Victims of Deceitful Success

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero;
but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.
G. K. Chesterton

Debora Weber-Wulff has written an interesting blog posting on plagiarism in the ChickLit scene in Germany. She points to the difficulties of establishing plagiarism if authors can quickly change the text online with publishers like Amazon (Kindle/Createspace) and the like. However, the overview of some of the cases of plagiarism is also interesting, esp. the links.

Reading a bit about the cases and the statements the “authors” gave, there seem to be at least the following arguments/line of reasoning:

  • I wanted to be successful
  • I got rejected frequently
  • I was under a lot of pressure
  • I think it is okay in today’s world
  • I didn’t think it would work

Frankly, I’m getting a bit sick reading these excuses. Sure, many people want to be successful, nothing wrong with that. And sure, you get rejected frequently — (un)fortunately, that’s normal. It takes a lot of time to become really, really good — good enough not to waste the reader’s time. And you have to actually say something worthwhile. Something interesting, something remarkable, something meaningful. And yes, you can put yourself under a lot of pressure to write a book — but unless you are taken hostage in a real-world version of Stephen King’s “Misery”, I don’t think this “argument” counts (and even the protagonist did not resort to plagiarism and he had to bludgeon his “muse” to death!). Hmm, and no, it’s not okay, not even today. On the contrary. The zeitgeist does not demand it — you are not a writer this way, only a written-about (negatively). And for saying that you didn’t expect it to succeed is like expecting that a publisher should mistrust every author as a potential deceitful plagiarist. Is this really the world we want to live in? Do you want to become a victim of ‘your’ success — the more you fake talent, the more successful the book gets, the more people read it and the more likely it is that a reader will spot the plagiarism. Not only will this (and other) reader(s) feel cheated, they will blow your authorship bubble. And what’s worst — how can you be proud of a book you have written if you have plagiarized heavily?

I think what bugs me most is that with book on demand services you do not need the approval of a publisher, meaning there is no need to fake talent to get a book to print. You can publish any book you like on your own, written as good or bad as you can, for an audience of one (you) or hundreds of thousands of readers. Which makes me wonder — do these so-called authors really want to be authors? Or do they want mass-marked fame to inflate their fragile egos, no matter how ill-gotten this fame is?

Honestly, I don’t get it. Being influenced by other writers, sure. Writers read, they are inspired to write, they develop their voice over time. One nice feature of Wikipedia is that is shows you who influenced which writer (e.g., Neil Gaiman, see the box on the right on “Influences” and “Influenced”). Also not remembering that you read something instead of having had the idea yourself — okay, you can forget sources, it happens. In a good book, this is only a very small part of the story and likely to be irrelevant in the long run.

But copying whole plots and slightly changing copied passages?

Seriously, I don’t get it.


There is an interesting discussion from the re:publica 2012 about Self-Publishing — unfortunately, it’s in German, but it’s still very interesting.