So here’s a depressing story. “Novelist” Joanne Clancy made enough syntactical changes to several out of print novels by Ingrid Black to pass them off as her own. As always, it was only because a keen-eyed reader called out Clancy as a plagiarist that it came to light.
As Eilish O’Hanlon (one half of the duo who wrote as Ingrid Black) dug around, she discovered this:
There was one burning question: Who was Joanne Clancy? All we knew about her is that she claimed to be from Cork, and had published 26 works in various genres from erotica to romance to crime, many featuring a recurring character who went by the name of Detective George Ellis.
Traceless . . . Killing Time . . . If You Tell Anyone . . . Open Your Eyes . . . Before I’m Gone – her production rate was almost industrial.
She was also a former Kindle All-Star, an accolade given to authors whose titles are among the 100 most downloaded in any month, and a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, set up to secure contracts for unknown authors.
The plagiarist was certainly crafty:
We also began to wonder if we were Joanne Clancy’s first or only victims. Twenty-six books in a few years is quite an output. What if some of them had been stolen from other authors too? It was difficult to know how to go about proving it, however. In our case, it was the merest chance that Clancy’s skulduggery had been spotted by Donna Patel’s eagle eye. The Dead was out of print, and Ingrid Black had seemingly given up writing crime fiction.
As you’d expect from a mystery writer, O’Hanlon was a patient investigator, who wanted plenty of evidence against the culprit before she pressed charges, even if just with Amazon. So she looked at “Clancy’s” other titles.
I did spot intriguing resemblances between some of her books based on real-life crimes and their non-fiction sources, and began to see Clancy as an authorial magpie, taking what she needed from various sources, cutting and pasting, changing the material just enough so that it could be called her own, before succumbing finally to full-scale, unapologetic plagiarism.
“Clancy” had already stolen two of the original author’s book in the out-of-print series, and was preparing to publish a third. After O’Hanlon and her collaborator read the second novel in the series, clearly also plagiarized from O’Hanlon’s second novel in the series, they contacted Amazon before the thief could publish the third.
The result was not exactly total quality excellence in customer service.
Within hours of the publication of Insincere, we finally submitted a complaint to Amazon on the grounds of copyright infringement. We got an immediate reply saying that they were looking into the matter, and would get back to us. Again, we waited. And waited…
At one point, the Elizabeth Ireland titles were at numbers three, five and seven in the list of most-purchased Irish crime e-books, outselling works by such well-known names as Tana French, Casey Hill, and Stuart Neville.
Doubts began to set in. What if Amazon didn’t take our complaint seriously? What if our claim took months, or years, to process? Then, there was the nightmare scenario. What if they sided with Joanne Clancy and decided that she hadn’t plagiarised our work? That was impossible, we kept telling ourselves; the copying was too blatant to deny. But that didn’t stop us from considering every possibility, however mad.
After waiting in a state of frustration for a week, I asked Amazon for an update, eventually getting through to someone who said that I had actually sent my complaint to the wrong department, but that they were now looking into it. Amazon requested PDF copies of our original published novels – which Headline had provided to us, on being informed of the issue – and said they’d be back in touch.
This time, it was only days before a reply informed us that Joanne Clancy’s work was being removed in its entirety from sale.
When the real authors were able to contact the plagiarist directly…the response, as anyone well knows who’s dealt with a plagiarist, impostor or (let’s call it what it is) a sociopath, is always the same.
Joanne Clancy replied within hours to tell me that she was “ashamed” of what she’d done, thanking me for giving her the chance to explain. She said she hadn’t been able to think straight for months. She said she’d read our book and been inspired. That she felt like writing again for the first time in months, but her own story and words wouldn’t come. She didn’t know what came over her, was how she put it. She’d never done anything like it before.
Being a sociopath, of course she even lied in her “apology.”
She claimed to have only received “a few hundred euros” to date, but Amazon eventually confirmed that Tear Drop had, in fact, earned $15,791.60, or a little short of €15,000 – not bad for a book which was only on sale for a few months.
Of this, €1,761.80 had been paid to Joanne Clancy before the book was withdrawn from sale. It wasn’t much of a return for a gamble which backfired so spectacularly, but it was hardly “a few hundred euros”.
As for Insincere, that earned $3,844.40 in the even briefer period on sale, though none of that sum was paid to her, as the deception was discovered within Amazon’s 60-day window before payment.
My question is: what did Amazon do with their own profits on the plagiarized books? Did they refund it to readers? Did they pass it to the real author? I Tweeted the (real) author this a.m., if I get a reply I’ll update the post.
UPDATE: Ingrid Black responded: @BradVanceAuthor They eventually decided to pay us the royalties because JC admitted that she’d plagiarised our work.
So, that’s something…
Man, I’m exhausted, you know? It’s hard enough to make it in this biz in legitimate competition, but this shit? It only reinforces my affirmation that I need to write for pleasure, not money. I always say, “Ain’t never goin’ back to Cubicle City,” but fuck. At least Cubicle City doesn’t surprise you by giving your paycheck to someone else, then “regrets the error,” but still never pays you…