog, way more than a year ago, I published my entire Greek mythology fantasy retelling novel Salt for Air on Swoon Reads.
Swoon Reads is a website where authors publish their finished and fully edited manuscripts for a chance at publication by Macmillan without an agent. (That is an extremely short version of what this amazing site dodes, but if you are interested in more, you are welcome to chek them out.) I had the best of times there, met the most wonderful and talented authors, many of whom are my friends to this day.
H O W E V E R
Tragedy struck when a random person whom I didn’t know (and wasn’t registered on the site) saw it, liked it, and proceeded to steal my title and entire parts of the opening scenes.
I, of course, immediately took it down, and emailed the staff, but they couldn’t care less and pretended they could do nothing about it, although I sent them all the places where she had published my novel. I was completely let down and disappointed by their dismissal of the whole thing, because they keep reassuring everyone on their site, in multiple places, that they will do the “best they can” to protect our manuscripts, and that the files they upload aren’t downloadable.
In despair, I turned to the Swoon Reads community on twitter, and my friends there helped me so much with encouraging words, similar experiences (!) and words of sound advice.
I let that person who had stolen my work know I had seen it, and she deleted it, but I have blocked her since, because she tried to deny it and harass me, so I have no idea what she is doing with it. Of course, that’s not the point. I know she can’t write the same exact story as me, nor make it as awesome as I have (just saying-lol)
The point is this:
It’s real, and I am a victim of it.
Inspite of what other “authors” or “publishers” on this or any other site or platform may tell you, it is a thing. There are desperate, ruthless, unscrupulous or (best case senario) just plain stupid people out there who will post your art without credit, copy your ideas, steal your words.
This is the internet, after all.
There are tons of empty people roaming about, looking for souls to eat. I know this sounds overly dark, but it’s true. And by “empty” I mean people who don’t have ideas of their own, no creative spark, but crave the attention and personal rewards of other creators of original content they see online. They might be better at advertizing themselves or their stolen “stuff” than you (as we all have seen in the past, in cases of famous authors, artists, and even scientists) but they could never in a million years have created it. And that’s the crux of the matter.
I put Salt for Air in a drawer, never to see the light of day.
Well, for one because I felt violated. I was violated. My rights had been trampled upon and I no longer felt safe in that world I had created laboriously, because someone had invaded, stolen, and shattered it. My heart was broken for so long, I couldn’t even remember what it had felt like to write without a constant feeling of deep despair.
You see, that person didn’t just steal my story. She stole part of my soul with it, she sucked the joy out of my entire creative process. That’s what plagiarism is all about.
But there’s a second reason. A second fear, even greater. The what if fear.
The fear that’s constantly in front of our eyes, in the success of people we know have stolen ideas and passed them off as their own, and made entire fortunes out of it. I won’t add examples, but I’m sure you had at least one pop into your head as you were reading that sentence. (The first thing that popped into my head was the example of a “physicist” who is widely known as the “inventor of things” and the “father of things” when he stole EVERYTHING from other scientists, and nothing of his was original. Fellow-nerds will know who I’m talking about. And sadly, no, it’s not just one person. Also, I’m thinking of an “author” who has stolen every word and character he/she ever wrote. I’m sure you have your own examples in mind.)
So, as I said before, Salt for Air is mine. It will always be the story in my head, which turned into pages on my laptop and eventually printed pages in my hand. It will always be mermen and Greek mythology and sea monsters and salty kisses and tears in the rain and fanfic writers of an imagined book.
Right now I know that this person who stole parts of my story isn’t likely to become widely-known based just on what she plagiarized from me. (Although you never know.) But what if it happens again? What if that fear stops me from writing another word?
I struggled a lot with beginning to write again after that, especially when i saw how little the publishing industry cares for human rights or even just creative rights. Which is zero. I don’t mind, thankfully, I’m not part of that industry, but the fear is still there.
I started to write the Robin Hood WIP, although it was the worst time in my life to be undertaking such a huge task, because I wanted to get back into the joy of writing and creating new worlds. Robin Hood and his world have always made me feel safe and protected for some reason, and I craved the feeling of creating that story.
But Salt for Air remained a wound in my heart, an empty hole.
Now, a year or so later, I finally mustered up the courage, given to me largely by the lovely community of The Book Robin Hoods and their camaraderie and support, to share a tiny peek of SFA (here). The response both on the site, on my blog, facebook and instagram, blew me away.
People heard that story for the first time (of course) and wanted more. So I realized I was being stupid, holding myself and my story back because of some immoral person.
But not quite as stupid as I’d been before.
I’m wiser now. I know that this is a real threat to all of us authors out there, especially the indie ones, that don’t have a team of publishers behind us. But you know what? I’ll take my team of reader and writer friends any day over that people I emailed over at SR who didn’t give a damn about my problem (largely created due to lack of professionalism on their site) -I think the problem might be the incompetence of the specific staff member who responded to my emails with rudeness and indifference, but no matter how much I asked to be referred to someone else, they refused to reply. Still, I feel so much safer with my friends than I ever felt with those “professionals” who couldn’t bother to answer my emails. Wouldn’t you?
I fully realize that the truth is this: No one can protect you from plagiarism. No one can promise you that no matter what, people won’t steal or repost your ideas.
No one can guarantee you that others will behave in a decent, humane way.
So what do we do? Keep our ideas, our stories, our art, in the drawer forever? No. I understand that now. That would be even worse. Then we ourselves would be robbing ourselves of the joy of sharing our art with the world.
The answer is the exact opposite: Be brave.
Now that the worst has happened, I find myself strangely free, as I begin the tentative process of dusting off my copy of Salt for Air, and looking to publish it.
I find myself unafraid as I keep sharing intimate details of my process of writing my Robin Hood WIP in these diaries with all of you. I share my ideas more freely than before.
Why? Once more, Robin has the answer.
Robin Hood, who has lost everything a man can lose, fortune, home, name and decency, and is still fighting with all he’s got and being merry in the process.
Because once what you were afraid of has happened, there’s nothing to fear anymore. You just do what you have to do, and fake courage until you actually feel it.
Letting bad stuff defeat me was far worse than what that person did to me. I realize that now. It took me a year and more, but thankfully I did. Better late than never, right? Letting the immoral people win, that’s the worst that can happen. Not plagiarism. Fear is the worst thing that can happen to you and me, and we have to fight against that with all our strength.
Because the worst thing a plagiarist can do is steal your basic idea, but you still have that brain that created your idea, so you can create an even better one. But if you allow another’s crime to stop you (which is totally understandable) you will be the one who commits the bigger crime: giving up.
And you must never, ever give up.
Stay safe, copyright-protect everything, watermark if you possibly can, and double-lock your pdfs and ebooks. (That’s a figure of speech, I don’t know if double-lock exists for pdfs). People can still step on your heart, of course. So what do you do?
I can’t tell you what to do, how much to share, or when to stop in order to protect yourself. Educating yourself about plagiarism and crimes committed against you will certainly help, and this entire article is written with that as a given. Apart from that, I can only tell you what I’m going to to.
I am going to be fighting against what had been done to me and against me, by sharing the hell out of my book(s) and not letting anyone intimidate me.
I will continue to share excerpts of my story generously, because that’s the one basic thing that makes readers want to read my books: the teasers. I will not post entire chapters until a few months before publication, but I will not be shy or stringent with my ideas. I will let the whole world know (or at least the few people in it who are interested.) I will not sit in bed and cry all day (well, not any more.) I will accept that I have a right to feel awful about what happened to me, that it wasn’t something I deserved in any way, and move on.
I will publish my stolen story, because it’s not stolen, it’s mine. I will polish it up within an inch of its life, and send it to betas, and rework it again, and then I will not be afraid to put it out there, free chapters, promos, aesthetics and all. Full on.
It took me a bit of time, but I’m finally doing it. I’m stepping out there. Out of my comfort zone, but also out of my pain.
I hope you’ll do the same.
Love this so much 😭.