Publishing 2.0: Tips and Traps – 2014 PD Workshop from The Writers’ Union of Canada

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 2.54.34 PMI am truly delighted

to have been selected as one of two presenters for Publishing 2.0: Tips and Traps, The Writers’ Union of Canada’s cross-country series of professional development workshops for 2014.

My fellow presenter is the noted fiction author Caroline Adderson, who has five books of fiction for adults and several books for young readers to her credit. Caroline will be talking about the traditional route to publishing – how to find a publisher, how to prepare your manuscript for a publisher, working with agents and editors, and doing promotion once your book is out.

I will be talking about independent publishing – why you might want to consider it, even if you’re a traditionally published author (as I am)  – e.g., for getting your out-of-print backlist out quickly, and maximizing your returns on sales –  as well as how to actually manage the self-publication of a book. I’ll be talking about finding editors and book designers, how to publish cost-effectively, managing distribution and, of course, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned about promoting self-published books.

With the help of John Degen, executive director of TWUC, former literature officer with the Ontario Arts Council, former executive director of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) and the former communications manager for Magazines Canada (formerly Canadian Magazine Publishers Association) – John is also a writer – we’ll also be covering contracts, royalties, and copyright issues, and discussing the current state of the publishing landscape from a writer’s perspective.

Appearing East, West and On A Computer Near You

The first installments of the tour will take place in Eastern and Central Canada in February, 2014. Dates and locations for the one-day (9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) workshop have now been announced:

  • Monday, Feb 3 Moncton, NB
  • Wednesday, Feb 5 Halifax NS
  • Monday, Feb 17 Montreal QC
  • Tuesday, Feb 18 Ottawa ON
  • Friday, Feb 21 Toronto ON

We will visit four additional cities – in Western Canada – in the autumn of 2014. Dates and locations for those are still to be announced. It is anticipated that the workshop will also be available for purchase in digital format after the series of live presentations is complete.

It is not necessary to be a member of TWUC to attend its PD workshops.

About The Writers’ Union of Canada

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 2.54.45 PMThe Writers’ Union of Canada is Canada’s national organization of professional writers of books, and has approximately 2,000 members. TWUC was founded 40 years ago to work with governments, publishers, booksellers, and readers to improve the conditions of Canadian writers. I have been a member of TWUC for a long time, and highly recommend joining – not only does it serve as a highly effective advocate for and promoter of writers with governments, the cultural industry and the public,  membership offers a host of wonderful advantages that range from a community of writers to dental benefits.  For more information, visit the TWUC website.

Although membership in TWUC is currently restricted to writers with “a trade book published by a commercial or university press, or the equivalent in another medium,” at its May 2013 annual general meeting, in a unanimous vote, members of the Union approved a resolution opening membership to professional, self-published authors. The resolution will be presented to the entire TWUC membership in a referendum, and will come into force with a two-thirds majority. For more information, view the Union’s June 1, 2013 media release.

In the meantime, I hope to meet you in person at one of TWUC’s PD gigs this year!

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.

Why I am not opting out of the Google Settlement

by Mary W. Walters

Most of the reasons for opting out of the Google Settlement are based on highly respectable principles — Google did a bad thing, and it should be punished. Google says we’re “in” unless we say we’re “out,” and that is not fair. A big company should not have so much power over all the words one writer has strung together in new ways to make meaningful sentences, stories and articles.

Sorry kids. Individual writers are no more than mosquito bites to Google. I’m a realist. To me, here is a GREAT opportunity for promotion of my entire writing career. If someone can find one of my out-of-print (OOP) books on Google, which no one will ever find otherwise, and read a paragraph or a chapter of it, and like what they have seen, maybe they will take the link to my website and buy the SAME book as an eBook or print-on-demand (POD) book directly from me (ebooks are not covered by the Google Settlement, and according to Access Copyright as of TODAY, the opinion on whether an OOP book that is reissued as POD has not been answered, and may be exempt as well, since it will have a new ISBN. The worst that can happen is that it will no longer be considered “unavailable,” and will be excluded by Google), or maybe on-line readers will buy ANOTHER novel of mine that is IN print by then, published after Jan. 5, 2009 (the cutoff date for the agreement)–such as The Whole Clove Diet, or my newest novel.

I love this chance to join the digital community and access its promotional opportunities in a new way. We’re in the same boat as the musicians now — we cannot protect text individually. The digital world is too big. This settlement is actually helping us to protect our text — because now Google has a vested interest in protecting it. This is good for my career, and I am staying in.

In short, Google did a bad thing, and the settlement they have come up with to compensate writers as a result of the lawsuit that was launched against them is of benefit to me as a writer. It is not perfect, and there are “issues,” but there are issues with everything and the ones in this case are not enough to dissuade me.

I’m in.

(For more information on the Google Settlement, visit the Access Copyright website. The “Overview” is a worthwhile document to download and there is a link to the settlement itself.)

The Google Book Settlement: Are you in or out?

by Mary W. Walters

Whether you live in the U.S.A. or not, if you published any book before January 5, 2009, you may be affected by the Google Settlement, which is a directive by the courts to Google to pay a very modest fee to writers/publishers for books that Google scanned from major U.S. libraries and intends to make available on-line. (This is a vast over-simplification. I hope that people who come to participate in this discussion will have apprised themselves of the relevant issues before making comments. I’ll probably need to revise this post several times before I get the wording right, but I want to get it posted. Here is the actual Google Book Settlement site.)

Writers and publishers owning copyright to these books have the option to ‘opt out’ of the settlement by September 4, 2009 — which means that they won’t receive the pittance of money that Google is paying to acknowledge its indebtedness to the people who created the original books that they have scanned. If you opt in, however, you give up your right to argue about the issue in the courts in future (in relation to the books in question).

I am not going to put down an explanation of the Google Settlement here. It is available in lots of places (you can Google it!!!) but as the writer of a few books that may be affected, I am waffling about whether to opt in or out. The opting in (which requires no action on our part. I know. I know!) has the advantage of making us and our book(s) part of a huge system of electronic data that is going to be available whether we’re part of it or not (being part of that, as opposed to not being part of that, appeals to me a lot) and leaving the door open for future payments by other users who get permission from Google (I know, I know!) to use our stuff. Opting out means retaining rights to intellectual property. Retaining intellectual property rights is a huge issue, and has always been very important to me, but while it’s a great principle, so far it is not producing much actual income in my case. I have reached a point where I see my earlier books as resources that will make people want to read my future books — over which I am not giving up control — and for that reason, I’m inclined to make my earlier books accessible.

This is very much related to what musicians and filmmakers are going through, but it is also totally different. We need to talk about it together. Please link to places where we can do that, or talk about it here.

If you are affected by this Settlement, tell us what you’ve decided. As writers, we have to think about this and make our own decisions — not be swayed by Google, the publishers, or our writers’ groups. We must be personally accountable to our own work.