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.