Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Wrong. How to write a book without plagiarising - The Ghost Writing Blog
There are very few truly original stories. Take a novel that you love and think of as highly original and then think about potential parallels.Les Miserables, for example, centres on one man’s obsessive quest to bring down his foe. The plot is not completely dissimilar to Moby Dick. One is on land, while the other is at sea, but you can see a similar story arc. And how many variations on the theme of Romeo and Juliet have you read?
The reason for raising this here is because there is a lot of confusion about plagiarising. It is not stealing someone else’s idea. However, this is not to say you could take the entire plot of Harry Potter and simply replace the name to star a young boy wizard called Parry Hotter. You do need to use some common sense here. It is basic conceptsthat come around time and again, not specific characters and plot lines.
No, the most common form of plagiarism is stealing someone else’s presentation of an idea. This means using someone else’s exact words and phrases without giving due credit and without getting permission. It also considered to be plagiarising if you copy another piece of work, while subtly rearranging the words. If it can be recognised as noticeably close to the original, you’re skating on thin ice.
Now, with all the millions, no billions, of sentences written in books over time, the odds are quite high that you will somehow repeat the exact same order of words as has appeared elsewhere in other sentences. It could be a complete accident, or you may well have even read this amazing passage and it has stuck in your subconscious, only for you to inadvertently use it at a later date. It is an easy thing to do and it is not thought of as plagiarism. What is wrong though, is when you deliberately copy out whole passages of someone else’s work and claim it as your own.
What then, if you want to cite someone else’s work in order to develop your own argument? That’s fine and I am sure most authors would be flattered and pleased to have made an impact. However, those authors would, quite rightly, expect credit and also for you to interpret their work in your own words.
If you are using online sources to build your argument, giving due credit is not always that easy. Some websites use content without giving it the proper accreditation, so it looks like they are the originator. Not only does it make it almost impossible to find the original source, or even realise there was one, but it might leave you crediting the wrong person.
The best advice is to keep track of all your sources (to your best abilities) and to be as organised as possible. As a professional writer, I know what it is like to be ‘in the zone’, flicking over to Google to check a fact, researching on the hoof and then furiously typing to keep the flow going. Then, months later, when the manuscript goes to the publisher for its first edit, I’ll receive a list of questions about the sources for this or that fact. Believe me, there is nothing worse than trawling back through to find out where you got various things from so you can give due credit. It is far, far better to keep track as you go along.
There are various ways to keep track. Where necessary, I add footnote, with the name of the source, the exact page on the website I found it on and the date it was published. For added security, you could keep an electronic file of the pages used, so it is a very handy aide memoire should questions arise at a later date.
Giving credit is never carte blanche to now copy out the author’s work word for word. You still need to put it into your own words, injecting your own ideas and points. The emphasis of your book is on your own theories, the supporting work is just that: supporting. If you are using other references, my advice would be to read everything you can as research and make notes of the key points. It is really useful to use several sources, then there is less likelihood of copying one. Then, close or hide the page you are using and work from your notes. Focus on developing your own arguments and how what you are saying relates to your work. The key is to use the sources to help your understanding.
It may sound like an obvious tip, but it really helps to read over what you have written, out loud if you can. Does it sound like the rest of the chapter? If something sounds clunky, or unoriginal, or just not quite how you’d say it, you may have inadvertently copied it.
The best way to avoid plagiarising is to know and understand your subject well and to be confident in your own ability to tell your story. If you know anything in enough depth it is natural to use your own words. However, if you do use any other sources, use in moderation, in your own words and always, always give due credit.
- Why don’t ghostwriters simply write books for themselves?
- Can you make a living as a ghostwriter?
- A day in the life of a writer
- How to find a ghostwriter for an autobiography
- The pros and cons of hiring a ghostwriter
- Why do entrepreneurs hire ghostwriters?
- Selling your book to a publisher – how to write a book proposal
- How can I write a book about my life?
- Thirteen years as a ghostwriter – what have I learned?
- Make money from writing: simple ways to become a ghostwriter
- How common are ghostwriters?
- Ghostwriting – expectations versus reality
- Planning your book part 2. How long should a chapter be?
- How to plan a book – paper and scissors required
- Ghostwriting contracts and agreements: how to protect yourself if a collaboration goes wrong
- Do you need a ghostwriter for your book? Publishers seem to think so.
- How to find a ghostwriter
- Submitting a manuscript to a publisher or agent – why does the process take so long?
- Print vs ebook: Which format is right for you?
- Making your true story readable – what is narrative non fiction writing?
- How and where to research when writing a non fiction book
- I’m writing a biography. What tense should I use in my book?
- How to start your novel
- What should my business book be about? Business book ideas.
- How to distribute your self published book
- Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Wrong. How to write a book without plagiarising
- Can you write a book with the same title as another?
- What’s in a name? Can you write a book anonymously?
- How to get feedback on your book
- How to work with a ghostwriter: what does the author do?
- How to work with a ghostwriter – the interview process
- Ghostwriter versus co-writer
- Can self published books be successful?
- Is ghostwriting ethical?
- How does a ghostwriter keep the voice?
- Perfect pictures: Sourcing photographs for your book
- Why write a business book? Because it is the best way to get noticed. Ever.
- What to do with a book before submitting to a publisher: how to prepare a manuscript for publication
- Rejection could be viewed as a redirection. But why was my manuscript rejected?
- The piece of string question: how many pages should my manuscript be?
- Urgently seeking authors: how to get ghostwriting clients.
- Who you gonna call? What’s the difference between a ghostwriter and an editor?
- How much does a good ghostwriter charge?
- All you need to know about how to write a bestselling business book
- I can write perfectly well myself: so why do authors use a ghost writer?
- If a ghostwriter can’t say what they’ve written, how do they provide writing samples?
- Your name on the cover – but does a ghost get rights to a book?
- How do you know if a book is ghostwritten?
- Should I Self-Publish My Novel?
- How To Use Facebook Advertising To Sell A Book
- Should You Use Slang In A Novel?
- How To Overcome Writer’s Block
- How To Market & Sell Your Book
- How To Come Up With A Title For Your Novel
- 5 Things You Should Know When Working With A Ghostwriter
- Lazy words and stuff
- Finally ‘Cool’