Amazon vs Hachette and the erosion of author solidarity

Writers need to remember that both sides are making more money from our talent than we ever can

Like many other writers, I am caught in a sticky predicament when it comes to the battle between Amazon and the publisher Hachette, in that supporting what is growing into a cause célèbre for many traditionally published authors means diminishing our own work and reducing our (mostly paltry) incomes.

For those who have missed this story, Amazon has begun to delay the delivery of books by Hachette authors significantly, and to create impediments on searches for Hachette books on the Amazon site: apparently due to a dispute between the two companies over ebook pricing. (See the LA Times for details.) No less a celebrity than Stephen Colbert is now urging all of us to boycott Amazon in support of Hachette authors, of which he is one. The New York Times is outraged. So are many noted writers (Malcolm Gladwell and James Patterson are two, both also published by Hachette) and several writers’ organizations.

Those of us who are caught in the middle of this firestorm are primarily established writers who have chosen to go the self-published route for some or all of our new or out-of-print titles, and to use Amazon as our publishing partner. Typically, we ourselves have had books published with traditional presses in the past, and as a result we have strong connections (e.g., through membership in writers’ organizations) and even long-term friendships with other authors who are still published only by established presses. These presses include not only Hachette but all publishers who could receive similar treatment from Amazon in future, which is most of them. Solidarity is at stake here, and in a pre-self-publishing world, we would have easily and strongly stood together. Now, over this issue and several others related to it, such strength in unity is impossible.

For indie authors, there are many good reasons for selecting Amazon to fulfill the role of publishing partner for our self-published books, most of which involve both financial considerations and the ease of getting books created and distributed. CreateSpace (Amazon’s print-on-demand publishing arm) and Kindle Direct (Amazon’s e-book-creation arm) are easy to work with, user-friendly and professionally staffed, and they offer basic packages at reasonable prices. They also offer a range of add-on services (e.g. editing, book design), depending on what you want, need and/or can afford.

The distribution advantages are obvious: almost everyone in the universe has an Amazon account. Amazon delivers what you want, when you want it, and at a lower price than just about any other company (especially other bookstores these days, since Amazon’s innovations combined with the booksellers’ own lack of foresight have put most of them out of business). A writer may choose to make her books available on a number of platforms (Barnes & Noble, Chapters, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.) but no writer can afford not to have her books also available on Amazon. Some of us even choose to have our books available exclusively on Amazon, due to the additional advantages Amazon offers us for choosing to limit our sales to its sites.

Yes, Amazon’s forward thinking–embraced by readers everywhere–has overturned the literary landscape. And yes, its innovations have driven most booksellers out of business due to its accessibility, range of offerings, and lower prices. Yes, Amazon has also started hammering at the bedrock of traditional publishing houses: its practice of treating the biggest of the big publishers no differently than it does me, a self publisher, may ultimately bring down Hachette and many other companies that have for decades made their livings off the backs of writers.

Amazon is a hell of a good company for writers who are working with it, rather than with one of its competitors. I get up to 70% royalties on my ebooks, and my readers can buy them for $2.99.  I can even give them away for free if I want to, in order to promote sales. (Publishers typically sell ebooks, which cost next to nothing to produce, for $10 to $15. Their writers get $1.50, and the publisher keeps the other $13.50. Even with print books, self publishers do far, far better financially per book sale than they do with traditional presses.)

What other writers want to do re: publishing their works is their business. However, with this Hachette-Amazon argument, if I choose to “support my fellow writers” and boycott Amazon, I am essentially telling people not to buy my books. And if I don’t support this boycott, I am a turncoat.

For a range of reasons that have to do with my choice to self-publish, in the past few years I have felt a steely and disapproving silence from some of my fellow authors, mostly the mid-range ones, and now here is another divisive issue that threatens to drive an even greater wedge between us.

Writers who ask me to boycott Amazon because of its treatment of Hachette have failed consider (and a lot of them don’t care) that my books are not accepted for sale in bookstores, not reviewed in traditional media, not eligible for most awards and grants, and not available in libraries. Why? Because I do not publish with an “established press.” But I’m supposed to give up book sales to support those companies that do have other avenues for promotions and sales? I think not.

Author John Greene is quoted in the LA Times article as saying, “The breadth of American literature and the quality of American literature is in no small part due to the work that publishers do, and it’s very unfortunate, in my opinion, to see Amazon refuse to acknowledge the importance of that partnership.”

I disagree. American (and Canadian, and British, and Indian, and Australian, and so on) literature will thrive just fine without publishers – editors’ imprints will fill their roles in future, and much less expensively for everyone concerned.

Medium-sized and major publishers have done nothing at all for me, ever. They have not rejected my manuscripts so much as they have refused to even look at them, because they base their selections on what will sell, not on “the breadth . . . and quality of [the] literature.”

As Hugh Howey says in wading into this issue, “Publishers could have realized years ago that they are in the story development and delivery service, but they thought it was all about books. Which pretty much underscores all that has happened since.”

It is the publishers I am refusing to support, but that’s not how a lot of authors see it. But I can’t afford to be politically correct on this one. My unwillingness to support Hachette (and their agitating authors) vs Amazon is partly principle and partly economics – not being James Patterson, J.K. Rowling or Stephen Colbert, I can’t afford to support a cause that impacts my own income so directly. But here’s the bottom line: I’ve fought long and hard to get what I (and my reader-reviewers for the most part) believe to be quality books into print and available on the market, and any boycott of Amazon prevents those books from reaching readers. How can I urge that?

So my message to my fellow writers is this: do what you want when it comes to getting your books to print. Just don’t let issues like this one rip us apart. We’re all in this together, talking to our readers. The rest of them are only intermediaries who have figured out how to make more money off our talent than we ever can.



Dealing with Rejection

Today I am applying some words of wisdom that were written for the legal profession to my writing, and to my efforts to market my books. They are a good reminder that book writing and book selling are two different things:

[Despite all your well developed and respected skills in your area of expertise…] in the business-development area, you are about to go out and be rejected. You are about to go out and be wrong. You are about to go out and make mistake after mistake. Unless you see unhappy moments of rejection as opportunities to learn, and to improve in such a way that you achieve a level of skill that will allow you to be effective and get fewer and fewer rejections, you will not be successful at business development.

– Gerald A. Riskin, The Successful Lawyer: Powerful Strategies for Transforming Your Practice

An Update on WattPad

More than 200 people have “read” the first segment of my new novel, Seeds and Secrets, and a number have also visited  my short humorous essay, “Managing Writers in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers.” I find this attention is beginning to alter the structure of my days, so that I am putting my own work at the forefront both mentally and in practice. To be read, or even just to believe that you are being read, is a powerful motivator.

Self-Published Writers Make (Lots) More Money, New Data Suggests

HoweyData released earlier this week provides stunning evidence that self-published authors in several popular genres are selling many more books and making a good deal more money than most of us had previously suspected. Their success in comparison to traditionally published authors may be a wake-up call for everyone in the publishing business, from first-time writers to the biggest of the Big Five publishers. (It certainly has been a wake-up call for me: I’m dropping prices on my e-books as we speak).

Until now, the only evidence for strong sales of indie vs traditionally published books has been anecdotal reports from individual authors, many of whom seemed to be making a disproportionately large amount of money compared to the rest of us. These authors were considered to be “outliers.”

Now Hugh Howey, one of those disproportionately successful authors — well known among avid readers and the publishing cognoscenti for his best-selling self-published fiction series, Wool — has made data available (and will continue to collect and update it, he says, at his own expense) that indicates that he may not be alone when it comes to successfully selling books online, particularly e-books. His report on author earnings (cleverly entitled Author Earnings: The Report) suggests that indie-published books are getting higher scores on reviews and selling more copies than those of small- to medium-sized presses, and that the gaps between positive review scores and sales are even greater when you compare self-published books with those from the “Big Five” publishers. The primary reason? Indie authors tend to publish e-books rather than paperbacks and other formats, and they tend to charge much less for them than traditional publishers do. And e-books are selling like hotcakes.

Howey’s figures are derived from an analysis of data collected by an unnamed writer “with advanced coding skills” who has created a program that can gather and break down data from bestseller lists at a speed that was previously impossible. The initial data collection and analysis looks at book sales on Amazon and includes three genres: Mystery/Thriller, Science Fiction/Fantasy, and Romance. These genres were examined first because they account for nearly three quarters of the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon, and more than half of the top 1000. Howey and his “data snoop” will look at the entire range of fiction titles in future reports, he says.

Among their findings so far:

  • In these three genres, indie authors are outselling the Big Five publishers. “That’s the entire Big Five. Combined.” [Words and italics Howie’s]
  • E-books make up 86% of the top 2,500 genre fiction bestsellers in the Amazon store, and 92% of the top 100 best-selling books in the listed genres are e-books
  • Although books from the Big Five account for just over a quarter of unit sales in these genres, they take half of the gross dollar sales — and the authors of those books typically receive only 25% of that profit
  • Indie authors, on the other hand, who keep about 70% of the purchase price of their e-books on Amazon, are earning nearly half of the total author revenue from genre fiction sales on Amazon
  • Self-published authors are, on average, earning more money on fewer books than are those with traditionally published books being sold through the same (i.e., outlet.

A Few Conclusions

The Report is long and complex (but not complicated). I encourage all serious writer entrepreneurs to read it carefully — and to stay updated with future installments.

One of the many inspiring and beautiful charts from Author Earnings: A Report by Hugh Howie

One of the many inspiring and beautiful charts from Author Earnings: A Report by Hugh Howie

(It is also very pretty. I am including an image here from The Report, with proper attribution and an embedded link but used without permission, so if it disappears, you’ll know why. Whether it does disappear or not, I suggest you go and have a look at all the other pretty charts in Howie’s report. They are impressive and illuminating as well as colourful.)

For those who don’t have time to read The Report straight through right now, I’ll extract some conclusions that became clear to Howie, as they must to anyone who examines the data he’s presented:

  • E-books from indie authors tend to be priced much lower than those of mainstream publishers
  • Readers are more likely to buy and review books with lower prices than higher ones
  • “Most readers don’t know and don’t care how the books they read are published. They just know if they liked the story and how much they paid. If they’re paying twice as much for traditionally published books, which experience will they rate higher? The one with better bang for the buck.” — Hugh Howey, Author Earnings: The Report
  • Most traditional publishers are paying authors only 25% of e-book sales, despite the almost insignificant overhead associated with creating e-books
  • Readers are buying many more e-books than they are paperbacks and other book formats, at least from amazon (which is the biggest bookseller in the world, by a huge measure — like it or not).
  • Readers are not buying traditionally published e-books as frequently as they are indie published e-books, because indie-published books cost less. Therefore, traditionally published authors are getting read less often, and are making less money per book sold than indie authors are.

This is important news for traditionally published authors.

It is also important news for major publishers, who are going to lose their authors if they don’t smarten up.

We won’t go into the impact all this is having on good literature, but Howie believes that the data suggests that “even stellar manuscripts are better off self-published.”

A call to Action

In addition to publishing The Report, Howie’s new website,, invites authors from all sectors to work together to help one another “make better decisions” when it comes to publishing their books.

Howie says that the site’s “purpose is to gather and share information so that writers can make informed decisions. Our secondary mission is to call for change within the publishing community for better pay and fairer terms in all contracts. This is a website by authors and for authors.”

When you go to the site you will be invited to subscribe for updates, contribute to a survey and/or to sign a petition.

I for one will be closely following the activity on that site — right after I lower the prices on my e-books.

Writers and Violence: Our obligation to at least wonder if there’s anything we can do

I have written the first draft of the article describing the publishing panel at the LitFest in Anguilla last weekend, an event that seems somewhat seminal to me – situated as it was amid the mudslide of turmoil that surrounds the impact of electronic technology on our industry. So it is taking me a while to write that post. But today did not seem like the right day to be polishing sentences. After several days of relative isolation from the news online, and the shock of coming back to it, I felt I needed to stop and think about the bigger picture for a moment.

Today in Seattle, a gunman killed five people and himself. Here in Toronto, a young man shot another at a subway station after an altercation on the train. These are just two senseless incidents of violence out of thousands I could report from today’s headlines alone that have not only affected the hearts and minds of those immediately concerned, but aroused the horror of bystanders and online readers and viewers everywhere.

A few days ago, a drugged-up man in Miami ate the face off another man, and was shot to death by police on camera. A man in Montreal killed another man, chopped him up, put his torso in a suitcase and a few of his other body parts in packages and mailed them to innocent recipients: the murder scene is now open for public viewing. A couple in England has been charged with setting fire to their home and killing their six children. A young woman in Sudan is about to be stoned to death for adultery.

It makes me wonder if there is any justification at all for sitting around and writing stories. We should be doing something more constructive. Jackie Chan is starting to look like the only sane person in the news.

On the other hand, the eminent and distinguished speakers at the conference last weekend seemed to be fairly unanimous that it is the loss of story/heritage that leads to a lot of this insanity, drug abuse, and senseless violence. We must give people back their voices, and we must tell our stories. This new publishing era is certainly facilitating that.

But I think at the very least the endless endless horrific headlines should make us, as writers, think about our ethical responsibility to push away the chaos, instead of adding to it.

Along with talent, growing expertise at writing, the universal ability to publish whatever we want to say, and our increasingly fevered and competitive efforts to reach (i.e., capture) audiences, comes responsibility. That’s all I’m saying here.

* * * * *

June 6, 2012: Adding a link to PEN International, and one to Amnesty International. We can at least write letters.

The New Slush Pile: How Readers Are Choosing The Next Bestsellers

… or “Whoops! My book has started selling – I’d better get it edited.”

While the old guard in the books industry is still busy struggling to figure out how to give traditional publishers, agents and bookstores some relevance in the new order, a far more significant change is taking place just beyond their (albeit limited and utterly self-focused) lines of vision. Due to the availability of thousands upon thousands of free books by beginning authors in electronic format, and the proliferation of e-book reading devices with fodder-hungry owners, it is no longer editors or agents who are now combing through the slush pile looking for the gold: it is the readers.

A note to the non-writers: the “slush pile” is a term that has been used for centuries to describe the manuscripts that writers have sent to publishers uninvited, in the hope that they would be “discovered” and made famous. The term “slush pile” distinguished these unsolicited manuscripts from those that were sent to publishers by agents, established writers, or a senior editor’s aunt in Rapid City, Iowa. Interns generally read the slush piles, which were mostly full of dross, but (tradition has it) occasionally the readers found a Rowling or a Hemingway in there, and a career was launched.

The transition from editorial-office slush piles to online ones has happened so quickly that the mainstream books industry is largely unaware of it, as are most writers and most readers. The evolution has taken place in a climate where, over the past couple of years, new and inexperienced writers have proudly put their first books out in e-book format – usually created at little-to-no cost to them – only to discover that attempts to sell their novels or memoirs at $2.99 or $1.99 or even $.99 are fruitless. No one wants them.

That has led these writers to discover that if they put the same books out there at zero cost, e-book-reader owners will snap them up by the dozens—as if they were free marbles. Suddenly the writer’s “sales” figures shoot through the roof – from zero sales to 4,000 in a weekend is not uncommon among my social media “writer” contacts. Their books also start climbing up the bestseller-in-their-genre lists (romance, western, etc.) on Amazon.

Of course, their sales are illusions – nobody is actually “buying” their books and the writers are not making any money, and usually after a few days of skyrocketing numbers of downloads, when the writers put a price back on the book – having a new but deluded appreciation for their own worth— it drops off the bestseller lists and sales are once more insignificant.

Building An Audience of Readers

But what happens next? That is the question that all of us who are watching this phenomenon have been asking, and on a recent Monday I began to learn the answer. On that morning, I read a posting by an acquaintance on FaceBook that said, “Oh, whoops! My book has started selling. I’d better edit it.” Someone replied, “If it’s selling, why edit it?” to which the original poster responded, “Oh, nothing major. Just spelling, typos and formatting. Things like that.”

Coming from a background in the books industry—I have published four books with traditional presses, been editor-in-chief at a publishing company, and freelance-edited almost every kind of writing under the sun for thirty years—I was flabbergasted that anyone would put a book out there— in electronic or any other format—without editing it. I expressed my outrage on Reddit and a writers’ forum and attracted great interest from other writers and readers – most of whom were in my corner when it came to the importance of doing as good a job on editing as you can (and can afford) before you offer a book for “sale” – even at no cost.

What amazed me were the responses from people who have been downloading all these books for free. This was the first time I had heard them speaking – the first inkling I had gained into what was happening to cause all of those free books – good, bad, indifferent – to be downloaded onto all those Kindles, Nooks and Kobos. To my surprise, these readers (many of them quite literate) seemed far less perturbed than the writers were about the condition of the editing and formatting – what they wanted to see was good writing and good stories. They had downloaded dozens or even hundreds of free books by people they had never heard of, just because the books were free. They sampled them like new food: if they liked what they read, they kept going. If they didn’t they stopped reading after the first page, or the first few pages or the first hundred pages. They had no commitment to finishing the book: they had paid nothing for it. The only books they finished were the ones that kept them reading: which was, I realized, just the way readers of the slush piles in the publishing houses treated manuscripts.

More importantly, they said they would remember the names of the writers whose books they had liked, and they would follow up and read what these writers published next time. It sounded to me as though they might even be willing to pay for those next books.

It is in ways like this that a new books industry is being born, and the old one being swept away forever. The Publishers of the Future will not dictate what readers want to read, they will learn what readers want to read – from the readers. Then they will publish the NEXT books the readers have found in the new slush pile – which is what the mountain after mountain of free ebooks has obviously become – and they might even offer to clean up the editing on the first ones.

(And if the publishers are lucky, the writers might actually deign to give them their second books. However, after having tested their mettle on real readers without the interference of the books industry, and enjoyed the power and freedom of creating and marketing their own books, they may decide to self-publish the second ones as well. We’ll see what happens there.)

In the meantime, it is nothing but great news for writers that books in the slush pile are no longer being read by those who THINK they know what readers want (publishers and agents), they are now being read by those who DO know what they want: the readers.

I love this brave new world.

How writers can stop plagiarism: individually, and as a powerful, united, “pen”-wielding group

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but copying is theft. And yet stealing the writing of others has become so commonplace that teachers and professors feel impotent to put a stop to it, and many writers seem resigned to the inevitability of being ripped off, scraped, plundered, robbed and screwed.

I am not resigned. I can only begin to imagine my outrage if someone ever attaches his or her name to a story, essay or article I have written and tries to pass it off as his or her own (which has happened to many other writers but not to me yet, as far as I know). It was aggravating enough to discover that a post from this blog – which I had spent hours and hours creating (or years, it could be argued, if you consider the experience that went into it) – had been altered enough to make it hard to trace and almost unintelligible, then posted as part of a money-making machine set up by some scuzzbucket with a website registered in Russia.

Thanks to the diligence and knowledge contained within my fellowship of on-line writers, with whom I communicate at last count on about ten different sites, I managed not only to figure out who was doing this to me (and hundreds and hundreds of other writers), but also why – and what I could to do to address the problem.

How I Discovered I’d Been Pillaged

About three weeks ago, I Googled “Militant Writer” to get the link to my blog (usually I just use the autofill function on the Google toolbar but I was on another computer). To my surprise, the results included not only my site and a few unrelated items, but also a couple of links to what turned out to be mangled versions of one of my blog posts — on someone else’s website.

It turned out that the site, entitled Publish A Book, is a compilation of hundreds of articles previously published in dozens of different on-line publications – some from blogs such as my own, but others from more established commercial outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. In each case every fourth or fifth word has been replaced with a synonym, most of them slightly “off,” so that the articles come out sounding as though they have been translated into a different language, and then translated back to English. One sentence in my article reproduced on the other site read, for example, “It looks unpreventable to me now that except they take up the sideline manufacture of weaponry or maybe bath salts to sponsor themselves, the major publishing homes are going down,“ while the original version was “It seems inevitable to me now that unless they take up the sideline manufacture of weaponry or bath salts to subsidize themselves, the major publishing houses are going down.”

Screen capture of an article on

In addition to all the other articles,  I noticed that there were lots of ad links on the website but I didn’t yet understand what that meant. I looked around the site – without success – for an email address to which I could send a complaint. On July 20, I put a notice up on my blog to tell my readers what I had discovered, and I also started threads about it on FaceBook, Twitter, Google +, authonomy, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards (ABNA) discussion forum, a couple of LinkedIn writers’ forums I belong to, and The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) listserve. I also sent a letter to Access Copyright, which is the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – with which I am registered (you will notice a copyright notice on my on-line posts). I cc’d TWUC, my lawyer, and a few other people.

It was a few days before I heard back from Access Copyright, and the representative there explained that they could try to help me to get some payment for having had my work used by someone else. I said that what I wanted to do was to have my post removed from the other website, and they told me that they could not help with that.

In the meantime, my fellow writers on the forums had been working overtime. One person (thanks again, tvguy) found the email address I had been unable to locate on the website (by going to the Privacy Notice page and scrolling down, down, down) and he discovered that the same email address was also the contact address for a whole lot of other sites (there were about 80 at that point) which offered advice and guidance (and links to more ads) for people who had questions about lung cancer, loans for bad credit, migraine headaches, and a whole lot of other conditions and issues. Another writer helped me by tracking the websites and the email address to an internet host which included an actual name and functioning email address, albeit one located in Vladivostok (which didn’t sound like a place that was going to honour my copyright).

Another writer colleague explained the rationale for all those sites – and the dozens of others like them that are proliferating on the Internet. He explained that these larcenists set them up to attract hits by people using search engines to look for information on certain popular topics – in this case, self-publishing. When unsuspecting visitors to these sites click on one of the many links contained within them, the owner of the site gets a payment – from Google AdSense or similar advertising programs. They probably get only a few pennies when someone hits one link, but when you have 80 sites and hundreds of links, they start to add up.

In the meantime, I had been going through the perpetrator’s websites attempting to work backwards to identify others who were, like me, being victimized by the owner of these websites (if you are looking for a new way to procrastinate on the Net, there is meaty potential here. The articles become puzzles that you can solve by trying to guess what word was in the article originally before they replaced it with a less meaningful synonym, then Google the result and see what happens). I guess I was thinking of “class action” remedies to the problem – if enough of us who had been wronged complained together, perhaps we could get the sites taken down.

I found the originals of several articles – including a few from blogs and some by writers for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Toronto Star. I wrote to these latter writers, and ultimately to the papers themselves to tell them what was happening. (In response, I have had one “Thanks for the heads’ up” response from the WSJ, but that is all.)

What I Did

Despite really significant support from the writers on the aforementioned forums and this blog page (“Go get the slime, Mary,” was a typical response) and their excellent sleuthing skills (thank you, people), in light of the lack of interest exhibited by almost everyone I had written to directly, I lowered my expectations. I did have other things to do besides bringing down one scumbag. I decided I would settle for having my own blog post removed from his website, and alerting other people as to how I had done it.

On August 8, I sent the “Cease and Desist” letter I posted on the same day on my Militant Writer blog. I sent it to the email address that was posted on the “Privacy Policy” page of all those websites (which turned out to be a non-functional email address) and to the email address that was listed on the site where ownership of the website was listed (which seems to have been working). I sent a copy to Google AdSense (which required me to walk over to the FedEx office several blocks away and spend $12 to fax it, since Google and Google AdSense don’t have email contact addresses. Which makes me laugh). I sent copies to my lawyers in Canada and the USA, and to the papers to which I had previously written whose work had also been plagiarized.

Even though it was a big hassle to go and fax the letter to Google AdSense, I think that was the step that brought results. Google is based in a country that does have copyright laws, even if the plagiarist is not. (I have since heard that the perpetrator might not be just one person – that businesses to set up advertising-money-generating websites are popping up all over the Middle East and Asia, employing hundreds of workers at $1/hour to comb through articles in western newspapers, magazines, and blogs, alter them, and post them on these money-making websites. Others have suggested that the perpetrators use complex computer algorithms rather than slave labour.) It seems unlikely to me that Google is going to want to be seen as knowingly paying someone on the basis of stolen copyrighted text.

Whether it was the fax to Google AdSense or the email to the website owner, all of the articles I had pointed out had disappeared off the websites by the following morning (not only mine, but the examples I had provided from the NYT and the WSJ). The sites are still up, although there seem to be fewer associated with the fake email address,  which leads me to believe only that there are probably now sites with a whole new fake email contact address on them. But it is time for me to get back to my own work.

What To Do If You Are Plagiarized

  1. Make screen captures (Command, Shift, 3 on a Mac) so that you have evidence of what has been posted and where it was copied from, with date stamps;
  2. Write a cease-and-desist letter (like the one I wrote) to the person who has done the plagiarizing. Use any contact addresses on the site to track down the legal owner of the site, or try

If you want to start strong – or with your followup email if the first one doesn’t work – send copies to:

  • the site’s web host if you can find it (e.g., if the name on the site is scuzzbucket at, send a copy to Yahoo);
  • any commercial interests that the plagiarist is working with via links or other promotional initiatives;
  • legal representation in the country where the commercial interests are based;
  • the media.

If that doesn’t work, then:

  1. If any of the stakeholders are based in the U.S., send the website a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice. The act is explained on Wikipedia and this WordPress site gives excellent guidance on how to complete a notice:
  2. Advise the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN. Note: I didn’t get around to exploring their site so I’m not sure if they have any interest or power in this area)
  3. If you still don’t get results and you can afford it, sue the bastards. If you can’t afford it, try to gather a group of other writers together whose copyright is being infringed by the same website owner, and put your resources together or find a pro bono legal service to help you to sue the bastards

Attitude Attitude Attitude

The important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is that we don’t just accept that plagiarism is the new reality. If anyone in the universe should be able to fight back eloquently and passionately against the theft of our writing, it is writers.

We can prove that the pen is mightier than the sword, and if we are fortunate (as I was) we can use our words to diffuse the problem before we have to start paying lawyers. Sending a copy to a lawyer is a good preliminary indication of your serious intent, however, as far as I’m concerned.

For many of us, our writing is our stock-in-trade. Most of us aren’t making very much money from doing it, but we invest a lot of time, thought and heart into what we write, and if our work is stolen and we don’t speak up, we are devaluing what we do.

We need to constantly remind our students and our readers that plagiarism is theft. We need to be familiar with, support and monitor the copyright legislation that affects us. We need to join copyright collectives like Access Copyright and post copyright notices on our work. (I am not a copyright lawyer, but I do know that you don’t need to pay to copyright everything you write in order to protect it. If you have evidence you wrote it — as I do here with my early drafts of this blog post on my computer — you are covered.)

We need to make a BIG, FOCUSED, ARTICULATE NOISE when someone rips us off, or steals the work of any of our fellow writers. We, both individually and as a group, hold the strongest weapon there is against the theft of our creative enterprise: our own eloquence. It is up to us to use it.

P.S. I welcome comments that include any additional information you may have on fighting copyright infringement. And stay tuned — I WILL be getting back to the important subject of self-publishing very soon, as I move closer to publishing The Whole Clove Diet.

Note: If you want information on how to detect plagiarism, or where to find plagiarism-detection apps, visit this blog post by Jennifer Murtoff. And tvguy, mentioned above, has found a way to warn off prospective plagiarists before they even start.