A Malaysian writer (A) told me recently about how she had paid another local author (B) to edit her manuscript.
While A was happy with B’s editing, imagine her dismay when B then tweeted a one-line description of her own WIP and the premise sounded similar to A’s.
When A spoke to B about it, she was told that it had not occurred to B to mention that the stories were similar because basically, she hadn’t noticed that they were similar.
If B had said, ‘You know, I also have an idea that involves _____’, A would probably have decided against asking B to edit her mss. But B said nothing.
According to B, she just ‘focused’ on A’s mss and ‘blocked out everything else’. Later, when B began work on her own story, she once again ‘blocked out’ other stuff. And so, B missed that there are two rather significant overlaps in the two works.
I can only imagine what A must have felt when she first saw B’s tweet outlining the plot of her WIP. I don’t blame her if she thought that B might have stolen her plot idea. However, there is no copyright on ideas and if reading A’s mss inspired B to write a novel with a similar premise, there is no legal action that A can take against B.
In fact, B was quick to offer to let A read her mss, to assure A that B had not lifted anything from A’s work. However, to me, that offer is just another example of the totally disingenuous way B has reacted to the whole situation.
Obviously, B would not have made the offer if anything had been lifted, so it was really an empty gesture that pretended to be a candid and honourable, but really wasn’t. (Did B really think that that was all A was upset about?)
The thing is, while A and B are both published Malaysian authors, B could be seen as having the advantage as she has secured a US agent, and has a contract with a US publisher. So, this is what I think what happened …
a. B had had this idea for a book and it contained certain elements that …
b. A’s mss also contained.
c. B read A’s mss.
d. B thought, ‘OK, obviously I’m not the only one who thinks this premise is interesting.’
e. B thought, ‘If A’s book gets published, my agent/publisher might feel that there isn’t a place in the market for mine.’
f. B thought, ‘Well, A is still looking for an agent so I should go ahead and get my story green-lit first.’
Typing the above, I was filled with revulsion. Of course, it might not have been like that at all, but if it was, then, really, I have no stomach for such skulduggery.
Three things I pointed out to B (who contacted me after I tweeted about the matter):
- She should have mentioned to A that their story ideas were similar and that she had the following chances: a)When B realised what A’s story was about, ii) when B decided to work on her own story.
- Given how smart and talented B is, I am not convinced it slipped her mind/ she forgot/ blocked the facts out, etc. While she says she didn’t do it maliciously, I feel that impact tends to outweigh intent in most cases, and here, it certainly does.
- As a paid editor B owed A a duty of care, including protecting her from the sort of situation (conflicts of interest) that subsequently arose.
If there is a moral to this story it’s choose your editors carefully. I will write another post offering tips for selecting an editor to work with.