Until February 19th, 2019, most people in the romance world wouldn’t have been able to pick Cristiane Serruya out of a line-up. Yet the woman seemed to lead a successful career. A Brazilian lawyer by day and by night she was a romance novelist, mainly of contemporary romances, one of which—part of the One Heart boxed set—reached the New York Times’ bestseller list in 2017. It’s the kind of romancelandia success story that’s been repeated again and again as Amazon digital purchases have taken the place of brick and mortar bookshops and mall stores throughout the world.
It’s been a cultural sea of change not without its rough waters; there have been recent scandals involving book stuffers and plagiarists, a lack of quality oversight that has caused multiple problems with authors padding their books out by hundreds pages of previews for other books or participating in click farming and review trading to push their books up the Amazon bestseller lists. But there were none yet as large as the storm that Serruya was about to kick to life.
Yes, the veneer of success and respectability that once gilt Serruya’s career quickly fell away when the truth behind her world came to light. And all it took was one sharp-eyed fan telling one plagiarism victim what she’d read to unravel the web.
It all began with Courtney Milan. The well-known novelist has two things in common with the woman who victimized her: she’s a lawyer and she’s been a New York Times bestseller herself. But Milan is a smart, tough woman who knows bullshit when she sees it after a fan told Milan that Serruya had plagiarized several scenes in Royal War from Milan’s book The Duchess War. Milan produced not just one instance of blatant copying but hundreds; she laid out Serruya’s plagiarism for all to see on a blog entry on her website. Milan also chronicled the brewing storm on Twitter, where she dubbed the plagiarist #copypastecris.
Dozens of authors soon realized that Milan wasn’t Serruya’s only victim. Indeed, many romance novelists had been ripped off by #copypastecris. From Tessa Dare to Bella Andre, readers and authors teamed up in the hashtag to discover that Serruya had directly lifted passages from over thirty novels (note: this is not entirely definitive and simply the current total at press time). Not even magazines were spared, as at least two recipes were lifted and used in Serruya’s stories and her ecookbook series which were released as companion volumes to her novels, as well as direct passages from two articles about wedding cake traditions and domestic abuse.
When Serruya returned to defend herself, her replies were odd, to say the least. At first, she tried to claim on Tiwtter that the incident was a mistake:
“Wow, wow, wow. I just wake up to this. How could I have been plagiarizing 5 authors? I love your books, @TessaDare and I am a lawyer. I’d never do such a thing,” she wrote. “I just woke up to distressing news that my work has plagiarism from other authors. I am taking down all the works I did with a ghostwriter on Fiverr —who btw has closed the account—until I have made certain this is solved.”
Serruya seemed ignorant of the fact that admitting to using a ghostwriter on Fivver was proof enough that her words were not her own and, worse yet, that she’d published it without even rereading the material she’d paid for, and thus kept digging her own hole. While Serruya claimed she would return with proof that she hadn’t plagiarized any of the authors, she disappeared from all of her social media after that statement. By then, several of those ghostwriters surfaced in Courtney Milan’s comments to state their cases. Each had a similar story to share—Serruya gave them a pile of disparate, plagiarized passages and said that they needed “expanding,” apparently assuming that the ghostwriters would rewrite the material with those “expansions” to the point that the plagiarism would no longer seem obvious. The ghostwriters, not being genre savvy, believed her at her word and did so, but Serruya had the gumption to avoid paying at least one by claiming that her daughter’s illness had depleted her finances.
The commenter claims to be a ghostwriter that #CopyPasteKris used, and says that she was given a handful of scenes to help flesh into a book. She claims those scenes were likely plagiarized.
— Courtney Milan 🦖 (@courtneymilan) February 19, 2019
Serruya ultimately took the easy way out in the face of the overwhelming evidence stacked against her; deleting her Twitter and webpage, and then she then tried to scrub the offending passages out of the Kindle copies of her books. All that remains of her social media presence is her Goodreads homepage, where people are busy downvoting her novels and remarking upon the scandal.
In the wake of her scandal, the Romance Writers of America, which runs the prestigious in-genre award the RITAS, have removed Serruya’s book from this year’s running. Milan, meanwhile, is trying to organize the offended parties in the wake of the mess, helping them file claims with the RWA against Serruya, report the offending copies to digital retailers, and generally find support with one another in this post.
And just when the situation had begun to quite down, Serruya resurfaced in an interview with Lucas Mota of Medium, who also managed to find yet a fourth person whom Serruya used as a ghostwriter and has even thrown some doubt in the veracity of the five star reviews attached to her various novels on Amazon and Goodreads.
In the interview, Serruya continues to blame her ghostwriters for plagiarizing the various authors and “ripping her off” while declaiming her innocence as a writer, lawyer, and charitable person. Serruya also blames bad advice that pushed her into a one-book-a-month schedule as well as her tendency to plot backwards for her need to use a ghostwriter in the first place. “I have many ideas, so many that I can’t handle, and the ghostwriters were just to help me in some parts/scenes, never to write the whole book. I often write with ice on my hands to ease the pain,” she claims.