Business Musings: Ghostwriting, Plagiarism, and The Latest Scandal

Business Musings: Ghostwriting, Plagiarism, and The Latest Scandal

Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from interviewers that I have never gotten before. They ask, “Are you going to join the latest trend and hire ghostwriters to put out more books in your series?”

So far, I have managed to refrain (at least on podcasts) from responding, “Are you fucking kidding me?” and simply say, “No, I’m too much of a control freak.”

But I have a longer answer in my head. The answer is complicated. Let me see if I can break it down for you.

Readers don’t buy plots. They buy a writer’s point of view, her style, and the way she tells a story. Some idiot whose name I will not repeat and whose blog I will not link to wrote in response to the latest scandal (which I will discuss below): “What constitutes plagiarism in a genre in which formulaic storylines and themes are the norm?”

If the idiot understood copyright, she would know the answer to that question: What gets copyrighted is the form the work takes, not tropes or the formula.

Readers like tropes and formulas. They like familiar stories well told. They also like familiar stories with twists that take the familiar and make it something new.

Readers follow writers, as a brand, and readers are very smart. Readers know that a book by James Patterson will have one voice, but a book by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro will have a completely different voice. Readers will often say (even in the reviews) that they might like Patterson by himself, but refuse to read the books he’s written in collaboration with someone else.

The voice changes when someone else writes a book in the same series. Ian Fleming’s James Bond is not the same as Jeffrey Deaver’s, no matter how hard Deaver (whose work I love) tried to catch Fleming’s Bond.

If I want to remain true to my characters and my readers, I will never bring in a ghostwriter. Never.

If I worked with another writer, that writer would get credit in a shared byline. That’s what Patterson does. As outlined clearly in a ThoughtCo article, here’s how the collaboration works. Patterson hires an established writer with publishing credits, and gives them a 60-80 page treatment of the story.

Then begins a pretty intense back-and-forth; Mark Sullivan, who co-wrote several of Patterson’s Private series as well as Cross Justice, described weekly phone calls, brutally honest feedback, and a tireless pursuit of the “terrific.” So it’s not fair to imply that Patterson is simply coasting on his brand name; the collaborative novels are his ideas, his characters, and a great deal of his input. As Patterson himself says, “I’m very good at plot and characterization but there are better stylists.”

Note that Patterson, one of the smartest writers alive, knows that the style will change with a collaborator—and he likes that.

Other bestsellers have tried the same thing, and ran screaming. Dean Koontz tried the same method, and ended up rewriting the books himself, republishing them to adhere to his original vision. Not because the other writers were bad—they’re great writers, all of them—but because they couldn’t pull off the work that Koontz wanted at the level he wanted them to achieve.

Working with a collaborator is hard. It’s more work to collaborate, which I have done, than it is to write a book yourself.

Now, to save time (which is what all of those interview questions were about) or to get to stories that I might never get to, I might consider bringing in other writers. If there was a universe of mine or a series of side stories that I have only marginal interest in, I might bring in other established writers to write books in that series.

Then the byline would be theirs, writing in my series. So the readers would know I didn’t write the stories.

Because, as I said, readers are smart, and many of them wouldn’t want to read someone else’s take on my series, even though I had approved the take. Some readers want to spend a long time in a series, no matter who writes it. They’ve fallen for the setting or the world-building or something, and to those readers, more is better.

Not to all readers, though.

But, again, it would take work to do that. I’d have to approve each manuscript. I would oversee it all. Which is editing. And worse, it’s editing in my world. I can easily see myself reacting like Dean Koontz, with great frustration that someone whiffed an easy (to me) plot point or didn’t get enough depth in the characters or wrote a passive scene.

I’m not James Patterson. I don’t like writing collaboratively, even on projects that are peripheral to my own.

I am, as I said to all those interviewers, too much of a control freak.

I’m also aware of the fact that writing in someone else’s universe is a skill that not every writer has. I’ve played in other people’s universes. I’ve written more tie-in novels than I want to think about. My favorites were Star Trek novels, but I have written a Star Wars novel, and X-Men, and several others, often in collaboration with my husband Dean. Note that these are media properties that already have more than one writer on board. In fact, they have an entire team of people putting the properties together, because media properties are, by definition, assembled collaboratively.

And still, people oversee these novelizations. The licensors review them with a fine-tooth comb. They make sure that nothing violates the rules of the universe and that the characters are consistent and that everything fits into what the fans expect.

Because fans get angry when someone writes something that doesn’t fit in an established universe. Some established universes bring in lawyers. And all involve contracts state in unequivocal terms that the writer is writing original material in a particular universe, and that the words and writings are the writer’s own, not cribbed from other sources.

Here’s the thing about contracts: the lawyers who write them try to see every eventuality, but sometimes they miss. And when they miss, they rectify that miss in the next contract. So the fact that there are long clauses about originality and plagiarism and libel and all of those things in traditional publishing work-for-hire contracts means that somewhere, somewhen, someone plagiarized or libeled someone in a work-for-hire project.

There is nothing new under the sun, after all.

So whenever I get these ghostwriting and collaboration questions, I see the issue in all of its complexity. I want to write my own fiction, and have time to write even more. I can see each and every day being eaten up with author issues. Even if I hire an editor to oversee the project, I would still be approving these books, reading things I don’t even want in my head.

Nope. No. Not at all.

When I watched the collaboration start in the indie world—and when one big selling KDP author told me that he doesn’t have contracts with his collaborators because they all trust each other, well, I just about had a fit. I tried to talk him into contracts, but no, that’s a trust thing, apparently. And it’ll bite him one day, in a very bad way.

Then, shortly thereafter, I learned that dozens of big selling indie authors can’t produce books fast enough to game the Amazon algorithms, so those writers started hiring ghostwriters to produce more books, so the writer had time to write more books too.

I remembered thinking: that’s not how it works. A writer with a dozen ghostwriters would be spending all her time overseeing those writers, not writing more. She’d have less time not more.

Unless she hired someone to oversee them. And then she’d have to trust that person implicitly. I thought about the infrastructure it would take to maintain that, the readers and the lawyers for the contracts and thought, well that’s a blog post one day, warning writers away from doing this.

And then I forgot about it, because really, I’m not in the business of enabling writers to scam their readers. Because that’s what this ghostwriting thing is. It’s writers who are in it for the money, and who don’t care what their readers think. They don’t respect their readers at all or understand why readers fall in love with a book in the first place.

It’s all about numbers and not about the love of storytelling.

And yet here I am, writing this blog.

Because this week, historical romance writer and lawyer (who specializes in intellectual property) Courtney Milan discovered—thanks to some eagle-eyed readers—that some “writer” named Cristiane Serruya plagiarized her novel The Duchess War.

I found out a few days ago, and had to deal with some things in my own life, and by the time I returned to Twitter, I discovered this scandal had mushroomed beyond Courtney. At most recent count (as I write this), Serruya has plagiarized 35 books, 27 authors, 2 recipes, and 2 articles.  The authors include a lot of bestsellers and favorites, including lawyers like Courtney and writers who have sued plagiarizers before, like Nora Roberts. Nora’s particularly outspoken about what she has gone through, and I have to admit, I snorted tea when I read this comment from Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:

When I saw “Nora Roberts” [on this list] my first thought was, “Everybody, get underground NOW.”

Exactly. This scandal is getting uglier by the hour.

Initially, Serruya responded to Courtney Milan’s original post about the plagiarism with a tweet, blaming a ghostwriter. Which made me think about all of this stuff. Because it’s logical to me that a ghostwriter might cobble together books from a bunch of other books.

Even if that had happened, the legal burden is still on Serruya. She put her name on the book. She also didn’t vet what she was putting her name on. And we’ll get back to that point in a minute.

In the last twenty-four hours, things got even more complicated. A few people Serruya had hired as ghostwriters –and who quit when they saw what they had to work with—claim that Serruya cobbled the books together from random quotes from various novels, and had the ghostwriters polish the damn things.

That makes more sense to me, considering how pervasive this is. And frankly, if I were a ghostwriter who decided to plagiarize, I’d just pick off one or two books, rather than a whole mess of them. Because that description above sounds like too much work.

The courts will go after this, and Serruya will owe these writers (and maybe more) buckets of money, which will probably go unpaid, because I can’t imagine she’s earning enough to handle the millions of dollars she’s going to owe.

I feel for these writers caught in this mess. I do. Because they have to be vigilant to protect their copyrights. Courtney Milan posted what writers need to do if they’re caught in this mess.

They will be dealing with this for months, maybe years. And I sure wish them the best.

That’s bad enough, but what this mess has revealed is that ugly underbelly of indie that I noticed a while ago, and decided to run away from.

This ghostwriting thing? It’s a disaster waiting to happen. For everyone. I expected the problems to be contractual with the writers who hired the ghostwriters, particularly the dumbfucks who don’t have a contract or any kind of written agreement with their ghostwriters.

I did not expect plagiarism although, given the contracts I’ve seen from traditional publishers, I should have.

I mean, what’s to stop the ghostwriters from plagiarizing? It’s not their name on the manuscript. And I know some of the writers who are hiring ghostwriters. Those writers aren’t vetting the books. They’re not doing the kind of due diligence that college professors and high school teachers do to see if the writing is plagiarized. (There are programs that search for similar wording all over the internet.)

The writers are not overseeing the projects at all, and are doing it for all the wrong reasons. These writers want more product out, to goose Amazon algorithms, not to get the best stories possible to their readers. (Clearly I’m not the only one who sees this problem. Writer Kilby Blades published a blog post about this before I got mine up, and she explores all the algorithm issues and everything else. Go forth and read this.)

This is a function of the write-faster-and-get-more-sales school of indie. And it’s going to bite the writers who are doing it, particularly if they are doing so with ghostwriters.

If you’re one of those writers, stop using ghostwriters now. Hire collaborators, give them byline credit, and for godssake, have a contract with them. Oversee the work for quality, and run the stupid basic plagiarism check that every teacher in the world now uses.

Be smart about this.

The smartest thing, though, is to write your books at your pace, and stop flooding the market with mediocre books, written by people who don’t care about your worlds or your characters as much as you do.

If you got into this business because you love writing, then write for heaven’s sake. And if you’re worried about maintaining your income, then the real key is to cut expenses, not add to them. If you can’t survive without gaming the system, then maybe consider a part-time job until you have enough money put away to augment your writing income in the lean months. Then live on a percentage of what your writing earns, not on the entire amount.

I realize I’m probably talking to the choir, folks who are already writing for the love of the work and wouldn’t think of hiring ghostwriters. But on the off-chance that you’re one of the people with ghostwriters writing under your byline, please look at this train wreck and realize that there’s another train bearing down on you.

Change your behavior now.

Before it’s too late.

******

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“Business Musings: Ghostwriting, Plagiarism, and The Latest Scandal,” copyright © 2019 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / 4774344sean.

46 responses to “Business Musings: Ghostwriting, Plagiarism, and The Latest Scandal”

  1. Why isn’t Ghostwriting considered a form of Plagiarism?

  2. All the information in this article is quite valid, i have also write about the ghost writing scandals happending right now in the industry, fake book writers are gradually increasing, that’s why everyone should ask their writers few important before hiring anyone, in this way you will know that you have given your work on the right hands.

  3. Edgard Refinetti says:

    I don’t know if you have ever written a post about this, but I was wondering, how does this “control freak” facet of yours expresses itself when you are/were editing other people’s work? How much do you interfere or suggest or change in the stories you edit and how do you calibrate this approach?

  4. JH Haskell says:

    I write moderately fast. I spend six hours every day working and I usually hit 5k a day. Doing the math, and subtracting 10 “off days” that’s 100k a month. That’s blank page to published novel. It’s taken me three years of working my a$$ of to get here and there’s nothing wrong with it or me. My books are 4.5 stars across the board and I make good money. Writing fast and publishing often isn’t a crime. I’m sorry some people can’t but if they work hard it can be done. Please don’t lump those of us who work really hard with people who chest, stuff, and game the system.

  5. Terry says:

    Please help me understand the economics of ghostwriting. It sounds like ghostwriters are paid pittances to write books on behalf of “name” authors, and that these ghostwriters are able to work very, very fast. What is the sense of turning out good, publishable work for someone else? Why don’t ghostwriters write under their own names, build their own brands, and keep their own royalties? If you’re good enough to write for a brand author, aren’t you good enough to build your own brand? Why waste your talent on someone else who doesn’t even pay you very well?

    • In traditional publishing, ghostwriters can be paid very, very, very well, in the six figures (with a small royalty percentage). I have no idea why anyone would do this work, as you said, for a flat fee of 3K or less.

      It might be financial. 3K now, instead of in dribs and drabs as you build your name. To some people, 1-3K is a lot of money. (I’ve been there, but I wrote nonfiction under my own name at that time.)

      • Maree says:

        Of course it’s about money. My friend just signed on with a ghost writing agency. She’s a good writer with several unpublished novels. She can bang out au fanfic fast and clean. But she doesn’t have time or money to play the long game of self publishing. She’s got kids and health problems that make working a regular job impossible. Making money doing the thing she’s already doing for no current money is an easy choice.

        When you’re feeding your family off foodstamps 1-3k is a lot of money.

        The question I ask is that knowing how predatory the supposedly legitimate publishing industry is, how much worse is it in the shadowy world of ghost writing?

        • Much worse in the shadowy world of ghost writing. Much worse. As you’re seeing from this scandal. The one thing trad pub has is lawyers. If you’re ghosting for them, lawyers are all over the project–and that protects the ghostwriter as well as the actual writer. This plagiarism thing might have happened in trad pub, but it would have been stopped by the lawyers (and by editors who use those programs to see if something is plagiarized). The writers who are hiring the ghostwriters aren’t overseeing anything at all and many do not use contracts.

          Why are there lawyers? Because the only writing projects that have ghosts are the ones that pay a lot of money–to the publisher. They’re protecting a large investment.

          If you or your friend is ghostwriting, insist on a contract. If the writer doesn’t provide one, either provide your own or, better, flee and get a different job.

      • I’m a professional ghostwriter so I’ll answer this. I have books under my own name but they don’t make enough to support me. Maybe some day, but not now. In the meantime, I need a day job. I’d much rather have a day job writing. It’s what I do best. I used to be a journalist until I moved to Spain, where I can’t get a job in the field. I also worked for a big travel blog called Gadling until the bottom fell out of the blogging market. Yes, it was once so big that blogging was my day job. What a dream job. They paid me to go to Ethiopia. They paid me to go to Somaliland. Sigh.
        Anyway, that disappeared too and I needed another day job, so I started ghostwriting. I charge a minimum of 5 cents a word, and while that doesn’t come out to a lot per novel, I live in a country with a relatively low cost of living and free health care (yay!). I am fast (20,000 words per week, or Pulp Speed One), can keep up a consistent quality (at least my clients think so), and my own books act as a CV for potential new clients.
        Why don’t I focus on my own books and build up a rep? I do as much as I can. But just like the indie writers I know who are engineers or translators or teachers, I need to pay the bills every month, and I use writing to do that. I get paid to practice, and practice is vital for improving your craft.
        Slowly, too slowly for my taste, I’m building up a fan base with my own books and hope to one day leave ghostwriting and live off my own name. In the meantime, I live off of writing under a variety of names.
        And that’s a lot of fun.

  6. Robert Victoria says:

    In another context the other day, a friend discovered that Dumas had writers working on his books. I pointed out that Dumas was in the room dictating faster than most people can write, overseeing the work.
    Also contracts; I’m a preacher’s kid, preacher’s brother who has seen goo many problems with not putting something in writing. They may be the best people in the world with good intentions, but misunderstandings happen, somebody else comes in,whatever. Putting even a short note saying Tuank You here’s your money, receipt, whatever, keeps away a multitude of problems.

  7. Ah, yes. Collaborators without contracts.

    I’ve known several collaborations in the spec screenwriting world that have failed dismally, because one person decided they didn’t want to work on the project any more or got a paid job writing/producing something else, or both of them wanted to take the story in different directions after a while, and couldn’t agree on which one to follow. They didn’t have contracts beforehand to spell out the rights each of them had to the screenplay, so they’re now in limbo and unsaleable.

    Even if you’re best friends, or you’re actually paying them for their work, always get something in writing to specify what happens when the collaboration fails so you don’t have to just toss it in a drawer and forget about it at that point.

    And I’d wondered how these people hiring cheap ghost-writers deal with plagiarism. I guess the answer is that many of them don’t….

  8. There’s another use of ghostwriters in indie publishing that hasn’t been addressed here. Some indie publishers who are not writers themselves, but good at business and marketing, hire ghostwriters to produce content. Each ghostwriter gets an individual pen name, thus each pen name retains a consistent voice. There are contracts and instructions as to tone, genre, and style. These indie publishers are in the publishing business, and it is in their best interest to produce quality content in order to build brand loyalty. They pay well (I charge a minimum of 5 cents a word) and the contracts are written at a professional level.
    This sort of ghostwriting has been a godsend to me. It’s more than 80% of my income (the rest coming from books under my own name and the occasional magazine article), and allows me to practice my craft while building my own career. I do not work for word mills (they can’t afford me), or tricksters who buy reviews or engage in book stuffing. I and my clients are in for the long haul, so we make good books that keep readers coming back for more.
    I’ve written about this in more detail over at Black Gate.
    https://www.blackgate.com/2019/02/24/in-defense-of-professional-ghostwriting/

    • Thanks, Sean. Important distinction.

      • ThePolyBlog says:

        I was wondering if the term ghostwriting is too big a catchall, that we’re capturing babies in the bathwater, long before we throw something out. The contract for pen name (kind of the old Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Three INvestigator style), and I think even some of the stuff that you and Dean have mentioned doing (?) where it wasn’t under your name seems like an obvious area that is different from a true ghost writer for a celebrity (like Snooki), or from that of a collaborative project where the byline includes the author (and presumably, hopefully some royalties?). Contrasting again with the website model that hires freelancers to generate content that often is quick turn-around. There are people on Fiverr, Turk, etc. who take on edit jobs or writing jobs without them being scammers…it’s often more about the price than the site that determines if they’re legit or not, but not always (as you said, 1-3K can be lucrative to someone, just as a few hundred could be to someone needing something to get through some lean times).

        Are there other terms in the spectrum you would use?

        • Ghost writing is ghost writing is ghost writing. Most actors and sports figures credit the ghost writer inside the book (I’d like to thank Joe Ghostwriter, without whom this book would not exist or some such nonsense). It’s accepted behavior that someone outside of the writing field would have a ghost writer. In fact, it’s expected.

          It’s also expected that a writer writes her own books. So if a writer is putting a timetable and saying she’s writing it, and she isn’t, then that’s much more of a gray area. Doing that without a contract hurts the actual ghostwriter.

          So is it like what we did? Well, I never ghostwrote anything, although Dean did for scientists, who acknowledged him. (Fiction.) He got a byline on things that he had been hired to ghost for actors, and acknowledgements on several other projects. For all of those, he was paid tens of thousands (or more) plus a percentage.

          I don’t think the problem is the ghostwriter, unless they’re plagiarizing. I think the problem is the writers. I’m objecting less to the ghostwriting than I am to the fact that they’re doing it badly, not editing for content, writing bad contracts, and screwing the actual (ghost)writers. They’re also insulting their audience.

          The Hardy Boys and all the other franchise fiction…the readers knew that was franchise fiction. And there are some bylines that are now franchise again. But if I suddenly hired other people to write Kristine Kathryn Rusch fiction, and I didn’t oversee them and I didn’t pay well and I didn’t care about content, then I’m screwing both the (ghost)writers and my readers, not respecting anyone or anything except the almighty dollar. That’s what I object to.

          Oh, and by the way, the way that you ghostwrite for a celebrity is you interview them, at length, then organize their stories into a book, put their words into actual sentences, and let them approve or disapprove what comes out under their name. They have a big editing portion of the work as well as submitting to days and days and days of interviews. It’s not easy or fast or simple. I guess I get pissed at the assumption (and practice) of these “writers” who think ghosting is something that makes someone write faster. Only when the person who hires the ghost does it all wrong. (And, you’ll note, most celebrity books have this byline “Suzette Famous Person with Sally Writer Person.” They’re really not ghosted at all.

    • Jason M says:

      I’m a part-time ghostwriter too, and I charge the same as Sean — 5 cents a word for both fiction and nonfiction. I can basically make $30-35 per hour that way, sometimes more. It’s in the neighborhood of my other work rates, and I can do it at my leisure during the day, so I’m happy. I’ve published 20 titles under my own pen name as well, though sales have slowed, so the ghosting has been very, very welcome.

      My ghostwriting firm gets a few kooks, but quite a few serious clients too. The work is challenging, in the best possible way. I’ll be hanging out my own shingle in the next couple of months to drum up even more business.

  9. Edward says:

    Excellent post…on point. Never thought of hiring a ghost writer; never will.

  10. I’m a romance author and I’ve spent too much time this week dealing with this. It’s been very distracting. I scanned one of her earlier books that I found for free, to be sure she hadn’t stolen anything from me or my bestie. Thankfully neither of us writes the kind of paragraphs and phrasing she steals.

    Oh my god, it was awful! The only words to describe it are toxic shit. Nor does this person have even the faintest idea of what a romance is. That’s the insult nobody realizes outside of romance circles. We take great pride in knowing what our genre is and isn’t. Our readers expect certain things in a romance. This person didn’t just treat romance authors like idiots. Our readers are being treated like idiots too.

  11. Linda Jordan says:

    Thank you for this piece. I’ve been watching it with interest. I’m wondering if there’s something that can be done – on the retail level – to stop this. I can’t imagine Amazon trying to vet every book or story they publish. But something needs to change.
    Oh, and Norah Roberts chimed in on the debacle today: http://fallintothestory.com/plagiarism-then-and-now/?fbclid=IwAR1dD92jVk9lzfeqy0R98ti6e15IJqEh2k0eSaxr01Dp640zf4oPLrNZN7E

  12. R.N. Say says:

    Kris – just wondering if you have seen the reports from people Serruya contacted to “clean up” her manuscripts. It sounds more like she plagiarized a bunch of material then wanted to send it to ghostwriters to polish her frankennovels. Several are reporting that they turned her down (for whatever reason) and one that worked for her wasn’t paid.

  13. David Lang says:

    I expect that most readers couldn’t have told you the name of the ‘author’ of the books, they were looking for the series title.

  14. You know, there is one major plagiarism I have yet to see anyone talk about–totally trad pub, children’s books. Walter Farley lifted some major stuff from Zane Gray’s WILDFIRE. If I hadn’t been such a Black Stallion fan as a kid, I wouldn’t have known it, and WILDFIRE is one of Gray’s lesser-known works. It’s early on in Farley’s series, but still…this one got past the trad pub folks.

  15. Thanks for this article! I’m a fellow writer who is in this (writing) because I love to write my stories in my own voice and hope that they will impact my readers in a good way. I would never consider hiring a ghost writer. I’m also on Patreon, please check out my page: https://www.patreon.com/CassandraCrossing. I’ll check out yours 🙂

  16. Sherry J. says:

    Exactly this. I read your work because I LOVE your work. I ran across this feeling with Larry Niven. I like Niven; I love Niven & Pournelle. Barnes brought something different to the mix, but still good. All with their names on the cover. And all with real collaboration. But I’ve been reading an action author recently. The older books I liked; I assume they were his writing. Then I read one I hated. When I finished I rechecked the cover and saw it was by AAA & bbb. This week I read another that I finished. Boring story, nothing exciting. By AAA & ccc. Today I picked up a third, XXX on top, created by ddd & eee, written by fff & ggg. Really? Fifty pages in and I am going to quit wasting my time. Obviously he doesn’t care about the craft. He’s just trying to milk as much money as he can get from his name. I’m done. These stories are bad enough I want to throw them in the garbage instead of putting them in the free libraries around town and subjecting other readers to this.

  17. rrhersh says:

    Did readers of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew rely on a belief that Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene were real people? I don’t know. I read Hardy Boys as a kid (considerably after their original publication). My recollection was that it was an interesting bit of trivia that “Franklin W. Dixon” was a pseudonym and the books were written by various people. Was this unethical, back in the day? Or have standards changed?

    • What happened with Nancy and the Hardys was and is fiction ghostwriting done correctly. I’m a collector of both and have been a speaker at the Nancy Drew Sleuths convention, and we’re lucky enough to have a Stratemeyer Syndicate scholar in our group. Edward Stratemeyer set up his ghostwriting in the late 19th century and it was run by his daughter, Harriet, until the early 80’s. He was also responsible for the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, the Dana Girls, and dozens of other children’s series nobody outside of collector circles has ever heard of.

      The contracts are clear, no one is being taken advantage of, and they only hire reputable writers. For the most part, even now in modern Nancy and Hardy Boys, the voice is consistent. That’s a unique skill that’s hard to learn and hard to do well. I can’t do it.

      I’ve never met anyone who didn’t know the author names were pseudonyms. It’s never been a secret that they weren’t “real.” The only secret was the identity of the ghostwriters, most of whom have been identified now and talked extensively about their experiences and how it all worked. The Stratemeyer Syndicate papers in at the New York Public Library and available to anyone who requests them. They include contracts, outline documents, character sketches, plot summaries, and correspondence between Edward/Harriet and the various ghosts they employed. Those ghosts were fairly paid too.

  18. Bill Peschel says:

    This type of theft is common in all areas. There are cover artists who appropriate others works and pass them off as their own. Logo designers who take someone elses work.

    There was a blog devoted to wedding photography who would demonstrate that the photos on supposedly pro sites were lifted.

    Then you have a weird type of reverse appropriation, where stock photos sites sell historical photos which are out of copyright and readily available if you know where to look.

    It’s a jungle out there. It always has been. It’s just that the internet and digital production of products makes it nearly frictionless to pirate and redistribute.

    • Christina York says:

      At least on the PD photos I figure I am paying for the site to find and curate the selections. Saves me spending a metric ton of time looking through thousands of images-I pay them for that metric ton of time.

  19. thorncoyle says:

    “If you got into this business because you love writing, then write for heaven’s sake.”

    This. 100%.

  20. Bonnie says:

    Thanks for the link to the Kilby Blades article. She’s right to make the distinction of writer versus publisher and what exactly are those people doing who are publishing dozens of ghostwritten novels. In a way, they are the next step up from traditional publishers–paying writers poorly, taking their IP for life, and now they are even taking away their names so that no one knows who really wrote the book.

  21. Natalie K. says:

    “The courts will go after this, and Serruya will owe these writers (and maybe more) buckets of money, which will probably go unpaid, because I can’t imagine she’s earning enough to handle the millions of dollars she’s going to owe.”

    Also, I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure she (Serruya, the idiot plagiarist) lives in Brazil, so good luck collecting a penny from her. Her Twitter account has been deleted now, as has her website. My guess is she’ll vanish into thin air and end up paying nothing… and I wouldn’t be surprised if she eventually resurfaces under a different name and continues doing this. Sigh.

    Great blog post as always, Kris!

    • There are a great many of us who don’t believe for a New York second that she actually lives in Brazil. She’s been connected to a known scammer in romance circles. At this point, we can’t even be sure she’s a woman. Could be a man, like most of the others who’ve been unmasked like this.

      • Natalie K. says:

        Good point! If people thought she lived in Brazil, they might be deterred from taking legal action… so she definitely had an incentive to make that up. I really do hope any and all legal action is taken against her. I can’t stand plagiarists.

  22. Marsha says:

    I had no idea this was going on. What a mess.

    I read–a lot. And I reread books I love after a few years have passed. I worry sometimes that a particular phrase that an author used has been trapped in my subconscious and might reappear in my own writing without me even being aware of it. Plagiarizing without intention? Can that be a real thing? Do I need to run my own books through the plagiarizing sites to make sure this doesn’t happen or is it a non-issue? (I shudder to think I might come to Nora Roberts’ attention.)

    • Phrases are not a problem. It’s the pattern that’s the issue. And a wholesale ripoff of a lot of stuff. Look at Courtney Milan’s examples on her blog, Marsha, and that should show you how egregious this all is.

      • Kat says:

        Thank you so much for this clarification. I think there are a lot of people panicking who have nothing to worry and it’s really down to this distinction (and reading the examples on Courtney’s blog). It’s easy to pick up a phrase here and there, but this is a whole other level.

  23. Vera Soroka says:

    The one I learned recently that was a team and I think everyone thought that anyway was Bella Forrest. I don’t know what set up she has got but there is only one pen name going on those books. Maybe she has contracts, I don’t know but she is firmly in the right fast and publish as many books as you can camp. I think on average she does three a month. I like to write my own stuff but would like to publish on a consistent schedule. At least to start with to get things going. Anyway, I think this whole ghost writing or even collaboration thing will crash and burn if not handled well.

  24. So true on the readers buying a story because of how the writer tells that story. I loved Clive Cussler. I bought every book as soon as it came out. And then he stopped writing and another writer started writing the books. They were by Clive and that writer. But was it was very to me that I was getting a Cussler-type story–but not one written by him. Those things that he brought into the story weren’t there. So I like Clive Cussler stories. I don’t read by Clive Cussler and John Smith stories. Not the same experience.

  25. M T McGuire says:

    Spot on. Well said. This kind of behaviour is also one of the reasons why I put more effort into marketing my books on sites other than Amazon. Because so many writers seem to be fixated on Amazon, many leave money on the table by not publishing on other sites, this mad behaviour trends to be less ride on the other sites and they are less inclined to keep pulling the rug from under you.

    I also keep going that there are more readers who care about the story, and my style on the other sites than on Amazon.

    Cheers

    MTM

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