These "recent" scandals and scams like #CopyPasteCris and bookstuffing are nothing new to reputable self-publishers. It's only new to the traditionally published authors that are now affected.
If you’re an author in the romance world, I’m sure you’ve heard of the unraveling of romancelandia with the #CopyPasteCris plagiarism scandal. You can check it all out in several blogs online and using the hashtag I mentioned, but long story short, a reader discovered passages in a book written by Cristiane Serruya, that actually were passages written in a book by Courtney Milan. When digging deeper, the more snippets were found verbatim, that belonged to not only Ms. Milan, but over 2 dozen of other authors including Nora Roberts. The author community exploded at the incident in which per side by side screenshots suggested unquestionable plagiarism.
At this time, Ms. Serruya’s Twitter, Facebook account, and website has been taken down within 24-48 hours of the news breaking on Twitter. There’s a lot of authors involved that feel violated and rightfully so—as an author (and lover of things creative)—working on a craft is hard work. It’s involved, it’s personal and special. Having someone take it and make it their own is devastating.
Not only that, Ms. Serruya blamed her ghostwriters on the violation, to which shocked many, thinking, “Wait, what? You hired ghostwriters? Is that a thing?”
It’s no wonder that the writing community is up in arms and peeling back the layers of bullshit to finally ask ourselves: how could this have happened?
I won’t get into that because that is not what this post is about, and whether you agree with it or not, it’s not the root cause of all the bullshit we’ve seen in the publishing world. The scams of book stuffing, review buying and plagiarism are symptoms of some old problems that indie authors suffered through, but no one cared.
Some of this will be unpopular. And maybe even hard to swallow, but it has to be said, because everyone is allowed to speak their truth, and I am not responsible for how you choose to react to it. All I can tell you is not the intention is not to hurt.
I have loved writing all my life. I never forgot an essay contest I participated in as a second grader and the moment the teacher called in the vice principal to read my work. That was the defining moment that showed me that writing was worth sharing with others. Though I wasn’t hellbent on being a published author, instead, I still retreated to my worlds and wrote for me. I had no desire to publish and dragged my feet to write. And then, in 2014, I suddenly lost my mother. I was devastated and depressed. I wrote a gothic romance to deal with the pain of loss and my fascination with death. My brother Mark would encourage me and got me more interested in perhaps seeking publication. I was scared, but told him I’d try. Then the following year, he died suddenly of an embolism. I still have his last text message excited to come down for Thanksgiving, talk about my writing—then finally moving back to Texas. He was only 45 years old. Heartbroken and finding a way out of the dark, I went back to writing, feeling in some way to live for the ones I’ve lost and to no longer be afraid to share my work.
I’m a control freak and a recovering perfectionist. But I’m a control freak— I know what I like, how I like it and pretty damn resourceful on how to get it. So when it came to deciding to publish, being independent (or self-publishing) was kinda a no brainer. The work didn’t scare me because I’m a small business owner, so all of the maintenance involved (marketing, finding vendors, etc.) was nothing new to me.
I had heard that self-publishing has lost much of the stigma that it had so many years ago, and many writers and even well-known authors were turning to self-publishing as publishing houses just weren’t keeping up with the times like they used to.
So, I jumped in, published my 1st book and was quite fascinated with the whole ordeal. I was a published author. Now, just because I wasn’t scared of the process didn’t mean I knew everything about what I needed to do, so I joined lots of FB groups to learn more so my next book would be even more successful. Learn to course-correct when you’re on the journey, but don’t ever stop.
Now this was 2016, and the rose-colored glasses came off pretty quickly by the time my next book. I’m a fly on the wall much of the time because I’m a people watcher and analyzer. Told you, I’m a control freak. Anyway, here’s some hard truth.
The stigma isn’t as “gone” as we think it is.
You’d be surprised how often successful, legitimate indie authors are ignored and/or ostracized within the community. These are authors who started from the ground up and built a following without the leg up of being a previously traditional author. These authors were ‘unknown.’ Trust me, this drastically changes experience because when many indie authors do polls to ask readers “How much are you willing to spend on an ebook?” On numerous occasions the sentiment often is: “It depends on if I know the author.” “I don’t pay more than .99¢ for a book by an ‘unknown’ author.
This is the first time many have gotten close enough to the shit to smell it.
The market is determined by demand. And the readers started demanding cheap books, pumped out quickly as if authors were machines.
Let’s be real here. If you were to talk to a random group of indie authors, many will tell you the harassment they’ve received to not only give away books for free, but to publish a book post haste—like tomorrow. Before you wet your lips for a rebuttal, I’ll also be real in saying that Indies have kinda made this bed too.
It’s kinda funny, really, the similarities of the industry flip of publishing and the wedding photography industry to which my small business belongs. When I started covering weddings, a new line of DSLR cameras came out to the world. These cameras made it ridiculously easy to take great photos. You didn’t actually have to be a trained photographer to operate it. So, suddenly, everyone thought they were a photographer. Craigslist posts went through the roof with everyone and their mamas offering to take photos. Some did it for free, and some did it for a terribly low price. You know what happened? Everyone ran to them. Who can’t resist free? Or paying $200 to capture a wedding? So here we were, experienced craftsman, investing in quality work and the masses flocked to the cheap competition with subpar work. Many of us skilled photographers held on as long as we could, but soon we were forced to lower our prices to compete. Many couldn’t afford to do that. A few photographers I knew decided to move on. For me, I brought my price back up and told myself that the right clients for me, would value my work and pay what it’s worth. Don’t get it twisted, it’s not that heroic—I have a steady full-time job to lean on. My buddies did not. Those weddings fed their families.
With this, bred a culture of “free, cheap and easy.” Now, when talking with leads, they were bold in asking for a free album or a discounted session.” Pretty soon, it became the norm for people looking to undercut photographers on price because now it’s perceived as ‘anybody can do it.’
I can tell you from experience that sentiment comes from ignorance on the consumer. I remember one time having to explain to a couple why my prices were (what they considered ‘expensive’) They didn’t understand how much web hosting, insurance (on liability and equipment), PPA dues and classes, and time went into producing the work they wanted to get at a fraction of the cost. They learned that it was more than taking a cool camera and snapping pics. No, great work isn’t magic, great crafters just make it look like it is.
Lack of understanding what goes into producing a quality book is a solvable issue.
Most indie authors publish their 1st book and barely make up the cost of production. Forget about yielding a profit. Depending on the genre, one’s resources and a lot of other variables, producing a book can be anywhere from $200 to $2,000. It really depends on how much the author can afford. Like everything in this world, you pay for skill and quality. Most of us go in not sure we’ll get any of that back.
I heard that perception often with various individuals about writing (esp. romance). It’s a crazy reflection on how consumers confuse the method of production with the skill of production.
So this is what I ask of readers. You have a hand in reshaping the entire book community. Sure, as creatives, we write because we love it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want or deserve for our work to be valued. When you ask for a free book, you are essentially telling the author that you do not value their work enough to invest in it. We pay for items because they hold value. Writing is not just a hobby (especially if you want them to pump out a book a month!) I know many authors where this gig puts food on their table.
If you want to help change the culture of publishing scams, level the playing field for indie authors
Indies, stop setting your price to .99¢. Amazon only pays you 35% of that and it’s ridiculous. How many books do you have to even sell to even cover the cost of editing and book design? Stop.