Thursday, June 27, 2013

Amazingly Broken: The Plagiarism Fallout

For those who have not heard about the buzz today, a fellow indie author, Jordin Williams, has been accused of plagiarizing other authors' works.  From the evidence I have seen here, I believe that the accusations will hold true.  Certainly, the actions of the author and of Amazon indicate that she is guilty.

I do not want to broach the validity of the claims, as that is up to others and I trust the right things will be done in response.  However, I think a discourse about professionalism, ethical behavior, and dedication to the consumer must be engaged.

I will begin by saying that I find the actions of authors who plagiarize to be ironic.  Hypocritical, even.  We bemoan piracy of our work, but some among us are willing to steal from the others.

The fallout will come, if it hasn't already.  I have not even checked The Guardian or other periodicals hostile to independent authors.  I am sure the lambasting will continue.  Now, the target of their ire will be the unethical independent authors who are allowed to steal from traditionally published authors' works and make it into the top 100.

The sad part is that they are right.  We don't have any constraints.  We have no "gatekeeper" to check our work and make sure it is original.  It is bad enough that we have no one to validate our work in terms of its fitness as a literary work prepared for public consumption.  We indie authors are rebels with a cause.

That will be the mud that gets slung at us.  And they will be right.  To a point.

I disagree that we do not have gatekeepers, that there exists no constraints, accountability, or repercussions for unethical business practice.  I do not agree that we are all hacks with no talent that cannot get a "normal" book deal because our work is inferior.  Or worse, we are in this book thing as a new business model to exploit.

Our gatekeepers, our constraints, our accountability is the market itself.  The readers provide the ultimate in judgment.  Not that their judgment is consistent.  Even the best written books in history have 1 star reviews.  Even the most popular authors have detractors.  In fact, it seems that the more popular a particular author becomes, the more they attract disappointed readers.

But, I digress. Despite readers' fickle and contradictory natures, they provide a screen for what is deemed "good" or "acceptable."  When something is wrong, and I mean really wrong, readers will sniff it out and that is the end of it.

In addition, I believe this characterization of independent authors as incompetent as a whole based on this case is unjust.  Our lot are not the first to participate in such incredibly repulsive business.  We will not be the last, either.  Traditionally published authors have participated in plagiarism, lying, making up facts, and such for years.  They are not above this behavior and neither are their publishers. Isn't that right, Quentin Rowan?  New York Times?  Washington Post? Isn't that right, Oprah?

The point, though, is that this behavior should not be condoned.  Amazon did the right thing to pull it down immediately.  People who went on the Goodreads page for Ms. Williams' book (which has now been pulled down, sort of) and flagged the book as plagiarized did the right thing.  Readers who contacted the author with their displeasure did the right thing.

The author, who has disappeared digitally in just hours after reaching as high as at least 58 in the Kindle store, did not do the right thing.  Even more irony: the title of her book.  Amazingly Broken.  Well, she got that right.

However, painting all indie authors with the "incompetent" or "exploitative" brush is also wrong.  A few bad eggs exist in every bunch.  We cannot all be held to the same standard as an outlier.  That has been our argument all along. Whether challenging the quality of our contribution to "literature," or our devotion to our craft and art, whether pointing at the ugly covers, or the poor marketing choices, whether laughing at the rate of financial failure of authors, or staunchly defending old business models for their own sake, the critics of indie authors really have no leg on which to stand in this matter.  Williams screwed up.  She will pay for it.  And, for a time, so will every indie author.  That is unfair.