A Mystery is Unraveling

By Kirsten Hacker

How strange it must have seemed to the authors of Oona out of Order and the Midnight Library that their books had so many unusual similarities. How strange it must have seemed for both books to make the best seller lists around the same time and get chosen as Good Morning America Book Club Picks around the same time.

For a reader it is strange to see and even more strange to see that they are even cross-promoting one another, even though they were published by competitors: Macmillan (2,000 employees and 1 billion in sales) and Random House (10,000 employees and 4 billion in sales), a company that controls more than half of the literary marketplace in an epic battle against Amazon. This situation is mysterious, to say the least.

Random House (Bertelsmann) recently ate Simon and Schuster, a company with 1000 employees and a billion in sales. In tems of revenue per employee, Simon and Schuster is twice as lean as Macmillan and Random House and I bet that Random House will adopt Simon and Schuster’s staffing strategies and fire over half of their workers. Will Amazon hire them, or will Amazon have an algorithm that does their work? Which company has the best algorithm? Which company will enforce intellectual property rights? Which company has the best apparatus for doubling their revenue within five years. Ebook sales make magic happen. Are dead/fake people buying ebooks?

Penguin Random House’s digital marketing and data efforts are the envy of the industry, which in many ways still publishes books the same way that it did 50 years ago. Penguin Random House uses consumer data and information from Goodreads to help acquire prospective bestsellers, which then get the promotional benefits of Penguin Random House’s size and influence. Corporate publishing in the 21st century is driven by bestsellers—both the backlist (older books) and the midlist (non-bestsellers) have never had less impact.

https://newrepublic.com/article/151177/penguin-random-house-building-perfect-publishing-house

Both Oona out of Order and Midnight Library were heavily promoted on Twitter and Goodreads through the assistance of review purchasing sites like Netgalley. Before it was even published, The Midnight Library already had 400 five star reviews on Goodreads. Whatever they did worked because both books became bestsellers, even though lots of readers complained that the stories were dumbed down too much.

With many books today being produced through IP book contracting, in which a publisher will reach out out to publishing industry insiders to have a Zeitgeist-specific story written up, one might wonder if the same IP accidentally got sent out for post-production by two different publishing houses.

Below are the plot overlaps I could identify between the two books.

  1. Someone important to X has died. (Mont p. 1) (Haig p. 1)
  2. She passes out and meets her mentor in an unfamiliar space. (Mont p. 22) (Haig p. 22)
  3. Her father’s disappearance haunts her. (Mont p. 22) (Haig p. 1)
  4. She writes a letter to herself. (Mont p. 32) (Haig p. 23)
  5. She’s having a breakdown in which she jumps from life to life. (Mont p. 32) (Haig p. 38)
  6. She looks up old friends to try to reground her sense of identity. (Mont 41) (Haig p. 17)
  7. When she lands in a new life, she tries to figure out her history. (Mont p. 41) (Haig 42)
  8. She was in a band that broke up because of her. (Mont p. 41) (Haig p. 14)
  9. A female mentor reappears throughout and paces the story. (Mont p. 44-53, 131-133, 170-176, 204, 227-230, 254-257, 267-) (Haig p. 38-41, 61-63, 83-85, 117, 288-the last page)
  10. She wonders what her life with her first boyfriend would’ve been like. (Mont p. 51) (Haig p. 43)
  11. She goes swimming at a place with her mother (Mont p. 52) (Haig p. 97)
  12. She drinks tea instead of coffee in one life and it doesn’t feel consistent with who she is. (Mont p. 55) (Haig p. 110)
  13. She wonders what life with her second boyfriend will be like (Mont p. 96) (Haig p. 197)
  14. A man claims they’re married even though she doesn’t remember him. (Mont p. 144) (Haig p. 152)
  15. In one of her lives, she and her husband run a restaurant. (Mont p. 154) (Haig p. 150)
  16. She reminisces about playing music. (Mont p. 162) (Haig p. 48)
  17. She sometimes remembers things from her present life that she ordinarily would’ve had no way of knowing – given the sequence of her ‘jumps’. (Mont p. 167) (Haig p. 246)
  18. Her husband cheats on her and doesn’t really apologize. (Mont p. 248) (Haig p. 56)
  19. In one of her lives, she has a child that she doesn’t remember giving birth to. (Mont p. 270) (Haig p. 236)
  20. She deals with her mother’s death. (Mont p. 311) (Haig. 10)
  21. She’s in a band that becomes famous and goes on tour. (Mont p. 332) (Haig p. 171)

If all of these plot overlaps are plotted out, they are not sequentially arranged, except for at the beginning. If they had been sequential, they would’ve all rested on a diagnonal line, but since they arent, we see that the books share the same elements, just out of order.

Each point represents an overlapping plot element and there are so many of them, yet they are seemingly scattered throughout both books at random. What an astonishing coincidence!

Most readers just assumed that the odd number of similarities was due to the authors following the trends of their genre – perhaps at the recommendation of an AI tool they both used. But was something more going on?

If both books were influenced by the same book, a large number of overlaps would make sense.

Many readers noted the similarity of both books to a 2015 novel called Maybe in Another Life and to a 1998 movie called Sliding Doors, yet if one does a close reading of each book to identify specific plot overlaps, one finds only a handful of thematic similarities.

There are thirty-five overlaps between Oona out of Order and Midnight Library, but only four or five overlaps with Maybe in Another Life, so this clearly doesn’t explain the mystery. Below, I’ve plotted out the page numbers on which a plot overlap occurred between Maybe in Another Life and Midnight Library and Oona out of Order.

If the 35 points of overlap between Oona out of Order and Midnight Library could be explained by influence from Maybe in Another Life, they would’ve both overlapped with the same points from Maybe in Another Life, but they don’t. They overlap with different points. There must be another book that influenced them both and I think I know which book that was, since I wrote it three years ago. I called it My Adorable Apotheosis.

If I do the same analysis for my book that I did for Maybe In Another Life, I find not five plot overlaps, but thirty-five and they are sequentially arranged.

The mystery is solved. Their books shared an unusual number of similarities because they were both working from the same template: my book! Alternatively, industry insiders might have been deluded into thinking that an algorithm had spat out a recipe for a bestseller when that algorithm had merely filtered out an already existing, undiscovered, self-published book: my book. Either way, I think they should respond to my emails (which they haven’t).

Would what they’ve done be okay if they had credited the influence of my book? I’m not sure that it would be and perhaps that is why neither author has credited my influence on their moneymaking ventures. I created my book as an artist and never expected to make much money off of it. I, of course, hoped to make some money from it and that is why I self-published it on Amazon, but I knew how competitive the marketplace was and how it was dominated by people like Haig and Montimore who have connections to the media and Netgalley reviewers. I didn’t expect that it would be ripped off so quickly and by such high profile authors.

To an ordinary person, my form of analysis might look like madness until they realize that Haig and Montimore made millions of dollars off of ‘borrowed’ intellectual property that I spent two years developing — only to have it ripped off right after I submitted it to British and American literary agents and publishers. Neither Haig nor Montimore have admitted the influence of my self-published book.

What is even crazier is that Haig and Montimore aren’t the only people who have created bastardized versions of my novel. Self-publisher Joss Sheldon and traditionally published Meredith Tate have also used my book as a template without crediting it… and there is yet another author whose traditionally published book comes out in spring that I have my eye on because the blurb matches my book’s too well.

This is what it looks like when a writer splices two books together.

For the complete list of plot overlaps with the Red Labyrinth, try this link: https://kirstenhacker.wordpress.com/2020/09/20/the-red-labyrinth/

For the complete list of plot overlaps with the Midnight Library, try this link: https://kirstenhacker.wordpress.com/2020/09/23/a-neverending-story/

For the complete list of plot overlaps with Oona out of Order, try this link: https://kirstenhacker.wordpress.com/2020/11/15/memory-thieves-and-control-variables/

If you wonder how this could have happened three times with three different authors, publishing houses, and literary agents, I’m wondering the same thing!

I’ve heard about the growing popularity of IP book contracting in which a publisher will give an author a beat sheet to turn into a novel, and that is one possible explanation. The other is that the entire industry is corrupt and someone explicitly asked a bunch of authors to produce re-writes of my book. Someone saw it and recognized the originality and timeliness, but wanted to dumb it down for a commercial audience while cutting me out of the loop.

I do not wish to draw the wrath of powerful people with my attempt to seek justice, but I do hope that I can provide an example for other people who have been similarly victimized either by traditionally published authors or by Amazon’s self-publishers. Most authors wouldn’t have a clue about how to present their case and if I can help them out, that would be great — even if I can’t get justice for myself. One would think that it would be easy to find a lawyer willing to go after such a bounty, but when legal insiders know how expensive, political, and time-consuming justice is, even a good chunk of a million dollars isn’t enough of a lure.

I’ll keep trying. Amazon needs an incentive to screen self-published work for this type of plagiarism and the traditional publishers need to strengthen their reputation for being rigorous and honorable in matters of IP.

Someone recommended that I send out a bunch of DMCA notices, but the last thing I want is to get hauled into a foreign court to defend my DMCA notice. I’d rather have my ducks lined up in a row than be on the defense in an unfamiliar system.. at least this is what I assume. If I ever manage to get a British lawyer to return an email with more than an offer to read my book in exchange for 200 GBP, I might change my mind. I think I’ll have better luck with US and EU lawyers if the British publishing industry has the British legal system rigged.

…..

I do not know who made the meme in the header, but because I cropped it and added a blue filter to it, can I now claim that I own the copyright? That doesn’t sound legit.