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.