Caitlin Jans from Authors Publish chats with us about plagiarism.

When we discovered that Caitlin Jans had a recent experience with plagiarism, we had to connect. We chatted with Caitlin the other day to talk more about Authors Publish, rights, and how plagiarism can really dampen an awesome day.

What is Authors Publish?

Authors Publish is a free eMagazine that reviews manuscript publishers open to un-agented submissions and literary journals. They publish advice about the writing and publishing journey. A number of their eBooks including Submit, Publish, Repeat have been taught in universities, and downloaded thousands of times. Since 2019 they have offered popular courses through The Writer’s Workshop at Authors Publish that regularly sell out in hours and focus on offering in-depth, personal feedback.

How did you start Authors Publish Magazine?

The main reason I started Authors Publish is that when Duotrope started charging for membership I was very upset. Not because I couldn’t afford to pay the fee, at that point I could, but because I knew many people who couldn’t. It was clear to me that most people outside of the literary community, who were still active and gifted writers, were going to have an even harder barrier of entry to starting getting their work published, because one of the best free resources was no longer free. Even during my MFA program no one taught me how to submit to literary journals. I was one of the poetry editors at Lumina, Sarah Lawrence’s literary journal, and I’d never really submitted work. It wasn’t till I graduated that I figured it out with Duotrope’s help.

The first teaching experience I had after Sarah Lawrence College was at Berkeley College in Manhattan. Many of my students there were gifted writers who had never been told how to turn writing into anything more than a hobby, and I remember how satisfying it was to help one of them get their first publication. I really prioritize accessibility, and I knew that I’d rather stop publishing than start charging for the general magazine. Even most of our eBooks are free. We only review publications that have fee free submission options. We’ve been outspoken for over a decade against charging submission fees.

As someone with serious learning disabilities that directly impact my ability to write and read, I know what it’s like to work in a system that isn’t set for me, and I felt strongly that helping other people with barriers that impact their life, would help lead towards more diverse representation in literary journals.

I also needed a summer job between quarters at Seattle Pacific University and while Authors Publish didn’t start out making very much, by our first anniversary of publishing it, I was making more money from it than from teaching.

Give me the scoop on the recent scandal that’s been going down with plagiarism!

So I’ve long had to deal with plagiarism. First as a teacher, and then as the editor of Authors Publish. We’ve dealt with hundreds of plagiarism issues over the years at Authors Publish. We’ve pretty much given up keeping our eBooks off platforms like Scribd. One of the most outlandish stories I have involves someone submitting an article that I wrote, to me.

What happened recently is that we discovered an author was taking our work and sending out her own newsletter, using mostly our content. She was also publishing select articles, with a few rephrased lines and new images, on her website, presenting them as her own.

Now I think it’s really important to emphasize how much research we do at Authors Publish. I have my undergraduate degree in Classical Civilizations and History, and I love research. My poetry thesis at Sarah Lawrence was research based. S. Kalekar, one of our longtime contributors, is similarly passionate. We both regularly publish list articles on publishers and themed calls for submissions that take over four hours just to research.

These articles are primarily what the other author was taking, changing a few lines, and uploading, making sure to clean up any traces of links that might credit us.

S. Kalekar found her website by accident and we were shocked to find page after page of our own content with new images. Ironically, one of the few articles this other author appeared to have written was one on where she got ideas for her content.

My husband, Jacob Jans, who runs the technology end of Authors Publish sent her a kind but firmly worded email asking her to remove her content. Within the hour her website went from having 66 pages of articles to having 3.

Then the plagiarizer wrote us back saying “I didn’t mean to step on your toes at all. And I did make significant changes to most of those articles in terms of phrasing to avoid plagiarism. I have removed them for now and will be republishing them later with more significant changes, which I hope will not impinge upon your mission or content further. I am sorry for any issues I may have caused. ”

Jacob was very firm and explained that rephrasing was plagiarism and he went into detail of how plagiarism works. How, even if she was to re-write a huge article from us word for word, it would be a derivative work. We did not hear back from her and honestly we thought that would be the end. This is generally how it works.

But when we checked back on the website a few days later she had re-written a list article on horror publishers. It originally had 24 publishers and she found another 10, many that we had covered in other articles. When one of her followers asked why she was republishing all of her content she said it was to make it “fresher and up to date”.

That’s when we sent the cease and desist, commented on her blog informing people that it was plagiarized, and tagged her on twitter without details. Then she took the horror article down. She never responded via email. There’s still articles on her website that have whole paragraphs written by me, integrated into her content, but as long as she doesn’t post anything new, I’ve resigned myself to be OK with that.

It still bothers me because she’s launching a literary journal and I’m worried she’s going to treat others’ creative work the same way she’s treated my articles.

How do you think we, as writers, can protect our work or band together?

In my experience, having participated and hosted many online creative writing events over the years, I know that having creative work plagiarized is much less likely than having articles plagiarized, particularly if there’s a research component.

I am always on the look out for plagiarized material, and I’ve managed to protect other authors’ creative work by catching plagiarizers on numerous occasions (having a good memory for specifics helps). If you suspect something is plagiarized always report it to the author first.

I think one of the best ways to protect other authors and our own work is to be familiar with the definition of plagiarism and fully understand how it works. A lot of people, even writers, have a poor understanding of what plagiarism actually is.

An established Children’s book writer was plagiarizing our articles and when we caught him, and contacted him, it was clear that he had no idea he was plagiarizing, because he included my pen name, but no links, with the article copied in it’s entirety on his website.

We encourage people to share our work with excerpts and links. Many established websites do this and we are grateful for it. There is nothing wrong with that. The issue starts when you take the entirety of someone else’s content, because it means your visitors don’t have to go to our website, and it confuses Google search and affects SEO. We pay all our authors and our instructors, and we rely on that sort of traffic. This plagiarizer’s website was ranked higher on Goggle than us for certain articles she had stolen. That isn’t stepping on toes as she put it; it’s stealing shoes.

Is there anything you wish you knew about this process before you got started?

I don’t know. Maybe just how time consuming it is to deal with it, and that some people are really persistent. Sometimes a plagiarizer we caught will start stealing our work again after a month or two has passed, so we have to keep checking the same sites over and over again.

How do you deal with this sort of blatant plagiarism?!

Over the years we’ve tried various different methods. Sometimes just posting a comment on their website asking for them to post an excerpt and a link instead is enough. Other times we’ve tried with more confrontational emails, but that doesn’t end up helping. If they won’t take it down we report them to their internet service provider using a DMCA request.

What support are you hoping for that you were unable to find?

A lot of people feel like if you post something on the internet it’s free reign, even if they would be horrified if this happened to them. So, that can be a little frustrating. We support a lot of authors, many from marginalized groups through Authors Publish. We also offer a $150 dollar fund to a different literary journals every month. You can learn more about that here. During the pandemic we’ve also privately given out a number of donations to literary journals and small presses that were struggling. We are able to do this because of the success of Authors Publish, which is impacted by acts of plagiarism like the one mentioned above.

What is your wish for the industry?

That there’s more support between publishers. I’ve seen that happen more and more over the last few years and it’s given me a lot of hope.

Also on a more general note I really hate submission fees (that’s one of the other reasons I started Authors Publish – Poet & Writers lists markets without making submission fees clear in advance). There should be fee free options for all publications, even if it’s a small and awkwardly timed window.

Author Bio

Caitlin Jans has an MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. She taught poetry, literature, and composition at Berkeley College and Seattle Pacific University before starting Authors Publish in 2013.

Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Cosmonauts Avenue, The Adroit Journal, The Moth, Radar, The Conium Review, and Killer Verse. Her work has been nominated a number of times for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net anthology. She is the author of three chapbooks and the co-founder of The Poetry Marathon, an international writing event with over 500 annual participants.

Caitlin currently lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her husband, and two daughters. You can learn more at her website.

Comments (2)

Ida K
1 year ago
Reply to this comment

I'm always surprised at the creative ignorance of plagiarists. Or, is it laziness? Do they really believe that after a sweep with the cursor, you only need to change a word or two? Do we need an internet protocol regarding citations? BTW, excellent interview.

Myia Sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to this comment