Don’t Do This Ever (an advice column for writers): Plagiarism Warning edition

If you’re an author of paranormal, cowboy, SEAL, firefighter, highlander or motorcycle club romances, I urge you strongly to look through the extensive backlist of one Laura Harner, an unusually prolific author of M/M (male/male) romance. So prolific, in fact, that her GoodReads author page lists seventy-five releases since 2010.

If you’re not quick with math, that averages out to 15 novels a year. Some authors do put up those numbers, but their output is considered exceptional. Harner’s output is exceptional for a wholly different reason.

Two days ago, author Becky McGraw accused Harner of plagiarism in a Facebook post:

HOLY CRAP — do people have no morals about STEALING these days? I was just notified by a reader that she started reading M/M romance recently and read a book by another author that is almost VERBATIM my book My Kind of Trouble with the exception it’s a m/m book!! I need a recommendation for a good literary attorney fast!!

McGraw provided these two photos for comparison (I’ll excerpt some text to follow for those unable to see pictures, as there’s a lot of text). The first is McGraw’s My Kind of Trouble:

 

mcgraw picture 2

 

And the second is Harner’s most recent release, Coming Home Texas, which has now been removed from retailers:

mcgraw picture

 

Let’s do some comparison reading, shall we? First, McGraw’s opening paragraph:

Cassie Bellamy looked up and down the lonely road that led to her daddy’s ranch. She didn’t have much choice but to walk to town. She was stranded and her cell phone was dead. If she stayed there, they’d probably find her dried up, shriveled carcass at the side of the road being picked clean by buzzards.

Now Harner’s:

“Well dammit all to hell and Goldview, Texas, anyway,” Brandon Masters whispered under his breath. Not that there was anyone around to hear him, even if he shouted to the high heavens. He looked up and down the lonely stretch of highway. So close and yet so far, with nothing but his dead cell phone to keep him company. The way he saw the situation…he could suck it up and walk to town–or, he could wait around for the carrion feeders to discover his dried up, shriveled carcass at the side of the road.

Well, it’s not exactly the same, right? maybe it’s a coincidence? Let’s look at some more:

McGraw:

The only regret she had at the moment was driving her old pickup back to town instead of her BMW convertible. That had been a stupid, sentimental decision. Bessie had taken her out of town ten years ago, and Cassie thought it fitting that it should bring her back. Since she’d gotten the call from Imelda, the closest thing to a mother that Cassie had known since her own mother died when she was ten, Cassie had been in that mode. Once she decided she needed to come back, the memories she thought she buried ten years ago would not leave her alone. Thoughts of Luke Matthews would not leave her alone.

Harner:

Other than forgetting his car charger, his other regret at the moment was driving his old pickup back to town instead of his BMW convertible. That had been a stupid, sentimental decision–Old Blue had taken his sorry ass out of town nearly a dozen years ago, and Brandon thought it fitting that she should bring him back. Of course his new Beamer came with roadside assistance, so he’d let his auto club membership expire. That had worked out well. Not.

Since he’d gotten the call from Isabella–the closest thing to a mother that he’d known since his own mom died when he was nine–Brandon seemed to be stuck on a never ending sentimental highway. Once he decided he needed to come back, the memories he thought he buried long ago wouldn’t leave him alone.

Thoughts of Joe Martinez won’t leave me alone.

McGraw:

Even reminding herself that he had played her for a fool didn’t help. Reliving the nightmare of the night she left didn’t help. Remembering her revelation that Luke and Becca had done her a favor didn’t help either.

Harner:

Reliving the humiliation of the night he left didn’t help. Neither did reminding himself that Joe and Sara Lynn had done him a favor.

McGraw:

If she had stuck around Bowie, she’d probably be knocked up and living in a trailer like half the females she went to high school with. She had been just as stupid as those girls. She had given her virginity to Luke that summer by the lake, and condoms hadn’t been on their list of priorities in the heat of the moment. Any of their moments that summer. She had just been damn lucky.

Harner:

If he had stayed around Goldview, he’d probably be selling used cars, maybe living in a trailer somewhere. Or stuck living at home on his dad’s ranch. Or dead because he’d been stupid enough to give himself to Joe that summer by the lake, and condoms hadn’t been on their list of priorities in the heat of the moment. Given what he’d learned about Joe later, Brandon had been damned lucky he hadn’t caught anything.

McGraw:

Cassie was thankful her life in Phoenix didn’t include a passel of kids or a husband. She was content with her life. She had a successful career and a business, a nice little house, and as many toys as she wanted, like her Beamer. And she didn’t have to depend on anyone else for her happiness. Cassie depended on herself, and she liked it that way.

Well, there was James, but she tried not to depend on her fiancé too much, either, even though he was her business partner, too. Depending on other people meant letting down her guard to heartache and disappointment. Cassie hadn’t been disappointed in ten years. Not since she left Bowie.

Harner:

Nowadays, Brandon was thankful for his quiet life in San Diego. He had a successful career and business, a nice house, and could afford the toys he wanted, like his Beamer and his sailboat. He didn’t have to depend on anyone else for his happiness–and he liked it that way.

Well, there was Ellis, but he tried not to depend on his fiancé, even though they were business partners, too. He’d learned the hard way, depending on other people meant letting down his guard to heartache and disappointment. Brandon hadn’t been disappointed in more than a decade…not since he’d left Goldview.

Getting a sense of why, exactly, McGraw felt she had been plagiarized?

McGraw alerted her editor, who compared the books side-by-side, and highlighted the similarities on one page:

A Kindle with a page of Coming Home Texas, with over 90% of the page highlighted

I stopped reading and writing M/M a while go, from sheer burnout, but from what I understand, Harner has made the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. With such high visibility, why did she think she wouldn’t get caught? [EDIT: I’m sorry, it’s McGraw who’s the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Which makes this even more bizarre. Why plagiarize someone with that kind of audience?]

Because Harner writes M/M, and McGraw’s book is a straight pairing. Harner’s clever trick here was to pick a book that was not M/M, but M/F contemporary romance. As far as readers go, there isn’t a lot of overlap between the two genres; M/M readers will in general read M/M voraciously, while M/F readers won’t stray to M/M often, either. What were the chances of a reader from both genres just happening upon both the plagiarized book and the book it was plagiarized from? With seventy-five books to her credit, she’s certainly skated by for a while without getting caught.

Since McGraw’s Facebook post, Harner has pulled ten of her titles from retailers, including Coming Home Texas. This seems to indicate that other titles have been plagiarized. I urge anyone who writes in any of the genres I listed at the top of this post to review Harner’s catalog before she pulls the rest in her desperate attempt to sweep her theft under the rug.

Look. We’re all grownups. We know not to steal each other’s work. And yes, sometimes a line or two will be subconsciously lifted from another work we’ve read. That happens to everyone. But this isn’t an accidental slip of the subconscious. This is deliberate, and not coincidental.  Readers aren’t stupid, authors aren’t stupid. We know the difference between thinking a phrase is original when you’ve just forgotten that you read it before and deliberately copy/pasting someone’s entire book and changing names, pronouns, and a few words here and there–especially when you don’t make the book available on Kobo, one of the few retail platforms that runs plagiarism checks on self-published works. [EDIT: It seems Harner is published on Kobo, or at least some of “her” books are. Should have fact checked that, even though I trusted the source. My bad.]

If you plagiarize, you will get caught. And when you get caught, hopefully your career will end and we’ll never hear from you again. If you don’t want that to happen, the answer is pretty simple: don’t plagiarize, ever.

130 thoughts on “Don’t Do This Ever (an advice column for writers): Plagiarism Warning edition

    1. My brother in law had it happen at school during a test, even to the point where he got two tests back and the kid sitting next to him didn’t get one as he even copied the name!

      1. Dork who copied the test obviously couldn’t get a grade for it, since his name wasn’t on it.

        I also recall a case from high school where a teacher was suspected of favoritism. . .the smart kid and an accomplice turned in the same paper word-for-word: one got an ‘A’, the other a ‘C’.

      2. I had this happen to me in an online class on the holocaust. The assignment was to write our reactions to a survivors account of it and then respond to someone elses. I wrote mine and waited a few days because of the feelings it brought up went back and started looking for one I could reply to. Started reading one and the first half of his paragraph was mine word for word and the second half someone else’s. He repeated this for the whole entry. I reported it to my teacher but was deeply hurt by it because what I wrote were my feelings and personal experiences in my life and it directed the whole response and someone taking that and trying to pass it off as their own was beyond reprehensible

  1. Wow, I really feel for Becky McGraw. I’ve been where she is and it really sucks. I’ll never forget that sick panicky feeling, reading through a book on Amazon and finding almost two chapters of my work in it.

    And the way copyright law is structured, the burden of proving plagiarism is on the victim. If you choose to pursue it legally, that means suing in federal court (because that’s where copyright infringement cases are heard). Lawyers I spoke to quoted me nearly 50K in court costs and lawyers’ fees. Of course, if you win, the thief can be on the hook for your expenses, but let’s be real…what are the chances they have it? In my case, a quick online search of her real name made it abundantly clear that I’d never see a dime.

    Copyright law needs a serious overhaul to address the problems that have cropped up in the wake of easy online self-publishing. Every author is at risk, and if it happens to you, there’s usually nothing you can realistically do about it.

    Oh, and my plagiarist? She took down the book with my work in it, but plenty of her other books are still up and she’s still writing. She never apologized it acknowledged what she did (and there were many of us she stole from). We’re in the same genre (contemporary romance) so I have to put up with blogs and readers promoting her books in communities I frequent. It’s maddening.

      1. I do. It’s pretty much the only recourse I have. The sad part is how many fans she still has, even after everything came out. And worse, so many of them don’t really see anything wrong in what she did. I’ve had the most frustrating, disheartening conversations with people about plagiarism. They simply don’t understand or don’t WANT to understand that it’s wrong.

    1. These examples are obvious and intentional. On the other hand, plagiarism can be totally innocent. Everything we read goes into our subconscious, from which authors draw material for their own novels. If authors both read & write MANY books, they may not always know where their words are coming from. There are times when I’ve PLAGIARIZED MYSELF, (I’ve written 50 books) by inadvertently reusing phrases & descriptions I’ve used in my earlier books. (“Pagan coins of light” was one of those. I used that in 2 bks, written many yrs apart.) It was only recently when I had to update those books for new editions that I discovered I’d done that.

      1. That is bologna. Plagiarism by its true definition, cannot be innocent. You might need to restudy the definition of plagiarism.

        1. “pla·gia·rism
          ˈplājəˌrizəm
          noun
          the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.” (Google’s definition)

          “…copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit [is considered plagiarism]” (“What is Plagiarism?,” plagiarism.org)

          Look. In academia (and elsewhere), accidentally writing someone’s words or thoughts (even if it’s just a short phrase) is considered plagiarism if it’s not “common knowledge,” and if you get caught the consequences can range from redoing the assignment (if your teacher is lenient) to the maximum punishment your school allows (if your teacher is much, much more strict).

          The same guidelines go for other kinds of writers. It technically is plagiarism to use a turn of phrase that someone else coined before (unless it’s entered common language, such as many of Shakespeare’s unique phrases), as you did not develop it yourself.

          However, like Jenny said, accidental plagiarism of isolated phrases can and will happen, as the vast, vast majority of people cannot remember where every word and phrase they think of came from. It’s entirely possible to use a unique phrase or a sentence that you think you came up with, only to find out that, hey, someone else that you’ve read before actually used something very similar before. Oops.

          Is it technically right? Well, no. Is it the same as lifting entire phrases and paragraphs from someone’s work and passing it off as your own? Again, no.

      2. Lois,
        I recently heard you on the Generation Why Podcast and was reminded of how much I enjoyed your work when I was a kid. Thank you!

  2. Damn, I’ve definitely read (and rec’d) a few of Harner’s books (from her m/f highlander series)… Now I’m worried I’ve been telling people to read plagiarized work!

    1. There’s an author, Laura Hunsaker, who’d like to talk to you about the Highlander series, if you don’t mind. Her Twitter handle is @LauraHunsaker. She wrote Highland Destiny, and the blurbs for both books show similarities.

    2. Like you Anna, I have some of Harner’s books from here Willow Spring Ranch series and her Highland Destiny series I hate to think I supported her. We all know not to buy a music CD or a movie off a street corner but I never even gave it a thought to books I have gotten thru Amazon. I have read books that I stopped reading and had to check the title or reviews because I thought I had read the book before. Now I am wondering if this happens more often than any of us knew.

  3. I’ve never been plagiarized, at least, I don’t think I have, but I can imagine how terrible it must feel. Having someone steal something you spent hundreds of hours on, then there’s the potential they do better than you ever have. Of course, if that happens and you try to prove it, there’s a good chance people will claim you’re the plagiarizer and that you’re just jealous the person you’re accusing of theft is doing better than you.

    At least, that’s the attitude I’ve come to expect from people. That also turned out a lot more rant-y than I intended. Sorry for that. :/

    1. “if that happens and you try to prove it, there’s a good chance people will claim you’re the plagiarizer and that you’re just jealous the person you’re accusing of theft is doing better than you.”

      When it comes to fan fiction plagiarism cases, I can definitely attest to this, especially if the plagiarist is a bnf (big name fan). I saw it happen firsthand. If the plagiarist’s fics are popular (particularly if they are more popular than the plagiarized person’s) people will rush to their defense, shelter them, and in the end the plagiarist gets more sympathy than the victim and the whistle-blower (if they are not the same person). If anything, the whistle-blower gets villified for trying to spoil everyone’s fun and whatnot. (see also: the cassie claire debacle in harry potter fandom).

      As evidenced by Spanglemaker9′s comment above, even in the published world it’s rare to see any meaningful consequences for plagiarism. It’s really frustrating.

      1. God, the Cassandra Clare stuff was so infuriating. I’m using the spelling she publishes her Mortal Instruments series under rather that her HP-fanfic spelling of “Claire” because damn if I’m not still bitter about how all that went down.

        1. Thank you for the link (below) to “The MsScribe Story: An Unauthorized Fandom Biography”. It starts out slow, I grant you. Creating multiple personas is not plagiarism. But I never would have believed that I’d spend an afternoon reading about sockpuppetry on an unprecedented scale within Harry Potter fandom round about 2006. It’s just that good.

    2. “Of course, if that happens and you try to prove it, there’s a good chance people will claim you’re the plagiarizer and that you’re just jealous the person you’re accusing of theft is doing better than you.”

      ….I’d say that publishing/posting dates would protect the original author and back up their claims of their works being plagiarized, but then I remember all of the people who think the original, centuries old vampire legends get vampires “wrong” because they aren’t like Twilight vampires.

      I weep for humanity, sometimes.

  4. One of the series that Laura Harner removed (but is still available on all romance) is Deuce Coop. It looks to be a blatant copy of the Riding Steele series by Opal Carew. Again, a m-f book switched to m-m. The all romance sample of Deuce Coop book 1 shows exact plagiarism, nearly line by line at times, of the amazon sample of Riding Steele book 1.

  5. A while ago I tried to write a little story for wattpad. I had the prolog and the first chapter up and was writing the second, when I realized that my concept (of shapeshifters) was exactly the same as Nalini Singh’s (from the Psy- Changeling series) and at least my two main characters would have been a carbon copy of two of hers.
    I took my published chapters down and haven’t worked on them since then.
    Because while I did it unintentionally, I still plagiarized and I don’t like to feed of other people’s success.
    Since then I haven’t tried to write anything because I second guess myself constantly. Are my ideas really my ideas?

    1. I think there’s a difference between writing something and make it unconsciously similar to some other thing that already exists, and picking someone else’s book and going “I’m going to change the name and genders and sell this exactly same story!” I think there has to be a level of malice and awareness involved in plagiarism.

      And as for feeling none of your ideas are really original, you shouldn’t worry about it. The entire history of literature is people borrowing ideas from other people and tweaking and adapting them as they please. (See: Virgil and The Aeneid). IMO, originality is not as important as sincerity in what you’re trying to write.

      And of course, if you find your story is getting too similar to something else and that displeases you, you can always fix it in the second draft.

    2. Plagiarism is using the same words/sentences (more than just the odd phrase here and there). Ideas are not copyrightable and neither are characters (though characters may be trademarked). If you have similar concepts/characters it might be derivative, but it’s not plagiarism

      Otherwise 50 Shades would have been sued to hell. So would Eragon, and any number of other works

      So go write. Just try to put your individual spin on things

    3. Keep in mind that human beings have been writing and telling stories for thousands upon thousands of years. There is no such thing as an original idea anymore.

      Writers simply put their own spin on plot lines that have been used a million times before. That isn’t plagiarism and it doesn’t make it bad writing. So, as the others said, just keep writing! Tell us a story about your shapeshifters. And if your first draft feels too much like someone else’s work, rewrite it.

    4. Something like this happened to me once! I wrote a piece of au fan fiction in a space opera-type setting featuring a MC working as a smuggler. Some commenters mentioned a similarity to Firefly (this was not a Firefly fic), which I assure you was completely unintentional. I had an “oh shit” moment, but then I realized… is a MC working as a smuggler in a space opera really that staggeringly unique of an idea? Literally everything else, from the world building to the plot (since it was a fan fiction, I can’t really say characters, though it was rpf) is nothing like Firefly (unless you count standard space opera tropes). I figured I had nothing to worry about.

      Besides, my fic has actual East Asian characters *rimshot*

    5. I know that feeling very well, but I am slowly getting back into my writing. I understand the concept of having work stolen, as many of my ideas have been taken & used by others – assignment questions, ideas for businesses etc, but because they were in the ‘brainstorming’ category, I couldn’t do much about it, other than sitting back & watching how these others have used my ideas and failed. Mainly because they only heard words & not all of the procedures.

      Other than feeling disgusted at the plagarism (I learned to avoid this at University), I have a problem with authors (mainly from the USA) using the word ‘gotten’ which is not really a word and grammatically incorrect English. So a sentence written “it had gotten so bad” should read, “it had become so bad” and “I had gotten a letter” should be “I had received a letter”. Similarly, “I will bring it to him” for object/items should be “I will take it to him”.

  6. How do you even feel go about yourself blatantly stealing someone else’s work like that? I would never be able to look at the book(s) if I did that, the guilt would destroy me! Total “The Tell Tale Heart” situation for sure.

  7. Dude, one time a person plagiarized one of my fanfics and that felt like a punch in the gut. I can’t even imagine what those writers might be feeling. I hope Laura Harner’s career fades into infamous obscurity and that she get mildly annoying things happen to her for the rest of her life.

    1. I once wrote a short first-person perspective story for an online contest. Someone tried to steal it to enter the SAME contest! They just forgot to change one of the names in the story.

      The funny thing was, I was reading their entry and wondering why it looked so familiar until I got to the unchanged name and was like … wait a minute?

      (I won 3rd prize. He got disqualified.)

      1. I posted a couple of poems on my website; then the server crashed and I tried to get the pages back from the Internet Archive. Didn’t find them, but found the poems posted on someone else’s site under their name! II’d have been totally cool with someone reposting and crediting them)

  8. “Which makes this even more bizarre. Why plagiarize someone with that kind of audience?”

    A few years ago, I read about people taking books like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, retitling them and self-publishing them under their own names as new books and selling through Amazon. This isn’t really all that uncommon, apparently, and it’s being done with far more known books. What I don’t understand, though, is how many people are buying them and don’t even realize what they’re buying.

    And, you know, EL James made a fortune doing this …

    1. Bram Stoker died in 1912 and Dracula was published in 1897 so it is out of copyright protection worldwide. Ethics aside, it is completely legal to do anything you want with a work that is in the public domain.

      1. Right.

        Because that’s totally the point and the example I used is the only book it happened to and it didn’t happen to any books that are actually not public domain.

        Also, the year a book was published and the living or deadness of an author doesn’t determine whether a book is public domain or a copyright expired. The copyright can pass to heirs, who can keep it current. I don’t know if that’s the case with Dracula, but I don’t know that it isn’t.

        What I do know is that when this was happening, it was illegal and there was a huge uproar because Amazon wasn’t doing anything about it.

        1. The copyright can pass to heirs, true, but that isn’t what the length of copyright protection is based on. Original works created prior to 1926 are now no longer protected, period, the end. Reprints, reissues, new editions, and so on which were created after that date may be, however.

          The length of a copyright now lasts for 75 years after the author’s death, but protection does eventually expire and the work passes into the public domain, whether anyone wants it to or not.

    2. Those are called counterfeits. And there have been a number of cases. Last year someone using the name Jay Cute uploaded 26 books in one day having only pasted his ‘fake author name’ over the original cover, often not even covering up the true other’s name, made no changes to the interior and signed them up on the Amazon Kindle Unlimited. Aside from the obvious, an that Amazon let it slip. it took 2 weeks to get them removed. I knew two of the authors and they still have not received any compensation or apology from Amazon for it.

      There is another counterfeit going on, that author Rebecca Murdock, has yet to get Amazon to end.

      If only Amazon would put more effort into ending plagiarism, piracy, and counterfeits than they do over fake reviews, maybe authors could breath a little easier.

    1. You WILL be caught eventually, it may take time, but it will happen. The problem comes in situations like what happened with 50 Shades, when the victim doesn’t prosecute, and it’s really too bad for everyone when that happens because it teaches people there may be no repercussions.

  9. Hmm, in hindsight this may be an unintended consequence of the internet and self-publishing’s disruption of the publishing industry where one feels like they have to do this to make enough money to live on. Not that writing made one a lot of money before the internet . . .

    1. It’s not a function of self-publishing or feeling like you have to do this to make enough money. It’s a function of an extremely streamlined, simplified process of selling a product to people. In this case, what I’ve read seems to suggest that Harner may have subcontracted ghost writers who scraped content and made global copypasta changes, in which case the lady herself is not guilty of the action, merely guilty of failing to do her due diligence (independent of the whole “getting ghostwriters at all” thing, because really–if you don’t want to write, why do you want to be a writer? But that’s a different subject). If she is actually scouting out other people’s work, doing the global s&r, and repackaging it as her own, she needs to be excoriated. If she’s just buying content from scrapers without running it through Copyscape or something similar, then she should go out of business for running a bad business.

      There’s a whole realm of content distributors using self-publishing *outside* of the bounds of traditional literature, and they often get grouped (unfortunately) in with indie authors and self-publishing authors who are operating as micro-presses publishing their own work. These non-literary people (I can’t think of a good term for them right now–some are scraping and stealing and scamming, but others are just finding a way to put a price tag on something and sell it to someone else, which is not illegal, just kinda skeevy) have simply found a way to take something that is in plentiful abundance, package it, and sell it in legal, if not all that ethical, ways, because Amazon has made it easy to transact.

      But I don’t for a minute think it was an *unintended* consequence from the platform. When the printing press was invented, it only took about ten years for Gutenberg to start printing out indulgences for the Pope to sell. And tradpubs are not immune from publishing plagiarized materials, even in contemporary times when it’s easily provable. This stuff is kind of expected–it’s an ancillary consequence of the ability to easily distribute information. Someone will always push the boundary. It’s the job of society to determine where that boundary is, and what’s the penalty for breaking it. Currently, we have a pretty fractured idea of where the boundary lies, and few enough teeth in the penalty that it’s still a viable idea to risk the penalty for the payoff for some people.

      1. Suddenly this is reminding me of another plagiarism case that floated across my radar a couple of years ago. It started when someone noticed that a romance had been fully plagiarized by another author. Folks began to dig deeper into the thief’s online presence and some intrepid investigators were able to figure out that it was actually some guy in Colorado who had several different pen names. He’d hire ghost writers to crank out books (romance and I think some cozy mysteries, too) and he just ran the promo/ social media for these various “authors” he’d created. Shady, (especially as he had headshots for these “authors”, facebooked and tweeted as if he was them, etc) but not technically illegal. But of course some of his ghost writers took some shortcuts and a few of the titles were found to be plagiarized.

  10. I’m beginning to think that it’s going to get harder and harder for an author to write anything at all without someone saying ” Oh that sounds exactly like so and so’s book”. How many ways can you describe a love scene, or the description of the small town you made up in your head?

    1. There’s a huge difference between a similarly written scene and a passage that’s exactly the same. And not just one passage, multiple passages. That’s not coincidence, or two separate authors stumbling upon the same way to describe something. The same words, put together in the same order, the same sentence structure, for line after line, is theft.

    2. If you read the excerpts posted in this blog this was far more than just similar settings and descriptions, this was blatant rearranging of sentences to make them seem new.

      If there was no wrong doing, there would be no desperate back peddling to cover her tracks.

  11. I had nearly an entire book lifted and too many people told me it was purely coincidence. I know my work was stolen from my luggage (oh, yes. I carry it on me now!) I was assured no one could take it and get it to print that fast. But she was with a well-respected publisher. I was a newbie. Who were they gonna believe? My first finished novel, no less.

  12. I had a fellow author with whom I’d done a couple of publisher-sponsored book signings with steal one of my signature paranormal species of characters no one else had done as well as put hers in the same setting as mine. I called her on it but she never acknowledged what she’d done. I should have been suspicious while we were sitting side by side at the signings and she was asking all kinds of questions about that particular series of books. What really pissed me off was that some of her more rabid fans accused me of copying her idea for the species. My first character came out in 1996 and she didn’t write hers until mid 2000. If you have to steal someone else’s ideas and works…even one of their titles…what does that say about your supposed talent? Or your morals???

    1. People have a real hard time checking dates on shit. I get blamed for “stealing” another author’s name, even though it’s not spelled the same as mine and my books were out under my (former) name three years before she was published. But I get angry emails all the time because I “stole” her name to intentionally defame her or something. And when I point out, hey, I changed my name both professionally and legally specifically to avoid this situation, they’ll sometimes come back with, “Only because you got caught!”

      People don’t understand how time works.

      1. Clearly your parents had a TARDIS, went forward in time to find this author, then came back and stole her name. Duh!

  13. As hard as the indie publishing world is TRYING to prove itself legitimate as well as gain respect, this is yet another serious hit. Indies work so hard to promo and get their books out there–but not like this.

    This makes every single indie author (myself included) now wonder, as you stated at the start of this post, whether their not widely read book (I too find it bizarre she stole from a list hitter. Perhaps she truly sucks at research of any kind) has been stripped, redressed and then used. And…most angering of all, did that other person gain a semblance of fame and or payment for something that did not belong to them.

    As authors, our creativity is our soul. We pour a small part of it (or should) into each book/short/poem/etc we create. The thought that someone else fed off of that endeavor kills off that piece of us, like a vamp feeding off of a victim.

    Shame…our indie world needs a re”vamp”. Where’s Buffy when you need her?

  14. She might have been able to pull her books off Amazon quickly, but Coming Home Texas was still up on Barnes and Noble the last time I checked. You can read excerpts of all of her books there for anyone who would like to compare them to another book. Barnes and Noble take longer to remove books.

  15. This just blows me away, especially when it’s someone I hear was so entrenched in the romance writers community. I didn’t know Laura Harner, or of her, but I certainly do now. I’m sorry Becky is going through this. Lots of hugs to Becky.

  16. It’s astounding how often this seems to happen. And as someone stated above, where do we define the line? When an author’s whole series gets copied, down to the POV of the guy (and yes I’m talking about Twilight. Watch out, S Meyer just brought out a ‘new’ book in the series where the roles are switched. I bet Grey’s going to appear as a woman soon *grin*) How’s the publishing industry not paying more close attention to this and defining the boundaries more clearly! The world’s changing at a rapid rate, and they are still lagging when it comes to this. And with authors accusing authors of stealing ideas…that’s not going to stop. There are only so many tropes and approaches you can take to it. And did this happen to me, where I discovered a very prominent author in a group I’ve joined had basically nipped the concept of my first novel and packaged it as hers? Yes. But I didn’t confront her even though my book was written a whole year before hers and also released before hers. I’m with a small e-pub, she’s with a big e-pub. I shrugged and said, that’s the last time ever I’ll share pages of my work with a whole group of writers. The ‘beauty’ about this is you can never say ‘you stole my idea’ because nothing under the sun is new…all you can do is be vigilant and hope that this type of things doesn’t happen to you or rather again!

    1. I think it is quite simple really, if there is money to be made, and made easily, then lazy cheats will always try to rort the system. It is called greed and sadly appears to be an inherently human characteristic. More power to this website for exposing this type of thing!

  17. OMG- I have 125 books, and now I have to figure out if someone has stolen the content now too?? Isn’t it enough I’m dealing with piracy and con artists??

    WHAT NEXT!

    I have advice for new authors that I never thought I would say-
    GET A DIFFERENT LINE OF WORK.

    This sucks!

  18. A similar things happened to me, and it is going to court. It was a horrible violation, but with me the plagiarizer had numerous identities through which she attacked me when I went public with the copyright infringement. I still have panic attacks from it. It’s been over a year, and the court date will be two years since the plagiarism came to light. But to take something like this to court will drain you financially and emotionally, victimizing the victim even more. I wasn’t able to write for about a year.

    I had to go through her manuscript line by line, and that was another horror. When you take someone’s whole story, change a few pronouns and add a few scenes, it is still your expression of the idea. Taking the same idea and writing a completely different book isn’t something you can copyright and normally will deviate significantly.

    The woman who took my book used all the same character and plot–and much was quoted verbatim. Obviously so many similarities were not accidental. I really don’t understand why these “authors” just don’t write their own books.

    1. Haha, Rachel, I just posted about you below. I’m sorry this is still dragging out. It’s so unfair that the burden of proof (and the massive expense) falls on the victim. Good luck with the case. I’m glad you’re fighting back.

  19. Interesting timing. I just got an update from Rachel Nunes’ Go Fund Me. Rachel was similarly plagiarized some time ago (the details are all up on her Go Fund Me) and chose to fight it in court. She started this to help defray the expenses, which as I mentioned above, can be exorbitant. Anyway, it provides some interesting insight into what it takes if you actually want to fight for your rights.
    https://www.gofundme.com/StandingAgainstPlagiarism?utm_source=internal&utm_medium=email&utm_content=cta_button&utm_campaign=upd_n

  20. I’ve had two plagiarisms done to me. Both, fortunately, in fan fiction while learning to write better prose. One lady took a torture sequence in VN and transposed it to Hawaii. Another simply took the copy of a script I submitted to Starsky and Hutch and turned it into prose. Made no effort to change anything except the format, and then gushed how pleased she was with her first published story! Been tracking her down and shaking fist. How lazy! How underhanded. And no credit given to author of original script.

    Another woman took the SAME SCRIPT (which somehow got sold out of the studio’s archives when they were cleaning house, I suspect) and rearranged my perfectly nice het story and turned it into a mewling m/m version. That was bad enough, but there were pages of absolute identical copying of text and p lot. Didn’t even change any of the names. It was twelve years ago, and only found out about this spring. A little late to make a squawk, but by god, I’m doing so. If she did this to me, then who else is she stealing from?

    I’m working on a novel with antecedents from a TV show, but I have taken great pains to create a new universe, characters, etc., to carry forth the story. It is a common them in militaria writing, so of course the source will be obvious. But my guys are harder, tougher, and have a whole different set of problems and background… yes background, which the show in mind never bothered to explore to any great detail. But the story (and the three subsequent novels following it) is/are all mine. Nothing that was ever discussed or thought of.

    To me, that’s as close as I want to get. But guess it’s a backhanded compliment that so many want to copy my work?

      1. And I stopped writing fanfic because a beta stole my capture/imprisonment/escape scenes and shoved them into her stupid fic and posted them before mine were even re-edited. Ugh.

        1. Yes, Ush… was so sad to hear that. Left one story dangling in mid-air and always desperately wanted to see how it ended.

          Your one character made such an impact on me that I wanted to take her and move her into my universe as a wonderful foil. So, of course I asked your permission first. Authors can swap and borrow others’ characters, but only if they ask and both are in agreement! And Moira made one helluva impact in my story.

          Thanks again for loaning her to me. Deeply appreciated, and all credit for her given in the forward for that novel (#3).

          By the way…. I think you still have my email. Please communicate? Need to ask you some stuff.

  21. Not again… it is so sad to think of how easy it is nowadays to blatantly steal another person work and just restructure a sentence or paragraph. Change the names of a character and perhaps the gender. Then it is considered ‘mosaic plagiarism’ where most sites will say ‘it is not a direct like for like, so we cannot remove it unless the author who feels they have been plagiarised complains, and then we can start an investigation.’ Year later, it is still on the site.
    The world of self publishing and e-books has made it so easy for these people to steal and sell work, and so hard for authors to defend themselves or get the stolen work removed.
    I’ve witnessed numerous people comment on stories and say ‘This reminds me of….’ or ‘This is the same story as …… is it fanfiction?’ only for sites to continue to allow the book.
    Such a shame that these people obviously invest a large amount of time rewriting someones work, but not develop their own work. Some of the rewrites prove they have the capability to write but not the confidence. Why waste it on plagiarism? Be unique, create your own story and recommend the ones you wish you had wrote instead of robbing them.
    I hope it gets sorted, it is wrong on so many levels and frustrating as hell to jump through all the hoops to get it removed. Proving it is your work and collating evidence, can take just as long as it did to write the book.

    1. Having been a legal secretary for 45 years, I learned long ago to keep hard copies, and to put footers on EVERYTHING with the date on it via an automatic date macro, and then keep ALL computer copies on an external hard drive. Overkill? Maybe. But have also had script ideas stolen by studios when I went to these cattle call scriptwriting conferences (especially in LA.) Just infuriating.

  22. As a (book a day) reader, I sometimes think I have read a book before but have never been able to prove it has been stolen from another author.
    I feel cheated and totally gutted for the original author. I’ve just emailed Amazon asking for a refund for all the books I have purchased by Laura Harner, before she pulls any more books

  23. I posted a link to this article, Jenny, along with a sober assessment of what it takes to do this kind of plagiarism. NOT to show greedy idiots the way forward, because I left some steps out, but to show the rest of us that we need to be vigilant about protecting our work. Keep hardcopies and dates, show your development process, be careful who you share and collaborate with, get SIGNED LEGAL AGREEMENTS on all collaboration, etc.

    The other thing we can do as M/M and M/F readers is be a hell of a lot more picky. I’m holding commercial publishers and self-publishers equal, here. There is such a rush toward overproduction in the romance genre, that scraping, mosaic, and other forms of plagiarism seem nearly expected now. Hold authors and publishers to high standards of writing and production, and don’t make excuses for bad product because ‘oh, it has bikers or weres in it, and that’s my thing.’

  24. Sadly, much of what could be done to tighten up Copyright law and make it easier to prosecute thieving scum like Harner would also criminalize things like fanfiction and parody. How would you rewrite laws to make it easy to prosecute a case like this, but not make it possible to arrest Jane Fangirl for writing a “Star Trek” story and posting it on her website? Jane has OBVIOUSLY “plagiarized” the characters of Kirk and Spock, and the Federation setting… It’s easy for us to see the difference between what she’s done and the theft of characters and plots described by Inge and Charlotte, but MUCH harder to draft a law that would give Inge and Charlotte their rights without letting a movie studio ruin Jane’s life. Perhaps the solution is allowing fan works if they’re not for profit… but even then, what if Jane’s using a website that supports itself by selling ads on the pages? Bang, she’s “profiting” from her Kirk-Spock story, she’s fair game. :-(

    Another issue: I’m calling out Rita for the homophobia in her comment. Plagiarism is WRONG, but writing M/M pairings is NOT. If her original work had been a M/M Starsky & Hutch fanfic, and someone plagiarized it and rewrote it as a M/F self-pubbed romance, it would STILL be wrong, and not because they’d turned your “perfectly nice” story into a “mewling” gender-swapped version.

    I’d suspect, actually, that there’s as much or more plagiarism of M/M online stories (especially from fanfiction sites) recasting them as “straight” romance, because the source material’s less well-known and thus it’d be harder to catch the plagiarists. Also, many writers of M/M are “closeted” because they could be harassed or even lose their jobs if their “kinky” hobby is discovered… thus making them unwilling to fight back.

    1. RE: ” I’m calling out Rita for the homophobia in her comment. Plagiarism is WRONG, but writing M/M pairings is NOT. If her original work had been a M/M Starsky & Hutch fanfic, and someone plagiarized it and rewrote it as a M/F self-pubbed romance, it would STILL be wrong, and not because they’d turned your “perfectly nice” story into a “mewling” gender-swapped version.”

      My point was that almost all LGBT friends and folk I know are tremendously strong people. They’ve had to be to survive the insanely topsy turvy world around them. What I did not care for was the characters being turned into weeping, hand-wringing, moaning, writhing on the floor-type characters Whether M/M or M/F, strong people are strong people.

      If someone took your strong M/M persons and turned them into whimpering shadows of themselves, would you not be a bit taken back? Yes, love is a dicey and sometimes traumatic thing, but have read too many fic where the characters are reduced to helpless shadows of their former selves. This seems insulting to the characters themselves.

      And it was plagiarism, however couched.

  25. I’m scared now and I’ve only got 2 books floating around out there. But I do keep hard copies so maybe that will help.

  26. The idea was copied and changed, obviously but copyright infringement? Only a Copyright Attorney can advise you on that. Either way, it sucks.

    My opinion is that is you get a spark of an idea from a book – change it drastically, or don’t write it. Divergence series is an example of a spark from The Hunger Games. I saw the H.G. so clearly in it that it was difficult to enjoy Divergence, which led me to not read the rest of the series.

    Liked the idea but did the writer really need to have the protagonist be a teen girl also? Could it not have been someone older? A boy? ANYTHING other than another teen girl? I believe that would have made a great difference to me and I may have bought the rest of the series despite the writing – which I felt was somewhat unpolished.

  27. Well, Laura Harner may not be a writer, but she/he is definitely a prolific typist and paraphraser.
    Wasn’t Janet Dailey found guilty of this, after her first 100 books? Believe she went on to write more best-selling novels after being found guilty.
    The scandal may even make him/her more famous and sell better. The world is a sick place and not stacked in favor of writers. Just read a post about Google. In case you hadn’t heard, here is the link. Google book-scanning project legal, says U.S. appeals court http://reut.rs/1ZIo4X0 via @Reuters
    Sad, anyone taking bets on whether she’ll be found guilty.

    1. If you want a good laugh get John D. McDonald’s “The Dreadful Lemon Sky” and Dmitri Gat’s “Nevsky’s Demon.” “Demon” is a line-for-line paraphrase of “Sky.” When called upon it Gat said that he didn’t know that you couldn’t do that.

      1. As a teacher, I can tell you this is what they think writing involves. Finding a couple of sources to paraphrase, slap their name on and turn it in. Problem that most algorithms that rely on detecting plagiarism, they don’t detect story line, just unchanged sections quoted verbatim without quotes. A good paraphraser, well we’ve been discussing two good examples. How much money have they made by stealing? What are the consequences?

      2. Good gods, really??? I’ve never forgotten “Dreadful Lemon Sky” and I’m shocked someone would…just think no one would notice the theft of it?

  28. As a writer of erotic romance I find this appalling. I’m hoping this is what a copyright protects you against and shame on any author that would purposely steal what someone else wrote. If your muse has gone on vacation, then take a break for a while. Hopefully I will never find myself in this situation, but I’ve been hearing about it far too often lately.
    Although, I have admit that it was interesting to see the numbers that were considered exceptional. I’m heading towards 50 books in the last two years. I will have to take a look at her works because I do have a biker series out, but most of mine are paranormal. Thanks for the heads up.

  29. I just thought I’d mention, I recognize the name of the thief from a livejournal drama thing that blew up… I want to say around ’04? ’03? I don’t think this is the first time this person has pulled this. I don’t remember the details, but I *THINK* it was in one of the fan fic communities. Might be worth digging into.

  30. This is why I leave a paper trail. I am currently writing a romance and I have about a half a dozen different readers that I personally selected from all different states. I emailed them what I have for comments and criticisms and those emails have timestamps. Also I am in the clubs and I’ll release random inserts and that also leaves timestamps. So that way when I release my book hopefully in the next few months and someone tries to plagiarize they will be screwed.

    1. I don’t post ANYTHING online. Not even excerpts. But I also created an email specifically for sending my work to it. I did it as a way of having a backup copy in case something happens to the thumb drive or whatever it’s stored on (I don’t like using the Cloud), but it’s also a great way to show when you created something. Obviously, in this case, it wasn’t a matter of posting online but simply having a book published at all. Appalling.

  31. “If you plagiarize, you will get caught. And when you get caught, hopefully your career will end and we’ll never hear from you again. If you don’t want that to happen, the answer is pretty simple: don’t plagiarize, ever.”

    Someone tell that to, among others, E.L. James and Cassandra Clare.

  32. @elana,
    Would someone please tell this to Jennifer L Armentrout , who’s Half blood series is essentially plagiarised from the vampire Academy books By Rachelle mead.

    1. Whoa. Okay, I’m now very happy that I had to change my name. That explains why I used to get accused of plagiarism all the time and I couldn’t understand why.

  33. This is so scary for self-published authors.

    I’ve had people try to steal my stories on Wattpad (which are really just rough drafts of later self-published books). My followers notify me and I report it to Wattpad. Wattpad takes them down for me, but they could easily post them on other writing websites and I would never know.

    I also had someone trying to sell a book of mine from back in 2011 on Google Books. I reported it and Google took it down. The same “author” was selling plagiarized books by other authors, so I reported those too.

  34. I really wonder what writers who intentionally steal from other writers think about? Are they sure that it’s a common thing, that couldn’t bring you any problems in the future?

    It’s easy to get caught even without checking writing with special plagiarism detection software (iThenticate, Unplag plagiarism checker and other similar applications). Moreover, it’s not a secret that many publishers use that software on desicion-making phase about approving/not approving some written piece.

    In my opinion, avid and passionate readers are more dangerous for dishonest writer. They will notice paraphrase, similar plot line and copied sentences in two different books, will tell about this their friends and won’t buy your books anymore.

  35. This happened in the 1960s to Gardner F. Fox — One of his novels, Escape Across the Cosmos was actually plagiarized twice and published as Titans of the Universe and Star Chase by different authors. Weird!

  36. I’m glad you brought attention to this. The company I work for represents many publishers. We want to promote AND protect the author’s works. I cannot stand the laziness that is running rampant and it is getting worse. Amazon obviously doesn’t have the time or equipment to check for plagiarism. I noticed one author, Susan Ward, had ripped off Hachette titles like ‘The Windflower’ and reported it. Her books were yanked, but she made up some false pen and is still allowed to swill her other stories. Did they even check to make sure her other works weren’t plagiarized? She had a good two years of reaping someone else’s benefits and thinking she wouldn’t get caught. It’s stupid. These people need to own up to their theft and stop making excuses for why they do the things they do. It’s damaging for multiple parties. The author, the credibility of whomever is editing and doing cover art, and the publisher.

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