I’ve never earned any penny with any book in all these years, says Cristiane Serruya, acussed of plagiarizing more than 30 authors

Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

I was intrigued when I heard about this case of a brazilian writer being accused of plagiarizing more than 30 authors. Besides the number, which already is a big deal, this also interested me because it’s my area. I’m an author. That’s when I started to dig.

When the story exploded

Courtney Milan is one of the main characters of this story. Courtney is a successful american author, with hundreds of thousands books sold. She writes romance and has great respect in the genre, including winning a RITA in 2017 in the category “Romance Novella”. RITA is the most important award for romance writers.

Cristiane Serruya is a copyright infringer, a plagiarist, and an idiot.

This is the title of the blogpost written by Courtney on February 18th, when all this started.

Courtney’s text it’s not friendly at all. She shows off all of her frustration and rage. She exposed five passages that she claims to be plagiarized by Cristiane Serruya and ends the texts making demands to Cristiane. She asks that, besides take off “Royal Love”, the book that was accused of plagiarism, Cristiane also make an accounting of exactly how much money she made with this book. “It’s not yours, and you shouldn’t spend it”, says Milan, that also demands a public apology and ends her demands with this:

In exchange for doing all of this, you get the satisfaction that you’re starting to do the right thing after a time period of great idiocy. Clear?

Of course, this story reached social media soon enough, since Courtney Milan has a large fan base that helped her spread the news of the alleged plagiarism through the hashtag #copypastecris.

Shortly other authors started to suspect also have being plagiarized, which was the case of Tessa Dare, who writes in the same genre a had a respectful and solid career.

In the next morning, the protagonist entered the story. Cristiane Serruya is a brazilian author that lives in Rio de Janeiro and work as a lawyer. In the little biography on her book’s page, I found out that she studied on England, France, Italy and Switzerland. She graduated in law and had a masters in business law. The biography also says she won several awards for her romance books.

Cristiane reacted to the comments made by Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare on Twitter. The screen captures below were taken from Smart Bitches Trashy Books.

Notice that Tessa mentions “Royal Love”. It’s Cristiane’s book accused of having plagiarized five authors.

Here Courtney mentions her own book “The Duchess War”, which she claims to be plagiarized. A little after that, Cristiane posted in her Twitter the follow explanation:

Cristiane mentions here Fiverr, which is a website for hire freelancers in several areas, not only editorial. The professional can create a profile and the buyers can find any professional they need. Notice that Cristiane also claims to have contracted a ghostwriter through Fiverr. For those who might not know that word, a ghostwriter is an author paid to write, co-write or fix a text written for someone else without having his name on the credits of the book. It’s a common service in the publish market made by several professional authors. There is a controversy going on because of this story where some people are standing up against the use of ghostwriters. I want to say that this is not illegal and don’t necessarily is something wrong.

I contacted Fiverr explaining Cristiane’s case to them and asking what she could do to protect herself, in case her claims is true. The official answer is that:

When a buyer purchases a service on Fiverr, the order is created, and you have the order number and whole conversation, with all material included as proof.

The Fiverr’s speaker also said that the website works independently of the freelancers. Every freelancer is responsible for they own work.

Cristiane Serruya’s case is special because she claims that the ghostwriter deleted his account. Still, according to the speaker who talked to me, she must have all the records of this transaction and the files as proof to defend herself.

At this point Cristiane Serruya was being accused of plagiarized five authors, which is a big number already. But the readers started to check these facts. In the hashtag #copypastecris on Twitter you will find lots of pictures showing original texts beside the ones made by Cristiane Serruya. To organize these information, Jenna Loise Skinner created a thread on Twitter with a list of all author supposedly plagiarized. The blog Caffeinated Fae decided to create a blogpost with the same purpose and is updating the list every day.

Till the moment I finished this article, there are 39 books, 29 authors, 2 articles, 2 recipes, 1 website and a Wattpad story on the list.

The name on the cover might not be the author

At this point of my research the story was already too big and having only one point of view would be dangerous and unfair. On Twitter I was able to find people willing to talk about this.

One of them was Elisa Doucette, who commented one tweet saying that she heard about a “creative hack” like this case.

Elisa helps professional writers and entrepreneurs improve their craft — usually through editing and writing coaching, strategy consultations and courses. When I asked her to explain this “creative hack” she said:

(…) Self-published authors who tell me (and, let’s be honest, brag a bit) about their “new business model”, which involves hiring 1–5 ghostwriters to write books under their name, which they will then self-publish.

Elisa also made clear that this information came up in a few conversations over the past year. Her professional opinion about this is a little critic:

The goal, as I understand, is to get “as much content out as possible” — which led me to question the model a bit, as it seemed quality control was not a high priority. Things like plagiarism, subpar writing, and proofing errors would certainly start to pop up when speed and volume are the focus.

Doucette also said that this is not necessarily a bad thing, if sales and fame are the focus.

It just leaves a lot of ways that the project can be done very very wrong.

And, finally, she said that ghostwrites aren’t usually cheap.

That’s because you pay them up front to sign away their rights.

What the professionals that worked with Cristiane had to say about this?

Still in February 19th, Courtney Milan posted a new tweet saying she was contacted by two ghostwrites who worked with Cristiane. The first one posted a comment on the Courtney’s original blogpost.

When I checked this, I found out the comment under the name of “Bee” and no contact information.

This person claims to have worked with Cristiane in two of her books.

I am a ghostwriter who worked with the person in question in 2017 and early 2018 on 2 books. I do not work on Fiverr but was contacted by her personally. (…) Her work, when given to me, was a number of mishmashed scenes that needed “expanding”, as she said. I took for granted that these were her own words, and embellished as she requested, as this is how I work–I often help authors who are “too close” to their own book to get it in shape for publication. Now I can see that it’s very possible those were plagiarized scenes that she was hoping a ghostwriter would change enough to make unrecognizable.

In the same thread made by Courtney, she mentions that a second person contacted her in private and told a very similar process. After that, a new name arrives: Harmony Williams. Besides being an author, she claims that Cristiane Serruya reached her. Harmony agreed to talk to me about that and shared her experience:

Cris approached me in 2017 through Facebook (which I found weird, since that isn’t where I deal with clients) and asked me to do a job. She insisted we would “work as a team” and she would “use” me to finish scenes she was having trouble with. That isn’t the way I work, so I declined the job. I never saw these scenes so I can’t verify the content.

Despite of the fact Harmony declined to work with Cristiane and never saw the scenes, the important thing here is the confirmation of the method where Cristiane supposedly approaches ghostwriters with a bunch of scenes and asks them to put everything together.

While the scandal and the accusations increased, two news blogposts where made by Courtney. One of them says that she created a group on Yahoo! Groups to talk to plagiarized authors. The group is private, but till the finish of this article has 19 people on it. The other blogpost was an apology from Delaria Davis, the editor of “Royal Love”. Delaria made clear that she disapproves all kinds of plagiarism and she would never edit the book if she knew about all of this. Courtney posted on her Twitter that she doesn’t blame Delaria or other professionals involved, besides Cristiane herself.

Time to dig deeper

At this point was clear to me that this story had to many points of view and sources but would be impossible to write a complete article without talking to Cristiane Serruya, so I started to look for ways to get in touch with her. Her official website was offline, as her Twitter and Instagram accounts. I could only try for her fan page on Facebook. I entered the fan page and it was still there. On February 20th, all day, I made several researches about this and talked to a few professionals and prepared myself to ask some questions to Cristiane. When a finally went back to the fan page, which was open in my browser, I couldn’t send any message. When a try to refresh the page, guess what?

The fan page was offline. And that was my chance to talk to Cristiane. But that could not be my last chance. When a put her name on Google a found her Amazon author page. Besides a short biography, it has her website and all her social media links. All offline. There was a link for her newsletter, which was still on. When I subscribed myself, I received her email and finally had a chance to talk to Cristiane.

My first message said that I would write an article about the scandal and the accusations on her and asked if she wanted to have the opportunity to tell her point of view or defend herself somehow. Cristiane’s answer came quickly than I expected: she wanted to know in which portal I worked for. That was the first time I was certain that she would never answer me again. I was completely honest. I told her that I didn’t work in any portal. I only had a podcast about literature (in Portuguese) and intended to post the article on my blog. After that she surprised me and told I could send her the questions.

I wrote a few questions. All of them very straight to the point, I admit it, they could be very easily ignored. I send them to Cristiane, and I was certain, for the second time in a few minutes, that I would get no answers after that.

Two new evidences before the end

It was already night. I had an intense day, full of researches. I read a lot of blogposts and articles of angry people with all of that. I don’t blame they, I would be very mad if I was plagiarized too. But all blogposts had a little flaw: none of them had Cristiane Serruya’s answer, besides the tweets she made before deleting her account. However tempting it may be to stick to the two minutes hate for witch the internet invites us every day, and even though there was plenty of evidence to support these allegations, still lacked to hear what Cristiane had to say.

Later I came back in front of the computer to see if she had answered the questions. Nothing. My surprise came in another place. There was a message of a stranger in my fan page on Facebook. That’s weird. I don’t agree with Facebook’s algorithms, so I almost never post anything there. I prefer to use other social media to talk to the readers. Because of that it’s not common for me to receive any message over there. But that night someone wanted to talk with me. The message was only this:

If you are writing an article on copypastecris I can help.

The first thing I did was to check this person’s profile to see if was worth it to have that conversation. I found out it was an american author. I decided to answer the message with “Yes, I am. I thank you for tour time. Tell me, how can you help me?”. The answer was fast and blew my mind:

She contacted me via my email address on my website (not Fiverr) asking if I could help her work on a book that she was having trouble finishing up. I gave her my rate and she agreed so I did a small edit for her. Her book was really just a number of disjointed scenes that needed to have transitions added, which is what I sometimes do for authors. I had no idea that these scenes were plagiarized at the time, but now that I look at my files I see that they were. I worked with her 2 or 3 times I believe in 2017 and 2018. In May of 2018 she did not pay my last invoice despite me hounding for several months, so needless to say I didn’t work with her again.

When I read this, I was chocked for a few minutes. This person, who asked me not to mention his name, confirmed the version of other ghostwriters posted by Courtney Milan. A thank this anonym person for the contact and asked if he wanted to say anything else. The answer was that:

Just that I really do not think ghostwriters are to blame here. We often doctor books and help make them publishable so we take it for granted that the people we work are acting in their own best interest, especially since it’s THEIR name that will be on the book!

That night I went to sleep disturbed, certain that a I had in my hands a story so much bigger than I had thought at first.

The next day, when I finally organized my research and sat down to write the article, I noticed something. “Royal Love”, the main book accused of plagiarism, had 240 reviews on Amazon. See, I’m a self-published author too. I understand that I write to the brazilian market, which is much smaller than the american one, but still, an author accused of plagiarism reaching the achievement of 240 reviews seemed to wonderful to be ignored. When commenting this with some colleagues it came up one suspicion. Were those reviews real? Impossible to answer that, right? Maybe it is impossible to check if those reviews are, indeed, real. But after a little search on Google I found out a website that could help me. Fakespot is a website that analyzes the reviews of a product on an online store after you provide a link. Fakespot reads all the reviews and look for suspicious patterns and incentivized reviews. Then weed out the reviews that are unreliable. After that it provides a rating from A to F for the reviews. Despite of the fact that “Royal love” ebook is not available anymore, the book is still being sell on paperback and audiobook editions. I took this link to check the reviews in Fakespot. I also checked the book “The Duchess War”, by Courtney Milan, which is one of the books supposedly plagiarized. The result of this you can see below.

The outcome

It’s not my place in this text to tell my opinion about this. My job is to present you the facts and show as many sources as possible. And that was what I did. I believe that, in the end of this article, you will have enough evidences to draw your own conclusions. By the way, on the next day I woke up and checked my email. There was Cristiane’s answers. She answered every single one.

And it is with this interview that I decide to end this article. Now you have all facts, sources and versions at your disposal.

For a better context of the interview, I explain three things that Cristiane mentioned in her answers:

Pantser-plotter-puzzler: These are types of authors. The first one (pantser) simply sits down and write a story, without any planning. The second on (plotter) uses to plan the ideas before writing. The third one (puzzler) don’t necessarily writes in chronological order. He can create scenes characters and write down ideas till he has enough to put all of them together in a story. Cristiane, as you will see below, refer to her method, which mixes the three.

RITA: Award organized for Romance Writer of America. The award has two phases. On the first one all the participants can vote. On the second one there are five judges that chooses the winner. As I was checking the information Cristiane said, I found blogposts referring to Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare as judges.

Rocinha: It’s a very famous slum from Rio de Janeiro.

Cristiane Serruya’s answers

Lucas Mota: On the blogpost made by Caffeinated Fae there is a list with more than 30 books, articles and even recipes compiled by readers who claims that they were plagiarized by you in your books. How do you answer to these accusations?
Cristiane Serruya: I don’t know this article. I’m offline since yesterday. I never plagiarized anybody. I’m a lawyer and know that plagiarism is a crime. I woke up on February 19th with my name being attacked without me knowing what it was about. It may sound cliché, but when I put my glass on and looked at the phone screen, I thought I was sleeping and having a nightmare.

LM: It all started with a blogpost from Courtney Milan on February 18th. She was the first one to claim she was plagiarized. There are screen captures of the Twitter posts where you tried to talk directly to her about that. This conversation happened?
CS: No. The author didn’t want to get in touch with me, although in addition to the message on Twitter, I have also sent a personal email to her and to the representative of Romance Writers of America. The representative of RWA kindly answered my email, informing that is taking notice of what is happening.

LM: An article from “The Guardian” mentions that your book “Royal Love” is not available anymore. Is that right?
CS: Yes, the moment I knew that there might be, supposedly, plagiarism in one of my books, I removed all my books from the sale, including the philosophical essay I wrote when I was 18 — whose royalties I donate to Doctors without Borders along with my monthly contribution — as well as the books I wrote alone.

LM: Whose was the decision to take off the book from the stores?
CS: It was mine. I didn’t want revengeful people giving 1 star to my books without reading it. I also required all publisher accounts to be closed.

LM: In the end of Courtney’s blogpost she makes a few requirements for you. Did you comply or intend to comply these requirements?
CS: I attended to the first of Courtney’s demands before even reading the blogpost, namely, the withdrawal of the Royal Love book for sale. And not because she asked, but because I am a serious person, with a clean, honest name. It was me who told RWA that the book was in the contest and I asked for it to be withdrawn. And she knew it, because she was copied in the email.
I posted in my FB fan group and on Twitter, but after an angry crowd began to misrepresent all my words, and virtually lynch me, inventing crazy things about myself and facts that never happened, I decided to take off all my profiles, do not read any more messages, or do anything else, until an official representative contacts me. Social media is not the place to deal with this type of application, or any other of this seriousness.
I’ve never earned any penny with any book in all these years. I’m still at a loss. By the middle of last year, 30% of my royalties were withheld at the source for the IRS and I still paid a further 15% to the brazilian IRS. The expenses for publishing a book are huge — photo for the cover, cover fonts, cover, designer, video, images, voiceover for the trailer, trailer construction, at least two to three rounds of editing, and at least one of proofreading, varied images for advertising, images for ads, Facebook ads, Instagram, and Amazon, blog tours, specialized advertising sites, etc … Not to mention the fixed costs of maintaining website, domain, mailing list, newsletter, sales tracker, internet, computer, etc …. Not to mention the loss with the exchange rate, the bank rate to make the exchange. It’s not as easy as it sounds and, moreover, I suck at marketing.

LM: Courtney herself claimed later in her twitter that two people contacted her claiming to have worked to you as ghostwriters. Both reports show the same method. One of them is on a comment on Courtney’s blogpost and reports that you came with a few scenes that needed to be expanded and put all together. Is this, indeed, one of your methods?
CS: I cannot comment on conversations held by others in private, I do not know who claimed what, because, or when, but I never presented or asked for anything in this regard.
I’m a pantser-plotter-puzzler. Depending on, I can write part of the epilogue before the prologue. I write the intermediate scenes out of order, only then do the plot, put them in order and make the glue. Sometimes I throw away scenes that I do not like or do not fit in the plot anymore.
Unfortunately, I listened to the advice of some mentors that the ideal was to publish at least one book a month, and have many books published. I cannot. I like to write books with romantic suspense and with different characters: from amputee hero to mute heroine, from Irish religious cult to Rocinha’s drug world. For this, I need to study, research, often talk to people who are in this situation, and only then wear the skin of the character — either of hero/heroine or villain. I intended to write a book in which the hero was blind and was already in discussions with the Benjamin Constant Institute to not only do interviews with people there, but to donate all the value collected in the pre-sale and launch week. Everything is suspended.
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. Even so, I can only publish a book every 3 months on average.

LM: Your website inf offline, as your social media profiles. Why is that?
CS: I received messages — through the contact tab of my website and various social media — from people I did not know, with curses and threats not only to myself, but also to my family. Until this problem is solved, I will stay out of social media and will not enter any discussion on any subject. The representative of Romance Writers of America has my email address, phone number, and personal address.
To conclude, I would like to say that the stupidity of copying the words of several super bestsellers is so great that by itself should already be some kind of evidence that it was not me. I do not even know how people think that I, who write under my real name, have lived in the same address for more than 20 years, and am a lawyer, would do that. I enrolled Royal Love in the RITA contest of the Romance Writers of America, of which Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare are judges. I donated Royal Love, along with other gifts, which I paid with my money, to The BookWorm Box, from the super famous author Colleen Hoover. The proceeds from the sale of this Box fully revert to charities, and it had to be withdrawn at the last minute.
In more than 28 years of a career in law, I have never had a customer complaint, ex-adversary, or anyone else. Quite the opposite.
I was deceived. I want to end this as soon as possible.

After receiving these answers, I asked Cristiane to explain how, exactly, she have been deceived. She only told me she could not answer anymore for lack of time.

Updates

02/24/2019 — Cristiane contacted me claiming that the reviews of her books are real. The reader Christie Thorsen confirmed that information, she says she received a copy of one of Cristiane’s books trough Hidden Gems Books, where readers can sign up to win free ebooks in exchange of an honest review after the read. Christie also says that after the plagiarism clamis came up, she erased all her reviews of Cristiane Serruya’s books. A second reader also contacted me to say that he analyzed websites like Fakespot and don’t think they are reliable.