Even though I’m still reeling from the events, I’ve decided I need to get my side of this crazy story out there, if for no other reason than to defend myself from allegations that could really damage me professionally. However, before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way trying to damage anyone else with this statement and I do not want any of my readers, friends or family to contact the other parties in any way. That includes leaving negative reviews, commenting on Facebook or sending any kind of message on any social media site. While I know it’s hard not to react emotionally at times, in situations such as these it’s better not to engage the other party. I simply want this situation to end. It was unnecessary and hurtful, and something that should have never happened. Also, I’ve redacted the names of the other author and her husband. Not because I’m ashamed or I’m trying to affect this other author’s sales, but because I am not interested in starting a war with someone over something so trivial. While their actions hurt me, I wish them no ill will. If you know who they are and think their books sound good and want to buy them, go ahead. It won’t hurt my feelings or affect my life in any way. To be honest, had I come across this series before I probably would have bought it. But after the recent behavior of this author, I’ll never know because I cannot support a person who would hurt and attack me so thoughtlessly.
On the morning of December 30th I was shocked to see two reviews on Amazon that accused me of plagiarizing Broken World. One review said nothing about which book I had supposedly plagiarized, but the other went into detail comparing my book to another zombie series that had been written by an author I had never heard of. This reviewer, who I later learned was the author’s husband, accused me of stealing this other woman’s work because we both had a deadly virus sweeping the country that kills most of the population, creates a zombie apocalypse, and our plots both follow a group of people on a cross-country trip. Ideas and concepts which first of all, are not original, and secondly are not copyrighted material so are impossible to plagiarize. It turns out, all this fuss was because the third book in my zombie series is titled Mad World, which happened to be the title of this other author’s series. Something I had no idea about because I’d never heard of these books, but again, titles cannot be plagiarized.
“The U. S. Copyright Office does not typically allow someone to copyright a book title because titles are not considered intellectual property, but are only “short slogans,” which are not eligible to be copyrighted. The Copyright Office doesn’t want titles to be restricted to one book; there may be other works in which the title may be equally usable and appropriate.”
I was very upset by the accusations and wanted to address them, but engaging reviewers is never a good idea,. Instead, I googled the author in an attempt to let her know I had no idea her book even existed. Of course, that led me to her Facebook author page where I found out she was the one who had accused me of plagiarism, and had asked her readers to leave the reviews. As the morning went on, more reviews popped up on Amazon and a couple people even left nasty comments on my Facebook page. Meanwhile, I was horrified and hurt that this woman would accuse me of doing something so awful with absolutely nothing to back up her claims, and that her readers would blindly follow her without checking to make sure the accusation was correct.
So what was my response? I knew I couldn’t be trusted to make rational decision when I was so emotional, so I asked for advice from other authors on a private author group and sent a message to my agent. After a lot of support from other authors as well as some great advice, and a nice long talk with my agent, I decided not to engage this author at all. I then sent messages to Amazon alerting them to the defamatory reviews—which are against Amazon’s policy—and made an appointment with a lawyer. The posts on Facebook and other social media are blatant slander, and her accusation has no foundation.
To be as up-front as possible, I’m going to establish a timeline for my series.
I wrote Broken World while living in California, which why it was set in California, not because these other books were set there as one irate reader stated. I’m not positive when I started writing it, probably in the summer of 2012, but I do know I emailed a finished version of it to myself on December 23, 2012, because I still have that file saved in my email. And here is the screenshot to prove it:
Shattered World I started writing as soon as I finished the first book, and the file I have saved for that one comes from January 23, 2013. And here’s the screenshot to prove it:
Now book three, which is titled Mad World and apparently the source of all this fuss, I wrote right after I’d finished writing the second book. The title was actually taken from the song, Mad World. (Various artists sing this song, but I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about. I have the version by Gary Jules.) I’d been listening to this song a lot around that time, and it just seemed to fit the plot I had decided on for book three. I sent a finished file of Mad World to my friend Erin on June 11, 2013 (I couldn’t find it in my email, so I enlisted the help of a friend). Screenshot I obtained from Erin:
Apparently, this other author’s zombie books came out July 26, 2012, August 28, 2012 and October 4, 2013. While I know this doesn’t exactly prove my side, it does show that this author and I were probably writing our books around the same time. Her first book came out in July of 2012, and since I had sent myself a finished version of Broken World in December of 2012, it stands to reason that I was working on this book in some for when her book was released. THEY AREN’T EVEN A LITTLE BIT THE SAME.
In an attempt to clear my name, I contacted a reviewer who has rated both this book and my book on Goodreads. Shandy Jo writes for the book blog Mama Knows Books, and was one of the first reviewers I contacted to read Broken World when I released it this past summer. She responded to my inquiry with the following statement:
“Kate- I’m so sorry to hear you are dealing with this. Yes I’ve read your first two book and her first two books while the premiss is similar, many zombie books are. Trust me I’ve read a lot of zombie books. The similarities are that two groups of survivors are traveling cross country to find safety from zombies. If I’m remembering correctly that’s about it. I think they even end up going in different directions, her’s go for Canada and yours the desert. Her main characters are teens and a zombie hybrid boy. Yours were adults, and no zombie hybrids to be seen. Broken World takes place after the virus has already broken out and [Title redacted] begins as the virus is breaking out.
If there had been any blatant plagiarism in the book I would have called you on it in my review. I also have to say while [author’s name redacted] books were good, they didn’t have the impact of your books. Your story line felt much more emotionally raw. So as a reviewer I have to say that no your books are not identical to, or plagiarized from, [author’s name redacted] books.
I hope this helps, and I can’t believe that an author would attack another author publicly like this. If there is anything else I can do please let me know.”
The posts have mostly been taken off Facebook–not before I was able to take pictures–but the reviews left by this author’s husband and her followers are still there. I now have seven one star reviews on Amazon, where before I had zero. And they all are accusing me of being a thief.
It hurts, especially when they are judging my book based on someone else’s emotions. I’m a legitimate author. I have a literary agent and a three book deal with Kensington Press, and I worked on these stories myself. Writing, editing, revising, taking time away from my husband and kids so I could build something of my own. I wrote those books, I didn’t steal them. I’d never heard of this author or her series, and even if I had I wouldn’t have bothered to take her ideas because I enjoy writing. I think the thing that hurts the most, which is something I hadn’t even thought about until my husband pointed it out, is that by accusing me of plagiarism this author is essentially trying to take credit for my work.
The author’s husband leaves a very detailed review discussing the similarities between the two books (even though he’s never read mine). Since they’ve both been so public about the situation, I decided I would respond to his review directly.
The premise of this series is not original. Far from it. In 2012-13, [author’s name redacted] published a zombie apocalypse trilogy titled “Mad World” in which a deadly virus (check) creates a zombie apocalypse (check), leading to a cross-country trip (check) by a group of friends, [My characters are NOT friends. They meet along the way. If you had read the book, you would know that.] including a new mother (check) [My character is not a new mother. She gave her daughter up for adoption four years earlier, so you see, the characters aren’t really that similar.] Sound familiar? If it does, it’s probably because you read [author’s name redacted] trilogy, in which the bubonic plague escapes from a Stanford University laboratory, [My virus was not the bubonic plague, it did not come from Stanford or any other university.] causing a disease that turns the majority of the population into zombies. [In my book, the disease kills the people. Two days later, they come back. Is that what happens in this book? Not sure because I haven’t read it, but I seriously doubt it.] Instead of traveling TO California, [My characters are traveling to California because when I was writing this book, I lived there. I like to write about places I’ve been or lived, and at the time my husband was stationed at Travis AFB in Fairfield. Which is where the characters were headed: Fairfield, CA.] as the female protagonist does in Mary’s books, the main character – also a young woman [Seriously? How many books have a young woman as the main character? I can’t even respond to this.]– and her friends are escaping FROM California after the plague strikes there.
This is from Kate L. Mary’s description of her work: “The virus is spreading, and by the time the group makes it to California, most of the population has been wiped out. When the dead start coming back, Vivian and the others realize that no electricity or running water are the least of their concerns. Now Vivian has to figure out how to be a mother under the most frightening circumstances …”
With the exception of the protagonist’s name, this could have been a description of [author’s name redacted] books. [And A LOT of zombie books if you look at it that way.] In fact, “Broken World” is not a “fresh take on zombies,” as one reviewer claimed, but the same concept [author’s name redacted] presented in her own books two years earlier. [How does he even KNOW this? He didn’t read my book, so he has no idea what the story or the concept I presented in this book is. He didn’t bother to take the time to do any research before trashing me all of the internet.] Worst of all is the use of the “Mad World” title on the third book in this series – the same title [author’s name redacted] used earlier for her own series. This will undoubtedly lead to confusion between the two works, which is highly regrettable and entirely unnecessary. Had the author of this work Googled potential titles before deciding on one, it could have easily been avoided. [I shouldn’t have to google titles. You know why? Because titles can’t be copyrighted and I can name my book whatever I want. If I want to call it The Hunger Games, I can. I’d be stupid to, but it would be okay. Plus, I don’t think anyone is mistaking the two series…we have very different covers, different names. AND A DIFFERENT PLOT. Plus, if you were to google most titles you’d find a book with the same name. Probably more than one.]
Authors put a lot of time and effort into their works. Just coming up with an original idea can be an arduous and difficult task. When one hits that “gold mine” of a great idea and title, one doesn’t expect to see them in conjunction with one another under a different author’s name. [Gold mine? Really? Okay, so my books are doing well (I have no idea how this other author’s books are doing because I’ve never read them or heard of them until now), but my books aren’t a gold mine. And yes, authors put a lot of time into a novel and title, but one author doesn’t hold a monopoly on a title or the hard work it takes to write something. Why should this author’s time and effort rate higher than mine? For some reason she feels her work should trump everything I’ve done or tried to achieve, and because of that it’s okay for her to slander me all over social media and even encourage her readers to do the same.]
The facts in this situation are clear: an author saw that our books had similar storylines and titles, and jumped to the conclusion that I’d read her book and stole it from her. Rather than take the time to do a little research or contact me, she reacted on emotions. Which is not what I have done. At this time, I’ve not engaged or interacted with this person at all, and instead of trashing her on social media I contacted a lawyer and had a cease and desist letter drafted. As long as the other parties involved comply, I will consider this matter resolved. The accusations still hurt. There are still people who saw the accusations on Facebook and think I’ve plagiarized someone else’s work. But I’m willing to drop it if they are. If they don’t, I’ll hire a lawyer. I refuse to allow anyone bully me into changing the title of my book when I know I’m in the right. I refuse to allow anyone to slander me on social media and accuse me of things I haven’t done. I refuse to allow another author take credit for MY work by accusing me of copying something she’s written.
Thank you to all the other authors who rallied around me and stood up for me, who pointed out the ridiculousness of this claim rationally. I really appreciate the support. And thank you Stacey Donaghy for being so fired up over my book even though you don’t even represent it. I honestly have the best agent ever!
While I have blacked out all names except my own for the purpose of this post, I still have the original pictures saved in my email. But here are the posts these people put on Facebook: