Another case of plagiarism. My question is why?

I follow Zoe York’s Facebook author page, and she brought to our attention another plagiarism case–S. M. Soto was found to plagiarize from author Kim Jones and Sylvia Day and possibly a couple other authors. I went to Twitter because you can always count on #romancelandia to give you the scoop, and it seems like this is the first person who shared Kim Jones calling out S. M. Soto, at least on Twitter. If you want to read the thread, click here. And if you want to read the Kim Jones’s Facebook post, click here.

A few other people confirm she did it. It’s difficult to give attribution to who posted first, but with the plagiarizing software out there, it’s easy for others to confirm it, like Claire Ryan who created her own software to help out. If you want to look at this thread, click here.

The author herself didn’t confirm or deny, only posted some wishy washy apology on her Facebook author page.

“As some of you may know, there’s been an issue with me and another author. I’ve been accused of plagiarism among other things. I wasn’t sure if I should even make a post but I wanted to share with my readers what’s been going on. On Sunday morning I was woken up by my PA over an alarming post she had seen. I immediately went to check my DMs, which were flooded with hateful messages, including one from the author who was accusing me. I immediately reached out to her and we had talked on the phone. I’m not one who checks my messages—in fact, I rarely do. I didn’t believe this would escalate as quickly as it did. What should’ve been a day of me enjoying my release party and spending the day with my family quickly turned sour. I understand that this shouldn’t have happened and I’ll be doing everything to make the appropriate changes. I can assure you I’ve never had the chance to read this author’s books so all of this is just a huge misunderstanding. I’m in the middle of rectifying this misunderstanding. Given the circumstances of the allegations, and after much thought, I have decided to unpublish the version that contains ANY similarities in wording or phrases to this author’s work. A new version will be put up soon after. I sincerely apologize for any misunderstandings and anyone that was potentially hurt. Being that this is a product with my name on it and I should be aware of every piece, every word, and every phrase that goes in, this is a decision I don’t take lightly, but do believe is necessary. I understand that this shouldn’t have happened and I’ll be doing everything to make the appropriate changes. Up until today, I’ve always stayed quiet about my personal life. I am a very private person and I don’t like bringing what’s going on in my personal life to my work life, which is the book community. I have a son, a family, which will always be my priority. 2020 affected us all in many ways and I was no exception to the hardships. I was able to get through some of the toughest emotional times I’ve ever gone through by having a few good friends along with my family by my side.The one part I will speak on is the witch hunt that has started. In the past forty-eight hours, I’ve contemplated leaving this community more so than I ever have before. The part that alarms me about this situation the most is the witch hunt that has started. The nasty messages I’ve received, the lies and stories that have been twisted, and the disgusting racial slurs and messages I’ve received. Yes, I am Mexican and I’m proud of it. I’m proud that I speak two languages, I’m proud of my heritage and my family. I won’t allow anyone to drag my family down. I won’t allow others to bully me into being ashamed of my race, ever. I could sit here and share all the messages that I’ve received but what good would that do? It will only fan the flames and create a bigger situation. It has become the standard for authors to share every tidbit of their lives with their readers, while I respect that, that’s not who I am. I like to keep my personal life separate. If you’re expecting that from me, you’ll be disappointed. I will share with you all what I find to be important. I reserve the right to share personal information to those who are closest to me. If you’re expecting a perfect author, then I’m not for you. I make mistakes daily. I lose my temper, I cuss more than I should, I shut down when I’m hurt, and you know what? That’s okay because I’m human and flawed. I’ve never portrayed to be anything other than a flawed human being. I don’t participate in drama or bullying posts. I’m always offline and I’m usually the last to know what’s going on with this community, and frankly, I enjoy being that way. There’s too much going on for me to add more things to my plate. I’m not here to do a he-said-she-said post. I won’t post screenshots, I won’t discuss what transpired on the phone call I had with the author. That will stay between me, my team, and my family—at least on my end. If you want to leave my group or not read my books anymore, I understand and respect your decision. I apologize for this misunderstanding. If you need me, please feel free to reach out to my PA. She’ll continue to answer any messages via email or Messenger. I’ll be offline until further notice.”

This makes the plagiarizing scandal that happened last year when someone stole work from Nora Roberts among others feel very close. I never heard the outcome of what happened to  Cristiane Serruya. Nora Roberts blogged about taking her to court and donating the proceeds, but Nora’s had other things on her plate in the past few months, namely the scandal when her first book in her trilogy ended on a cliffhanger and her poor readers who have to wait a year for the next book, and more recently, when Alyssa Milano was cast as the lead in a movie based off one of Nora’s books. Apparently, Alyssa is too political and maybe leaning too far to the left for some of Nora’s readers to be happy with the casting. It wouldn’t surprise me if Nora pushed that plagiarizing lawsuit onto her attorneys and forgot about it.

In any case, it seems like history will repeat itself this year, only we’ll swap Cristiane with S.M. Soto and Nora Roberts for Sylvia Day.

As a romance writer and reader, it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around that a romance author would do this to their readers. If you’re a real romance author, you want to nurture your readers, turn them into true fans. That doesn’t include duping them with books that have been ghostwritten, or filling your books full of another author’s work.

In the comments of the various Facebook posts authors and readers agreed that if you can’t write, don’t be a writer. Meaning, if you can’t write your own books, don’t publish. In the words of Kristine Kathryn Rusch, among others, there are easier ways to make money. The only thing though,I can’t think of anything that a normal person can do that can bring in the amount a fantastic-selling romance book can bring in per month.

Because sales rank and book price are public information, it’s aggravating to indie authors to see other authors raking in the bucks. Industry leaders can say, well, a book is #5 in the Kindle store, and at this price, they’re making this much per month. Maybe there is a thing about too much information being a bad thing. I quickly looked up S. M. Soto before the scandal spread too widely, and one of her books was set to bring in over $5,000 this month. Just one of her books, in just one month. The money is out there, and many authors are on a quest to find it–by ethical means or not.

It wasn’t hard for me to find places to hire ghostwriters. A search on Craigslist brought up a few local options, and also Upwork yielded some results. Fiverr brought up the most viable options, and I’m sure that’s where a lot of writers who want to use ghostwriters look first.

I don’t know what S. M. Soto’s personal life is like, or why she would hire a ghostwriter. I know in romance there’s a constant urgency to go go go and write more more more, a trap that I’ve fallen into myself resulting in some anxiety that I’ve been dealing with this past month and a half. Maybe she just needed a break and hoped that hiring a ghostwriter would give her a chance to breathe. We all need a break now and then, but when you’ve cultivated a following and they expect you to produce, I would imagine that can get pretty stressful. Romance readers are voracious, reading hundreds of books a year, especially in KU. If you’re courting that kind of reader, the pressure is serious to produce that level of content.

This won’t be the last we see of plagiarism. S. M. Soto wasn’t unique. Nora Roberts has taken other authors to court for plagiarizing her work, and in the indie space, authors (using the term loosely) like Chance Carter and Faleena Hopkins have been accused of hiring ghostwriters too. They were even associated with an underground group that sold already-published manuscripts.

I could never put my name on someone else’s work, a whole manuscript or even purchasing a plot. Which I didn’t know was a thing until only recently when someone in one of my Facebook groups was talking about it. I have to admit, plotting is hard. Trying to come up with characters, their backstories, conflict, stakes, and everything else is difficult. Not only do your characters need to grow and change, their backstories need to hold them back from what is happening in present time. Purchasing all that feels like cheating too, but there are freelancers who do it and sell off the outlines and there are authors who buy them and quickly write the book because the hard part is already done.

My problem is, my books have little pieces of me in them, and readers will eventually know they’re being duped by a ghostwriter because your books will lack sincerity and authenticity.

I think S.M. Soto even knew that when she wrote her FB post defending herself: she doesn’t get personal. But I can’t think of anything more personal than writing a book. That’s the real reason why authors want to sell books. Because when a book sells, and readers enjoy it, identify with the characters and their hardships, they are identifying with you, the author.

When we publish a book, we are putting pieces of ourselves out into the world, and that’s scary. We can talk about royalties and hitting the top ten, and those are things to aim for, but nothing means as much to us as a reader who loves our work and takes the time to say so either in a review or an email. Maybe you can’t pay rent with a good review, but there are other ways to get paid.


Tell me what you think about ghostwriting! Would you hire one? Let me know!

PS: WordPress ate half this blog post, or maybe my internet dropped and it stopped autosaving. At any rate, I think the first version definitely sounded better, but I tried to finish it up to the best of my ability even though I was pissier than hell. Haha! Have a great weekend, everyone!