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Posts tagged with: ghostwriters

So, We’ve GOTTA Talk About This Plagiarism Thing

Don’t know about you, but I’m still having trouble picking my jaw up off the floor.

Nothing could be weirder than #CockyGate, but #CopyPasteCris is a close second for the sheer bonkers chutzpah that seems to be involved.

In case you spent the last few days under a rock, here’s the deal:

On Monday, Courtney Milan, tipped off by a loyal reader who recognized passages stolen from Milan, published a stunning blog post showing a long series of nearly identical side-by-side text from Milan’s (awesome, fabulous, beautiful, and MUCH-BELOVEDTHE DUCHESS WAR and ROYAL LOVE, published by a Brazilian USA Today best-seller named Cristiane Serruya.

This screenshot shows just one sample of the verbatim borrowing:

Before long, Tessa Dare and others went into detective mode, uncovering a crazy quilt of passages in multiple books by Serruya, drawn from a host of bestselling authors ranging from Loretta Chase to Bella Andre to Nora Roberts. At last count (updated Feb 25), passages from at least 34 different authors have been identified, plus passages ripped off from three online articles, a Wattpad story, TWO RECIPES (seriously…recipes), and three websites, including a Wikipedia article on landscaping design (thanks to @CaffeinatedFae for keeping track, and for providing purchase links for the writers who were victimized, so we can all go support them by buying their books!!). 

Serruya quickly caught wind of the Twitter storm—“I just wake up to this”!—and tried to blame the whole thing on “a ghostwriter on Fiverr.” She tweeted, “I would have never, ever, done this. I am in this writing for a few years now and I am also a lawyer.”

She promised, “I am taking down all the work I did with a ghostwriter”–and proceeded to delete the digital versions of all but one of her romances, plus her Twitter account, her website, her Instagram, her BookBub account, and her Facebook page.

As of today, you can still buy one NOOK Book format erotic romance in both Italian and Serruya’s native language of Portuguese, plus, oddly enough, a philosophy book she claims to have written at age 18, which was Awarded with Honors by the Law School, PUC RJ.”  (Uh…Law School faculty, you might want to go over that little piece of writing one more time).

Holy crap, folks. 

The story even made the L.A. Times  and The Guardian.

Since the story first broke, the plot has, of course, thickened, and none of it looks good for Serruya.

Apparently, three ghostwriters so far have reached out to Courtney Milan, all reporting that Serruya sent them a hodgepodge of fragmented scenes to shape into a complete book. One who identified herself as Bee commented on Milan’s blog that Serruya contacted her directly, not via Fiverr, then sent her “a number of mishmashed scenes that needed ‘expanding’, as she said.”

This was the case for two novels, and the weird patchwork nature of the so-called ‘manuscript’ makes Bee now think “it’s very possible those were plagiarized scenes that she was hoping a ghostwriter would change enough to make unrecognizable.” Come payment time, Serruya stiffed her, citing “a sob story about her daughter being sick.”

[UPDATE on Feb 23: Lucas Mota, a Brazilian author who’s been digging into the case, just posted an article in which says he received a message via Facebook from a unnamed ghostwriter whose situation sounds like Bee’s–i.e., worked with Serruya on two books, and was ultimately not paid. This ghostwriter reportedly told Mota, “I had no idea that these scenes were plagiarized at the time, but now that I look at my files I see that they were.” More from the Lucas Mota article below…]

ROYAL LOVE’s editor also made a statement on Milan’s blog that the manuscript she received was “a mess. I was told that it needed a fast turn-around because the last editor had messed it up. It was one of my first paid editing gigs. I was excited. I edited 120,000 words in a twenty-hour period,” which obviously left her little time to question why the text was so disjointed. (She later looked at the sample pages for the published book, and discovered Serruya had rejected most of her edits.)

Further detective work even found that Serruya REPEATED FULL SENTENCES in more than one of her OWN books (does that count as plagiarizing herself? Probably not…the original is from Kresley Cole’s IF YOU DESIRE):

Others pointed out the irony of Serruya being identified on Goodreads as “Author of Trust” (the title of a trilogy she published) and that her readers’ group were “The TRUSTers” (one of whom, apparently, was an uncredited and no doubt unwitting Joe Manganiello): 

And then there was the jaw-dropping self-dedication to her book PERILOUS LOVE (stay for the comment by @Elia Winters):

 

When some on Twitter started to wonder if Cristiane Serruya might be a manufactured front for a scam farm, eagle-eyed Delaney Williams (@AuthorDelaneyW on Twitter) tracked down an August 2018 NYT interview which includes a photo of Serruya at her writing desk–she does appear to be an actual human, at least, though I’m still waiting to hear from someone who’s met her in person–and pointed out what look to be copies of several of the plagiarized books on a shelf RIGHT ABOVE SERRUYA’S COMPUTER, tucked in with her craft books.

Meanwhile, RWA has pulled Serruya’s book from RITA contention, and re-assigned any RITA entries she’d been given to judge. 

And Nora Roberts herself has made a pledge on Courtney Milan’s blog: “Apparently, at least two of my books were plagiarized by this person. Having dealt with this before, I won’t play nice. First, I’ll speak to my agent this morning and engage a lawyer. I strongly recommend you, Courtney, and anyone else she stole from do the same. It won’t be easy, it won’t be pretty, but we have to stand up for our work. In this case, you aren’t alone.” 

(Update: Nora has put up a blog post about both the experience with Janet Dailey and this one, and…OMG, it will break your heart and steel your spine all at the same time. What a human being!)

So, wow.

The implications of this fiasco are…just so many. 

To begin with, I highly recommend checking out a smart (and alarming) blog post by Kilby Blades. Blades, an award-winning romance writer and editor, reports that her editor profile on a freelance writing site regularly draws unsolicited invites to ghostwrite romance novels. She says the sheer frequency of these invites, which dangle a few thousand dollars to write novels to be published under someone else’s name, suggests a definite pattern: “Many of those who post such jobs advertise that they’re looking for long-term ghostwriters—people to crank out a novel every 3-4 weeks and relinquish all rights. But who would need so many romance novels so frequently? And who would pay a lot more than most run-of-the-mill authors make on a single book? Someone who’s making A LOT of money.”

And there’s this tweet from Lee Williams:

So….aaaaaagh. Apparently this is a thing. A rather BIG thing.

Some so-called “authors” are paying ghostwriters to produce content, while the rest of us are working our butts off, sweating tears, doing what Courtney Milan rightly refers to as “heart work.” 

Kilby Blades points out that the unethical folks pumping out books via ghostwriters are gaming the Amazon rankings, as the steady output keeps them at the top of the algorithmic heap, throwing writers who take the time needed to DO THEIR OWN DAMN WRITING into the shade. As Blades says, “plagiarism and ghostwriting are two sides of the same coin. Both of them lie about who’s done the writing.”

Can I  just say aaaaaaaagh a few more times?

Aaaaaaaaaagh. Aaaaaaaaaagh. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH.

Okay, friends…we’ve all had a few days to wrestle with this scandal. Sound off!! Where are your thoughts right now?

 

*******************

UPDATE FEB 23:

The Lucas Mota article that just came out this morning has some rather mind-blowing new info I need to include here. 

He really did his homework, and uncovered some important details (read the whole article to see it all).

One thing he did was dig into those 240 reviews on ROYAL LOVE which smelled fishy to many of us. He tracked down the website Fakespot, which helps evaluate the validity of online reviews, using a rating scale from A (highly reliable) to F (“unreliable,” presumably mostly click farms). No surprises in what he found:

 

Even more remarkable, HE ACTUALLY GOT A MESSAGE THROUGH TO CRISTIANE SERRUYA, asking her to grant an interview via email, and SHE APPARENTLY ANSWERED. 

Go read the whole thing yourself, but here are a few highlights from the responses Mota posted:

-“I never plagiarized anybody. I’m a lawyer and know that plagiarism is a crime. I woke up on February 19th with my name being attacked without me knowing what it was about.”

-About her first attempts to reply on social media: “I posted in my FB fan group and on Twitter, but after an angry crowd began to misrepresent all my words, and virtually lynch me, inventing crazy things about myself and facts that never happened, I decided to take off all my profiles, do not read any more messages, or do anything else, until an official representative contacts me. Social media is not the place to deal with this type of application, or any other of this seriousness.”

-“I’ve never earned any penny with any book in all these years. I’m still at a loss. By the middle of last year, 30% of my royalties were withheld at the source for the IRS and I still paid a further 15% to the brazilian IRS. The expenses for publishing a book are huge —” [And she goes on to list all sorts of expenses, but doesn’t mention ghostwriters.]

-She claims to write her own books, but mentions that, “Unfortunately, I listened to the advice of some mentors that the ideal was to publish at least one book a month, and have many books published. I cannot. . . . I have many ideas, so many that I can’t handle, and the ghostwriters were just to help me in some parts/scenes, never to write the whole book. I often write with ice on my hands to ease the pain. Even so, I can only publish a book every 3 months on average.

-and finally: “To conclude, I would like to say that the stupidity of copying the words of several super bestsellers is so great that by itself should already be some kind of evidence that it was not me. I do not even know how people think that I, who write under my real name, have lived in the same address for more than 20 years, and am a lawyer, would do that.

When Mota asked a follow-up question about how exactly she could have been deceived by ghostwriters, “She only told me she could not answer anymore for lack of time.” 

 

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