Plagiarism, ‘book-stuffing’, clickfarms ... the rotten side of self-publishing

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Nora Roberts is one of the world’s most popular authors. She’s written more than 200 novels, tackled topics from romance to murder and sold more than 500m books around the world. And now she’s really, really angry.

Roberts is one of dozens of authors who discovered last month that their work had been allegedly plagiarised by a Brazilian romance novelist called Cristiane Serruya. “Leisurely, he began to loosen her hair, working his fingers through it until it pooled over her shoulders. ‘I’ve wanted to do that since the first time I saw you. It’s hair to get lost in,’” runs Roberts’ novel Untamed. Serruya’s Forevermore has it that: “Leisurely, he began to loosen her hair, working his fingers through it until it pooled over her shoulders and cascaded down over her back. ‘I’ve wanted to do that since the first time I saw you.’”

Serruya’s alleged plagiarism was first exposed by US author Courtney Milan, who found passages from her book The Duchess War in Serruya’s novel Royal Love. After Milan went public – and after dozens of other examples of plagiarism were highlighted by authors and readers – Serruya pulled her books from sale, blaming the overlaps on a ghostwriter she said she’d hired from freelance marketplace Fiverr.

A former law professor, Milan was a dreadful choice to lift from – as was Roberts, who has never been sanguine about plagiarism, taking her fellow novelist and former friend Janet Dailey to court in 1997. But Serruya is just one example of the dark side of the stack-em-high, sell-em-cheap, flood-the-market culture which has come to dominate self-publishing – particularly in the lucrative romance genre and on Kindle Unlimited, an Amazon service which gives readers access to more than 1m books for £7.99 a month, many of which are self-published and unvetted for plagiarism.