An Interview of the PH ladies
By Rachel Simon
I had the pleasure of interviewing the girls at Plagiarism Haven, a Livejournal community of eight FictionPress alumni whose work was plagiarized when it was on the website we all know and love.
It seems as though we are split on this topic. Some of us have cooled down slightly, and some of us are still seething. At the time of the plagiarism fiasco, it was comforting to see so many readers up in arms about the injustice of it all. Though Meg wasn’t plagiarized, she was upset, and even wrote an article about what constitutes plagiarism, and what our legal rights are, as authors. Still, the whole situation stunk. Quite a few of us lost the will to write for a while. Lou, Simmy, Mi, Kendal, and Cheri all struggled to regain their footing. We all took a hit, but some of us managed to spring back easier than others. The fact remains that we were all stolen from, and betrayal hurts. On any level. To have something you’ve worked so hard on, turn up under someone else’s name? It’s a low blow. You see their authors notes, about how hard they worked to write this or that chapter, or how they struggled with keeping so-and-so in character. Struggles *you* had while *you *wrote it. You just want to slap them, honestly, for being so selfish. The most work they did was copying and pasting our work into a Word document, and later uploading it under their own name.
For some of us, bouncing back wasn’t so difficult. We still continued to be bombarded with ideas for new projects, and we tried to regain our footing by challenging each other to write one-shots of varying genres. We traded stories, and forced ourselves to put pen to paper. Plagiarism acted like writers block, in a sense, and sometimes the best thing to do in that situation is to just keep writing, even if whatever comes out is utter crap.
For others, it took time. The rest of us just tried to be supportive and encouraging. We forced them to do the challenges, and tried to offer advice where it was needed. Sometimes, all you can do is be supportive, and we all grew closer because of that. Like everyone at LTWF, we’ve made some incredible, lasting friendships throughout this entire experience.
2. Given your experience, would you ever feel comfortable if your books were sold as e-books?
Most of us haven’t given e-books much thought, to be honest. We’ve all been so focused on seeing our stories in print, that we never really bothered to consider the digital aspect of publishing. There’s just something about being able to hold a book in your hands, you know? It’s the way a book smells when you flip through the pages, or the way the spine cracks when you first open it. You can’t experience that with an e-book, and that makes the whole thing slightly less appealing.
Still, we are aware that e-books have become increasingly popular as of late, especially with Amazon’s Kindle, or B&N’s Nook. The books are cheaper than buying them in the store, in many cases, and that has great appeal to readers. E-books are also more convenient for some. If more people would have access to our work through e-books, it’s definitely something to think about. Meg said she would consider it if she were already an established author, and a few of us are kind of in the same boat, though selling books solely through the e-book market is not something most of us would be interested in.
Cheri, on the other hand, has done a fair amount of research on the subject, and is considering going the e-book route, strictly out of curiosity.
3. How did you take action against your plagiarists? Did anyone ever apologize? Why do you think your work was plagiarized?
In every case, we made sure to either contact the author, or the website (or both), asking them to remove the plagiarized work. Our readers would find out, and more often then not, would leave these people messages, also insisting they take the story down. This system generally worked, save for a few instances of stubborn teenagers who believed they had done nothing wrong. Sammy’s original copy of Don’t Make a Scene is still being posted on Blogger, and hasn’t had any success in removing it. Jen had a really difficult time getting one girl to remove her story as well.
Apologies have been far and few between. In most cases, the story was simply taken down, or the author deleted from whatever site. A few people argued that they hadn’t done anything wrong, and one girl claimed that she was mentally unstable, and that’s why she’d done it. We heard a few excuses, all of which were moot. For the most part, our plagiarists just slunk away with their tail between their legs. Save for one of Mi’s, who randomly popped up again, on a different website, assuming we’d never find her. Silly girl.
It’s hard to say why our work was plagiarized. Maybe it was their initial popularity on FictionPress, or just one person who really enjoyed it. Everyone who’s posted on FP has been jealous of other people’s review counts, and maybe that was why they did it. It’s hard to say. What one author may consider their worst work might look like a great opportunity for someone else to take advantage of. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme of reason to who or what got plagiarized, and we doubt we’ll ever really know why they did what they did.
4. There have been some complaints from the FP community that your exclusivity is more to boost your egos than to keep your stories safe–do you think your strict requirements and rules might be over-doing it?
We can see how people might think that, but that really isn’t the case. A lot of people were upset when we transferred our writing over to PH, and we don’t blame them. But we really did it as a safety precaution, and it isn’t like we’re keeping our work exclusively for the eight of us who post our work there. Right now our membership is over a thousand, and we still have people applying to join. It’s really daunting, the amount of people who joined LJ in order to continue reading our work. We’re still flabbergasted, every time we look at our inbox. We’re incredibly appreciative of everyone who’s applied, regardless of whether we’ve been able to let them in or not.
As for the rules and requirements, we don’t think we’ve overdone it. We don’t ask for much – just one act of participation a month. It doesn’t have to be a review; it can be an email, a response to a poll, helping put together a playlist. Anything to let us know they’re still around. People who tend to be more involved in something are generally less likely to sabotage it. So far, there hasn’t been a single plagiarism incident since we formed PH that was due to any of our members.
Because we do insist that people fill out an application, it’s easy to see how people might think we’ve gone overboard. It was something we wondered about at first, but then realized it was kind of necessary. People just started friending us, and we had no idea who they were. They just expected to get in, but anonymity was the problem on FP, so we tried to counteract that. Most people have been perfectly willing to provide us with some details about themselves, which helps to bolster our trust. It seems like a fair exchange. And we *have* let in silent readers, and some people who have never read us before. Being nice gets you a long way, especially if you consider the loads of angry emails and applications we’ve gotten. We can understand why some people might be upset, but yelling at people never gets
you anywhere, no matter what the situation.
Having gotten to know each other really well over the past ten months, we’d have to say ego has about as much to do with our website as cutlery. AKA, nothing. We really are there to help each other out, and to improve our writing. Some of the feedback we’ve gotten has been *incredibly* helpful, and has really helped to expand our writing. Sammy’s been posting her thesis, and her rewrite was done based on the changes suggested by PH readers. Kendal has posted various versions of a story, and asked our readers to select which ones to turn in for class. Other writers have based their rewrites and edits on suggestions as well. Everyone in the community, both readers and writers, have worked really well together, and in turn, have learned a lot. We try to interact with everyone as much as we can, and as far as we’re concerned, everyone is very self*less*. None of us think people *not* in PH. When we made the decision to leave FP, LJ just seemed like a logical place to go, since we were all previously members. Our need for convenience may have come across as us being egotistical, but that just isn’t the case.
5. When you made the decision to leave FictionPress, was it in part to protect a future goal of publication? How many of you (those who share their stories on PH) plan to pursue publication?
Not necessarily. Mi, Lou, and Sammy had initially joked about creating Plagiarism Haven, and then got to thinking – why the hell not? Lou had already created a new livejournal for the purpose of posting her writing, and Sammy had considered it. We figured it would just be easier to get a bunch of us together, and keep everything in one place. If we’d removed our work from FP, why *not* put them somewhere else? We don’t think our decision had anything to do with wanting to be published or not. We just wanted to continue sharing our work.
In terms of future publication, we all seem to be aiming in that direction. Some are closer than others, but it’s definitely on everyone’s minds. Cheri’s been looking into e-publication, and Sammy’s just begun querying. Jen sent out query letters a few years ago, but is currently revising her work before making another attempt. Meg’s also got it on her mind. Everyone is still writing furiously, but whether that particular piece is for publication or fun has yet to be determined. Only time will tell!
6. How did you find out your stuff was plagiarized? Did you look for it? Did somebody tell you?
In most cases, our readers were kind enough to inform us that our work had popped up on other sites (deviant art, quizilla, watpad, etc.). After that, a majority of us began using tools like Google Alerts to help track some of our work down. Sammy found one of her plagiarized stories that way, so the system does work. The wonderful people over at FP Watchers were also incredibly helpful in tracking down a few of our plagiarism cases.
7. Do you think there’s a way to keep your stories from being plagiarized, or protecting them in some way, without removing them from FP?
Until FP disables the copy and paste function, no. Just recently, we found out a few of our own members were still sharing our stories outside of PH. It was disappointing, to say the least, but not entirely unexpected. No matter what, someone will always find a way. The same goes for FP. Someone is always going to find a way to make your work their own. It isn’t right, but is often times inevitable. If your writing isn’t absolute trash, there’s always the chance that it will be stolen. Some people are brave enough to stick it out on FP, dealing with hundreds of thousands of anonymous readers. The smaller numbers of PH has kept problems at a low level, but we’ve still had some. The only truly safe place for your writing, without fear of plagiarism, is on a bookshelf in Barnes & Noble.
A few of us have considered returning to FP, but the interaction we’ve had with everyone at PH has made the decision to stay incredibly easy. Everything is so much more personal, and it’s easier to interact with all of the readers. Some of them have become really good friends, and we’ve gained a few new friends as well. Some of our members even went so far as to start their own site, where they could post their own work. It can be a challenge, keeping everything organized using LiveJournal, but both sites function incredibly well, and we’re all really proud of what we’ve done. There’s also the added bonus of posting artwork alongside our stories, a feature we wish FP would consider. Book jackets are what catch a reader’s eye at the bookstore, and it’s been fun having that little extra something to share with our readers.
You can find the Plagiarism Haven girls at their Livejournal community.
Rachel Simon is a sophomore in college, majoring in Creative Writing with a minor in Literature. When she’s not surfing the web for celebrity gossip or the latest publishing industry news, she’s hard at work studying. You can find her blog here.
Until further notice, Rachel is on a hiatus from LTWF.