Earlier this week a full on scandal broke in the publishing world when Q.R. Markham’s Assassin of Secrets was called out for its liberal use of borrowing from other books. To be clear, it wasn’t simply a matter of a few overly coincidental passages, it was a study in cut/paste and find/replace, with whole paragraphs mirroring (with the exception of character names) the work of post-Ian Fleming James Bond books. Ed Champion dissected from the beginning here.
As it happens, the Internet Outrage Machine ™ freaked out. Many fine questions were raised. Who is Q.R. Marham? Did he really think he was going to get away with this? Is this some experimental, post-modern uber hipster prank on the publishing world?
My answers, in order are, (1) I don’t know. Some dude in Brooklyn apparently. (2) I don’t think it’s possible that he thought he was going to get away with it. (3) Probably. I’m not sure what purpose it served, though in reading earlier interviews with the guy, it sounds like he was a frustrated literary fiction author who likely wanted to make some statement about the state of publishing. To which I say—“The line begins back there, and you had ought not to cut in front of me.”
Another outrage popping up on messageboards I sometimes visit was—
“How the hell did the publisher (Mulholland Books, a division of Little, Brown) let this get published?! Whoever the editor was should be fired!!1!!one!! He/she didn’t even recognize these passages from the James Bond novels?!?!?!?11!”
I’m here to tell you, straight up, and with all of the honesty I can muster—I would have totally been busted by the same thing. There are maybe two or three books in my life that I’ve read that if I saw passages from them in a submission on my desk I’d recognize it for what it was. I’ve got Literary Alzheimers in most cases, and I can’t always tell you the protagonist’s name or what he looks like a day after I’ve read something.
If I’m listening to music, I can pick out riffs, guitar tones, harmonies, bass lines, etc. that have been ripped off. But that’s because I hear music in an entirely different way from how I read books. That’s the way my brain works.
“But if they’re going to publish a book in [fill in the genre here], they should be intimately familiar with what has come before!!!”
Yes, outrager, I hear you. But the practical reality of things is that publishing in a particular genre certainly requires understanding the conventions, the tropes, the formula, etc., but it also requires the vision to work outside of what has come before. It’s totally unrealistic to expect an editor/publisher to (a) read every book that’s come before, and (b) remember the passages, and then (c) publish quality original work.
Not sure how this is all going to play out. Should be interesting. I hope it doesn't end up under the rug, but there's certainly been a weird radio silence from some of the players involved.