Earlier today, I wrote a quickish post about the YA mafia, prompted almost entirely by the fact that:

a) two authors whose work I like and whose blogs I follow were discussing it this morning; and

b) because other authors were still discussing it on Twitter a few hours later, primarily in a jocular fashion.

On the basis of having read the above, my default position was: yeah, OK, I can see why people would be concerned about this, and clearly a couple of rogue authors have been acting like dicks about bad reviews, but it’s not really a problem, because none of us have that sort of power. And then, because I am a curious person, I decided to Google the term “YA mafia” in order to see what came up, because while Holly Black, who started the discussion, mentioned having seen the phrase crop up a few times recently, she didn’t actually link to anywhere specific, and even though I’d already posted my own opinions, it didn’t feel right to leave it at that until I’d poked at it a bit more thoroughly. Because despite the fact that my Google Reader is populated almost entirely by Pure Awesome, it is neither God nor Skynet, and therefore doesn’t know everything. Yet.

Which is how I found this post on the matter, written on a feminist YA review blog called The Sparkle Project. Being a conscientious Foz, I went back into my original post and linked to it retrospectively, even though I was, at the time, still reading through all the associated links it contained. I did some more Googling after that, and then went about the rest of my day, churning things over. And then I came back to the computer tonight, and found that someone had commented on my post, thanking me for writing it. Almost – almost – I left it at that. But being as how getting actual comments on this blog from actual people I haven’t personally met is still something of a novelty, I clicked through to their website and found this: that the commenter was a book blogger who, due to advice and criticism she’d recently received from both published authors and active literary agents, had decided to completely abandon her book blog, set her Goodreads profile to private and generally keep her head down. So I did some more reading, and then I decided to write this post, because, dude: the whole idea of a YA mafia might seem like a massive overreaction, due largely to the fact that talking about mafia anything is sort of like talking about pirate anything and therefore innately hilarious at the level of nomenclature, but regardless of what you want to call it or even whether it extends purely to the YA genre, some worrisome shit is going down when it comes to critical reviews and the freedom of bloggers to write them.

So, look: as Justine Larbalestier rightly points out, the online disinhibition effect – or, as it is more widely known in internet/gaming subculture, John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory – is a genuine problem. People get on the internet and spew rage like students on a three-day fury binge, letting fly in a way they wouldn’t – couldn’t – approach in their everyday lives. Specifically as relates to YA and literary culture, there are a number of reviewers out there who sit down with a deliberate eye to writing snarky, humorous reviews – or at least, whose critical reviews inevitably take the form of snark, and whose glowing recommendations are just as equally written with comedic effect in mind – or who, if we are being honest, are not particularly tactful in the first place. Such reviewers are by no means the majority. More to the point, however, all of us are from time to time irked by a particular plot device, character, setting or, let’s face it, story to such an extent that our usual inhibitions go out the window. For whatever reason of red mist, we are rendered furious by a particular thing, and all concerns about the anonymity of the internet leading people to act like dickheads aside, sometimes it’s healthy to vent in a setting that won’t send your family comatose or cause the ears of your friends and colleagues to blister. Sometimes, ranting is necessary.

Also! An absolute tsunami of adult, predominantly female readers with a ravenous appetite for YA novels is swamping the shores of Bookdonia at present, the sort of deluge one hopes will never end: women who are not necessarily the intended audience of many of the novels they pick up, at least insofar as age is concerned, but who nonetheless crave it like the kind of chocolate that simultaneously causes weight-loss and orgasm. Now, I have never held with the idea that writing YA constitutes a form of writing down, or that it somehow contains less critical merit than books that are written for adults, or that teenagers are less critical readers than adults: I want that to be particular clear. I am, after all, a YA author, and very much an advocate of teenage intelligence. But possibly it is fair to suggest that, as adults are not the intended, primary audience of many YA novels – even where the authors are aware that other adults will read their work – they will, as readers, bring a different set of values, desires and assumptions to their reading than many teenagers will, with the result that their reactions might also be different, too.

So when I said recently that I’d become a little obsessed with reading negative reviews on Goodreads, the thing I didn’t admit to was the fact that most of the bad reviews I read were of YA books aimed at female audiences, and that the grounds for their being criticised by adult, female readers was, 99% of the time, to do with a perceived failure of feminism. It might have been J.K. Rowling who made the adult world sit up and take notice of YA novels, but it was Stephenie Meyer whose work provoked the greater degree of feminist scrutiny. And here’s where things really start to get controversial, because as far as I can see, the issue at the heart of the YA mafia sentiment – the logic which underpins so many critical, bad or outright scathing reviews, and which is therefore in no small part responsible for the stances of those  authors, publishers and agents who object to them – is twofold: firstly, the objections of adult, feminist readers to a perceived lack of feminist values in a number of books aimed primarily at teenage girls, and secondly, the open admission of particular authors and agents that yes, it really is best not to ruffle any feathers.

That’s a big claim, right there. So before we go any further, here’s a summary of some of the things that lead me to this conclusion:

1.  The Sparkle Project post, wherein cliqueyness among authors is discussed, and the argument is put forward that the most controversial review the blogger ever wrote – which itself contributed hugely to her concerns about the whole YA mafia thing – was an (admittedly harsh, lengthy and pejorative) dissection of Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush, on the grounds that Patch, the love interest, was an emotionally abusive stalker. To quote:

“Authors become good friends with bloggers and reviewers… giving interviews and freebies to give away, organising competitions and web-chats, and then they have these glowing reviews pop up everywhere. We have writers defending each other online from criticism because they’re friends with each other… We have authors giving each other glowing reviews and cover quotes often as big as the book author’s name without any sort of disclaimer that the writers are good friends. We have books that aren’t very good being trumpeted as the hot new thing because of combinations of all the above. If you’ll forgive my admittedly sketchy word choice, it’s all begun to feel a little incestuous.”

2. The Hush, Hush review mentioned above, in conjunction with a later post which quotes and responds to a dissenting author’s comments.

3. This post on Becca Fitzpatrick’s blog, wherein she advocates a ‘be nice’ policy with regard to other authors and publishers, citing an incident where, having read a scathing review of Hush, Hush by a particular reviewer who later had their novel accepted for publication, she later refused to blurb said novel on the grounds of their review. And yes: that’s an entirely reasonable thing, to be cranky at someone who slammed your book when they later come asking for favours. I get that. What I’m less comfortable with is this statement:

“The reason I decided not to read the manuscript was because I wondered what would happen if I did read it…and loved it. What if I sent the editor a handful of glowing words, and she decided to stick them on the front cover of her author’s book? Would the author love having my praise splashed on her cover? Probably not… Interestingly enough, this once-aspiring author didn’t limit her somewhat rantish reviews to HUSH, HUSH. She’d made quite a habit of belittling authors’ books along the way, and I suppose it comes to no surprise that, as far as I know, she was never able to find an author to blurb her book. This isn’t to say an aspiring author can’t be honest when writing reviews, but if your goal is to be published, it might serve you well to drop the books you don’t love, and talk up the ones you do. You don’t have to love every book, every time. But I think a bit of courtesy in saying, “This wasn’t for me, and here’s why,” says volumes about you as a reviewer and a person. No one wants to start their career surrounded by nothing but a lot of burned bridges.”

4. This post by Lilith Saintcrow, which Fitzpatrick quotes in the above blog. The relevant lines are these:

“Publishing is really a small business. You never know when the person you’re rude to on a convention panel or in an elevator at a trade show may hold the power of life or death over your wee manuscript in the future. It’s best to be tactful and interested in other people at cons and shows, not to mention writer’s group meetings.”

5. This post on rape culture in YA – which, yes, makes particular mention of Hush, Hush. Full disclosure: this is not a book I’ve ever read, nor have I ever met the author. But no matter how lovely Becca herself may be – and by every account I’ve ever heard, she is lovely – the fact remains that Hush, Hush is a novel I consistently see cited by adult readers as being anti-feminist; or rather, of having a male love interest who comes across as abusive. Perhaps I should shut up until such time as I’ve read the book myself, but until then, I can’t help noticing a pattern in the commentary.

6. This post by an aspiring author and former book blogger, who closed her review blog when told by authors and literary agents that maintaining it would hurt her chances of being published. The context for that post can be found here, wherien she explains her hiatus from blogging, and links to the remarks which eventually prompted her decision.

7. The remarks themselves: this post on book reviewing, wherein literary agent Jill Corcoran speaks against it (or rather, is reported to have done so, as the conversation took place during a query session on Twitter), and these remarks by Stacia Kane, who also took part in the discussion. Specifically:

“I mentioned that I personally would be rather hurt if my agent signed someone who’d trashed me/my work, or even just said negative things about me/my work online. My friend… said she wouldn’t help that person out, either, like with a blurb or whatever. Which I agree with, as well… Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, and to express that opinion wherever and whenever. But…the purpose of a review, the whole reason reviews came about and exist, is to tell people whether or not they should read that book/buy that TV/use that hair gel/wear those shoes. That’s what a review is, and what it does. You may do a lot of other stuff along with your reviews, and use them to start long involved discussions, but the fact is, people read reviews first and foremost to see if the product–in this case a book–is worth buying. In other words, you’re querying an agent whose client’s book you’ve publicly told people not to buy. If you ask that author for a blurb, or promo help, or a guest blog, you’re asking for help from someone whose book you publicly told people not to buy.”

8. Any one of a million reviews of YA novels on Goodreads which complain about anti-feminist sentiment. I’m not going to link these, partly because I’ve already done enough singling out and feel bad about it, but mostly because anyone can go and find them. What I will link to, however, is something I’ve already (again) blogged about recently, viz: the Bitch Magazine controversy over their list of feminist YA titles, the fact that some of those titles were pulled, and the ensuing debate about whether or not Bitch was behaving reasonably (general consensus in short form: no). Nonetheless, it is relevant, not because this is a debate about censorship, but because the whole shemozzle goes a long way towards demonstrating that readers, authors and reviewers all care deeply about the role of feminism in YA novels, and are willing to dig in and defend those views in public.

SO. That about does it for links, though if you want to read more, the internet will oblige. What I’m trying to get at here is that while there might not be an actual YA mafia per se, the issue of whether or not book bloggers who also happen to be aspirant authors are free to write critical reviews without potential risk to their future careers is not as open and shut as it might have initially seemed. Specifically as concerns book blogger authors submitting to the agents of authors whose work they’ve given a negative review: Stacia Kane and Becca Fitzpatrick both make very intelligent, important points that I am in no way trying to dismiss or diminish. Namely: if you are an aspirant author submitting to a particular agency, you should know ahead of time who that agent represents in order to gauge how likely they are to respond favourably to your own work. If, for whatever reason, you choose to lie to that agent and compare your own work to a best-selling book on their lists that you not only can’t stand, but have publicly trashed, then do not be surprised if the author in questions takes offence when asked to help promote your own opus. The fact that you hated their book does not mean they will hate yours – in fact, they might find it to be brilliant. In a totally fair universe, such authors would always ignore your review and try your work anyway; but human beings are human beings, and will not always do the fair thing. Also, and just in case I haven’t made this clear already: I am not condoning purely pejorative reviews. It is perfectly possible to critique a book – critique it harshly, even – without doing so in a way that is sarcastic, snarky and/or ad hominem, and it should go without saying that doing so will not win you any friends.

But that, I fear, is exactly the point: friendship. I have thus far been lucky enough to make friends with other authors on the basis of having loved their work, or vice versa – what I’ve not yet had to do beyond the confines of a writers’ group meeting is tell a friend that I think their work sucks, or that I don’t like the moralism of it, or that it just isn’t for me, or that, because of all or any of these reasons, I don’t feel comfortable publicising it. Hopefully, I’ll never have to. But if I did, I honestly can’t predict whether, to paraphrase The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I’d be able to escape without completely compromising my honour and artistic judgement. Maybe that makes me a terrible elitist, or a terrible friend, or both. But what I hope, should that day come, is that I have the strength of character and the eloquence to be honest – or, at the very least, to keep silent. There are times when I suspect friends have had to do the same for me, and that’s fine: disliking my work is not the same as disliking me, and so long as they don’t mention it and I don’t push, everything’s peachy. On the converse, there are other friends I have who always critique up front – no punches pulled – but even though they might rip my work to shreds, that doesn’t mean we can’t still go for a drink afterwards.

I love my friends, and I love their work, too. But when I tell other people about X new book or Y new series, I want that to mean something objective, insofar as objectivity is ever really possible. Becoming a published author should not be synonymous with an abdication of critical judgement in public. Book bloggers should not be made to feel that they can’t have real opinions for fear of damaging their careers. The quality of such reviews is a different question altogether: despite having touched on tone, the issue is whether reviewers are free to criticise at all, and even in instances above where authors have cited scathing reviews, the general verdict is still to err on the side of caution.

A while ago, I read a truly fascinating article about the dangers of praising children for their intelligence rather than their skills – or rather, the danger of praising too much, and never criticising. One particular quote stands out:

” Once children hear praise they interpret as meritless, they discount not just the insincere praise, but sincere praise as well.”

In the context of reviewing, the above finding strikes me to have another application: the idea that, if all we ever hear from a particular reviewer is praise, we begin to discount their critical faculties. As it is highly unlikely that every reviewer will like every book they read – but as reviewing is a process innately predicated on critical analysis – the act of publishing only positive reviews, even where this is achieved by the simple expedient of withholding the negative ones rather than never writing them, will inevitably cause many readers to doubt the reviewer’s sincerity. Knowing what a reviewer likes is much less helpful if you cannot simultaneously identify what they don’t like, and if the message currently being sent to the book blogger community is along the lines of if you can’t say sumthin’ nice, then don’t say nuthin’ at all, then the upshot, however unintentional, is an erosion of meaningful criticism.

And that, if we return to the feminist argument, is a real problem. Because feminism is – I am not ashamed to say it – worth getting angry about. It is worth being passionate, perhaps even tactless and ranty and full of snark, if the problems one is endeavouring to address are about repeated patterns in stories that serve to render heroines as passive, stupid, unimaginative and useless, constantly in love with men whose behaviour would be deemed reprehensible in any other circumstance and are only justified narratively by the presence of True Love. This is not an argument about censoring books: it is about writing better ones, and discussing the undeniable impact out culture has on the stories we produce. By way of evidence as to this latter, I submit the following film clip from 1956: tell me that type of happy ending wasn’t socially sanctioned, and then try telling me that our own cultural biases have nothing to do with our writing. Something I love about the SFF community is the extent to which we’re willing to discuss problems in our field – the dearth of non-white characters and authors, the absence of gay protagonists, questions of cultural dominance and subversion – and yet, if this debate is anything to go by, certain parts of the YA world are shrinking from doing just that. Perhaps I’m drawing a long bow, or making mountains out of molehills, but from where I sit, it seems a fairly incontrovertible thing to say that a large portion of criticism currently directed at YA novels has to do with adult female readers being concerned at the presence of anti-feminist or unempowered characters and potentially abusive romantic scenarios. But if this is what’s leading to more vehement reviews in the blogosphere than usual – if this is the one subject about which people are losing their cool and behaving unprofessionally more than any other – then I think it’s an important enough concern that, rather than trying to get those bloggers to shut up by making them feel insecure about their own future careers, we ought to be throwing the debate wider.

And now, having just committed a form of suicide by internet, I’ll sit back and deal with the consequences.

Comments
  1. Kristen says:

    Here’s where I start to not care if I ever get published by a major house. The trend in YA, (tagging along on Twilight’s coattails,) is that narratives become more and more bent, as if to feed a need for that thrill of romantic possessiveness, is not even about a, “Feminist,” point of view, these are books that encourage young women to endure dangerous behaviour. YA authors do, in my opinion, have a responsibility to treat situations that are ostensibly plausible, even in a supernatural setting, as though there are consequences to them. Show a woman getting help in getting rid of a stalker, not falling in love with him. The number of adolescent relationships that contain abuse is still shockingly high, and if you’re writing for young women, why NOT write to empower them? The only thing to be gained by writing narratives where this, “Bad boy,” mythos is perpetuated, is if the author genuinely endorses it, or it looking to leech off an established hit. Criticism is part of being an artist, in any medium. If you can’t deal with that, you shouldn’t seek to be in the public eye. It’s as true of *ME* as a writer, as it is of anyone else. Also, if someone read or wrote a review of my work, that contained legitimate concerns about the impact my work would have, on an impressionable audience, I would sincerely hope that my ego could handle addressing those concerns, without threatening them with blacklisting. We’re not twelve years old, and we shouldn’t act like we are. That publishing has become increasingly insular, and that agents and publishers don’t take a higher ground and counsel authors that they’re not entitled to have everyone love their work, is obscene, to me.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Agreed. Insofar as authors dealing openly with these criticisms goes, though, I think there’s a barrier in terms of the – very reasonable – taboo on authors reacting publicly to their own bad reviews. And yet, we’re still managing the debate in other areas, because the focus is less on the review than it is the culture which spawned the book, and there are plenty of authors participating in those conversations whose books are also mentioned as a part of that debate. So, I don’t know: I guess I’d really like to see a bigger discussion of feminism in YA by YA authors themselves.

  2. Kate Elliott says:

    Man, you are so smart.
    This is a great post, and thanks for collecting these quotes and links in one place.

  3. Jordyn says:

    Wow, this post. Love it.

    I think the issue of female/romantic portrayal and feminism in YA is a completely separate issue from that of the YA mafia, reviews and bloggers. It so happens that a couple of YA authors who seem to have responded poorly to reviews write paranormal romance novels that have been criticized for “rape culture” and weak/subservient female characters. I haven’t read any of those books that have been talking about and whose authors have responded, so I can’t give an opinion on that except to say what I’ve read from other reviews/Goodreads.

    I love how well you’ve summed up everything here and linked to so. many. posts. Thank you, of course, for the links to my blog (#6 woot woot!) – but thank you also for the links to The Sparkle Project, the YA mafia posts by various writers, etc. Everything is so fascinating and your summary of it is great.🙂

    • fozmeadows says:

      No problem – and thanks so much for commenting on the original post, because if you hadn’t, then this extra bit might never have been written🙂

      The feminism issue is, I agree, separate in the main from the book blogger review question, but I still think that you can draw a link between them.

  4. Alex Fayle says:

    This is why I tend to stay away from groups in any format. You get enough people together and they get snarky cliqueish and downright mean to each other. I have my supportive communities and avoid the rest. It might mean that my writing doesn’t get seen as much, but really, who wants to be included in a group of people who like to snark?

    • fozmeadows says:

      I understand – it’s definitely worthwhile knowing what levels of criticism we can handle individually, because unless you feel comfortable with a certain type of feedback, even the best insights couched in that format aren’t going to be of use. Intellectual masochism serves no one.

  5. Stacia Kane says:

    Hi Foz,

    Thanks for your thoughts on my blog post. It seemed like basic human nature to me, too (if you say you hate my book I probably don’t want to be your friend), and certainly wasn’t meant as any sort of threat; unfortunately it seems to have been taken as such, and I’ve seen some truly outrageous statements attributed to me, which is quite unpleasant.

    What I find so interesting about the whole thing is how I said, “You know, sometimes what you say can cause a big kerfuffle.” And a huge kerfuffle erupted about how wrong I was to say that.

    The thing is, I don’t see the writer/reader thing as coming specifically from other writers. When I wrote that bit about having to be one or the other, I was actually thinking about some of the comments I’ve seen from readers regarding not wanting writers hanging out/playing in their pool. The idea that someone would think I was saying “You might not get published if you write reviews” never even occurred to me, frankly. I was just thinking along the lines of “we all tend to be friends, I love hanging out with other writers, I wouldn’t want to jeopardize that.”

    Anyway. It fascinates me that this subject is still being discussed, it really does. And there is no “YA Mafia.” None of us have that much power. Lots of people might not even care what you say. Had I realized such an explosion would come from my post, I never would have written it. Live and learn.🙂

    • fozmeadows says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Stacia!

      Something I still find amazing about this blog and the internet in general is that I can write a thing, and other people will read it. I mean, I know that’s the POINT, but I’m still always a bit shocked when it happens. Holly Black mentioned this in her post too, I think, but it can totally come as a surprise to find that people are dissecting a thing you’ve said and arguing about what it meant when they’ve taken it in a way you didn’t quite intend. That being said, live and learn is a very excellent policy, and I salute you for it🙂

      And though I continued using the term, I do stick by my initial assessment that, whatever problems there are, there is no YA mafia: we simply don’t have enough clout. We might like to think we do, but that’s nowhere near the same thing.

    • Janni says:

      (if you say you hate my book I probably don’t want to be your friend)

      I think this pinpoints one of the things that … varies a lot from person to person. Because to me, and to some others I know, someone hating my book doesn’t tell me I don’t want to be their friend. It was one of the first things I feel like I learned as a writer, actually: that liking someone’s books and liking them are two different things, and don’t always align.

      It seems what I’m hearing (not here specifically, but in the larger discussion–this just encapsulated an aspect of it well) is that some writers do expect love of the work and friendship to align.

      I mean, I have online friendships with people who haven’t always loved my work. I kind of like that, actually.

      The tricky thing is, I suppose, that one never does know how individual writers will react.

      I think as individual writers we can, at least, do our best to react well and not badly to negative reviews, and that we can decide we won’t let a bad of review of our work mean we’re not willing to interact positively with the reviewers should we run into them, online or off. (But not in the comments of the review itself, because authors commenting on actual reviews almost never goes well.)

  6. […] difficult for me to even talk about this, to sum it up in a concise way. Writer Foz Meadows has a pretty good run-down of what the YA blog-o-sphere looked like […]

  7. Penny B. says:

    “This is not an argument about censoring books: it is about writing better ones, and discussing the undeniable impact out culture has on the stories we produce. ”

    EXACTLY! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  8. Lucy says:

    I can’t thank you enough for posting this. Reading all the hashtags on twitter where this phenomenon of YA authors advocating reviewer censorship was being flat out mocked by YA authors made me want to abandon the genre as a reader. I know a good portion of it is the way the information is being brought to them, but at the same time I felt like I was told by them individually and then collectively to sit down and be quiet — that my opinions and the opinions of other amateur book reviewers do not count as anything more than hateful. I saw authors whose books I’ve recommended, whose books I’ve purchased extra copies of to send as gifts, laugh about other intimidating their readers.

    • fozmeadows says:

      I get why people were making fun of it – mafia jokes are, after all, funny – but on a deeper level, I think what was being laughed at in the Twitter stream was the idea that authors have the power to get people blacklisted (we don’t), and not the very real problem of authors, agents and publishers intimidating bloggers. Even so, the idea of bloggers and readers feeling silenced really, really bothers me. You write stuff in public, you’re going to get criticised, regardless of whether you’re an author or a reviewer – so why are people suddenly so offended?

  9. Andrew Kozma says:

    I just wanted to say how awesome of a post this is. And that is all.

  10. Matthew Brown says:

    It’s hard for authors to separate criticism of their work from criticism of them personally. It’s also hard for readers to separate positions characters in fiction advocate or present from the views of the author who created them. And it’s hard for reviewers to make sure their criticisms of a work or a part of it don’t shade into criticisms of the author as a person, or for that matter appear to be so even if they’re not.

    All of this, plus the typical Internet GIFT and capacity for misreading and paranoia, is apt to create a storm.

    Add to that the long history of progressive movements spending more time knifing each other in the back than seeking common ground — feminism isn’t the only place this happens, alas. The closer others are to us ideologically, it seems, the less we forgive their flaws, and the more insults hurt.

    The Internet also has a property where people write for their friends, people who know the context, but in places where people who don’t know the context can read it. I suspect most of the Twitter stuff here was that.

    • fozmeadows says:

      “It’s hard for authors to separate criticism of their work from criticism of them personally. It’s also hard for readers to separate positions characters in fiction advocate or present from the views of the author who created them. And it’s hard for reviewers to make sure their criticisms of a work or a part of it don’t shade into criticisms of the author as a person, or for that matter appear to be so even if they’re not.”

      This is very, very true.

  11. Remilda Graystone says:

    What I’ve taken away from this (and what, I’m surprised, needed to be repeated because I thought it was oh-so-basic) is that you should always try to respect people no matter which side they’re on or how they feel about you or how you feel about them. I don’t have to like you to respect you, and I don’t see how you not liking me should stop you from respecting me. The whole thing was blown out of proportion from both sides, I think, but both sides also had great points that I think everyone should take into consideration.

    Another thing that I’m surprised about is that people got offended by others stating their opinions–on both sides. Oh no! I posted something on a public forum for everyone to see and you’re saying someone disagrees with it and has the balls (or whatever) to tell me so? Come on. As an author or a reviewer or a general-internet-user-and-footprint-leaver-behinder (a scientific and serious title that is), you should know better. Trying to please everyone should never be a goal. Being kind and respectful (although subjective to subjectivity) should be. It may be hard at times, annoying others time, but it’s never impossible. Never.

    Thanks for the post.

    • fozmeadows says:

      The internet is a truly weird place. So much of the time, it feels like you’re writing into a void, and it lulls you into a false sense of security – I can say whatever I want, because no-one’s listening! And then badness happens, and everyone gets bewildered. It’s sort of like keeping a private diary, making the decision to take random pages of it and staple them around your neighbourhood, and then, when people start making comments, reacting as though the commenters had actually gone into your bedroom and stolen the pages without your consent – on both sides, as you say.

  12. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post, which articulates why I felt uneasy about the YA authors who were poking fun at the ‘YA Mafia’ label. I agree that feminist analysis of YA books is important and this IS a part of this current kerfuffle, which is why I didn’t like bloggers being told: ‘Be nice, ladies!’ It’s true that some blogs are full of thoughtless rants, and it’s true that authors can’t really do anything to retaliate against bloggers who’ve been critical of them, but that’s not really the point. There IS a perceived power imbalance there, and some bloggers felt intimidated.

    Anyway, this is why I : a) never respond to on-line reviews of my books, regardless of whether the reviews are gushing or snarky, and b) only discuss books on my own blog if the authors are dead or extremely unlikely to read my post.

    • fozmeadows says:

      In fairness to those people who have reacted to bad reviews as part of this debate, their books are much, MUCH more popular and well-known than mine, with the result that they’ve got to deal with a whole lot more vitriol on account of that popularity. Which isn’t something I’ve gone into in any of these posts, because it’s largely a different issue, but it still bears mentioning that negative reviews do seem to increase proportionally with a book’s success, as people start to view the content as a question, not just of that author’s skills in isolation, but – if they dislike the book – as something symptomatic of wider social malaise.

  13. lilysea says:

    Well this is all terribly interesting for someone such as myself who has been an academic and academic writer for years and is reinventing herself as a novelist.

    I suppose it would be difficult — impossible really — to do in the for-profit world of fiction, but suddenly the blind jury approach to reviews and publication that is de rigeur in academia is looking like a good thing after all, in spite of its frequent leakiness.

    What if writers were sent blind review copies of books to blurb? Then at least some percentage of personality would be removed from the issue.

    I have to also say that I’m glad there are many years between me and my newspaper book reviewing job of yore. I am a frank person and wrote frank reviews (positive, negative and in-between) and I know readers appreciate that. My book reviewing mentor told me I was a consumer advocate, telling people what was worth their $30 and what wasn’t. I wrote accordingly.

    I will never do that again, I think. From now on, if you hear me praise a book, you’ll know I liked it. I’ll remain silent about the ones I didn’t.

    Just to be on the safe side.

    As for cliques–they are everywhere in society. I have always chosen to pretty much ignore them and it has worked well for my social and professional life. I am happy to be friends with everyone up to a point and let it all shake out naturally as far as deeper friendships go. I refuse to be offended if I’m not invited into some inner sanctum (supposing it exists). I may be writing a YA novel at the moment, but I’m over 40, for crying out loud. I can handle not being the prom queen or her court.

    • fozmeadows says:

      It’s interesting to hear you talk about this from an academic point of view – my husband works in academia, and along with one of his colleagues, we were discussing the topic last night at the pub. Nobody suggested a blind review process, but it’s certainly an intriguing idea!

  14. Janni says:

    Becoming a published author should not be synonymous with an abdication of critical judgement in public. Book bloggers should not be made to feel that they can’t have real opinions for fear of damaging their careers.

    Well said. This, to me, is near to the heart of it.

    (Because it’s not book bloggers in general feeling threatened, as far as I can tell, as book bloggers who might, just possibly, one day want to publish fiction as well.)

  15. That was an awesome read. Thanks for your well thought words. I actually am fairly new to the blogosphere – at least where book reviewing is concerned but it was seriously surprising to me how many authors disliked negative reviews – negative in the sense that they may question a story or plot device or character. I think part of being an author and writing a book is committing yourself to your words so that when asked about them, you are ready to justify them. And being someone who has been immersed in academic writing/reading, it seems rather interesting that authors may have such think skins where reviews are concerned because some academic reviews I have read…scathing might actually be an understatement.

    I actually decided that to continue reading the books as I do and reviewing them, I need distance from the author because honestly, if there is anything I have learned over all this chaos is that while I may like the books of some authors, what they say can actually effect the way I feel about their work. So I figure it would be better for me to take a step back from the person and focus on the book.

    However, reading this post has me interesting in checking out your books so sometimes author interactions are a good thing. Maybe? Have a happy Sunday!

  16. […] Foz Meadows gives an excellent rundown on the situation. […]

  17. […] Gaiman’s side when it comes to the whole pencil-necked weasel thing). Then there’s the mafia issue – which, for all it exaggerates the power of individual authors to affect someone else’s […]

  18. rtyecript says:

    I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

  19. […] who’ve written negative reviews of authors they work with or know, or is this a form of discriminatory nepotism? is the primary purpose of book blogging to act as ‘cheerleaders’ for authors, or to […]

  20. […] Remember how there was a huge controversy back in the beginning of 2011 about traditionally published authors and agents advising upcoming authors not to blog critically about other books because it might hurt their career? How it was all intertwined with a so-called YA Mafia? Yeah, I’m betting a few people remember that. If not, here’s a refresher. […]

  21. […] them replaced by an attitude of universal professionalism. Online shit storms such as the mythical YA Mafia and Stop the Goodreads Bullies (both discussed with considerable insight by the wonderful Foz […]

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