Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Chris Blake is a fake - lying author biographies

We all know that JK Rowling made up an elaborate identity for her alter ego, Robert Galbraith, including claims that he was married with two sons, and had worked in the Special Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police. This caused a stir in America, where it is thought very bad form indeed to impersonate military personnel.

I've just come across another instance of, well, lying about the identity of an author in such a way as to persuade a potential reader to buy the book. It's an interesting story.

Carl Ashmore wrote a children's series called The Time Hunters. He self-published and did well with it, but before this he put it on the writers' site Authonomy, where in 2010 it won a gold star and a critique by an anonymous Harper Collins editor. The editor said, 'I really enjoyed reading THE TIME HUNTERS. You start off the action with a bang, drawing the reader in right away. Your writing is strong, and in places has a classic feel.... It has terrific potential.' 

Maybe Carl's book impressed that editor a little too much. Three years later, Harper Collins has published a children's series called Time Hunters, which bears some similarities to Carl's original version. Coincidence? Harper Collins had put together the idea, titles and outlines for the books, and contracted a writer via Hothouse Fiction to write them for a flat fee. (The author - female - told Carl she had not read his novels.) Three years is about the time you'd expect for trad publishing to commission and bring three books to market.

And Harper Collins made up this artful and completely false bio for its new 'author', which you can read on the book's Amazon page:

About the Author
Chris Blake lives in the South West, not far from Tintagel Castle, rumoured to be the home of King Arthur. Ever since he was a little boy Chris has always dreamed about travelling through time. He likes watching Doctor Who and looks forward to the day that time-travel is possible as he’d love to visit all the places in his books. In the meantime Chris will keep writing his own adventures. Chris has an old black cat called Merlin.

I realize I take author bios at face value. Mine is honest, and I assume others are too. Perhaps I am wrong, and some don't give a damn about veracity, just write whatever bio they think will sell most books. I don't think much of that.

Read Carl's post on the subject here.


  1. Staggering. And scary. I think one of the worst aspects is that HarperCollins didn't even worry about using the same title. Nobody there thought, well, we'd better at least come up with a different name, let's call it Chrono-Quest™ or something. They arrogantly just nicked Carl's title as well as concept, and assumed nobody would care. I can well imagine how he's feeling right now.

    Note to any publishers reading this: see the little trademark symbol on Chrono-Quest™? Get your hands off, that puppy's mine!

  2. Of course, David, there's always the possibility it's pure coincidence - though we know that Harper Collins is not too scrupulous from the ripped-off cover saga: - another very interesting story.

  3. I read about this on another site - and really hope there's a way to make it widely known.

    I understand that Carl got in touch with Chris Blake, and said she had no idea there was another book about with the same name, and was simply writing to commission. Which makes the Real Villains Harper Collins, which may or may nor surprise us.

  4. I read about this too and can imagine how gutted Chris must feel. And the awful thing is there doesn't seem to by anything he can do about it :(

  5. And of course, if Time Hunters IS plagiarism, passing the bones of the series to a second writer to flesh out anew efficiently conceals the theft. You'd never be able to prove it.

    This sort of thing happens in the jewellery business, too. I knew a jewellery designer who also did casting for the trade. Someone once brought in one of her own pieces to make a mould and produce castings.

  6. I think as soon as authors get a successful series of books that they should start trademarking. Much more protection in a trademark than there is in a copyright.

  7. Robert, I can see how trademark registration works with a name like David's Chrono-Quest, but how would it work for most fiction?

  8. A very scary tale indeed. Especially since we are all so keen to share extracts of our work.

  9. I've often tried to persuade people their idea for a book is not likely to be stolen by agents and publishers. Titles, yes, books no. Now I'm not so sure.

    Trouble is, there's not quite enough talent to go round...

  10. What a sorry tale. I don't understand why Harper Collins didn't just buy Carl's book from him in the first place instead of stealing the story and getting it ghost written.

    And what's with all the fake bios? I've always known that some authors choose to write under a pseudonym and I'm fine with that but when publishers provide a lot of fake details to bolster up the pen name I feel cheated when that comes out.

    I can't help thinking that if publishers behave so unethically I'm not going to shed any tears if they go under because they can't keep up with the changing market.

  11. Hi FH! As others have pointed out, the similarities MAY be pure chance, but since HC ripped off Nathalia Suellen's artwork, we do know they are entirely capable of this sort of thing.

    Fake bios may be common in some genres; romance and erotica, perhaps. I once met a male romance author who published under a female pseudonym. I don't know if he got inventive with his bio, though.

  12. Let us all watch and see how Harper Collins fares over the next few years. A comeuppance may be overdue.

  13. Obviously a lot of fake bios are to allow the same author to sell within different genre. Within the serial pulp market you even get the single author who is actually whatever hack writer happens to be writing for the publisher that week. It is also a way for an author to send out lots of books without alerting the public that they are slaving over their titles for about a week before releasing them.

    Your point on Trade Mark is well taken. Disney seems to get away with Trade Marking things like "Cars" but mostly that is disallowed.

  14. How far do you take it, though, Russell? It's an asset for a new writer to be attractive and good at public speaking, so what about hiring an actor for author photos and personal appearances?

    Come to think of it, the expense is probably the only reason that isn't happening.

  15. Hello Lexi. Thank you so much for this post (and its predecessor). I couldn't agree more. I can't think of a legitimate reason for the creation of a fake bio, and I'm dismayed to read (in the press) Rowling's defence of her behaviour. Your honesty is much appreciated (as is your blog, which I follow with interest). Thanks.

  16. Thanks, Marcus. I do think honesty is an essential bedrock, and if somebody is dishonest when it suits him then how can you trust anything he says?