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To Boycott or Not To Boycott: Why I don't think...

I have been tempted so many times to boycott an author or publisher, especially when I come across 200 page $22 hardcovers or a serial lack of copyediting. But in this case, in the aftermath of Signet’s response to the revelations regarding Cassie Edwards, I do not think boycotting is the best choice.

It seems to me that what many of us want is for publishers to strive for a higher ethical standard with the books they publish and thereby offer a higher level of respect to readers and to the whole cultural enterprise of literacy and business of publishing in general. But if that’s the goal, will the selective boycotting of the publisher accomplish that? I don’t think it will.

Instead, I think it will negatively impact authors, and in my opinion we need authors to be as motivated as possible to actively support a high ethical standard within the Romance community. If authors were leading the boycott charge, I could see following the lead, but they are not, and I understand why. Authors, especially those who do not have the history and the clout of Nora Roberts, may suffer in ways that simply take them out of the game as authors, and that, it seems to me, is exactly the opposite of what readers want to accomplish.

Instead, it seems to me that we want more partnership with authors who are themselves dedicated to a strong ethical advocacy in their writing and publishing communities. We want to offer those authors a show of support, not a disincentive for speaking out against plagiarism. We want them to feel empowered within their own writing communities to advocate for and write books that adhere to high ethical standards and to spread knowledge and awareness among themselves and to readers. We want them to be able, at some point, hopefully, to put pressure on publishers to do the same, and even, perhaps, to decide against remaining with a publisher that does not take a strong stance on behalf of intellectual honesty. For that, in my opinion, we need to be supporting them, not jeopardizing their livelihood as authors.

As far as creating pressure on a publisher, I don’t honestly think we could even generate enough support for a boycott that would meaningfully get a publisher to connect a drop in sales numbers with the ethical standard and reader respect we want publishers to embody. I think there are many cases in which economic pressure can act as an incentive to higher corporate standards, but the indirect nature of the reader’s relationship to the publisher makes it difficult to create that chain in a case like this. That doesn’t mean I think boycotting an author who has been found to have plagiarized or even authors who have expressed support for plagiarism is of the same character. In that case, I think there is a direct link between a reader’s dollars and a reader’s message.

I know readers feel helpless; at least I know I have been feeling helpless. I know I want to be treated better by a publisher like Penguin – I want to be regarded with far more integrity and respect than I felt was present in Signet’s “official statement.” And most importantly, I want the “business” of publishing to set the bar higher, especially when the downside of preventing intellectual theft and dishonesty is non-existent. If I really thought a boycott would work to accomplish this, I’d be on it in a heartbeat. But as things stand, I think it will actually undermine these goals, not promote them.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

26 Comments

  1. Bonnie L.
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 23:48:19

    Thank you, Janet for putting into bold words what many have been trying to say both here and on SBTB. I will not be boycotting Penguin because it is just too big of a jaggarnaut to feel the prick of my toothpick, however I have written them to give voice to my feelings. Heck, I’ll write them frequently if need be. Whatever it takes for them to take up the good fight against intellectual theft.

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  2. Jennifer McKenzie
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 23:59:10

    I think the most frustrating aspect of this to me is that it seems this isn’t being punished. No one seems to think it’s “WRONG”. I don’t care if it’s illegal. I don’t care what a jury says.
    If someone took a passage from my book and put it side by side with someone else’s and it was word for word, I’d be devastated!! IT’S WRONG!!!
    But the Janet Daily story opened up an ugly can of worms. Fifty years ago, her career would have been OVER. Just the accusation could have ended a writer’s career.
    Apparently, that is no longer the case.

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  3. Robin
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 00:07:36

    Bonnie: FWIW, I think persistent pressure, especially media pressure, is going to have more of an impact than any boycott ever could.

    Jennifer: Maybe because I’ve been in the position of dealing with plagiarism as a teacher, I don’t think in terms of “punishment,” but of responsibility. In other words, I want publishers to be responsive *before* things like this happen. I want them to be vetting manuscripts if that’s what it takes, and I want them to refrain from issuing statements like the one Signet did, which IMO was disrespectful to intelligent readers and made it appear that Signet does not take plagiarism seriously, contrary to its insistence otherwise. I want authors to be crafting an articulated common standard of practice for secondary material and plagiarism generally, and I want them to be self-policing. I want more discussion of these issues generally. I have no idea what I think should or shouldn’t happen to Edwards, although at the very least I don’t think any books containing plagiarized material should be published and sold. I know there have to be consequences, because otherwise where is the deterrent, but I think they should be decided on a case by case basis.

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  4. Shannon C.
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 00:39:52

    I’ve pretty much kept out of these discussions, though I’ve been watching them avidly, because it’s just easier for my sanity if I *watch* the trainwreck rather than participate. But I do agree entirely with this post. Penguin’s imprints publish a *lot* of romances that come out and I just don’t see what good a boycott would actually do. As for what I think should happen to Ms. Edwards, I really don’t know. I hope that at the very least she’s learned something about how to incorporate little factoids more smoothly into her work. Of course, I also hope that we can achieve world peace and feed starving children everywhere, and that’s not such a realistic hope at this point, so I don’t know if that counts for much.

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  5. Jane
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 01:12:39

    I definitely agree with the idea of responsibility. It was one of the things I saw lacking in the Dailey case and now this one.

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  6. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 06:41:25

    Jennifer: Maybe because I've been in the position of dealing with plagiarism as a teacher, I don't think in terms of “punishment,” but of responsibility.

    Well said. I’m not looking for some sort of ‘guilty’ verdict and I’m not interested in seeing some big fat P stamped across the brow of anybody that plagiarizes.

    What I would like to see is some personal accountability. You screw up, you get caught, you be adult enough to step up to the plate and offer apologies.

    And to refrain from repeating whatever behavior in the future.

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  7. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 06:57:24

    Reason #102 why I shouldn’t try to use brain power without first getting caffeine… forgetfulness.

    Totally forgot to say what I’d originally intended to say~

    Jane, thank you.

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  8. Nora Roberts
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 08:43:32

    A good, thoughtful post, Janet.

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  9. Aoife
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 08:55:40

    I will admit that my knee-jerk reaction after reading the Signet official response was along the lines of a boycott, but it took about 2 seconds of reflection to realize that boycotting was only going to punish the innocent.

    I’m cynical enough to think that there isn’t going to be much in the way of consequences for CE, or for Signet. I certainly don’t expect for her books to be pulled, but I would be thrilled to be proven wrong. What will be interesting to me is to see if any future books she publishes will contain the same blatant plagiarism, or if someone will at least teach her how to reword information correctly. I’m not holding my breath.

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  10. Bev Stephans
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 08:57:35

    I’m still going to boycott the Penguin Group because I feel strongly about this matter and I can’t, in good conscience, purchase their books until this matter of plagiarism is resolved. I realize that the economic impact on Penguin is minimal, but these are my feelings and I have to stay with them as long as the Penguin Group condones plagiarism.

    Hopefully, with the media attention, the Penguin Group will take care of this matter. Hopefully, the authors within the group will insist on higher standards for all of the publishing houses under the Penguin umbrella.

    I agree with Robin. Responsibility is the key!

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  11. Catherine
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 10:16:31

    I was going to boycott Penguin, but then I remembered how many of the authors that I love fall under their label. I try not to lie to myself and I know if I promised to boycott I would end up breaking that promise once an author I liked came out with a new book. But, I really wish none of the authors I like were affiliated with them because I would love to boycott. I am deeply disgusted by their lack of care about plagiarism. It pissed me off that part of the proceeds of the books I buy will go back to them. Even knowing that I will still buy some of their product because I am weak and need my book fix. However, I don’t plan to buy anything beyond my auto-buy authors.

    I know that this will affect authors more than the publishing house, but I am extremely nervous about the quality of work that they allow to be put out. I am confident about my best loved authors, but beyond that I don’t want to take a chance because I know I will spend all my time double checking facts instead of just enjoying the book.

    I know not everyone will agree with this stance, but I believe that everyone has to do what they are comfortable with. It’s the same as people who refuse to buy from Wal-Mart because of the sweatshop stigma or people who won’t by diamonds because they feel that they are funded by blood.

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  12. Catherine
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 10:20:39

    By double checking facts I meant googling them to see if any similarly worded entries came up… It didn’t sound right when I read it back to myself. Of course, that was after I had already posted.

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  13. KABee13
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 10:54:38

    (Also posted at SBTB)

    Many have talked about writing letters and boycotting Signet and/or the entire Penguin Group, not just CE. How many people are going to write their local bookstores, or the buyers for BN, Borders, BAM, etc? Spamming CE listings on Amazon is wrong (though deliciously satisfying in a junior high sort of way), but a true boycott of her work can be achieved in a rational, organized, mature, and suchlike fashion.

    Many of us reading and posting comments have mentioned, “But I *already* don't buy her garbage!”

    Helping educate those responsible for CE books reaching the store shelves, thus ringing up sales for her and Signet, would be a public service. A strongly worded letter to Signet/Penguin, book buyers, libraries, Independent Booksellers, companies that stock the big chain stores (Target, Wal-Mart, etc), Cassie Edwards herself, would be healthy avenues to pursue in a true boycott of a proven and unrepentant plagiarist. And thusly her publisher.

    Oftentimes the romance genre is maligned. If we defend it loudly and demand all authors be held to the same ethical standards, it can only chip away at that negative public image. No business should knowingly sell plagiarized work, legal or no, when so many other deserving authors deserve that shelf space. Have earned that shelf space. Letters far and wide will go a long way to 1) educate those who may not know the issue; 2) support the removal of Cassie Edwards' books from store shelves; 3) prove that the romance genre is full of smart people who demand the highest ethical standards-’no different from any other genre; and 4) send a loud and clear message that stealing is just plain wrong, in all forms. I trust business people will appreciate that stealing is wrong.

    I imagine the letter could be accompanied by links to all the appropriate places. Those who choose to continue with business as usual are free to do so-’but it will not be for lack of knowledge on their parts, or trying on ours.

    Kim B.

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  14. Susan Helene Gottfried
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 11:42:15

    I’ve long been playing with the idea of finding a way to be a louder advocate for the authors I love (or, as Janet says, who hold to a higher standard of literacy). The problem is the best way to implement this.

    Janet, you’re right. Too many authors lose their publishing careers as it is now, due to sales that aren’t meeting expectations. We shouldn’t jeopardize anyone else’s career because one person did something bad.

    But again, how do we push for what you said so well:
    we want more partnership with authors who are themselves dedicated to a strong ethical advocacy in their writing and publishing communities. We want to offer those authors a show of support, not a disincentive for speaking out against plagiarism. We want them to feel empowered within their own writing communities to advocate for and write books that adhere to high ethical standards and to spread knowledge and awareness among themselves and to readers. We want them to be able, at some point, hopefully, to put pressure on publishers to do the same, and even, perhaps, to decide against remaining with a publisher that does not take a strong stance on behalf of intellectual honesty. For that, in my opinion, we need to be supporting them, not jeopardizing their livelihood as authors.

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  15. Tracy
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 12:04:37

    I agree Jane. I’ve been saying this hear and at SBTB. Boycotting the publisher will hurt authors that have done nothing wrong.

    I’m all for punishing those that do wrong, but punishing the innocent has no value.

    That was my main argument, but I also agree with the fact that the boycott wouldn’t effect Penguin at all.

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  16. hotflashes51
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 13:02:38

    I will neither boycott or write a letter to Signet. I am just going to wait for the publisher and RWA investigation to form an opinion.

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  17. Carla Cassidy
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 13:16:57

    As a Signet author who works hard at each book I write, all this talk of a boycott of Signet books breaks my heart. Everyone wants the guilty party to ‘pay’ for what she’s done, but in talking about a boycott you’re asking all the authors who aren’t guilty to pay as well.

    I ask that all of you take a step back and think about what you want to accomplish, but please don’t throw the rest of the Signet authors under the bus!

    Thanks.

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  18. T. M. Blakeley
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 13:40:39

    Jane, Thanks for the informative and thoughtful article.

    As a reader, bookseller and writer…I feel very strongly about plagiarism. It is wrong to take someone else’s hard work and call it your own. However, to boycott an entire stable of writers for the mistakes/bad judgement of another is extreme.

    I will no longer buy a Cassie Edwards novel for my bookstore or for my own romance collection. I’ll stick to Nora Roberts, Laurell K. Hamilton and other authors.

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  19. Bernita
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 14:15:15

    IMO, a general boycott of Edwards’ publisher (and there are others besides Signet/Penguin) is ridiculous and empty threat, of which the only tangible effect would be to hurt other innocent authors.

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  20. Jeaniene Frost
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 14:26:23

    Like most people, I was shocked to see Signet’s response that C.E. had done nothing “wrong”. Whether she could get away with it legally is one thing (I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know), but the fact that she was WRONG seemed more than obvious. I hope Signet sees the light and revises their position, but in the interim, I’ll still buy from their other authors. It doesn’t seem fair to me to punish many for the crimes of one.

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  21. KABee13
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 14:26:45

    I agree with what Carla Cassidy wrote about not throwing the other hardworking Signet authors under the bus in talk of boycotting.

    Cassie Edwards is well beyond retirement age, has probably made enough money that she doesn’t necessarily need a whole lot more, and is not going to be appreciably affected in a material way from this issue. Her reputation is already in tatters, so it can’t get much worse on that front. Similarly, Signet/Penguin won’t see a marked decrease in their bottom line from random readers saying they won’t buy from that publisher out of protest. The only people who would suffer from a full-on Signet boycott are the authors who need support more than ever. It’s hard enough to get published and build a readership without having to shoulder the burden of someone else’s poor choices, namely an alleged plagiarist whom none of them have probably even met.

    The vigorous defense of ethical publishing practices is grand. In this case a targeted boycott of one plagiarist, or *ANY* plagiarist, would best be accomplished by going through the supply chain from the bottom up. Signet says, “Cassie did nothing wrong, and we love her to itty-bitty Savage pieces.” Okay, so we’ll just move along to the retailers and let them know exactly how we feel about seeing stolen goods for sale in their stores. They put books on shelves, so they can put someone else’s books on those shelves. If enough people insist that booksellers stop selling work of a plagiarist thief, then maybe we can send the same message to Signet, but through other channels.

    I think it’s a more powerful message to send to Signet that if they don’t clean house, then we’ll just throw out their garbage ourselves. They can put their own garbage on the curb, or we readers will work a little harder and do it for them. They want to keep selling a plagiarist? Fine. What shelves are they expecting to peddle their stolen and misbegotten prose?

    It makes no sense to punish those who are not responsible, for example Carla Cassidy and other authors who have spoken out so eloquently. I am not a believer in collateral damage. Where’s the love in that? Romance is about happy endings, which can be accomplished without harming the Signet authors who also support the high ethical standards we are seeking as readers.

    Maybe we can cc: the fine folks at Signet and Penguin every time we write to our retailer friends? Grandma Sheridan always said it was a shame no one writes letters anymore. :-)

    Kim B.

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  22. JoAnn Ross
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 17:03:16

    As another author who has my first book in two decades from Signet (my first publisher) coming out in three weeks, I agree with what Carla said about the talk of a boycott being heart-breaking. I believe in the power of boycotts. I’ve boycotted lettuce and grapes, which was really hard because it also meant giving up wine! But thank you, Janet, for the thoughtful statement about a Signet/Penguin boycott only harming the writers. I just turned in my hundredth book to my Signet editor, and it’s been admittedly unsettling the past few days to think that anyone might believe I’ve been cheating for twenty-five years. And none of the many wonderful Signet writers I know would cheat either. We have too much respect for our readers, other writers, and ourselves, to plagiarize — which is, absolutely, stealing, and always flat- out wrong.

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  23. Maya Reynolds
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 18:49:46

    I’m not a Signet author, but I am a Penguin author. I agree it would be the other hard-working Signet authors who would be most hurt by a boycott.

    I think there is a potential blowback for both Edwards and Signet, and it’s exactly the same response that Nora Roberts took.

    Unless the works that contained the original source material are already in the public domain, the authors of those works have legal recourse against both Edwards and Signet.

    In fact, were I Edwards, I’d be trying to track those folk down to offer my sincere apologies and offer a settlement before they did come after me.

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  24. JulieLeto
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 21:09:12

    Thanks for the awesome post.

    Another reason why I disagree with any kind of boycott (my own status as a Signet author notwithstanding) is that there is truly only one person responsible for plagiarism…the author.

    While I do not agree with Signet’s original statement in any shape or form, it is NOT up to Signet to police their authors for plagiarism. It is entirely up to the author to be ethical and honest in their work. So to punish other authors for the behavior of one is incredibly unfair.

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  25. KS Augustin
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 21:32:21

    Okay, this is also meant to bring a bit of humour to the situation …hey guys, why not try science-fiction romance? I mean, okay there may be research, but not as much. I might even come up with an advertising campaign…

    All those historicals getting you down?
    Not sure if you’re reading “weasel” words?
    Afraid you’re a victim of CutnPaste?

    Come over to the Other Side. You can still get adventures and romance in another time, but without the nasty side-effects.

    Pick up a Science-Fiction Romance today!

    What do you think? ;)

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  26. Sangeeta
    Jan 14, 2008 @ 11:04:10

    This is my first time posting to a blog (not sure how they work), so forgive any errors.

    Many have talked about writing letters and boycotting Signet and/or the entire Penguin Group, not just CE. How many people are going to write their local bookstores, or the buyers for BN, Borders, BAM, etc?

    Funny you should say this–I did EXACTLY that when the whole Janet Daily plagiarism broke out–I emailed B&N (we listen at bn.com) and told them what was going on and why were they still carrying Daily’s books?

    The response I got was, as long as the “actual books” that outed her for plagiarizing wasn’t on the shelf, they weren’t doing anything wrong or something along those lines.

    Me being a die-hard Nora Roberts fan, did my part. I was working at B&N part time, and pulled ALL the Daily books I could find and put them in the receiving areas. Whenever a customer would purchase a Daily, I’d say to them: “You do know that she’s a plagiarist, don’t you?

    A bit extreme? I didn’t think so, considering I was doing what I could at the time. *shrugs*

    As for CE, don’t read her, never wanted to, she didn’t pique my interest, but I did let the B&N I used to work at, know what was going on.

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