The first call usually comes around the beginning of October. "Hi, Anne. It's Ken. Are you ready to work?"
As if I wouldn't be. But Ken likes to check up on his stable of writers, just in case.
I do the kind of work you do when a degree in the humanities from an Ivy League university and a meticulously forged resumé fail to deliver on their promise of prestigious employment: I write academic papers for students who then plagiarize them. From early October to the middle of May, I help other people acquire completely spurious degrees, which they will then use to get the sort of job that has eluded me for most of my life. In the summer, I take a break and ponder the ironies of the situation.
When I first started in this line of work, my family's reaction was, "You should be ashamed of yourself!" This was not surprising, since several of my relatives are academics. But later, like many people who know what I do, their prurient curiosity got the better of them. What were the clients like? Dumb and demanding. Was it true that you could tailor an essay to get a specific grade? No, of course not. That's an urban myth started by the terrified professors who see the plagiarism industry as a sort of invincible Leviathan out to destroy the sacred groves of academe. The truth is, a client pays his money and takes his chances. Essay writers work as little as possible and hate clients who have unreasonable expectations, just like everybody else.
Not surprisingly, low-ranking universities have a bigger plagiarism problem than well-respected institutions. In some cases, this reaches epidemic proportions: there's one university in North America (whose name rhymes with dork) that seems to have a student body composed entirely of cheaters. This comes as no surprise to those who have heard the jokes: "All you need to get into Dork is a thousand dollars and a heartbeat." (This was before rising tuition costs.) Or "If you can't go to university, go to Dork."
But the school is not alone. Thanks to the Internet, we get clients from all over the English-speaking world. British and American orders are not unheard of. Still, it's true that most business is local, which explains why essay agencies cluster around the periphery of universities and colleges the same way whorehouses cluster around mining camps.
Universities try vigorously, but rarely competently, to defend themselves against professional writers. A few years back, an essay agency succeeded in placing a discount coupon ("Buy 10 essays, get the 11th free") in the survival kit given to first-year students at Ryerson. For weeks, no one noticed.
Writers who get into this business are initially attracted to the prospect of the easy money. Essays cost at least $26 a page, with a five-page minimum order. (We throw in the bibliography for free.) If the money isn't enough, there's also the thrill of living on the edge. While no customer has ever pulled a gun on me, we do keep an aluminum baseball bat at the office for those times when an irate client, driven over the brink of madness by an unsatisfactory essay, decides to seek redress the quick and dirty way.
Sometimes they'll send angry e-mails: "On yur last esay, there was a typo on pag 7!!! Im a good customr I exspect beter servis than this!"
Soon enough, however, the writer realizes that the job is one of almost ceaseless boredom punctuated by aggravation. The writer who stays longer than a few months usually has some deep-seated personality flaw that makes him unfit for normal employment. But whether it's a predisposition to artsiness or an attraction to fringe politics, there is one constant: the writer is usually a misfit.
This is not always a problem. Back in the 40s, I'm told, anyone could parlay knowledge of Old Norse and a doctoral dissertation on propaganda during the English Civil War into a career in the CIA. If you were really hell-bent on writing, there were the tried and true literary marketplaces. But today, no literary magazine, no matter how bottom-feeding, will admit that writing can be done by rote.
Even handbooks on how to write "erotica" (read: forge letters to Penthouse) admonish you to take the job at hand with a proper degree of gravity. And when even pornography starts to take itself seriously, people like me, who would once have made a career of writing formulaic twaddle, have nowhere no turn but academe.
Anne Moore is a pseudonym.