Episode 149: What’s Plagiarism, and what’s just plain wrong (and how to keep from accidentally doing either)

Sarina joined us to talk plagiarism–after all the recent news and scandals, from the A.J. Finn weirdness (New Yorker piece, NYT articles) to romance author Courtney Milan’s discovery that a book by Cristiane Serruya contained passages from Milan’s book, The Duchess War. Several other authors made similar discoveries, and Serruya–after first blaming a ghostwriter–pulled at least some of her books from circulation.

We know none of our listeners is out there copy-and-pasting fiction. That’s a pretty obvious bad idea. We talk ghost writing (here are some interesting thoughts on ghostwriting in this context, h/t Joanna Penn)and what to do if you’re the victim of plagiarism during the episode, and we also got into how to avoid accidental borrowing of text or facts (a la Jill Abramson)–because when it comes to non-fiction, we often use source material, and cutting-and-pasting into a document is an easy way to pull facts and sources together whether you’re collecting info for an article or a book (for example, you might pull a sentence about a result of a Pew survey or to keep track of numbers from a particular piece of research.

To avoid accidentally just stuffing that sentence into your final work (we all HOPE we’ll recognize that we didn’t write something, but there are only so many ways to say “Five out of ten dentists surveyed prefer Crest”) the key is to mark the pasted-in-text in a way that CANNOT BE REMOVED BY AUTOFORMAT. I can’t emphasize that enough. Just color the text, or use a different font, and there’s a chance you’ll do something with “select all” that takes the distinction away entirely. Same with just linking it. Those can go away.

I suggest an all caps marker, which can’t be accidentally pulled, that says something like COPIED TEXT FROM PEW or whatever is appropriate. Believe, me–come even close to screwing this up, even accidentally, and you’ll put all caps all OVER those suckers.

If you’re gonna hire someone off a website to write your novel for you, there’s not a lot we can do to help you. If you’re getting your plots from other people’s work (other than in the “there are only seven plots and Shakespeare already used all of them” sense, you will have to carry on without us. Your moral compass ship may have already sailed. But most of us are just out here doing the best we can, so help your future self out and mark those quotes clearly.

Also, don’t tell people your relatives have died when they haven’t. That’s just wrong.

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template (the one KJ swears by).

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

Want more Sarina Bowen? Go here.

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