Wednesday, January 19, 2022

the why of it

Good Morning Ms. Reid—

I read in The New York Times this morning about Filippo Bernardini, an employee of Simon & Schuster UK who electronically “stole” hundreds of unpublished manuscripts over the last few years. This theft impacted famous authors such as Margaret Atwood as well as hundreds of unpublished writers. The article explains what he did, but not why he did it. I was hoping you might devote a blog post to explaining the why of these thefts.

Good morning Chum,

I can explain how a reserves for returns clause works.
I can explain why you need comps in a query.
I can even explain why I think personalization is a waste of everyone's time.

But this?
This is beyond me because I am NOT a novelist.

This is why we need novelists in fact: to explain things that seem unhinged.

I will tell you this: I've spent more than a few hours thinking about this problem because I worked at an agency where colleagues were affected by this more than once.

It created a very worrisome situation, particularly with books that were embargoed (I can explain embargos too, if you want!)

We couldn't figure out the why, even as we valiantly prevented the what.

So, novelists out there...



nightsmusic said...

I'd be interested in the 'embargoed' explanation, but this? When I read that article, I too wondered what the purpose would be. Did he steal them in the hopes that he could publish them after the authors had died? You know, like your artwork is worth more after you're dead. I can't think of any other reason to steal them. I don't know of any writer who doesn't keep a copy of their work either digitally or printed and there's always a time stamp on the digital copy so what good would it do him? And how does it affect the authors? Do they know unless this person is found out? The whole thing just seems very odd to me, but what do I know?

KMK said...

I think he wanted a special connection to the work. I'm a radio news anchor in my day job, and we always have a few listeners who have this kind of totemic need for "things." After one station went to digital commercials, we had a guy who called for months asking about what happened to the old cartridges. He clearly wanted to keep and cherish them -- even though they don't play properly on home equipment. Maybe the same thing with this guy: he wanted to have a special connection to the work that no one else would have, even if he couldn't DO anything with it. It's weird, but there's a lot of weird out there.

Mister Furkles said...

There countries without copyright treaties. So he can make himself rich publishing them in Bhutan. More likely, some people are just plain nuts.

Ryan Neely said...

I haven't read the article, but I'd lean more toward an explanation similar to that provided by KMK. As a former obsessed collector, I can attest to not wanting to lose the potential of loving something that will never be available again. Beside, the mundane seems so much interesting (at least from a novelist's perspective). What if the theft wasn't for financial gain? What if he was little more than a hoarder of unwanted things? There's a poetic sadness to that that seems more human than, "He stole them to make money."

BJ Muntain said...

He put money into this - registering 160 domains! - so I'm thinking he probably expects to get money back. As Mr. Furkles said, there are places he wouldn't be prosecuted for publishing them himself. And, if I remember something I read once, I believe publishers in Asia will print their own, stolen versions to sell in book stores.

This article explains - some pirated books are even sold in shops: The Cost of Fake Books / India Business Law Journal

Ann Bennett said...

It is money. There is money to be made. I take care of several handicapped people. I'm getting older. I encounter the parasites too often. Growing up with a developmentally delayed older brother, I witnessed and learned about predators from an early age. Our parents had a rule that if he went with us to never leave him alone. Each one of us did it. It is disappointing who they are at times. It is not always bottom dwellers.

If someone has a manuscript, they need to verify who they are sending it to. People on the up and up will recognize you are only doing due diligence. I have had a "supposed" writer contact me to write with me. Me an unknown who writes as a hobby. I bought a copy of their book and politely told them "h--l no". I doubt sincerely the writer was the individual who contacted me.

If someone thinks it is no big deal, let them keep their dreams. But don't let people take advantage of you. They only get bolder. It is your manuscript.

Mary said...

The hoarder of unwanted things would be a great novel title.

french sojourn said...

I read the article and my first thought was Margret Atwood could pass as Jessica Tandy's twin sister... why that's relevant escapes me.

My second thought was in the first sentence..."An Italian man has been arrested in New York for impersonating figures from the publishing industry online..." I guess we finally found Waldo.

The fact that this clown registered over 160 domains in order to dupe agents, editors and Booker prize judges amazes me. You would think that the amount of time and effort that would have required could have been used to write his own manuscript. Thankfully he never released the manuscripts online.

Be well out there.
Cheers! Hank

Craig F said...

I can see how easy it would be for someone like me to fall into the jaws of this. I have queried a few times without gaining much traction on the slippery streets of publishing. Any attention would have seemed gods sent.

I have not, however, queried any British agents. I thought their system was different then here in the States. I have barely figured out American querying, much less the publishing company based UK variant. So I guess that I dodged a bullet.

I have nothing to say about the psychology of a hoarder, though.

Donnaeve said...

Like BJ pointed out, I think the 160 domains is very telling. "Oh what a tangled web(site!) we weave, when we first practice to deceive."

I think he was clearly up to NO GOOD!

In other related news . . . (not!)

My next book The Saints of Swallow Hill releases next Tuesday. And, I learned late last week I've had my first foreign sale. It will publish in Czechoslovakia July 2023. Yay!

Adele said...

I think he did it so he could own something famous. All the domain names could be an inept person's idea of obscuring their trail; I can see some delusional fellow thinking "I'll hide behind this domain name...and - wait, I'll have that domain lead back to this other domain; I'm so clever...and maybe that domain will lead to this other one...You'll never catch me, copper!" And of course not realizing that the police can just plug in his deets and up come all 160. To him, a labyrinthine plot; to the police, easy-peasy.

Katja said...

Donnaeve, congratulations on your foreign sale!! 🥳🥳

The only thing I would double check is... Czechoslovakia... that is an old thing. I hope your agent made sure the place for your book is actually on the map.

AJ Blythe said...

I've been following this all the way through, because I love a good mystery. From everything I read, and according to the police, it started because he is (was) an aspiring writer and wanted their ideas (I assume that means some level of plagiarism). But then he never actually went through with that, as far as they've said anyway. I guess the hole he dug just got bigger and bigger. Maybe more details will come out in court?

Beth Carpenter said...

I, too, am hoping more comes out at trial about his motives. I wondered if he thought that by possessing unpublished manuscripts, he could somehow collect ransom by threatening to leak them early or release them to pirate sites, but he never seemed to do anything like that. Maybe KMK is right; he's a collector of the pre-published manuscripts because they're something no one else has.

John Davis Frain said...

In a world of cryptocurrency and NFTs, I think we can follow the money. Or, would-be money, anyway. From what we're told so far, he wasn't cashing in for money yet. Or, they're still figuring out that part. We'll see what unfolds, but I'm putting my money on ... money.

Congratulations, Donna. That's great news. Even greater if it's the Czech Republic. Prague has more readers per capita than any other major city in Europe. (I just made that up, of course, but isn't that how it works these days?!)

Looking forward to reading The Saints of Swallow Hill, which is a wonderful title!

AJ Blythe said...

Donna, I missed your news! That is fabulous. Congratulations!!

Donnaeve said...


Thank you! My mistake! The deal said, "Czech Republic," and was coordinated through a transatlantic agency. Assumptions are never a good thing.

Thanks to everyone else! :>)