What’s the Deal With… Mackenzi Lee?

Mackenzie Lee author photograph

Mackenzi Lee, is a bestselling young adult author who gained significant popularity with her historical fiction series, Montague Siblings. The first novel in the series, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue both was nominated and successful in winning numourous literary awards.

At the time of writing, Lee has published three novels, two collections and one novella, with the third instalment in Montague Siblings expected to release mid 2021.


Welcome to the “What’s the Deal With…” series; a place where we deep dive into the facts surrounding the drama, cancel culture and problematic issues of those within the book community.

These posts are to enlighten you about why certain names are being thrown around, discussed and/or bad-mouthed on the internet. They are not intended to shine hate on any one person, rather to lay out the facts and provide unbiased commentary on news in the book industry.

All facts will be provided with some type of screenshot, link or citation. If you notice any mistakes or key missing details regarding the story, please feel free to let me know in the comments below.

Check out the entire series!

And with that said – What’s the Deal With… Mackenzi Lee?


So how did Mackenzi Lee go from writing bestselling books to getting involved in author drama?

There have been more than a few situations that have made readers upset about both Lee’s books and her general behavior with the book community. I will try to keep this brief, so please make sure you check out the linked resources for full details on each situation.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky – The Pre-Order “Exclusive”

In early April 2019, Mackenzi Lee announced that the Montague Siblings novella, The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky would be getting released digitally and in hardcover.

Twitter screenshot: Mackenzi Lee @themackenzilee. THE GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO GETTING LUCKY, the novella previously only offered to those who preordered Lady's Guide, is not only being released for real, it's being released in hardcover AND digitally, AND the incomparable @ceeofcee is reprising his Monty for the audio version! Tagged in post Epic Reads & Katherine Tegen Bks.

This was something that upset a lot of fans. Why? Because this novella was originally a preorder incentive. And then when one fan spoke up about this disappointment, things escalated.

Lee responded less than positively, going as far as to make separate Instagram stories addressing this fan’s response.

For full details, make sure to check out the blog posts created by the original responder, Daniel, and fellow blogger, Sara, who was also involved.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue – Bisexuality Erasure

The main character in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Monty, is a loved character for many because of his partying antics, his boistourous humour and his open bisexuality.

…his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men…”

Blurb for The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Mackenzi Lee

However, Monty’s sexuality became less certain – and to some readers, erased – following an AMA with the author on her Instagram account:

Instagram story @themackenzilee. AMA about History's Favorite Disaster Siblings, What's Monty's sexuality? QUEER I DON'T LIKE LABELS SO READ HIM HOWEVER YOU WANT!

The erasure of Monty’s bisexuality, caused by the author’s response was raised by reader, Lori @ The Reading FairyBisexuality erasure is a common phenomenon in pop culture, including literature. In response to the concern, Lee responded saying “I do not see it as erasure, rather increased inclusion.

Make sure you visit Lori’s blog post for further details, including more of Lee’s email response. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any other sources about this issue (including screenshots or links to the original AMA), so take this one how you will.

Autographing Other Author’s Books

Almost exactly a year following The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky‘s announcement, Lee was called out for another situation. While working at the bookstore, King’s English, Lee chose to autograph books that were not hers. Allegedly, this was in response to customer requests:

Twitter @tnwhiskeywoman: Mackenzi Lee has been autographing books she didn't write, supposedly per customer requests, as promo for @KingsEnglish. She crossed out author names, added drawings that ate up real estate, etc. Authors of color affected by this began to complain. The store has been flippant. @KingsEnglish: Did Tolstory say something? @tnwhiskeywoman: Instead of acknowledging the very much alive writers of color who've been disrespected by Lee's actions, the store confirms it's more concerned with a dead white guy's thoughts thatn anyone else's.

More concerning than the action itself, was the fact that the authors’ whose books she chose to autograph did not know or give consent for this action.

This included a number of writer’s of color which received negative backlash because of their upset or choice to call out Lee’s actions.

Twitter Rin Chupeco April 20, 2020: She responded and apologized. There are... things she is defending that are making me go huh, and apparaently she "doesn't even know who I am" despite asking me for agent advice in the past, which is pissing me off all over again... but she apologized. Let's leave it at that. QRT Rin Chupeco: ...are authors who autograph books written by other authors actually a thing? Because I just saw this happen to my book, and the optics of a white author autographing a POC author's book and then using that as promotion... doesn't look good to me? Rin Chupeco: if she'd reached out in the first place and agreed to put hers on a different page, one not for the actual author to write on, I would have helped her promote it. I told her this. That we had the same agent & she emailed me for advice... only to claim she doesn't remember, is...

I could find no official response from Mackenzi Lee regarding this situation. However, I highly recommend checking out articles by Steff Fox and Sophia Ismaa who explored the situation in detail.

The Madness Blooms – Misgendering & Deadnaming

The most recent, and possibly the most discussed, controversy surrounds Mackenzi Lee’s most recent standalone novel, The Madness Blooms.

This historical fiction novel’s main character is a trans male. However, in the original synopsis and early marketing, the book is described as if it is a sapphic or lesbian story, using she/her pronouns, as well as deadnaming and misgendering the character.

Love is a fever. Holland, 1637. Lena Schoon is an orphan, sold to the owner of a flower shop, along with her older brother, Bas. When Lena and Bas's master dies, Bas inherits the flower shop at the hype of Tulip Mania, a time when single tulip bulbs were being sold for prices equivalent to that of Amsterdam's finest houses. Along with the shop come debts that threaten to uproot the siblings, leaving them without a home or a trade. In desperation, Lena hatches a plan to dress as a man and attempt to sell a fake Semper Augustus bulb, the rarest and most valuable tulip of the time, to one merchant in town with the money to pay for it. But when Lena meets the merchant's daughter Elsje, she is smitten. And her plan to save her shop and her home is suddenly challenged, both by her heart putting down its roots, and also questions about her own identity that emerge the longer she lives as a man... Mackenzi Lee's The Madness Blooms is perfect for the teen and adult fans of Jessie Burton (The Miniaturist), Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earing), Sarah Waters (Tipping the Velvet), and Ruta Sepetys (Salt to the Sea).
Original synopsis posted on Mackenzi Lee’s instagram
themackenzilee Here it is! The exquisite cover of my next book, The Madness Blooms, comin February 4 from @flatiron_books! I've been working on this book since 2012, sold it in 2015, and it's finally coming out in 2020! Also, in spite of the fact that many people have been calling this the lesbian tulip book, the main character is actually a trans guy who figures out his identity over the course of the book. We decided to use she/her pronouns in the jacket copy, after much conversation, to reflect how he identifies at the start of the book. But. Yeah. Preorder link in the bio

In addition, Lee stated that part of her inspiration was to break down the problematic trope “girl dresses as a boy in historical fiction”. Let us be clear – cross-dressing and trans rep is not the same thing.

Understandably, many readers questioned whether Mackenzi Lee – as a cisgender white author – was a person who should be attempting to explore and share such themes.

Trans author, Meredith Russo, supported Lee’s new book saying it was “…a perfectly good piece of trans rep…” However, this is one opinion within any and Russo has her own problematic history.

Since the primary controversy, The Madness Blooms has been postponed indefinitely. The synopsis has also been updated on all platforms, assumedly in response to uproar (for example see Book Depository product page).

I am not going to comment on the book itself, it is not my place, especially with the concerns that surround it. Instead make sure you check out the responses from trans readers such as Anniek, Eli, Caidyn, and Arwyn, both for and against Lee and this book in particular.

I am not saying that you should write off Mackenzi Lee as a bad person.

I am not telling you to cancel her books. What I am encouraging is that you look at the facts, the screenshots, and the situations presented to you and make your own decisions about whether Mackenzi Lee is an author you want to support. 

Happy reading, bec&books

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31 Comments

  1. Reply

    M

    13/08/2021

    I’m not sure any of these things are a crime or even a misdemeanor or even, gasp, a moral failing. She was clearly messing around when she signed her name on the other person’s book and not trying to take credit got it. She doesn’t have to ask permission because the book is actually owned by the person who asked her to do that, and they can deface their own property any which way they would like. As an author I am fine if you bought my book and then defaced it. As long as I get paid, what do I care?

    She can change a character’s sexuality whenever she wants. Some people may agree with it and some disagree. However, if you hate and cancel everyone you disagree with there’s going to be a lot of hate and cancellations going around and everyone will suffer for it. Isn’t that what they did in Germany in 1934 and the USSR back then as well?

    The author of this critique wrote, “I am not saying that you should write off Mackenzi Lee as a bad person. I am not telling you to cancel her books.” This is funny, because those things are clearly what the author wants. I wonder why?

    • Reply

      becandbooks

      13/08/2021

      You are right, I also don’t believe any of these are a crime. Moral failings are something that comes down to an individuals interpretation.

      As the author of this article I stand by what I said. I am not telling people to cancel these authors. Many that I feature in this series I personally am undecided on if I wish to discontinue my support.

      The point of this series is to compile the events that led up to a discussion of ‘cancelling’ so readers can justify their own decisions based on the actual events rather than merely jumping on the bandwagon.

    • Reply

      Ryan Alexander Fingerhut

      27/08/2021

      I am confused by the assertion that a “a cisgender white author” would be unable to write a book about a woman being forced to dress like a man due to sexisim, and then falling for another woman. First – its set in Holland. If we are going to claim that an author can only write about their own perspectives sexually or racially, it seems like being white is exactly what she should be. I personally disagree that an author cannot tell a story about an other race or sexuality from their own, especially in this case where the cross dressing has nothing to do with the protagonist being trans but instead with the inherent sexisim women in that time period faced. As for the lesbian relationship – I don’t think its necessary to be a lesbian to write about that, any more than I would think a homosexual didn’t have the right to write a cis gender. Where there is a real issue is the The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky. There, she clearly enticed people to pre-purchase through an exclusive offer, then, after those persons purchased based on receiving an exclusive offering, immediately turned around destroyed that exclusivity. That might not be a crime, but is definitely breach of contract and the readers would be in their rights to sue her and the publisher. They are simply relying on the fact that no one is going to sue over what is probably a few dollars and trying to organize a class actio would be almost impossible without someway to track down pre-purchasers.

  2. Reply

    Ruby

    17/06/2021

    I have a genuine question here, and it’s unrelated to weather or not I support Mackenzi Lee, and I want to make it clear that by asking this I’m not trying to defend what she has done. My question is: how much of this has she had control over, specifically the deadnaming and misgendering? From my understanding, authors have very little control over how their books are promoted, so I thought they didn’t have control over what the summary to their books are and stuff like that. Does anyone know how that all works? But this was a great read, thanks so much for putting it all together.

    • Reply

      becandbooks

      18/06/2021

      You are right – a large amount of marketing is outside of an authors control. This is something that has been discussed – particularly in the exclusive short story scenario and the character deadnaming of ‘The Madness Blooms’. This is something to consider, likely Lee isn’t entirely at fault, if at all in some situations. But there was also criticism directed at where Lee herself participated in these situations: e.g. talking about her trans character as a cross-dresser in the Instagram AMA she conducted herself. Additionally, while the synopsis is often created independent of the author, Lee herself says on her Instragram (screenshot pictured) that she WAS involved in conversation about the use of pronouns within the synopsis.

      Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment and for stopping by xo

  3. Reply

    Racel Rubentstein

    24/03/2021

    Aside from the deadnaming and misgendering portions and the terrible crime on Russo’s part, all of this is so sickly precious and self-righteous.

    Who cares about signing over another name? It’s *literally* a joke. Chelsea Peretti also did this, even encouraged her fans to bring any books to sign.

    As a trans author of color myself, why in the Lorde’s name would I care about someone *cartoonishly* signing over my name? I wrote a book, got paid for a book, and no sharpie can take that away from me. If someone drops my book in the dirt, would I cancel them just the same? This list is so petty–such thin soup.

    And the issue over the pre-order exclusive is just as corny. The publishing world is a business! Do any of you know the DECADES of pain and sacrifice it takes to make it as an author? And Nickelodeon used to release VHS tapes of episodes unaired then, later in the year, AIR them, so maybe y’all should go down to Bikini Bottom and cancel Spongebob.

    Mackenzi is a flawed human being like everyone who’s talking here and also clearly on our side. So, yes, we should hold her accountable but dear f*cking god, maybe shift your focus from these surface problems over to getting this country universal healthcare or dismantling the prison industrial complex.

    My god. Corny. Corny. Corny.

    • Reply

      becandbooks

      24/03/2021

      Thank you for dropping a comment.

      It is completely valid if you think certain points raised in this article are not harmful in themselves – that is not the point of creating this article or this series. Rather, it is understood that McGuire has been labelled as ‘problematic’ by people in the book community and I wanted to compile as much as I could to highlight why people have had concerns with the author.

      I am not calling anyone out, nor am I passing judgment on anything presented in the article. Rather this is a collection of incidents put in one place so readers can make their own decisions with how they interact with McGuire’s content going forward.

  4. Reply

    Ari

    14/01/2021

    Ouch, that signing on other’s books was a pretty ugly thing to do, and I can’t believe someone did that in their right mind. But maybe it’s just me, but I did not think the other stuff were that bad, and felt kind of blown up by an angry crowd? I’m hearing of this author for the first time, so there’s that. I’m a pan, and to be honest, I kinda don’t care who’s representing my spectrum of people, as long as they get the facts right? 😅

    • Reply

      becandbooks

      21/01/2021

      There is so much emotion that surrounds these topics that I really just want to lay out the facts so readers can understand what is happening and make their own decisions. I really hope you got something useful from my post. Happy reading!

  5. Reply

    Jennifer

    14/01/2021

    These posts are so informative and balanced. I really appreciate the work you do in putting these together. I stay away from Twitter and most other social media so I miss a lot of these discussions. This is a helpful little window. ☺️

    • Reply

      becandbooks

      21/01/2021

      That means so much to me, thank you! I am so glad that the series is helpful in the way I intended. Happy reading!

  6. Reply

    leo(neil) of leosthetics

    14/01/2021

    i looove this new series! thank you for shining light on these issues! i know about the mackenzi lee autograph and the madness blooms drama, however i didn’t know about the rest! like the first one, which is a really screwed up thing to do.

    since i am hooked, i’ll definitely follow this series. again, thank you so much!

    • Reply

      becandbooks

      21/01/2021

      Thank you for the love! It’s so easy to only get half the story so I really wanted to do the research and put everything in one spot for those who are interested. I am so glad that you are enjoying the series. Happy reading!

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