The Onus of Original

Pride & Plagiarists

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When plagiarists are exposed, I always pay attention to their readers. Besides the pursuant anger and disbelief, they are utterly bewildered. Contrary to popular belief, most of my money in writing doesn’t come from my published work. The good chunk of my paycheck comes from ghostwriting various oDesk assignments and defecting any rights to those. That was actually how I got into writing. Amidst looking for literary agents and traditional publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts, these ghostwriting jobs were the only ones payable. Everything else was a matter of marketing and investing a pretty piece of change.

So, when I see cases like Laura Harner, it strikes me as both bold and ironic—because it’s no secret that a number of bestsellers employ ghostwriters. The only difference is that whoever’s written it has sold them the rights to their composition. Which is why it sounds stupendously sanctimonious when plagiarism incites an outcry of what counts as ‘original’ content. The thing about Harner (and recently, Lynn Hagen) is that they ripped off published authors who held their rights. That’s what it makes it so deplorable. By no means is it original. In fact, it’s literally copied, pasted, and adjusted with a few name or setting replacements. But against the grain of ghostwriting, you could draw some obvious parallels.

And nobody seems to have drawn them—like, at all. This is one of those “You reap what you sow” moments where readers have to wonder just how much they’ve been swindled. Harner herself is a bestselling author (or was? Not sure if that badge gets revoked; I doubt it because its broken the bank as it stands). Anyone who knows what terms like ‘bestselling author’ or ‘bestseller’ mean knows that those distinctions don’t easy. Think of how many readers paid into that prestige—and payment isn’t just out of pocket. Payment is also paid in lip service, time, fangirl flights of fancy… You get the idea.

Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it? Not just for this question of authenticity, but for the little guys—or gals. Namely, gals like me who ghostwrite so we can buy bread to break; and just how much of our work is reworked by other, typically wider known authors who can afford to hire us. It also makes you think of just how and where you play into this.

As a writer, I respect my readers and am grateful for every purchase. I always say I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it weren’t for them, and that’s true. Which is why I find what these current authors did to be that much more deplorable. Nothing is ever really ‘original’ in the sense that everything’s been done (seriously, there’s no new ground to break; find another tagline!) but to deliberately deceive and rip off someone else’s hard work so you can put a pin in your own…? I see red from both sides: as a reader and a writer.

Nobody likes to be duped. Nobody likes to see their work copied and peddled for someone else’s profit either.