So happy that my website is back and I can post again. I have a few ideas backed up after being away from my own little publishing machine for a few weeks.
Several years ago I submitted a long article to a top-flight magazine –start at the top and work your way downward. A publicist friend warned me, “Don’t send it to them. They’ll take the information and assign the article to someone better known than you are. I’ve seen it happen a dozen times.”
Hubris overtook me, though. I was sure that the information uncovered in a year of research would be unfamiliar and useful. The subject was the history of abortion, and I wrote the article after a student in one of my classes wrote, “I wish we could go back to the days before Roe v. Wade when there were no abortions.” Being of an age to remember the days before Roe, I knew her assumption was wrong, but it was surprising how small a part of the general conversation dealt with the millennia, or even the decades, preceding Roe.
I got a note acknowledging the submission and then heard nothing. Two months later a long article about abortion appeared in that magazine (the first such article I can remember) using swaths of my research and some of my analysis. It was written by a Harvard professor who had an agenda which differed from mine, but my research served her well.
Railing against this practice would have been a futile waste of energy. A professional author has to know how to protect herself against this kind of plagiarism, which cannot be proven. There’s a minuscule chance that the Harvard professor never saw my submission, but the pattern of presentation, the nature of the analysis, and the sources perfectly matched it, and it had been sent only two months earlier, about the right amount of time for a busy professor to pull together an article, especially since she just had to rejigger it and add her own ideas.
The principle motivation for writing it was to inform others on a subject which affects everyone, not only the one-third of American women who have had an abortion. Ignorance on this subject is skewing the debate. I was glad the information got out there, and I gained confidence. If I could write one article of interest to a major outlet, I could write another, and I learned a business lesson that I won’t soon forget.
This is an unethical practice, but the business world is full of unethical practices. It is up to me to figure out a way to circumvent them.
I am so grateful to have income from Social Security so I can fail without fear of poverty. Finances aside, it’s hard to swallow a lesson like this one, especially since I had been warned. But it’s never too late to learn a little humility.
What should I do with my next good article?
Tags: abortion decisions, humility, leaving a legacy, plagiarism, The business of writing, the writer's life, the writing business