Saturday, 31 October 2009

A Horror Story For Halloween

Over the years I’ve read lot of publishing-related horror stories. I’ve read about writers who cheated and were cheated, publishers who ran away with wives as well as money and rights, and literary agents who ended up in prison for their sins. But the one story which stands out for me is the one about a writer who in her attempts to get published managed to hook up with a dangerously clueless agent, an incompetent ghost-writer (who also happened to be an incompetent literary agent), a vanity publisher and a plagiarism charge. Along the way she attracted negative attention from just about every publishing- and writing-related website, offended many people including the high-profile writer whose work was plagiarised, had a few wiccan curses thrown around on her behalf, insisted none of it was her fault as she had high blood pressure, and provided me with one of the most absorbing demonstrations of How To Look Foolish On The Internet that I have ever encountered. I have to admire her dedication: but her determination to be published no matter what, and her refusal to even consider that she’d done anything wrong makes her attempts to be published a failure of quite epic proportions. I give you the story of Lanaia Lee.

Two years ago, a writer called Lanaia Lee sent her novel, Of Atlantis, to the Dear Author site for possible review. One of Dear Author’s readers duly began to read it… and wondered why the text seemed just a touch familiar. After not much digging at all, the reader realised that Lee’s opening chapter was almost word-for-word identical to the best-selling David Gemmell’s book, Dark Prince. Compare the two:

Lee: The golden-haired child sat alone, as he usually did, and wondered whether his Father would die today

Gemmell: The golden-haired child sat alone, as he usually did, and wondered whether his father would die that day

Dear Author reacted with typical style and published a fantastic blog post in place of its review: its now-infamous Top 10 Tips For Plagiarists. The post was quickly picked up by Making Light, and by Absolute Write, and slowly the story unfolded.

It turned out that Lanaia had paid a ghost-writer $400 a month for nearly two years to write her book for her, and that the ghost-writer had been responsible for the initial plagiarism. That ghost-writer was Christopher Hill, of the Hill and Hill Agency, a Scotland-based literary agent who had worked hard at making no sales at all.

For some time Hill had represented Lee but had failed to sell her books: with hindsight this is not surprising as although Hill reported in some depth to his author-clients, listing publishers’ comments and providing detailed lists of revisions which those publishers had apparently asked for, he never once made a sale. Many of his clients believed that they were on the brink of being published by major houses but shortly before the Lania Lee story broke one of his clients learned that the publishers who had, according to Hill, offered him a book deal, had never even heard of him, his book, or Hill. A little investigation revealed that this was true for all the writers Hill represented, most of whom believed they were about to be signed: at that point Hill claimed to have left the country, although I’ve been told that he actually remained at home in his Scottish bungalow throughout the whole fandango.

Meanwhile, back to Lee. Because she hadn’t committed the initial plagiarism by copying Gemmell’s work into “her” book, Lee insisted that she was not guilty of plagiarism. She left Gemmell’s chapter up on her website to showcase “her” work and when she was urged to take the work down she issued the following statement on her website intended for her (by now, many) critics:
I have erractic hypertension, you keep dogging me I could have another stroke, contact my agent and attorney, I’m sure no one wants mt blood on their hands. [sic]
And then Lee’s new literary agent stepped into the ring: one Cheryl Pillsbury, an author who had published one of her own books with XLibris, another with Outskirts Press, and two more with PublishAmerica. Those three publishers have more in common than just publishing Ms Pillbury’s books: they’re all vanity presses. Accounts of Pillsbury’s agenting sales vary: but all report a very low number, and all report sales only to vanity presses. Perhaps realising that she couldn’t make a living with such a paltry record Pillsbury began AG Press, the pay-to-play imprint which was going to package Lee’s book in order for it to be published by Roval Publishing which was, you’ve guessed it, another vanity press. With this grounding in publishing quaking beneath her, Pillsbury arrived at Making Light with her fists up, and commented,
For people who throw stones at glasses houses should be very cautious about speaking before they know the truth. Slander can cause a major lawsuit from the author and the publisher mentioned, because I will make sure they know about this and dear Jane will have nightmares in 10 fold. Yes, I'm Wicca.

I was just informed, the author has already set the motions for the lawsuit, be prepared. You were told by the lawyer not to post anything related to this issue, first amendement does not apply. I have made a copy of this site for proof, see you soon. Have a ducky day.
(The Jane who Pillsbury referred to there is from Dear Author.) While several online writing communities were outraged by Lee’s actions, Victoria Strauss took a kinder view. She had already written extensively about Christopher Hill and when the Lee story broke cover, Victoria wrote,

I find it completely plausible that the ripoff of Gemmell was Hill's work, not Lanaia's. It would be absolutely typical of Hill to do something like this to screw over a client--especially one who'd twigged to his scam.

Even today, Lanaia Lee is promoting that plagiarised book, Of Atlantis. A book she paid Hill thousands of dollars to write; which was represented by a fee-charging agent with a history of vanity publishing; which was published by fee-charging Roval Publishing. She is a wheelchair-bound stroke victim who has wasted thousands of dollars on this book and in the process has become infamous. I doubt, however, that she’s sold more than a few copies of “her” book.

See, I told you it was a horror story.


Barb said...

I think I'm missing something.

I understand using a ghost writer if you have a life or story that people would be interested in due to who you are - such as having some fame or skill. If you can't write the book get someone who can to write it.

But why would you use a ghost writer just because you want to get a novel published? Especially when you are paying for the ghost writer and the publisher?

The logic isn't adding up for me.

Charles Lambert said...

Horror story indeed. I was just as mystified as Barb as to why anyone should do this. Then I visited the 'author's' site and it all became horribly clear. Brrr.

Jane Smith said...

Barb, I'm with you. When I first heard about this story I was confused: why hire a ghost-writer to write a book when you're unknown, with no fantastic life-story to tell?

It's incredibly sad. As is Lee's apparent determination to not learn anything from her moment of internet stardom. I just hope that all the people who took money from her as she attempted to get published are thoroughly ashamed of themsevels.

Jane Smith said...

(By the way, Barb, at the risk of being taken in completely the wrong way, your avatar is perfect for Halloween. You look very witchy in it. Happy pumpkins.)

(And I'm not ignoring you, Charles, I just agree with you.)

Nicola Morgan said...

Good God, a horror story indeed. Mind-boggling.

Mind you, if you mixed the names around you'd get Christopher Lee - perfect for a Halloween horror story...

DOT said...

I love a good horror story and this one will keep me awake tonight giggling with malicious glee :)

The appetite of the ego is voracious. Beware the gnashing of teeth of one who is frustrated in satisfying their hunger.

DOT said...

PS I am actually a pumpkin head with glasses - so my girls inform me.

Anonymous said...

The only thing missing from this horrible nightmare of a story is witches on broomsticks and howling pumpkins.

Charles Lambert said...

That's a relief, Jane!

(Though I doubt whether anyone feels ashamed..)

Jane Smith said...

Be careful, Nicola: Mr Hill lives quite close to you, and might well come round.

Dot, I didn't realise that pumpkins wore glasses. I live and learn.

And Lynn: I'm tempted to say that's why you're here, but I'm far too scared of you to suggest it. So I shan't.

Marian Perera said...

I found Lanaia Lee's blog, which is called "Of Atlantis". IMO, Author: The Role-Playing Game is very important to her (she's repeatedly referred to as "Lanaia Lee, Author"). So the ethics of the situation and the public castigation aren't as important as the "author" identity. Or, for that matter, the money she spent to play the game.

Anonymous said...

Scary story. No reason why publishing world should be ijit-free, I suppose.

Derek said...

That's just bizarre -- a fake writer with a fake ghostwriter represented by a fake agent to a fake publisher. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Victoria Strauss said...

I was kinder only at the outset, because I knew what a really revolting scammer Christopher Hill was. Once Lee started trying to justify herself, and especially after she tried to use my blog post as a defense of her behavior, I lost all trace of sympathy for her.

For another horror story, check out my posts on Christopher Hill, a scam literary agent so deranged that he not only lied to his clients, but created extensive forgeries to support his lies, and then outed himself on a public message board.

Jane Smith said...

I still think that you did the right thing, though, Victoria.

While I can understand you losing sympathy for Lee, I still think she deserves our sympathy: I started off with none, and laughed my socks off as the story developed (which wasn't the most caring response!): but it's clear that she has no idea how to behave, no idea how writing and publishing are supposed to work, and no one around her to guide or advise.

With a less advantaged upbringing and a less informed circle of friends I can imagine doing the same. If I lived in an alternate reality, and had half a conscience.

Damn. I kept up the caring thing right until the end, didn't I?

Donna Hosie said...

I think it's a bit of a tragic horror story to be honest. How can one misguided individual be so unlucky as to meet/employ so many scam artists? It beggars belief.

And whilst Lee is not blameless at all, on closer reading I do have a little bit of sympathy for her. She is clearly an ill woman; perhaps the desperation to leave some kind of legacy clouded all sense and judgment?

And as always, my main sympathies are with the plagiarized writer.

HelenMWalters said...

The most scary thing about this is that none of the people involved seem to have realised they've done anything wrong. And this has been going on for ages. I'm off to get my broomstick ...

catdownunder said...

May I settle my paws on the end of your broomstick Helen? I think I need some fresh night air to drive the horrors away.

Jill said...

Yup. A horror story indeed.

I do not want to sound elitist nor do I wish to make a rash generalization, but whenever I head the words "vanity press" or "self published" or "print on demand", I get goosebumps. I have heard way too many awful stories (none quite as bad as this one) about these kinds of vultures, I mean publishers.

It is such a shame. Writing is hard work, finding a publisher is hard work. The rejection letetrs can be soul destroying. It is no wonder people look into alternatives. And vanity presses could be a viable alternative (I can think of several benefits to them - so it's not like I have a hate-on for them). It just seems to me that there is a lot of sneaky stuff with them... a lot of misrepresentation... a lot of dashed hopes.

What a shame. Jill

Anonymous said...

Ohio University Plagiarism

Diana said...

Wow, how sad. Just really sad that someone would be desperate enough to get published that they would do all that and then not be able to acknowledge that they got conned by a con artist.

Anonymous said...

This story sounds made-up. But of course it's not. I searched the interbet and found this woman's blog. You know, after seeing her blog and some of the other stuff she wrote, I am seriously convinced that this poor woman might be special needs.

I'm serious. She paid thousands of dollars to a scam artist to write a book that wasn't worth the paper it was written on, and she's still actively promoting it. I doubt she lives in the same reality that the rest of us do. I kind of feel bad for her.

Anonymous said...

Think we have to be careful when judging others, no?
Think we should be careful what we say about others. We don't know this woman or anything about her life. Stories are more complicated than the internet paints them, I think. We have a duty to try and understand... and with understanding comes sympathy... that's why we write and why we read fiction: to broaden the sympathies of our readers... not to whip up hysterical emotions against other people.


Jane Smith said...

Anon, etc: yes, we do have to be careful when judging others: and on one hand I feel appalled by the scammers who have cheated this poor woman out of her dreams, AND out of thousands of dollars of cash I suspect that she can ill afford.

However: as Victoria has said, there comes a point when sympathy is no longer deserved. Many people explained to Lee very carefully what plagiarism was, how it was wrong, and what she could do to put things right. She refused, point-blank, to take the plagiarised work down from her website; she refused to apologise to the late Gemmell's family for misappropriating his work in the way that she had; and she refused to apologise for the actions of her "agent", who had CURSED people, for god's sake. Now, I don't feel threatened by such curses, but a lot of people do.

There's naive, and there's ill-informed; if someone repeatedly refuses to even listen to good advice then they can no longer be considered either, and have to be considered responsible for their own bad behaviour. Regardless of their poor health or disadvantaged circumstances.

Anonymous said...

"Regardless of their poor health or disadvantaged circumstances."

or their mental capabilities or their emotional state? I don't know all the facts of this case, so I feel I cannot be fair in my judgement. Others seem happy to plough in with their judgement of the persons involved based on a superficial contact with the case. This is what I see in the people I work with, a tabloid response I call it, a response that is knee jerk and not considered or informed. Of course reading the newspaper people think they are informed, but really they aren't.

I'm not saying this kind of theft is ok... but I am saying this kind of internet court where people are publicly judged is a monster in the making.

There could be a 101 reasons why this woman has not done what YOU consider to be the 'right' thing. As creative people you could, I am sure, imagine very good reasons for her actions. We don't have to approve of the actions, but to judge the PERSON on an incomplete understanding of what has happened and why, seems to me just crowd following and frankly unfair and even lazy.

My knee jerk reaction is to ask 'why?' and in doing so come to an understanding that there might be very reasonable reasons why. Also, I think people are not completely good or bad, neither saints in everything or devils in all things, Some of the responses here seem to not be aware of that. There's almost an enjoyment of labeling the person as bad.

Just how I see things maybe.


Jane Smith said...

Anon, you're guilty of making all sorts of judgements of the people who have commented on this thread.

Through her ghost-written work, Lanaia Lee plagiarised David Gemmell. When the plagiarism was pointed out to her, she refused to remove it from her website: by her reasoning, as she hadn't been the person to copy Gemmell's work, she had done nothing wrong.

When it was pointed out to her that the law didn't work this way, she started flinging insults around.

I agree: this isn't exactly the behaviour of someone who is complete with a full set of buttons. But that doesn't make it an acceptable way to behave and I don't see anything wrong in acknowledging this.

If you take the time to read through all the various links I provided, which include comments and threats from Lanaia, you might well change your viewpoint on this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jane for picking up on this. I aplogise to anyone here who felt I was judging them. I hope I was not judging the people commenting here, but rather judging the fact that they were commenting and judging their comments.

No one here knows this castigated person personally, as far as I can tell. we haven't met with her, we don't know her personal circumstances etc etc. In a court of law there would be some attempt to present to the jury this side of her so that jurors could come to a decision that takes account of who she is. That's what I was trying to say: that some people were judging her as a person and making her into some sort of anti-social devil without acknowledging that there just might be more to be pitied here, or something completely different that we don;t know about.

'At first do no harm' should be something commentors hold to their hearts, IMHO. And in doing so they would be less inclined to judge the person than to judge the act. By all means judge what she did as wrong. From what I have read I would agree with that. But we have all done wrong things in our lives and to be judged just by that one wrong thing seems a bit cruel. Better, it seems to me, to try to understand why she's doing what she is. Moving in that direction leads to a more balanced response.

And just because she did wrong is no reason for us to compound that wrong by making her into a cartoon villain.

To err is human/to forgive is divine. Or something like that.

Sorry if I was misunderstood.


Jenny Woolf said...

Suspect this poor woman may have been mentally damaged by her stroke. Very often the effect on the brain is not easily identified, but the sufferer may have difficulty organising their thoughts or keeping touch with reality in various ways. Sounds as if some very greedy and rapacious people may perhaps have been taking advantage. Horrible which ever way you look at it but I'm not inclined to blame Lee.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

All a supremely helpful blog like this can do is tell it as it is, in the hope that it will help writers avoid the same errors of judgement. There will always be those who for whatever reason don't listen and carry on blundering about. You can take a horse to water... and all that jazz.

PicardyRose said...

I can't believe I read the whole thing again even though I could have left the office an hour ago. I note that she changed publishers for the sequel.

Bianca Raven said...

I find it very sad this person is still promoting a book she knows to be plagiarized and calling herself an 'author'.

Illness or bad health is no excuse for doing the wrong thing by another writer's work.

j purdie said...

And the horror keeps on coming. Did anyone visit the Roval Publishing website? 868 hits (I get more than that on my blog that no one reads) to the main page. If as much as ten percent bought a book that would be 86 sales between five authors.

There's no excuse for what Lanaia Lee has done but I do feel for her; I think she is vulnerable and has been taken advantage of. The 'publisher' website are saying that Of Atlantis is to be made into a major motion picture:

Quote: NEWS: Of Atlantis to be made into a Major Motion Picture. Visionary Films of Louisville, KY begins the screenplay process!.

Visionary Films of Kentucky (?):

Anonymous said...

Ms. Pillsbury's AG Press is a mess. She seems to take advantage of her employees as well as her clients and I am not surprised by this incident.