If you’re on Romancelandia socials – especially Twitter – you won’t be unfamiliar with the various scandals that regularly seem to rock our romance bookish fandom.
While we’re privy to all kinds of drama and wrongdoing – one seems to be repeated with disturbing regularity. Plagiarism.
Yes, despite well publicised scandals, lawsuits and grovelling apologies, people continue to take the words of another and try to pass them off as their own. While – as far as I know – plagiarising full books is rare (except those people who pretend to be the author in question and upload the books to Amazon), people have been caught copying full scenes, paragraphs and concepts. They change it up a bit so as to not be so obvious – or so they believe – but thankfully they still get caught.
The ‘why’ of plagiarising still continues to baffle me. You spend all that time looking for, and then stealing, another person’s hard work, so why not use that time and effort to write your own book that you can be proud of?
For those unfamiliar with plagiarism in the romance community, I’ve pulled together a list of those who were found to be stealing the words of others. While most have rightly hidden themselves away, some are shockingly still writing and publishing romance novels. Hopefully this time, however, it’s their own work.
Plagiariser: Janet Dailey
Person they stole from: Nora Roberts (yep, really)
Details: Back in the day, a keen eyed reader spotted that a Janet Dailey book she was reading was identical to a Nora Roberts novel she had previously read. Roberts – being the boss bitch that she is – sued. Dailey eventually admitted that she’d copied no less than 3 books from Roberts, blaming a psychological condition she hadn’t realised she had for her actions. Whaaaat?
Outcome: Roberts won the case and donated her reparations to Literacy Volunteers of America. See, boss bitch! Dailey didn’t apologise and while she was dropped by her publisher, she was soon back and is still publishing books despite passing away in 2013.
What’s worse is the way that the whole saga was represented in the media. Instead of having sympathy for what Roberts called “mind rape”, the media mocked the romance industry and portrayed Roberts as an unsympathetic character who was being overly dramatic in her upset.
This still makes me super mad and I can’t fathom how anyone could support Janet Dailey by reading her books – then or now.
“If you plagiarise, I will come for you.”Nora Roberts
Plagiariser: Barbara Cartland
Person they stole from: Georgette Heyer (again, yes really!)
Details: A fan of the English novelist, Georgette Heyer, wrote to advise her that Barbara Cartland was “making good use” of Heyer’s books. Heyer, as you would imagine, spent days researching the alleged plagiarism and found Cartland’s books to have lifted characters, names and places from Heyer’s own books, and in the case of Knave of Hearts, had directly copied the plot as well as the names and places. Several strongly worded letters were sent by Heyer to her publisher expressing (in deliciously descriptive language) her wrath at being copied and her interest in pursuing court action.
Outcome: While we don’t know if any action was eventually taken by either Heyer or her publisher, Heyer did state in a subsequent letter that the “horrible copies” of her books finally stopped. Furthermore, Knave of Hearts was renamed in 1976 with a subheading stating the book was “in the Tradition of Georgette Heyer”. An admission? We’ll probably never know!
Plagiariser: Cristiane Serruya aka #CopyPasteCris
Person they stole from: Courtney Milan, Bella Andre, Tessa Dare, Loretta Chase, Lynne Graham, Nora Roberts (fucks sake), Golden Angel, Kerrelyn Sparks, Victoria Alexander and many others
Details: Bestselling Brazilian romance author, Cristiane Serruya, was outed on Twitter by fans of Courtney Milan when they spotted distinctive passages of Milan’s best-selling book in Serruya’s own novel. Twitter sleuths then identified at least 4 more best-selling romance novelists that Serruya had apparently copied. Then, as you can imagine from the list of affected authors above, the victims just kept on coming as more and more authors discovered they had been stolen from.
Outcome: Serruya responded to the allegations with surprised denials which quickly turned to blame as she realised there was no talking her way out of the mess. She claimed a ghostwriter she hired to write her books must have copied the passages without her knowledge. Sure. Sure. Serruya can still be found on Amazon and at least one of “her” novels are still for sale although I understand she can no longer collect royalties on any book sold in her name after a successful injunction by Roberts. Her name is mud in Romancelandia so any return to “writing” romance probably isn’t in the cards for her.
“…it is stomach-churning to read what someone else has done to butcher a story that I wrote with my whole heart…”Courtney Milan
Plagiariser: S. M. Soto
Person they stole from: Kim Jones, Sylvia Day and Pepper Winters
Details: Twitter to the rescue again as eagle eyed fans noticed that S.M. Soto had blatantly copied Kim Jones’ romance novel, That Guy. S.M. Soto apparently did a quick cover job on the scenes she’d been called out over, then released a rambling Facebook message that apologised to no-one, played the COVID card and called the whole thing a ‘misunderstanding’.
Outcome: While her socials have all disappeared, S.M. Soto still has a web presence and her (whoops, I mean Kim Jones’) books are still for sale on Amazon under Soto’s name. Please – don’t buy them. Don’t support a thief.
Plagiariser: Romilly King
Person they stole from: Various fanfic authors
Details: Voracious reader and Twitter user, @KokomRoily was reading a Romilly King erotic romance novel when they realised the story felt familiar. Too familiar. A bit of research led them to the realisation that Romilly King had plagiarised works from several fanfic authors, and was now passing them off as her own.
Outcome: While stealing from fanfic authors may seem like a ‘safer bet’ than stealing from, say, Nora Roberts, fandoms are notoriously fierce and the affected authors rallied, filing claims to get King’s books removed from Amazon. Meanwhile Romilly went suspiciously quiet and although her Twitter and website have disappeared, her Facebook and Amazon page remain, as do many of ‘her’ books.
Sadly, this case also proves that plagiarism doesn’t just affect those who have their stories stolen. Voice-over artists who narrated King’s books took to Twitter to distance themselves from her. So too did King’s editors and other author’s who shared said editor. King will hopefully stay away but she’s left quite a pile of devastation from her duplicity.
Plagiariser: Sam Taylor Mullens aka Tiffany Rushton
Person they stole from: Rachel Ann Nunes, Chase Weston and others
Details: Wow! You couldn’t make this stuff up! When Rachel Ann Nunes learnt that her book had been plagiarised, she couldn’t have known that that was the least of her worries. The books in question were practically identical, other than the fact that Mullens’ ripoff contained explicit sex while the original tale did not. Ms Nunes reached out to Mullens as well as reviewers that had received the book. The bloggers agreed to remove or update their reviews but Mullens… well, not so much. Instead of admitting her plagiarism, or just slinking away, she started harassing Ms Nunes. She set up multiple accounts on Amazon, Goodreads, email sites and bombarded Nunes with messages calling her out for being unprofessional, nasty, vile and, you guessed it, the real plagiariser! Mullens also systematically went through all of Nunes’ books and rated them 1 star. When her real identity was discovered, Mullens – or should I say Tiffany Rushton – started saying that she was Nunes’ niece and had actually given her the idea for the book. Then, when that lie was outed, she claimed she and Nunes were writing partners.
It didn’t stop there, however. It turned out that Rushton was a school teacher (God help us!) and she’d used the children from her class as identities for the aliases. When this was discovered, Rushton made new accounts under the names of the childrens’ parents and bombarded Nunes with messages in support of Rushton. Even when apparantly removed from her teaching job, Rushton continued her harassment.
Outcome: This nightmare for Rachel Ann Nunes started in 2014. It wasn’t until 2018 that it was finally over – if indeed it will ever be truly over. Nunes won her copyright case and received an “apology” from Rushton – for the copyright only and not for the subsequent harassment. The fact that the harassment happened at all, from someone who KNEW what she’d done, shows that she’s not in the least bit sorry. It came out in court that Rushton had not only plagiarised Nunes, but also Chase Weston, who wrote a memoir of his time at war, as well as 2 other undisclosed authors. And that’s those that are known. Even more shockingly, Rushton apparently remains in the teaching profession.
“The stories that we write are the one thing that the people can never take from us, they will always belong to us.”claire ryan, the Plagiarism slayer
Plagiariser: Aria Cole
Person they stole from: Ainsley Booth & Sadie Haller
Details: Ainsley Booth and Sadie Haller collaborated on their short and kinky BDSM romance about the Prime Minister of Canada, releasing it in 2016, hot on the heels of Justin Trudeau’s victory. The book was simply titled Prime Minister. A few months later came a book by Aria Cole called Yes, Prime Minister. Sure, Justin Trudeau probably inspired a number of romantic fantasies but this book had similar names, similar situations, similar scenes – everything was just, well, similar. Booth (aka Zoe York) reported it to Amazon.
Outcome: Sadly, no action could or would be taken by Amazon. This is what’s known as mosaic plagiarism, where someone takes a concept and structure and reuses the mix of words, phrases, names and ideas to ‘create’ their own version. So since Cole didn’t directly copy passages, it didn’t reach the threshold for Amazon to remove it. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether this is ethical or not. And since both books are still available, you can do your own research.
Plagiariser: Laura Harner aka L.E. Harner
Person they stole from: Becky McGraw and Opal Carew
Details: Becky McGraw was alerted by a fan that one of her books had been plagiarised back in 2015. Fellow author, Jenny Trout, expanded on the allegations, providing compelling proof that one Laura Harner had copied – at times verbatim – from McGraw’s novel. The twist? Harner had taken McGraw’s M/F romance and changed it to M/M. Probably in the hopes that she would be less likely to get caught thinking readers don’t read both. Who knows?
In that blog post by Jenny Trout, a reader mentioned that she’d spotted that another Laura Harner novel bore a striking resemblance to a novel by Opal Carew. Jenny Trout did some digging and found more unmitigating proof of the plagiarism.
When confronted, Harner claimed she’d made mistakes and violated her own code of ethics. Eh – ya think? Another “apology” that is no such thing!
Outcome: The books that were proven to be plagiarised were removed from Amazon. The others whose true authors have yet to come forward, are still for sale on Amazon and many are seemingly unaware of this “author’s” dubious practices. Thankfully for all of us, it appears she hasn’t written/stolen a story since 2016.
Plagiariser: Kay Manning aka Payton Bradshaw, Kristal Singletary and K.S. Manning
Person they stole from: Liz Fielding, Julia Kenner, Catherine Mann, Linda Ford, Valerie Hansen, Lori Foster and Marie Ferrarella
Details: A reader downloaded and read a free romance short story from the site Smashwords only to realise that she’d read the story before. This story was word for word the same as one of prolific romance author, Liz Fielding’s, just with changed title and character names. The reader contacted Ms Fielding who published a blog post calling out the theft.
Internet sleuths got to work (seriously, if I ever get murdered I want these ladies to solve my case. Because they would!). They searched for the plagiarist, finding her and her pseudonyms. They also identified 5 other authors that Manning had stolen from. In fact, not only did Manning steal from 6 well-known authors and the high-profile publishers that released their books, but her posts on her (now defunct) blog were stolen from other bloggers and writers including some from the NY Post.
Manning did respond to the controversy. Apparently she had one of Liz Fielding’s stories on a Word document on her computer (how, exactly?) and she’d popped it into the wrong folder. When she ‘found’ this story, realised she was a literary genius and had forgotten how talented she was, she promptly released the story. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! If this is the extent of her storytelling then there’s a reason she “had” to steal in order to become a published author.
Outcome: A “real” apology was issued by Manning but, hey, more likely she’s just sorry she got caught. She resigned from her role as an RWA Chapter Treasurer (nope, you could not make this stuff up!), her blog and socials were deleted and the books under her name were removed from Amazon.
Her name is still listed as an author of the plagiarised books on Goodreads which are also still listed there. That annoys the shit outta me and, personally, I feel they should be removed permanently, or at the very least redirected to the books by the rightful authors.
Liz Fielding commented (see comments below) that Harlequin went after Manning on behalf of their authors and managed to win some money back. Hopefully the other authors affected did the same and were similarly able to get at least some compensation from Manning’s deceit. Yet even with the “apology” and compensation, I’m sure all authors involved feel lasting repercussions from this event.
2023 Update: I recently received an email from Kay, the plagiariser in this case!! I’m deliberately not calling her by her real name to afford her some privacy. That might sound strange after the above, but I have to say that her email has left me with very mixed emotions. I suppose it’s easy to imagine people who plagiarise as one-dimensional ‘baddies’ instead of nuanced, layered people. Now I’m not mitigating anything that this person has done, or the harm and inconvenience done to the victims, but I have to say I now believe that she has genuine remorse and feels very badly for what she did. In fact, she wasn’t emailing me to say that she was sorry, or try to defend herself or her actions. No, she was emailing to ask if there was any way I could help her to remove the books on Goodreads that were still listed under her name. In the end, she accomplished the task herself and those books are indeed now removed from the Goodreads catalogue. Yes, my thoughts are a bit tangled with this one but I thank Kay for reaching out to me. In my world, I like things black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. And while I am glad that there were repercussions – financial and reputational – for the plagiarism, I wouldn’t want someone to think that this issue defined their life. You might continually regret it, feel embarrassed about it, feel the need to apologise for it, sure – but you don’t need to continue to flog and or berate yourself for it.
I was tempted to edit my above ramblings about Kay’s case but, in the interest of not being a hypocrite, I decided to leave it so that I could, from time to time, read it and regret my words. The harsh ones, anyway.
And I’m also not for one second suggesting that those Kay plagiarised should feel any sort of sympathy for her. And who knows, I may well be being taken for a ride. But I do think her remorse was genuine and hopefully everyone involved in this case gets resolution and peace.
Plagiariser: Cassie Edwards
Person they stole from: Paul Tolmé, George Bird Grinnell, Luther Standing Bear, Charles Alexander Eastman, Minnesota Historical Society, Virginia Cole Trenholm, Maurine Carley, George Amos Dorsey, Gene Weltfish, N. Scott Momaday and Oliver La Farge (Pulitzer Prize Winner, 1930)
Details: I had actually never heard of Cassie Edwards until I started looking into her plagiarism but she had apparently written over 100 novels, many of which were Native American romances. While my attention was first drawn to this case in a random Grunge article, it was actually Smart Bitches Trashy Books who first broke the story of Edwards’ thefts back in 2008. A very dedicated readathon followed and it was found that direct passages were copied and pasted from many others’ books into Edwards’ own novels.
The slight twist in this case was that the books that Cassie Edwards plagiarised were, for the most part, non-fiction titles, memoirs or historical texts, including one on black footed ferrets or some such. When she did decide to steal from a fiction novel, she choose to steal from a Pulitzer Prize Winning author. Not that it matters but duh! I’ve seen some argue that this case of plagiarism isn’t as bad as others since the passages were factual and helped folk learn. But no – stealing is stealing, children – no matter who you steal from. No matter what you steal.
As seems to be the norm in these cases, flat out denials came from Ms Edwards. Then ignorance as she claimed she didn’t know she had to cite sources and that “you’re not asked to do that.” I mean, nobody’s ever explicitly told me that I shouldn’t steal a cake from a bakery then sell it, passing it off as my own but perhaps some people just need a wee bit more hand-holding in life than others! When that didn’t fly, Ms Edwards (according to a now defunct post on Dear Author) allegedly stated: “I feel picked on now as our Native American Indians have always been picked on throughout history. I am trying to spread the word about them and what do I get? Spiteful women who have found a way to bring attention to themselves, by getting in the media in this horrible way.” I honestly have no words.
Outcome: After a bit of back and forth, Cassie Edwards was dropped by her main publisher, Signet but continued to be published by Dorchester and Kensington. (Not a good look, guys). The Romance Writer’s of America subsequently revoked Edwards’ place on their Roll of Honor.
Cassie Edwards never admitted her guilt, never apologised – in fact, never even admitted she’d done anything wrong.
Edwards is still listed on Romance Wikipedia as “the world’s most successful author of American Indian historical romance novels” and her author bio on Goodreads is disgustingly fawning.
Cassie Edward’s last published novel was Savage Dawn in 2009. She died in 2016.
There’s a Listopia on Goodreads called The Cassie Edwards Library of Plagiarism if you want to check out the many, many, many books and authors she stole from.
Although not romance, I feel JoJo Moyes deserves an honorary mention on this list. Read more about her book The Giver of Stars which contains “alarming similarities” to an earlier work by Michele Richardson.
And don’t get me started on the ridiculous Faleena Hopkins who tried to copyright the word ‘cocky’ then tell the whole of Romancelandia that they were being sued for copyright infringement for using it. Idiot! If you’re interested you HAVE to read this hilarious blog post, again from Jenny Trout.
Sources / Further Reading
- https://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/saturday-news-no-deals-just-stupidity-and-smashwords-concedes-to-paypal-terms/ (now defunct)
- https://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/cassie-edwards-plagiarism-recap/ (now defunct)
- https://sites.duke.edu/unsuitable/plagiarism-in-romantic-fiction (now defunct)
- https://sites.duke.edu/unsuitable/plagiarism-in-regency-romance (now defunct)