Quickie with Gina Wilkins on Being Plagiarized

May 19, 2000

On May 12, Gina Wilkins, author of more than 50 titles for Harlequin and Silhouette Books, issued the following statement about her out-of-court settlement with BET Publications regarding the publication of Wilkins’ 1991 Harlequin Temptation Hotline and BET Publications’ 1999 Arabesque Book When Love Calls. BET Publications has agreed to cease publication of When Love Calls and has recalled existing copies of the book from booksellers. BET Publications admits no liability with respect to this matter.

“Note that I did not name the other ‘author’ (name available at Amazon under BET book title), nor could I use the word ‘plagiarism.’ However, in a amazing ‘coincidence,’ more than 100 pages of When Love Calls were almost identical to my Hotline. The matter was brought to my attention by a librarian/fan who read both books and e-mailed me, even though she and I have never met. I will always be grateful to her for keeping this other ‘author’ from getting away with what she attempted. If you ever see anything like this, please let the author (not the publishers) know so she can investigate. The publishers (even the infringed author’s publisher) are more likely to try to sweep it under the rug. It falls to the author to have to carry the burden of righting this terrible wrong (and I will always be grateful to Nora Roberts for helping me through this with her advice, moral support and shared hurt and pain).”

I contacted Gina Wilkins after her stunning statment and asked her for details – precisely what had happened, how she discovered the problem, how it made her react, and the steps she had to take to resolve the matter. I also asked how she felt now that it’s “done.”

A librarian I have never met sent me an email saying she had by chance read a book published in October, 1999, checked the copyright, and realized that it was far too similar to one of my early Temptations (1991) to be coincidental. I didn’t want to believe it was true, but of course I checked it out by purchasing the other book. When I read the first page, I felt physically ill. By the time I’d read more than one hundred more pages, I was both sickened and infuriated.

Those were my words. My characters. My scenes. The jokes, the descriptions, the actions, the reactions — all mine. There was a subplot added to the other book that wasn’t mine, but the book as a whole was so obviously directly taken from my work, that I was stunned. I contacted my agent and my publisher. I highlighted words, phrases and paragraphs in the other book, cross-referencing the page numbers from my own book to prove my case. Most of the other book was highlighted by the time I’d finished. I can’t discuss much of the legal proceedings, except to say that after reviewing both books, the other publisher agreed in part to recall all copies of their book from booksellers, and agreed to cease publication of their book. The offending party never offered an admission or apology.

How did it make me feel? Violated. Nora Roberts calls this ‘mind rape.’ That’s a fairly accurate description. Writing isn’t hard physical labor (other than carpel tunnel syndrome), but it’s hard mentally. Every word is carefully chosen, every scene painstakingly crafted. I never “throw together” a book, but make each one as original and fresh as I can. That isn’t easy book after book, but it’s what I love to do, and I feel I owe that to my readers. To have someone simply lift my hard work and claim it for their own, to accept praises and awards for it, to give interviews talking about where they ‘got the idea,’ etc. – that really hurts. It’s a violation of trust, and something you never get over. I spent hours wondering why someone would do this to me, agonizing over what I should do about it, fearing that I would do or say something that could get me in trouble, even though I had done nothing wrong. This took time from my work, my family and my life, leaving me exhausted, disillusioned, paranoid, angry. I can gladly say I’m getting past those feelings (I won’t let her steal my peace of mind along with my work), but the wounds will never be truly healed. Plagiarism is the most serious breach of professional etiquette a writer can commit – and it must never be excused or condoned. This is what we do. This is who we are. Our words are all we have to offer to our readers. To steal them from us is no different than breaking into our homes and taking our most treasured belongings. It is simply theft.

–Gina Wilkins