Monday, October 25, 2010
Words For The Wise
I’ve been seeing a lot of something lately that I want to talk about this morning. An author on a group I belong to asked about this the other day, and I’ve seen countless authors doing this. It’s something that happens all through authorland and a lot of writers, mostly new to the game, never give it a second thought it seems. Even after a warning from someone who has been around a lot longer, they keep doing it.
Okay, cut to the chase Tess—enough damn warm-up already, will ya? I know that’s what you’re thinking. Hey, I’m a writer, I’ve got to capture your interest, don’t I? HA! So here it is: Authors posting full chapters of their works in progress, a complete summary/synopsis of their unpublished books, or the entire book itself. Even a blurb can be a bad idea.
When you do that, you’re just begging for someone to come along and steal your work and make it their next best seller, or the book that breaks them into the business. If you were a scientist, would you put your creative genius out there on display for everyone to see? All your chemical formulas that may be the next best thing since Jello? I think not.
What you write is YOUR creative genius. Guard it well.
You can’t steal a plot. Most authors know this. After all, there are only thirty-some odd plot points you’ve got to work with. However, it’s the combination of plot points---those sub plots and all the unique twists and turns you give your story that make it special. And that’s what sells your book. So does it make sense to give your imagination away?
Okay. Most of us are honest. I am. I’ve never stolen a thing in my life. Well, I take that back. I was with a group of friends way back when, and we’d been out bar-hopping. We were sitting in this late-night breakfast only restaurant, and for some odd reason the conversation turned to stealing. I’d never stolen anything. They were in awe. All of them had stolen something—there was a big group of us too—like a dozen. Their thievery ranged from cash from their parents' wallets to cash from their employers to actual shoplifting. Yeah, I know—I should find better friends. Lol Don’t worry, I did. But at the time I was still a little tipsy from all that fun we’d been having, and I left the restaurant with a set of salt 'n' pepper shakers. I know, I know. That was pitiful. And you know what? I NEVER went back to that restaurant. (The restaurant is still there to this day—all these years later—and every time I see it, my stomach knots—not lying. My guilt runs deep.)
Okay, enough about me.
As an editor I’m in tune with writing styles. For authors I’ve edited for, worked with, or read quite a bit of, I can spot their style a mile away. Good writers have a signature. It’s oftentimes very very subtle, but definitely something I can spot. Heck, I can sometimes read a book and just know for a fact that even though there is one pen name tied to the book, at least two authors were involved in the writing.
Not too long ago I read a book by an author I’d only read once before. Said author had switched up on her style in the second book I read. And that in itself is okay—nothing wrong with it. I have three writing styles/voices. It all depends on what tone I want to use for a book. But this author’s voice stood out to me as someone else’s voice. Not only that, I noted right many words and phrasing that were just too similar to that other author’s, and I was very put off by all of that. Mimicking the style of someone you know that is successful is done all the time. Works for some. But for me, you cross the line when you take words/phrasing from that author. Was it enough to say the author plagiarized? No. Just enough to let me know that the author WAS indeed “taking”. Sort of like that cheap little salt ‘n’ pepper set I stole that time.
There’s a publisher that sells books which brandish titles similar to NYTBS books and blockbuster movies. And if you read those books, you’ll quickly discover that the plotting is incredibly similar to those best-selling books and blockbuster movies too. I purchased one of those books a while back out of curiosity. E-book format, of course, and that was the only thing that kept me from throwing the book against the wall. Honestly. Sure, the characters had been changed and some thin thin thin disguising was used. But that story was nothing more than a rip-off of someone else’s creative genius.
I’ve had three authors complain to me in recent months that an idea of theirs was stolen. Again, you can’t steal a plot. You can’t steal a title either. You’re not breaking copyright laws in any way when you do this. In order to plagiarize you have to take another’s work and copy actual lines. But still, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you write about something and all of a sudden author Jane Doe comes up with the same story, doesn’t it?
You only hear about plagiarized work when it comes to big-name authors. But it happens a lot more than you’d think with the lesser knowns and those just starting out in the writing business. I honestly think that the Internet is responsible for more and more of this too. It’s easy to post a blog that gives away your story ideas. Easy to post a chapter or several. Easy to post a blurb or synopsis. There are workshops that ask you to post bits and pieces of your work. Critique groups that do the same. Groups where authors post the synopsis of their story—the beginning, middle, and end—in hopes of a publisher reading it and asking to see the manuscript. Ways to share our work are all around us for sure.
One author said to me: “Nobody wants to steal my work. I’m not that skilled.” Oh, I beg to differ and told the author that she might not have down all the bells and whistles of writing yet, but her story premise was solid—unique. That author listened and took down the overall summary of her work.
If you’re a new author and trying to blog and promote yourself, take a snippet of your work—a short scene or a few lines only and post them. Five hundred words or less—and I say do that ONLY if you’re hell bent on posting something. I’d never post anything. Instead, blog about the writing process, the people you meet online, about who you are and what you like to do. Don’t give away your characters, your storylines, your precious words. There are lots of ways to announce you’re an author without giving away something you hope to sell. Write a free short story and put that on your blog or website.
An author should also take into consideration that publishers aren’t too keen on having work published openly that is later submitted to them. If you post a huge chunk of your story online—and I’ve seen entire books published on sites, and then later submitted to publishers—your work has been previously published and the publisher has a right to know. Some of these writer websites where authors post their work to get feedback have right many views/hits. Those are sales a publisher won’t see. Sales YOU the author won’t see. Why buy the cow when you’ve already gotten the milk for free. Now this doesn’t mean, of course, that a publisher won’t consider a previously published work. Lots do. It’s a well-known fact that some books have low sales. But what I’m talking about here is when an author posts a story on a free site for readers, and then submits that same story to a publisher.
I’ve said this before and I’ll probably never stop saying it. Writing is a business. Some may see it as a hobby, something they don’t really worry about or consider as a real career opportunity—if they get published they get published, and if they don’t, no worries. They write for the love of writing. But writing IS a business. And in business you have the good guys and the bad guys.
Protect your work. It’s an asset just as sure as the money you make with the day job—no different than that flat-screen TV you own. Your work has value and you should treat it like gold. Lock it up.