Beware of Writers Who Steal


by Joanne McAlpine

DoNotStealNote: John is the fictional name of a real person.

“No one steals your stories. I’ve never heard that,” said an author at a workshop I attended.

I’ve heard this many times from published authors — that a piece of work is so unique and today so easy to prove you wrote it that no one plagiarizes. So sharing my work did not worry me.

I’m a science fiction writer, and I belong to several writing groups. Some give me great feedback, others I learn a lot from, and one is just for the fun of hanging out (we write and edit, but it’s mostly for gabbing). I submit anything from my short stories to chapters of my current book.

If you have ever been part of a writer’s circle, you know that you read and edit other people’s work, too. One day I started reading a sci-fi story by a writer who did not usually write in that genre. As I read the story, I realized that the writer was using my concept, the underlying futuristic idea of one of my short stories. As I read further, I became quite certain that he had taken the fundamental idea of my story.

I became angry and could no longer read his story. I crumpled it up and threw it across the room. Technically there was absolutely nothing I could do. It was a different story, but my concept was there.

Before you think it’s just a coincidence, I met this person a few days later at an author event.  “Yeah, I’m submitting a story this week,” he said to me. “It’s based off of John’s story, but I wrote it better.”

Profanities screaming in my head, I nodded and smiled. It was not worth it for me to accuse. I’m never submitting to that group again, possibly never going to it again. (Although I have friends there, so I may go to gab.)

Science fiction is not known for great literary writing but rather the description of possible futures and technologies and their philosophical implications, which is why I enjoy the genre. Having that stolen from you, especially before you get a chance to publish, is painful. Even if I was not a science fiction writer, if I was a mystery writer, the clever planning of a murder comes from the mind of the author, who needs to be clever and/or unique to keep the attention of the reader. It’s hard work. Stealing from another author is easier.

I understand it is difficult to prove my ideas were stolen. (And really it’s not illegal.) For me, there is no question, so I write this mainly as a warning to you. Make sure you can trust those who look at your writing before it is published.

Joanne McAlpine is director of social media marketing at Possibilities Publishing Company. She has a master’s degree in instructional systems design from the University of Central Florida and has been a social media consultant for more than four years. You can find her YouTube creations and interviews at www.broadcastsunny.com.

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