Dear White Authors, Don’t Sign Books You Didn’t Write: How One Person Failed Unspoken Etiquette

Ir seems this year is pushing the envelope on what is and isn’t acceptable in publishing. Sometimes I get confused by why something is hurtful and other times it hits me immediately. Mackenzi Lee’s behavior has been unacceptable in one scenario: signing other people’s books and crossing out their names in some cases.

The latest trainwreck managed to happen while we’re in official and unofficial quarantines. Sometimes you cannot believe that someone actually managed to pull some nonsense. Yet, it has happened.

Who is Mackenzi Lee?

Mackenzi Lee is a Young Adult author of the Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue. She’s also written YA novels for Marvel about the Norse god of mischief and comic supervillain Loki. In short, she is someone who is already successful and living on top.

Lee also works at an indie bookstore. We learned that she pulls this sort of nonsense: signing author of colors’ books as if she wrote them, sometimes doodling in them and making little jokes.

Why is this a bad thing? First, because she is white and all of the authors are people of color. There’s an implication that Lee’s signature is more valuable than that of the original author. Chupeco is just one writer who caught the implication.

Second, the author in question didn’t give consent. They didn't give permission for someone else to sign their book as if the other person wrote it. Sometimes authors will sign each other’s books if they know each other or as part of a personal joke. That did not happen here.

Third, Lee left no room for the real author to put their signature. Instead, she uses the space for drawings. How can the actual author put their name anywhere on the page?

Obviously, the authors had questions for the bookstore in question. They got this response.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Which customers are specifically asking for a Mackenzi Lee signature in a book that she didn’t write? What are their reasons? They can buy her books and get that autograph. Why didn’t these readers come forward when this story broke? How come the bookstore is defending her?

On that note, if you were one of the customers, I would like to hear your side of the story. No judgments, because I am genuinely curious. Unless you are the ones leaving one-star reviews on Chupeco’s Goodreads, I do want to know why you’re ordering for that.

Otherwise, if there are no customers, there’s no evidence that any reader requested this. To me, this seems like the bookstore in question covered for her. They didn’t want to admit that this is hurtful when the original authors asked her to stop.

I didn’t even know this was a thing, and I don’t get why Lee would do this. There’s no benefit! She’s already a bestselling author who has established herself. Many readers commended her for talking about same-sex relationships, being a race, and so forth. The Gentleman’s Guide is not my cup of tea, but it has been a brewing pot for many other people.

If you’re going to add something like this to someone else’s book, there is one simple answer: the trusted Post-It note or index card. Post-Its are great because they are thin and slip through the pages easily. That’s why at author signings, volunteers ask people buying books to write their names on the paper so that Meg Cabot and Libba Bray don’t misspell any.

Use nice Post-Its to make the same drawings and signatures, which can be removed. If you want to get fancier, use bookmarks or customized postcards as people have suggested on Twitter. People will appreciate the handwritten word-of-mouth.

Books are like the bonsais we grow and nourish for years. They take effort, refinement, and editing. If you want to take credit for the book someone else has written, then it’s like stealing a bonsai straight from the pot. We don’t take people’s trees unless we are in Indian comics.

Am I disappointed? Yes. Also, I am disappointed that this is a thing. Can we please stop encountering nonsense? We’re in the middle of a shutdown, for crying out loud.

I don’t know if anyone is signing my books since most of them are indie. With that said, the real issue is that Lee didn’t listen to the authors asking her to stop, and a horde of readers decided the best thing to do was leave one-star reviews on the protesting creators’ Goodreads pages.

Let’s try and be decent human beings, please. Now is a time for listening to when our actions and deeds are hurtful, especially in the book world. We can do so much better. And let’s please use Post-Its.

A 2016 MBA graduate and published author, Priya Sridhar has been writing fantasy and science fiction for fifteen years, and counting.

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