On the Mistreatment of Nora Roberts

 

You’ll rarely hear me complain about the publishing industry on social media platforms. Don’t get me wrong—my family and fellow writers hear plenty, but that’s private. I figure, if I don’t want to hear you complain about work, you don’t want to hear me. It’s like author Tim Chizmar said, “You’re the one who wanted to come to the party. Don’t gripe about the hors d’oeuvres.”

But I’m breaking my no-complaint rule today, because I think book lovers should be aware of something that’s taking place in the writing world right now, that isn’t just a plate of lousy hors d’oeuvres, to use Tim’s metaphor, but a plate of dog droppings that many authors are being handed. And this ‘plate’ is not coming from the upper echelons of the publishing industry—it’s not about publishers, or agents, or Amazon, although there’s plenty of moldy egg salad appetizers to swallow from those quarters too—what we’re being forced to swallow is out-and-out plagiarism and theft of our work.  

Before I tell you about it, let me ask you this—if you’d worked day and night on a great presentation that was exclusively your own effort, and then came into the office to present it, only to discover that a colleague had somehow filched it and handed it off to the boss as his own, would you find that acceptable?

How about this—if you were a contractor hired to build a house, and you built that house, putting your best effort into it so that it was solid, and the roof didn’t leak, and then, after you were done and went to collect your paycheck, you learned that you had to split your fee with another contractor who hadn’t helped build, but had simply gone to the client and said, “I want a cut of that fee,” would you find that acceptable?

Let’s try this a third and final way—suppose you have a spouse whom you dearly love, and you put genuine and adoring effort into giving her the things she needs.  You make her feel valued, you make compromises for her by adjusting your wants and wishes to hers. You don’t always find that last one easy, in fact, sometimes it’s very hard, but to you, it’s worth it. Now suppose that one night, when the lights are off in your bedroom and you get under the covers with your wife, you discover your neighbor is already in bed with her. Your wife is not cheating on you, however—what you both realize is that, unbeknownst to either you or your wife, your neighbor has somehow managed to pass himself off to her as you.  She thinks she’s making love with her adoring spouse, when in actuality she is being molested by the guy who lives down the street. Would you find that acceptable?

In any of these circumstances, would you shrug, and say, “Oh, well. That’s the way it goes, sometimes.” Or would you be outraged?

We know the answer. And yet, there’s something happening right now in the publishing world, that some have said is “no big deal.” And that something is just as devastating to authors as any of the three situations above.

#CopyPasteCris  is a hashtag you might have seen. It refers to only one specific person, Christine Serruya by name, who has been copying large chunks out of published books written by several different authors, cobbling them into new books, which she then passes off as her own.  And guess what? She’s making a lot of money doing it. One of her 41 author victims called her out on social media, but because said author wasn’t widely-known, she was told, “You’re overreacting.”

But then, Serruya stole work from another author, an author who had already been burned once, years ago, by this same thing, and she is much more famous. Her name is Nora Roberts, and Nora is now suing Serruya. Except that Serruya lives in Brazil, and this will take years, if not decades, to go through the Brazilian courts.

As an author, I’m not as angry that it happened as I am about how it’s being perceived. I’m not surprised it happened, because today, thieves and liars everywhere are learning that not only can they get away with deceit, they’re actually going to be applauded for their cleverness. And it’s that last part that’s infuriating. It’s the way this whole debacle is being reported.

Some are staunchly behind Roberts. (Yay, Claire Ryan!)  But others are telling this story like it’s a tale for a Hollywood gossip column. How juicy, how fun. Still others, with the envy that comes from not being as successful as one might wish, are saying that Nora Roberts is making a fuss over nothing. After all, she’s rich and successful—she doesn’t “need” the money, so why be so selfish and not let some stranger with no morals and plenty of greed, steal her work?  Then there are book sites that are almost mocking Roberts, because they don’t see her work as “real writing.” It goes like this—some in the industry see genre fiction such as romance, which Nora writes, as the ginger-haired stepchild of the writing world that has to be tolerated in order for the ‘true’ works of literature to be published—the literary fiction that sells far less, but looks more impressive in a home library than a bodice ripper by far. Why is she upset, the writers on these sites are commenting, since her writing is formulaic and probably easy to write? Really? If it’s so easy to write, why is Serruya stealing it, not writing it herself? Would it be more of a concern if Serruya stole The Goldfinch and passed it off as her own? What level of work meets the criteria for being wrong to steal?

Authors’ books are stolen every single day, downloaded on pirate sites which are so numerous, I don’t even bother to try to keep up with them anymore. I’ve come to the point in my writing career where I figure if someone can’t afford one of my books at the ebooks prices at which they now being sold (my two latest works of fiction are available for one dollar each on amazon) and a reader feels the need to get the book for free on a site from which neither I nor my publisher will ever get a penny, so be it. I don’t have the time or energy to go after every one of these sites. And I’m tired of fighting.

But a writer stealing another writer’s work is a crime that should be punishable to the fullest extent of the law. It should not be dismissed as “no big deal”, any more than the three scenarios I gave at the start of this essay should be dismissed. Real writers work. We put our asses in our chairs and our fingers on the keys. We edit and re-edit, oftentimes paying thousands of dollars for edits before our work is ever accepted for publication. Because it’s that important to us that our work be quality. Like any other job, we sacrifice time with our families and friends. We have less leisure time than most because when you’re on a deadline you don’t take the weekend off. You hand in your work to your agent or your editor or your publisher—all people whose livelihoods count on you too, who don’t get paid until you do. We have responsibilities to those people, and when our work is stolen, it affects the bottom line for all those people and for us. In addition to all that, our readers are being tricked, just like the wife in the scenario I painted, above.

If we don’t think it’s okay to steal someone’s work presentation, someone’s paycheck for building a house, or someone’s wife, why is not only okay, but humorous even, to steal someone’s writing? Everyone who works for a living, every single writer, whether Pulitzer Prize winning or with one book of family recipes published, should be furious.

Comments

  1. Yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you.

  2. I am totally in agreement. I am a read achylie and having been reading for over fifty years. I can’t begin to thank the authors enough who work to share their gift with us. I have tried to do it and quickly realizied it is a gift I don’t have and not a easy gift at all. To think that someone would STEAL the effort from others is just wrong and should be dealt with just as if they had stolen diamonds or other property!!!

  3. Vicki Davis says

    It should be easier to stop this but, I know that just isn’t so. Thank you for informing us of this crime and it is a crime in my mind. My reading habits have changed over the years and I don’t read Romance as much as I did. I still enjoy a good Bodice Ripper sometimes and I see no shame in that as I also like Cozy Mysteries. I doubt that readers in Jane Austen’s or the Bronte’s day knew they were reading books that would endure and become classics. There’s no need to look down on any genre. One last thing if you have no pride in your own writing, quit writing and quit stealing other authors work.

    • A good way to put it- that people who read Jane Austin didn’t know they would become classics. You’re so right. They were actually considered improper tho HS to do at the time, weren’t they? And yes, I don’t know how this woman doesn’t see herself for the phony she is. I get upset if one of my books has a typo in it that the editor missed. She has no pride Ina job well- done.

  4. Pat Welte says

    I agree that this is a true crime. I have read many books by Nora and I have enjoyed all of them. I hope she wins her case.

  5. Great article, Patricia. Thanks for bringing this to light. I agree we all work too hard to have our work stolen! Yikes-

  6. Virginia McCullough says

    Couldn’t agree more. When it comes to the right of writers and other artists, it’s always better to stand up to these kinds of crimes. It’s not about the money, it’s about stealing and lack of respect. This is a case in which we all need to stand up and say, “I’m with her.”

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