What is the number 1 repulsive behavior that someone who identifies themselves as a book blogger can engage in on their own blogs (short of using their blog to spew hate of course)?
Last week, I might have said “accepting review copies but never writing reviews.”
But this week, I say emphatically “cobbling together a book review by stealing parts of others’ reviews.”
Adele at Persnickety Snark had it happen to her and blogged about it. So did The Compulsive Reader, and she’s not going to stand for it either. And so did Steph Su – who even goes into the possible legal ramifications of plagiarism. It may not have happened to Kristi at The Story Siren (at least not that anyone suspects at this point) but she also wrote a post calling out bloggers that would resort to this despicable behavior. Liz from My Favourite Books is also a part of the book bloggers against plagiarism drive and talks about plagiarism today on her blog.
All of those posts are well-worth reading, and I hope the right people are reading and getting the message that plagiarism is so not cool.
WHAT IS PLAGIARISM?
Plagiarism is not just copying someone’s work word for word, although we know that happens too. Plagiarism is also using someone else’s work as a basis for your own. The plagiarist book blogger in question used several other bloggers’ reviews as templates – taking their arguments and even sentence structure but changing wording here and there to cover her tracks.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE PLAGIARIZED & YOU KNOW IT
Let this be a warning to you. You may not be found out today, tomorrow or even next week, but we’re on the lookout now, and we’re not afraid to call you on it.
I’d suggest you go ahead and take down your tainted reviews right now from your blog and wherever else you might have posted them. Start from scratch and rewrite your reviews in your own words.
Perhaps a public apology is too much to ask for, but a pledge to blog with integrity going forward is not.
HOW TO AVOID PLAGIARISM
When the current plagiarism case was brought to my attention, I wanted to believe that it was an isolated incident that happened because the blogger had subconsciously incorporated a review she’d obviously read and admired into her own review. Though that turned out not to be the case in this particular incident, it can happen. So what can you do to make sure you don’t do it?
Don’t read others reviews of the same book right before you write your review. We want to know your opinion of the book, not an opinion that is influenced, however lightly, by others’ opinions.
Be aware of your influences. Obviously you are not going to be able to avoid reading others’ reviews of the books you review – in fact, it may have been someone’s rave review that made you pick up the book in question in the first place. It makes sense then, to reread these reviews AFTER you write your review to make sure you didn’t accidently steal.
And like Steph Su advises in her post, consider linking to a review that particularly resonated with you. It certainly can happen too that a reviewer formulates a review that expresses so perfectly how you felt, you feel it cannot be topped by your own effort. This happened to me once with Jen Robinson’s review of Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER. In that case, I just didn’t review the book. But I've also seen bloggers link basically direct their readers to the review that influenced them and admit they have little to add to their genius, which is also a valid response.
Jot down notes while you are reading. (The Compulsive Reader suggests using an index card as a bookmark.) You can go back to these notes when you are writing your review to help you articulate your own views. Maybe your reviews won’t be as sophisticated or analytical or splashy as others’ reviews, but they will be your own.
Find your voice. This is The Story Siren's "one piece of advice for new bloggers" and I completely agree. Develop a style and tone that you are comfortable with that differentiates your reviews from others’. Are you concise or wordy? Humorous or serious? Interested in exploring themes or more concerned with the mechanics of storytelling and characterization? Certainly, your style might vary slightly depending on the type of book you are reviewing, but you should still aim to be recognizably you.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU’VE BEEN PLAGIARIZED
Gather your evidence. Compare reviews line by line and highlight glaring similarities.
Keep a cool head. Before you make accusations, ask a couple of trusted friends to look over your evidence.
Take action. Contact the perpetrator privately with your evidence and ask them to remove or rewrite their review. If the perpetrator refuses, consider legal action.
ETA: Adele just put up a new post which includes a reaction from a publisher. Erin from Penguin Australia recommends notifying your publicist contacts when your reviews have been plagiarized.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Let's hear them in the comments!