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Authors, do you know how to avoid accidentally plagiarizing when using online sources to do research for writing your book? I have some tricks to share.

 

Rarely do you see blatant plagiarism where a writer cuts and pastes into a document from online sources and simply replaces a few words as happened this week with Monica Crowley, author of What the (Bleep) Just Happened, published by a division of HarperCollins Publishers, one of the Big Five publishers (and one I used to work at as an in-house acquisitions editor). You can’t rely on an in-house acquisitions editor or their copyediting and proofreading team to make sure you didn’t plagiarize. So if you are doing online research to write a self-help, life lessons, or other nonfiction book, know what you have to do to treat the authors of original material with respect and avoid plagiarizing accidentally.

 

In my opinion, Crowley should have known it was wrong to simply use others’ words and replace a word here and there–for example, she replaced “depends” with “relies” and “prominent” with “major.” Maybe she actually thought this was acceptable.

 

It is not.

 

Even if you know better than to write over someone else’s words, to be safe, never, ever cut and paste someone else’s words into a document unless you put their words in quotation marks and note the source along with adding a link that takes you to that source!  Take the time to cite resources properly.

 

Even then, it is best to put the notes in an idea file document. Create some headers to categorize the material to remind you that this is just the idea file and not a file of your writing. I like to use all caps and create a header with summary concepts, like SENSORY OVERLOAD TANTRUMS MELTDOWNS and SENSORY OVERLOAD SYMPTOMS. Then, when I go to write the chapter, I can work with the idea file, but I know I’m not actually going to salvage any of the writing in the idea file. I’m going to memorize it and then outline from what I know.

 

Also, I generally write in Times New Roman, Arial, or Cambria (common default fonts), so I like to put any direct quotes I save in another font to signal to me “this is someone else’s writing.” That’s another a safety mechanism that can prevent accidentally misreading someone else’s words as yours.

 

If it’s hard to imagine how you might reword the material, look it up in a few different sources and memorize the concepts. This way, it’s easier to come up with how you would say it.

 

Be cautious about lists, too. For example, if I were to list the common symptoms of sensory processing disorder, number one on the list would be unusual under-reactions or overreactions to everyday sensations. There only so many ways to say all that, and it truly is the most basic symptom, which pretty much defines disordered or dysfunctional sensory processing. Writing some variation of that symptom as #1 on the list is just giving readers a fact in your own words. But if #2, #3, #4, and #5 on the list are in almost the exact same order as they are in a list someone else wrote, you didn’t do your research carefully. The symptoms lists are everywhere. Mentally process what you read, remember the basic symptoms, and then write them in a list, from memory, and then check a few sources to see if you forgot any. I’ve written a symptoms list many times and I can’t remember what I’ve put as symptom number two each time. Who knows? It’s really #1 that’s memorable.

avoid plagiarism writing a book

Avoid accidentally plagiarizing when you are writing a book!

 

If you hire a researcher, that person could cause you to accidentally plagiarize. Perhaps Crowley had a ghostwriter or researcher helping her, and Crowley was not on top of the researcher’s work. Even so, the helper might not have been responsible for these passages.  A professional ghostwriter can often pick up on a researcher’s or author/expert/client’s cut and paste from someone else’s site when the document is returned from the author/expert/client. A ghostwriter or developmental editor will look for font and formatting changes as well as words that don’t sound like the author/expert would use them. For example, in one plagiarized passage, Crowley used the term “coyly”—that’s an unusual word. If I were the ghostwriter or developmental editor working on a book like this, I’d find or ask for the original source of the anecdote and Google “Churchill drunk coyly” and similar combinations to figure out the original source of the anecdote. I probably would have found the same source she (or her researcher) used and realized oh no, this is plagiarized and that means other passages may be too! That’s just one way I would research an anecdote or ask the client to research it. Be really clear with a researcher about what you want delivered. Think about whether you might want your researcher to read this article and discuss it with you.

 

Also in that anecdote, she had Winston Churchill saying something to a woman while “drunk” (an informal word that you should not use to describe people who are inebriated unless you are sure you want to use that word.) I’d question who referred to him as “drunk” and look that up using a search engine, and perhaps Google Books.

 

Anecdotes should be put in your own words, just as if you were telling the story to someone else. You should cite the original source in an endnote or footnote if you can’t find multiple sources that have the same basic details. Use your own words; it’s easy to do. You would do it if you were speaking on a teleseminar or in front of an audience, wouldn’t you?

 

Good researchers and writers doing research take detailed notes. They save links and summarize what was on the site, and put in quotation marks specific locutions/combinations of words they might want to use as a direct quote. They even use ellipses (that’s: . . .) and brackets (that’s []) to be sure the quote is not tampered with, and they note the page number. Then, in later drafts, they, and the copyeditor, go back and check the quotation in context, word for word, punctuation mark for punctuation mark.

 

When rewording material, process it mentally. Sit and think about all the research you did on a particular topic, and think about what details your reader needs to know. A statistic? Dates? Actual quotes from people that show they clearly misspoke, misremembered, or lied about details and dates? People often don’t remember exact details so do some research online, using reliable sources. Just for fun, try to find a reliable source for the claim that drinking 8 ounces of water a day is important for health. Go to a .gov site, or Web MD or Mayo Clinic or a major medical college (with a .edu) and try to get evidence to support this claim. Good luck! Whatever you find, cite the source in your text or even in endnotes and paraphrase it accurately if you choose to paraphrase. Books rarely have footnotes anymore since people don’t like them at the foot (bottom) of the page. I love endnotes. They help me see where an author got her information, clue me into other books I might want to read and articles I might want to check out, and provide information that didn’t quite fit in the main text but is still interesting.

 

It’s shocking that someone who gets a major book deal would plagiarize, but it can happen. Be sure you talk with professionals in the book business about any research that needs to get done for your book and any fact checking it requires. They can save you embarrassments and headaches–and headlines and lost credibility.

 

 

So to sum up:

 

Don’t rely on someone else to catch any accidental cutting-and-pasting of words from another source!

 

Don’t cut and paste someone else’s words into your document without clearly marking what is a quotation and citing the source, including a link. 

 

Use tricks like all-caps headers, idea files, quotations and citations and links for every quote, and different fonts to avoid accidentally mistaking someone else’s words as your own.

 

Memorize concepts. Process your ideas before writing them in your own words. Paraphrase accurately but still, cite sources.

 

Be cautious about lists.

 

If you hire a researcher, discuss with that professional what they will deliver. Consider having them read this article. 

 

Cite your sources. Cite your sources. Cite your sources.

 

Want to receive even more practical information about writing mind/body/spirit nonfiction? Be sure to sign up for my email newsletter and you won’t miss any of the free information and special offers I have for my followers!

 

 

Have you completed a memoir, or written a lot of material, and become stuck? A developmental editor can help you figure out what you need to do and how you can reshape your material. I do this work and find it very rewarding because I love helping clients tell their stories. Whenever I can, I offer would-be authors advice on how to get unstuck in the process of writing their memoir or self-help book, and in that spirit, I’d like to share with you an interview I did with a colleague, Al Desetta.

Al Desetta is a ghostwriter/developmental editor I have referred people to when the project isn’t quite right for me or the timing isn’t going to work out given the client’s plans and my schedule. I asked him to shed some light on how he works so that people who follow my blog can learn from him.

 

Nancy: Many people are confused by what a developmental editor does. How would you describe what you do?

 

Al: A developmental editor helps an author develop the true potential in a completed or partially completed manuscript. Unlike a copyeditor who simply corrects a manuscript, a developmental editor looks for ways to help the author improve it, which typically includes helping the writer reorganize the book, rewrite parts of it, add new or additional information, cut or deemphasize parts of a manuscript, etc. For example, I often help memoir writers deepen certain aspects of their stories that they may have overlooked or not considered important. Writers—especially first time writers—are frequently too close to their experience to fully realize the true power in certain events. As a developmental editor, I help authors find the “diamond in the rough” of their experience.

 

Nancy: Who is your typical client? Why do they hire you? For instance, where are they in their process of writing?

 

Al: A typical client is a first-time author who has written a book, but who is uncertain about the quality of the work and seeks me out for objective and constructive feedback. They know they have the germ of a good idea, or even a pretty well-developed book, but they want someone who can offer a professional opinion on the state of the manuscript and ways to improve it.

developmental editor

Stuck on writing your memoir? Hire a developmental editor to evaluate it and help you write it! Developmental editor Al Desetta explains.

 

Nancy: You ghostwrite and you do developmental editing. How do you help a client decide which service is the right one for that particular project?

 

Al: Usually clients are pretty clear about which service they want. Ghostwriting is for people who don’t have the time or skills to write their own books. Developmental editing is for authors who have written their own books, but who are stuck in some way. Sometimes developmental editing also includes some ghostwriting. I’m helping an author right now who has partially completed a memoir. Some of what I do with her is developmental editing—I ask her questions and point out areas where she can improve and develop the manuscript. But I also do a little ghostwriting to help in the process—I interview her about aspects of her life, write chapters based on the interviews, and she then revises these chapters and adds more information.

 

Nancy: When you get full or partial manuscripts from a new client working on a nonfiction book, what are the most common problems you see?

 

Al: Two common problems are overwriting and lack of a workable structure. These problems often surface in memoirs, but are also true of most nonfiction books.

 

Memoir writers often tend to overwrite—they are so close to their experience that they don’t know how to manage or shape it. They think they can write their way out of this problem, but that only compounds the problem. A memoir can’t be about an entire person’s life—it has to focus on an aspect of a person’s experience. What you leave out is as important as what you decide to include.

Related to this is the importance of structure. When an author doesn’t have a workable structure or organization, it’s like driving without a map. Or, to use an analogy that a writing teacher once told me, you set out rowing on the ocean and you lose sight of land. And you keep rowing, hoping to sight land on the other side. But pretty soon you realize you’re lost on the ocean and more rowing (or more writing) won’t get you back to land. Having an organization or structure at the start helps a writer from getting lost, especially in memoir writing, where the author has access to great amounts of information about her life, but often isn’t sure what to include or how to organize it.

 

Nancy: Are there any recent developmental editing projects that stand out for you that self-help mind/body/spirit or inspirational memoir writers could learn from? Any lessons you drew from these recent projects, or were reminded of?

 

Al: One lesson that always stands out is how gratifying the process can be, for both writer and editor. People have life experiences or ideas that they’ve always wanted to write about, but all authors encounter obstacles as they try to write about them. Right now I’m ghostwriting a memoir for a mother and son who were held captive for months by Islamic terrorists in the Philippines. It’s been a wonderful experience to help them create the book they’ve always wanted to write, a process that has also helped them to heal.

 

As a developmental editor and ghostwriter myself, I understand Al’s enthusiasm for helping people to tell stories that lead to healing for themselves and others. If you are eager to get unstuck in writing your memoir, consider contacting a professional, experienced developmental editor to get you back on track.

 

Al Desetta’s website, where you can learn more about his services and the kinds of books he has worked on, is www.AlDesetta.Com

 

 

Wrapping up a book project is always bittersweet for me. As a developmental editor, I’m like a book’s “midwife”: I’m happy to see the baby born into the world, but sad that my role in helping the author go from a book idea to a book is over. After a book is completed, I try to take some time to revel in the pleasure of having helped yet another author get that book written and ready for publication. Then, I take some time to ponder what I learned from the experience. One of my most recent projects yielded the following testimonial, which hints at five keys to making your self-help book a huge success:

 

“I have longed dreamed of the day when writing a book wouldn’t be so difficult. When I discovered Nancy, that dream became a reality. She is a treasure whose organizational, research, and editorial skills are unmatched. Plus she’s fun!!” Christiane Northrup, MD, author of Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being 

 

What a marvelous endorsement! I’m deeply grateful to Dr. Christiane Northrup for her enthusiastic words. She’s always been a cultural innovator and knows how to connect her message with a book-buying audience.

 

So what are the five keys to making YOUR self-help book a huge success?

 

1. Have fun. Seriously, have fun. Don’t believe all those quotations by writers who talk about the agony of writing. If writing is agony for you, you need to look at why you’re doing it and what you need to heal in yourself to make the process a joy. Does your inner critic need to pipe down? Maybe you need to say, “Thank you for your concern, but I’m an excellent writer, and I need you to go away right now.” (Do a little “goblin work,” as Colette Baron-Reid describes in her book The Map, and see if that inner critic that intimidates you can be tamed!)

2. Don’t be afraid to break with your brand if your followers have given you clear signals they’re with you. Dr. Northrup was willing to take the risk of making her latest book incorporate more spirituality and metaphysics. She is in touch with her loyal followers on a daily basis through social media (she’s very active on Facebook) and tries out ideas to see how her followers react. She notices what resonates for them. That’s what gave her the courage to shift her brand in a new direction. Yes, it’s a risk, but it’s a risk based on her knowing her “peeps”!

 

self-help books developmental editor

Writing a self-help book? Don’t skip the research and outlining! Hire a developmental editor & make the process pleasant and FUN!

3. Be in touch with your followers and treat them like treasured friends. Yes, it’s time consuming to post on social media and interact with those who contact you, and heaven knows Facebook can be a time suck! But if your followers are willing to spread the word about your work, share announcements, and enthusiastically endorse you, take the time to acknowledge them when they contact you. You don’t have to respond to every single comment, but you do have to INTERACT with your fans. On Facebook, even big bestselling authors like Dr. Northrup and Marianne Williamson will reply to their followers. Do the same and when your book comes out, your fans will be eager to spread the word.

4. Do your research. It’s easier than ever to do research thanks to the internet. Check the original source of any quote by using Google Books and Amazon’s “search inside this book” feature. Use Google Scholar to locate original studies (and use ScienceDaily.com to get a sense of what’s out there and read a layman’s version of the research findings). If you want to check a fact or quote and find that the excerpts online are too short to allow you to see the context, order the book from your library using their website. Don’t just rely on your memory about something you “read somewhere.” Check your facts and see if there’s new research, too.

5. Organize and structure your book before you get too far into writing it. I can’t emphasize this enough: Don’t just write and write and then try to figure out how to structure what you’ve written. Get clear on your chapter outline first. Know what goes within each chapter. Work off outlines for each chapter. Writing an expanded chapter outline for a book proposal, even if you end up self-publishing the book, is a great way to start organizing and structuring your material.

 

Are you inspired to get help with structuring and conceptualizing your book? Are you ready for a vision plan call with me?

Thinking of self-publishing? Should you choose the editing or editorial evaluation package from the self-publishing arm of a publisher, or from self-publishing houses?

As a former in-house acquisitions editor at HarperCollins, a current ghostwriter and developmental editor, and the coauthor of several successful books, I can help you make the right choice for yourself and your book based on your goals (and your budget). You need to know whom you are hiring (and yes, you want to hire someone who knows why I used “whom” right there!). You also want to get the most bang for your buck, and that means making sure your book’s structure, approach, voice, and concept are solid before you start line editing it. You don’t paint the walls of a house before you’ve installed the plumbing and wiring correctly!

Many editors don’t know anything about structuring and editing books, which is a skill of its own. Also, those of us who are developmental editors do not work on every type of book there is. I am well read in many areas, but in some, I admit, I know next-to-nothing! I do turn down and pass along projects I know for certain I’m not the right editor for because I don’t have enough background in working on that type of book. My clients benefit from being able to work with someone who keeps up on what’s going on in the publishing world, the book marketing world, and the worlds of wellness, motivational speaking and writing, business, health, and more.

Peggy McColl

Some of the books I’ve worked on include business books, self-help, inspiration, life lessons books, and memoirs.

 

ADVICE FOR NONFICTION AUTHORS

Here’s what I recommend for authors who want to self-publish nonfiction: Work out your outline and the beginning of the book, looking to other successful books as your guide, and then call in a developmental editor who can evaluate the material and advise you BEFORE you get off track. Write a clear description of each chapter whether or not you do a whole book proposal before contacting an editor. Don’t make the editor guess at what’s in each chapter based on the chapter titles. If you’re looking to sell the book to a publisher and need a book proposal, follow the standard instructions for creating one (you can use the guidance on my website, and please pay close attention to the all-important comparative books list). Then, ask a developmental editor with an acquisitions background or success in shaping proposals that sold to evaluate it. A developmental editor will alert you to writing issues you need to be aware of, and will guide you on structural changes you need to make. If you’re writing a memoir, you will want to be sure you know what the purpose of the memoir is. Memoirs by non-famous people have to have strong themes and titles to capture the attention of readers who aren’t friends and family members.

When you’ve gotten the manuscript into the best possible shape, hire a copyeditor/light line editor to clean it up. He or she should simultaneously create a style sheet for a proofreader to work from (a style sheet lists all the proper nouns and the grammar and punctuation rules you decided upon, such as whether or not to capitalize the first word in a full sentence that follows a colon). Hire a proofreader and ask a friend or fellow author to be another set of eyes.

ADVICE FOR FICTION WRITERS

If you want someone to evaluate your novel (or your completed memoir or other nonfiction manuscript), recognize that it will take hours just to read it, much less to read it, make notes, and correct those notes afterward. How often have I thought, “Oh, I see—now I understand what she was talking about back in chapter 2. Let me go back and change that note.”! If you want to get an evaluation and save money, create an expanded chapter outline and a plot description. Otherwise, the editor has to skim and skim to get the big picture. I was trained to do this as an in-house editor and had lots of practice reading for literary agents, book clubs, and publishers, and I regularly met with other editors doing the same sort of work to compare notes. We became masters of skimming and evaluating. But even masters need time to go through a manuscript whose entire cover letter with plot description is three sentences long! Make it easier for an editor to evaluate your book by creating the one-page synopsis at the very least. And if you can also write up a list of chapters with short descriptions, that’s even better. It will help the editor and it will give you a big picture view of your book in the process. Maybe in preparing the chapter outline, you’ll spot sections that need to be edited down, for instance.

If you decide that you really must write the whole book and “get it on paper,” so to speak, before getting direction from a developmental editor, don’t let me stop you. Just know that if you go that route, you are likely to have to do a lot of cutting and restructuring, and you may end up spending a lot more money paying an editor because you’re presenting that person with a manuscript and no “cheat sheet” with plot description or chapter summaries. Don’t be married to what you wrote.

I hope this helps! I really don’t want any of you feeling you must approach the book writing process a certain way, but I also don’t want you shocked by how much money and time it takes to shape your very raw manuscript.

Good luck on your writing and editing!