Parsing the B. Simone Plagiarism Story

It could have very easily been avoided...

Update: Just before this post was set to go live (but after composition), B. Simone responded on Instagram reiterating that it was the team she worked with that committed the plagiarism but admitted she “dropped the ball”. She also says she takes full responsibility as the CEO of her brand.

B. Simone, perhaps best known for her role on Wild ‘N Out, is a singer, actress and comedian who sought to add another title to her growing list: Author.

However, that did not go as smoothly as she had likely hoped. In March, she published her book Baby Girl: Manifest The Life You Want, a guide that she had hoped would help others find their own paths to success fortune.

In promoting the book, she described it as “personal” and said that, “I put my heart into this book and I know it’s going to help so many people all over the world!”

However, on June 13th allegations began to swirl that portions of the book were lifted from other, lesser-known creators. The initial volley came from Ell Duclos of Boss Girl Bloggers, who, in a Tweet, highlighted that a list from B. Simone’s book was identical to one she had released earlier.

Soon others also chimed in pointing out additional overlaps, always focusing in on the lists, guides and other elements in the book.

This lead to a firestorm of controversy surrounding B. Simone, who already faced backlash for earlier statements on the ongoing civil unrest in the United States and whether entrepreneurs should date non-entrepreneurs.

B. Simone’s manager, Mary Seats, stepped in and said that the issue was not with B. Simone’s writing, but with a design firm that they had hired to finish the work. The went on to say that they are engaged in a lawsuit with the firm and are “trying to work this out.”

Others also defended B. Simone, most notably rapper Meek Mills, saying in one tweet, “B Simone canceled because she finnesed a book and made her way from the bottom lol what major companies y’all cancel for ripping our culture off?”

However, he later added that he never looked into what she was accused of and, instead, was attempting to make a broader point.

In the end, the book itself is no longer for sale on B. Simone’s website. Through it is available on Amazon and other retailers, those do not appear to be official releases.

While this doesn’t seem like it will be the end of the tale, there’s still plenty to unpack and examine.

Analyzing the Plagiarism

The plagiarism itself is extremely clear-cut. The examples given point to the book having line-for-line and word-for-word copy/paste. One even included the design elements from the original. If those pages weren’t copied from the sources provided, then they clearly share a common source. In short, there’s no way that they were B. Simone’s own words.

However, that’s not something that B. Simone, or at least her manager, denies. They seem to admit that there is plagiarized content in the book and, instead, put the blame a design company that they worked with to produce the book.

That explanation is actually possible. Though we, as outsiders, have no way of knowing exactly what parts of the book were written by whom, it is not outlandish for lists, inserts and other elements to be written by a third party.

I ran into this in my consulting practice. I was called in to investigate alleged plagiarism in a textbook and found that it was isolated to the captions and questions, elements not written by the named authors. They had worked with a third-party firm to do the design and editing of the book and those elements were from that company.

That said, if content is shown to be plagiarized that is from the main text of the work, that would be a very different matter. But, as of right now, all of the allegations center around lists and activities, things that B. Simone may well have not written.

However, this doesn’t completely excuse B. Simone in this case. Whenever you publish a book with your name on it and claim the work to be yours, you have a responsibility to ensure that work is honest. Even if that work is written by a ghostwriter, you still bear the responsibility for it as it is your reputation and your brand that’s on the line.

We’ve seen this before. Back in 2013, Jane Goodall was accused of plagiarizing in her book Seeds of Hope but Goodall put the blame on her co-author. In a more recent case, the Christine Serruya plagiarism scandal featured a plagiarizing romance author who, in turn, put the blame on her ghostwriter. There was plenty of warning that something like this could happen, but that warning was not heeded.

Clearly, B. Simone nor anyone on her team did their due diligence with this book. A cursory plagiarism check likely would have spotted these issues and put the matter to rest before it was ever published. While this is a service I provide at my consulting site, it’s something that nearly any publisher should be able to do themselves.

Even if B. Simone is not the one who put in the plagiarized sections, the lack of due diligence doesn’t paint her or this work in the best of light. For someone whose message is all about hard work and sticking with it, this story greatly undermines her message.

Bottom Line

To be clear, there are elements of this story that I’m not focusing on but I do feel are extremely important. For example, B. Simone, who is black, is accused of plagiarizing from both white and black creators. Part of this story has been the backlash against the backlash and whether black women should be “canceling” other black women.

This was highlighted in Meek Mill’s tweets who said that there is no similar push to cancel companies that rip off black culture. This is obviously an important point and worthy of discussion but I am not the one to have it. I am neither an expert in the field nor do I have personal experience with these issues. There are much more important voices in this space and I don’t wish to take away from them.

However, from a pure plagiarism standpoint, it’s pretty clear that B. Simone’s book contained significant plagiarized portions. While blaming the errors on a third-party design firm might seem like an excuse, it very easily could be the truth.

Given that the overlapping content, as of this writing, is limited to lists and quizzes, it’s very plausible those were not written by B. Simone herself and, instead, were from a publisher, editor or designer. That is a very common way of assembling book such as these.

Still, that raises questions about the diligence that was put into the book and whether B. Simone or her team performed the needed checks to ensure that the outside content was not plagiarized. It’s an important step but one that many publishers do forgo.

If I were a member of B. Simone’s team, I would start getting ahead of this. Share the lawsuit that was filed and explain in detail how it happened. Transparency is the only real path forward. Otherwise, these allegations will continue to follow her and, given her message of hard work and perseverance, will undermine her at every turn.

People tend to be forgiving of past mistakes when it comes to plagiarism, but only when that forgiveness has been earned.

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