An Unpleasant Exercise in Plagiarism

I haven’t been around much this week.  There are so many things I’d meant to post about, from this week’s Find That Book (ghost stories!) to a give away for ARCs of Two Wars and a Wedding on Goodreads.  But I haven’t done any of that because instead I found myself plunged into a deeply unsettling brush with plagiarism which has consumed my time and energy for the past few days.

There is something particularly special about your first book— which may be why I was so gutted to learn that someone is passing off a bowdlerized version of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation as her own work, under a different title, and with most (but not all) of the names changed.

It wasn’t just that this author used my plot (which she did), or that she used my characters (which she did– including a certain parasol-wielding chaperone turned novelist). I’ve always firmly believed that it isn’t the story that matters so much as the manner of telling it. There are, after all, only so many stories in the world, and one can tell them a thousand different ways. That’s where the sting comes in: this author not only used my story, she used my words. Not the odd fragment of a phrase here and there. Whole paragraphs. Whole chapters. She used my words and called them her own.

There is something very unsettling about looking at a page in someone else’s book and seeing lines you can vividly remember writing in your tiny room in a shared grad student apartment in Cambridge back in 2001– lines you labored over and chortled over, lines that made it through multiple rounds of cuts and edits, lines that were published in a shiny new hardcover in January of 2005 that you paged through and wondered over and marveled that your words– YOUR words– were in this actual physical book that would go into bookstores and people might even read.

Or, someday, plagiarize.

This is what plagiarism looks like.  On the left, you can see the page from the 2005 hardcover edition of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.  On the right, you can see the infringing work.

It’s not ambiguous.  It’s not subtle.  It’s a word for word copy– with the names changed.  It is a textbook definition of plagiarism.

If you want more examples, I can give you roughly three hundred pages of them.

I want to thank the amazing member of this community who read an ARC of the book in question and went running for her old copy of Pink to compare passages and then sent it all to me. I’m so grateful.

Appropriately enough, the bit she first sent me was the line about the Marchioness of Uppington’s famed harrumph.  I do feel that Lady Uppington would be harrumphing very pointedly at this sort of behaviour.

I won’t deny that I’m deeply upset and unsettled and all sorts of other unhappy words right now— but along with it is an overwhelming gratitude for the seventeen years and twelve Pink Carnation books that have occurred since I first held that shiny new hardcover, for the community we’ve built here, for the “design Miss Gwen a coat of arms” contests, and the Pinkoramae, and the Read Alongs, and so much more.

An unscrupulous person can steal the words of that first Pink book— or even the words of the second and third Pink books (apparently this is the first in a series, so one does wonder if the second will involve floppy locks of hair and ginger biscuits)— but no one can steal the fun we’ve had here together or the memories we’ve shared. And for that— for YOU— I am more grateful than I can say.

And if you happen upon a book that sounds suspiciously like Pink Carnation… it just might be.

In the meantime, the appropriate channels are being pursued and I’m trying to take a deep breath, pick up the pieces, return to the books I’m meant to be writing and the posts I’m meant to be posting, and spend some time with my poor children, who have been given short shrift these past few days while I’ve been distracted and distressed.

So many thanks to everyone who has reached out with support and sympathy.  It means the world to me.

Hopefully, this will be the last I say about this– and my last brush with plagiarism!

Stay tuned for a new Find That Book and a post about Goodreads give aways coming up shortly….


  1. Elizabeth (AKA Miss Eliza) on October 13, 2022 at 8:06 pm

    Ugh, The Sapphire Sphinx!?! That’s just, wrong. I mean, it just sounds cut rate.

    • Elizabeth (AKA Miss Eliza) on October 13, 2022 at 11:53 pm

      I’m also now saying it in a very Monty Python Pontius Pilate way.

  2. UnreachableShelf on October 14, 2022 at 4:18 pm

    Aside from the obvious “Ugh,” my other thought is “Is plagiarizing an author who literally has a J.D. from Harvard Law not obviously enough a bad idea?”

    • Carla on October 14, 2022 at 7:51 pm

      Oh man, I’m so sorry Lauren, that is horrible!! I’ve always wondered with so many people out there and so many books what would happen if someone has an idea for a book that has already been written, does your editor I wondered, need to search all the books out there? Seems impossible… this of course is very different! Verbatim, word by word…crazy!!! I know you said you don’t want to write about this again, but I’d love to know if that person got stopped from writing/publishing these books!? Keep us posted please.

  3. Isobel Carr on October 14, 2022 at 8:12 pm

    Oh, hon. I’m so sorry. This absolutely sucks.

  4. Maureen Connolly on October 15, 2022 at 7:58 am

    I am so sorry this happened to you Lauren, you are one if my favorite authors. I can’t imagine the pleasure one most get from stealing some else’s work. Unbelievable.

    • Lauren Willig on October 25, 2022 at 12:45 pm

      Thank you so much, Maureen! So honored to be one of your favorite authors, and I so appreciate your sympathy and support.

  5. Julie on October 15, 2022 at 10:31 pm

    How awful. I am glad a sharp-eyed reader figured it out and brought it to your attention!
    I have a feeling plagiarism happens more often than we think, it just doesn’t come to light (probably because those “authors” aren’t foolish/brazen enough to use really popular books to lift from like in this case!). Hope you get things straightened out without too much stress.

    • Lauren Willig on October 25, 2022 at 12:27 pm

      Thanks so much, Julie! I am so, so grateful for sharp-eyed readers. And I think you’re right and there’s a lot more plagiarism out there than we know– apparently there’s a whole market for producing quick content on Kindle Unlimited, authors who somehow magically churn out umpteen books a year, many curiously unrelated in style and content.

      • Elizabeth (AKA Miss Eliza) on October 25, 2022 at 7:45 pm

        Oh yes, my book club read one of those authors, and they publish SO MUCH we actually calculated that given word count and publication day they’d have to be doing 10,000 words a day every day without fail. That’s a might suspicious. Though in this authors case I think it was more the V.C. Andrews factory of writers because the style changed.

  6. Christine on October 23, 2022 at 11:47 pm

    …there are no words. It wasn’t hard to figure out who this person is (because Sapphire Sphinx? Really? And that appears to be some sort of gamer thing?) and, my, she’s…prolific. And is/was an editor? Did she just think enough time had passed and everyone had forgotten this series existed? It’s advertised as a Scarlet Pimpernel retelling. It wouldn’t have been hard for Pink Carnation fans to find it what with algorithms and all. Ugh I’m so annoyed on your behalf. Maybe she’ll have contests where readers make book themed art projects with Skittles.

    • Christine on October 23, 2022 at 11:51 pm

      And according to the Barnes and Noble listing, the publisher for this is a self-pub shop, so that would explain why there was no vetting. I would hope that even an incompetent editor would have discovered this blatant theft.

      • Lauren Willig on October 25, 2022 at 12:29 pm

        I do think even at reputable publishing houses it’s often hard to detect plagiarism– publishing works on the assumption that of course you’d only want to sell your own words, why would you take someone else’s? It is fascinating to me that apparently Janet Dailey plagiarized Nora Roberts for years, both of them at Big Six publishing houses, before it was caught by a reader.

  7. Karen on October 25, 2022 at 11:42 am

    If you need to, reach out to Nora Roberts. She’s been through this battle as well. Love to read both of you and hate to see anyone rip off your hard work.

    Keep the writing flame alive.

    • Lauren Willig on October 25, 2022 at 12:24 pm

      Thank you, Karen! I’ve been reading and rereading Nora Roberts’s article on plagiarism on Fall Into the Story and have found it incredibly instructive– in my case, pretty every box she mentions has been ticked.

  8. Sheila Churchill on October 26, 2022 at 5:12 pm

    It is no longer available on Amazon! Still up on Goodreads, along with the reccomendation s that one read your book.

    • Elizabeth (AKA Miss Eliza) on October 26, 2022 at 9:12 pm

      I think that it can’t be deleted from Goodreads now that it has so many reviews. Thanks to all of us they are one star reviews.

    • Christine on October 27, 2022 at 3:20 pm

      Also gone from Barnes and Noble!

      • Christine on October 27, 2022 at 3:36 pm

        Also… since pop culture is all about reboots now… any chance we get some more Pink Carnation in the future?

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