Little Fish Swimming In A Big Fish’s Wake

This isn’t a call out post, though in some cases you’ll be able to read between the lines. That’s not the purpose. Two of the few individuals I’ll single out by name are John Green and E.L. James, and they are largely passive players in the current online dramas their names keep surfacing in. This post is neither a condemnation of them or an endorsement. I bring them up here as examples of authors who have recently been made, perhaps unwillingly, into banners for much larger crusades.

With that in mind, I have to address something that has been bothering me ever since the #AskELJames hashtag last week. For anyone unaware, an individual who is either woefully out of touch or disastrously optimistic thought it would be a great idea for E.L. James to do a Twitter Q & A, in which fans would be able to ask questions and hashtag them with #AskELJames in the hopes of getting their queries answered. A domestic violence prevention group that has protested Fifty Shades of Grey many times in the past came up with the idea that critics of the violence, rape, misogyny, homophobia and racism in the books should flood the tag with questions about all of these issues, to see if James, who is notorious for hostile responses to criticism, would address any of them. But in the hours leading up to the event, some of the questions became, well, mean. People insulted her weight, her intelligence, her appearance, all the standard issue internet hate one would expect to get from just, you know. Being on the internet.

People felt sympathy for her, and that sympathy turned into statements like, “You have to feel bad for her,” which seems harmless in the rhetorical. But then it became an order, “You have to feel bad for her. Nobody would like to hear those things said about them,” before finally throwing in the b-word: “You have to feel bad for her. Nobody would like to hear those things said about them. This is bullying.”

One author came to James’s defense with a blog post imploring us to all be nice, and categorizing the event as a mean-spirited free-for-all in which an innocent author was attacked for no reason and with no means of protecting herself. People online are, after all, people in real life. Comparisons to Cersei’s walk of shame on Game of Thrones were made. E.L. James was, truly, a martyr to the irredeemable beast that is social media.

One thing everyone seemed to overlook was the fact that James herself famously said that criticism would be easier to take “with a nice fat paycheck,” and that she has behaved atrociously toward people on-line since her days in the Twilight fandom. But what goes around comes around is no longer fair, it seems; you should be able to have your cake and shit on everyone else’s without criticism or retaliation.

At the same time, a storm that had been raging for weeks seemed to have been blowing over. It concerned YA author John Green and a tumblr post made by a fan who criticized Green’s interaction with teens. Weeks ago, Green posted a rebuttal to defend himself from allegations of child sexual abuse that were never made. To be frank, I can see why he leapt to that ardent defense, as being an adult man with unfettered digital access to many teenage girls is a position that requires extreme caution. But when YA bloggers and readers pointed out exactly that, authors came out in droves to defend Green from allegations which, again, were never made. The Tumblr user was driven off the site by fans angry that Green had announced he would limit his use of social media. One author stated they “genuinely had reason to distrust male authority figures,” and were “ill” over the controversy, implying that teens who disagreed with them did not have a good enough reason to discuss the issue or their instincts when it comes to adult men.

A teen writer, Camryn Garret, wrote an op ed for The Huffington Post in which she pointed out the connection between silencing teens and fostering rape culture. And yet again, authors rode to John Green’s defense, with one of them calling Garret’s piece an “attack,” as though a teen writer openly acknowledging the power imbalance between bestselling authors with broad social media platforms and their largely anonymous readers put Green in very real danger.

Yesterday, news broke that another YA author, this one much further down the food chain than the others, had announced their resignation from the young adult genre entirely. They would no longer write YA due to the toxic culture that had formed on social media, and their decision was made not in defense of John Green, but in defense of one of the midlist names defending John Green. And of course, the merry-go-round began spinning again, with authors and readers lamenting the loss of this valuable voice and vowing to buy and promote their books.

So it would seem that the tide is turning back toward the Be Nice culture of yore, where readers stayed silent and were happy for the crumbs authors threw to them, and authors with smaller distribution gazed lovingly up at those who had made it. Interestingly enough, the only people who haven’t been weighing in on this subject are Green and James themselves. They haven’t defended themselves half so ardently as the handful of midlisters and bestsellers who stepped up to the plate to decry public response. So I have to wonder…

Is Be Nice the new marketing tool?

One of the easiest ways of garnering sympathy on the internet is to invoke the word “bully.” That accusation has so much power for a word whose meaning has largely been erased through misuse. Bullying implies a power dynamic, the strong preying upon the weak. In what conceivable way was James, arguably the most successful author of all time, disempowered by the voices of dissent in her social media Q&A? At what point was Green brutally oppressed by a larger discussion of concerns that had long gone unexamined with regards to YA authors and their access to teens through the internet, a discussion in which he was no longer the subject but merely the catalyst? More puzzling still is the “abuse” some of the authors defending them believe they’ve been unfairly subjected to when others have disagreed with them, even mildly.

Make no mistake: some comments made about both Green and James were inappropriate and mean for the sake of meanness. Lines were crossed. But that doesn’t mean they were bullied, any more than a handful of pebbles could bully a mountain. Neither of them are known to be silent in the face of criticism, so why the endless posts and tweets and arguments to support them?

Because if you care hard enough and loud enough, you’ll get a prize.

And that’s really all it is. If you call upon others to Be Nice, you appear positive and constructive, regardless of who or what you’re trying to silence with that attitude. If you flounce loudly from your own genre, you’re making the ultimate sacrifice to positivity because you’re just too Nice to handle all that negativity. If you can call enough attention to your niceness, the big fish might notice you. They might tell all the minnows in their pond about you. One day, you might even leap from your tidal pool into the vast ocean of their popularity, because you did them a solid by defending them.

Is this cynical of me? Maybe. But consider all of the authors out there who don’t put up Fifty Shades or The Fault In Our Stars numbers, many of whom are people of color, GLBTQA+ authors, young women writers (including Camryn Garret), who face hatred on social media and their blogs every day while they’re just out there trying to make their voices heard. Do they receive this kind of impassioned defense? Do they merit pages long blog posts, a series of tweets spread out over weeks, a rallying cry that this is the final straw, all of this meanness must be stopped?

No. They don’t get that. Because there’s nothing in it for a little fish to defend another little fish. And if they sit back and watch that other little fish get eaten? Less fish in the pond means more chance of getting the fish food.

John Green and E.L. James have always been very good at supporting their fellow authors and seem eager to do it, but I’ve never seen an indication that they do this as a reward for their faithful legions of white knights alone. So what do authors seek to gain from shutting down valuable discussion about real issues, and lumping legitimate criticism in with insults and personal attacks?

If it’s an attempt to gain readers, count me out. I’ve been turned off by a lot of authors in the past two weeks. The “haters” didn’t alter my personal opinions of John Green or E.L. James, but I certainly see the defenders in a new light, and it’s not positive.

But maybe that’s just me, not being Nice.

FIRST TIME review copies

Hey there everybody! I’m setting up my low-key book release for First Time and I’m offering review copies for people with book review blogs. Wanna review either Ian’s book, or Penny’s book, or both books? Fill out the form below. But please, only fill it out if you blog book reviews. This is a bloggers-only ARC giveaway.

PS. The release date is in August, but I know you guys have tight schedules. Don’t sweat it if you can’t fit a review in until later down the road.

Happy Independence Day

“I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” –John Adams, writing about the White House.

bernie-sanders-portrait-01

This 4th of July, I just want to say that I support Bernie Sanders in his run for President of The United States of America, and I think there are a lot of good reasons to. If you’re inclined to check out his campaign, please visit BernieSanders.com.

Happy Independence Day!

THE BOSS audiobook giveaway and news!

Hey everybody! I got great news this week! Tantor Media have acquired the rights to The Ex and The Baby, the fourth and upcoming fifth books in the Boss series. The Boss and The Girlfriend are both available now from them, and The Bride will be out next Tuesday.

So, funny thing, when you sell the audio rights to your novel, the company (in this case, Tantor Media) gives you some free copies. But what I am going to do with a bunch of copies of the same audiobook, right? So I’m going to give three copies away. Just enter, and then I’ll contact the winners after the 10th. I’ll even buy a silver Sharpie and sign these bad boys for you, and I’ll probably throw in some swag, as well, because I’m like that. Then I’ll kick back and sniff that Sharpie, and we’ll all have a good time.

P.S. I realize it’s a pain in the ass to do a giveaway thing where you have tweet or use social media or whatever, but Rafflecopter is all I got. So, if you do enter, thank you for jumping through that hoop to do so, I appreciate it.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jenny Reads 50 Shades of Midnight Sun: Saturday, May 14, 2011 or “Lack of situational awareness makes our hero look like a serial killer.”

I have internet again. Our long national nightmare is over.

Here are some interesting things relating to E.L. James and the travesties she commits against humanity and the English language:

Also, several people emailed me to point this out, and I’m rolling:

Cover of Stephenie Meyer's The Host, featuring a close up of a face and one open eye.Cover of E.L. James's Grey, picturing a close up of a face and one open eye.

But perhaps my favorite of the bunch from this week is Janet Maslin’s review of Grey for The New York Times. Maslin writes:

Speaking of cries for help, Ms. James leaves herself badly exposed by this book’s flagrant air of desperation. Her own fans write better stories about Christian Grey than she does. The fact that hers is the hidebound, trademarked and much-copied version doesn’t make it the important one. She has let time stand still in order to capitalize on one big hit, but she’s working in such a fast-moving medium that her failure of imagination is dangerous. She didn’t exactly invent these characters in the first place: She was a “Twilight” fan who appropriated them, tweaked them and made them hugely salable for a while.

Someone please send Ms. James a whole bouquet of aloe plants for that sick burn.

On to the recap!

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How I reacted to the news of Hannibal’s cancellation.

During my writing retreat up north last week, we actually did have a teensy bit of 4G at times. And during one of those times, Bronwyn Green found the most distressing news:

NBC had cancelled Hannibal.

I’m die hard fangurl of Thomas Harris’s novels and the movies of them, but Hannibal is some next level slash-fanfic and I can’t get enough of it. And while Netflix and Amazon are apparently both courting the idea of picking up the show, in those first dark hours, I did not take the news of the cancellation well at all:

Me lying face down on the floor, taken from a really unflattering angle

FOR THE RECORD my feet were only that dirty because I’d just been outside shoeless, walking in pine sap.

After a while, my friends became concerned about me. They possibly also wanted me to wash my feet, which smelled strongly of Christmas tree.

Me, still laying on the floor.

But I wouldn’t get up. I just laid there, softly weeping at the unfairness of a world that would cancel not just Hannibal, but Covington CrossThe Adventures of Briscoe County Jr.The Mindy Project, and Futurama that one time.

Eventually they thought they could tempt me off the floor with promises of cookies and milk…

Me laying on the floor with a package of oreos beside my head and a cup of milk with a  series of straws attached to each other form one long straw.

But they had to build a special straw to get me to go for it.

It is my hope that eventually, Hannibal will also be given cookies and milk on the floor, in the form of a new life on Amazon or Netflix.

Stay tuned this week for another Grey recap and probably more about my upper peninsula adventures.

Jenny Reads 50 Shades of Midnight Sun: Grey, Monday, May 9, 2011, or, “Return of The Chedward”

You guys didn’t really think I would leave, for a week, right after Grey hit the stands, and NOT do a recap before I left? Are you high? Why did you fall for that?

So, while I’m in Gay, MI, which I have renamed it in honor of A Concerned Home Owner, relentlessly Gay, MI, please enjoy this recap until I return.

letter reading: "Dear resident of 4900 Kenwood Avenue, your yard is becoming RELENTLESSLY GAY!"

What’s their home so concerned about?

This way, my silence on the subject doesn’t lead people to believe that I’m actually dead.

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Blogging Hiatus

Howdy, Trout Nation! Just a heads up that because I’m trying to finish up First Time and in preparation of my annual writing retreat to the U.P., I’m going on blog hiatus. If you’re new here this year, or in case you’ve forgotten, for the past three years I’ve headed into the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with a group of writers, to share a cabin that has no phone, internet, or television, but a bangin’ electric sauna, for a whole week. We have all kinds of zany adventures (you can read about the single most important thing that happened on last year’s retreat here. And about how terrible my friends are here), but best of all, we write. Like crazy. I think I did 30,000 words in a week last time. This time, I’m aiming for 50,000.

Anyway, because getting ready for all this takes time, I won’t be making blog posts unless some extraordinary bullshit happens (and with Grey on the way, it’s entirely possible), and I’ll be scarce on social media (except for Tumblr, which sucks your life away like The Machine in The Princess Bride).

I’ll be back after June 28 with another recap of Grey. For now, enjoy your summer, and know that I’ll be writing about Neil and Sophie while I’m up north. I might even be able to share some when I return.

50 Shades of Single White Female

I’m supposed to be on a blogging hiatus. Is it really too much to ask that 50 Shades related foolishness just pause for a minute? Yet, like the cop sidekick in an action movie, I was so close to going home and saying goodbye to this dangerous life, and then I got shot.

Shot in the face with the most absurdly staged news story in the history of all time.

In a twist unlike any that has ever happened to any other hotly anticipated retelling of a blockbuster novel, Grey, the retold  50 Shades of Grey, has been stolen and is in grave danger of being leaked to the general public.

Oh, how terrible it must feel when one rewrites the first novel of their series from the hero’s perspective, only to find it has cruelly been leaked ahead of release day! Probably not as bad as someone plagiarizing your entire series, then turning around and putting out their own version of the spin-off novel you wrote and shelved because it was leaked to the public, and claiming that their novel was also leaked, because they don’t just want to rip off your intellectual property, they want to absorb your entire life and become you.

Something like that.

Now, I’m not saying this was James’s idea. But I am saying that a publicist is at work on this one. What are the odds, really, that:

  • Stephenie Meyer publishes the Twilight series.
  • Stephenie Meyer begins work on Midnight Sun.
  • Midnight Sun is leaked online
  • Stephenie Meyer shelves Midnight Sun indefinitely.

and then

  • E.L. James is “inspired” by Twilight and writes 50 Shades of Grey.
  • E.L. James announces the publication of Grey.
  • Grey is allegedly stolen from the printers.

Obviously there’s no chance of Grey being shelved or even postponed because God is dead, just like I am on the inside. But I’m sorry, it’s just too coincidental that a series plagiarizing Twilight just so happens to have a companion novel told from the hero’s perspective a la Midnight Sun, and it also just so happens to get stolen and possibly leaked, especially when the printing company is apparently not having it, either:

A spokeswoman for CPI UK confirmed it is printing the 50 Shades of Grey companion novel Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey As Told by Christian, but said: “I doubt it’s gone missing from one of our printworks seeing as I haven’t heard about it.”

Here’s hoping that James choses to rip off the rest of Meyers’s career arc, and vanish without fanfare.

Now it’s back to the hiatus hole for me.

50 Shades of This Is Not Cool, Guys

By now, every single author with a summer release knows that their book is doomed to fall into the black hole that is Grey, E.L. James’s regurgitation of her blockbuster novel 50 Shades of Grey. A title like Grey is like an event horizon. It will suck everything into its gravity with no chance of escape. All other books will come to a standstill, approaching, but never reaching, the sales success they would have had if Grey hadn’t come crashing into the market. And it doesn’t just happen to small books. Big, splashy titles will be affected, and you’ll see regular NYT #1-ers failing to reach the spot.

In other words, fiction sales this summer are “fifty shades of fucked up.”

So, if Grey is expected to sell out its unheard of print run (1.25 million copies in its first printing), why does it need to be prominently advertised on other titles? Oh, for example…

50 Shades of Total Bullshit

If you can’t see the graphic, it’s a screen shot of the Amazon page for my book, The Boss (which is free and, from what I understand, pretty fantastic, so check it out if you want). Before the reader browsing through the page can even reach the book’s description, there’s an add imploring the consumer to visit the Kindle store page for Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian, and providing links to “More ‘Fifty Shades’ titles.”

In other words, “Before you have a chance to read about this book you were interested in a minute ago, might we redirect you to this other one, instead?”

Besides the fact that this creepily implies a similarity between the two titles (or the author’s tacit approval of the franchise), it’s a low blow to authors who just want to break even. My books are fairly successful, and share something of a crossover audience with the Fifty series. But tons of other authors have seen this ad pop up on their pages, too. The titles don’t even need to have anything in common with Grey; while my book is seemingly a shoe-in for readers who like BDSM billionaire soap operas, one author reported seeing it on her “very, very, very gay” all-male menage book. One saw it on her erotic thriller’s page. If your book is erotic romance or erotica of any flavor, it appears to wear the Grey badge of awful.

So, what gives, Amazon? Grey is already #1 in both the Kindle store and among regular books. It is a part of the bestselling fiction series of all time. It has a first print run of 1.25 million copies. Does it really, truly need sales so bad as to potentially drive them away from authors who sell less? One author who found her product page bearing the advertisement reported that she “barely broke” a thousand dollars in profit last year, a far cry from the $95 million James made in 2013. The ad showed up on the product page for one author who reports selling approximately 120 ebooks per year. 120. What compels the logic that E.L. James desperately needs those 120 readers to see her title and potentially drive readers from that 120 copy selling author to Grey? And that author has no hope of seeing her book placed prominently on the Grey product page.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, Vintage Press, James’s publisher, doesn’t feel the book needs any advertisement at all:

When asked why Vintage announced the book just two weeks before its on sale date, Bogaards said, it’s what E.L. James, nee Erika Mitchell, wanted. “Erika wanted this to be a surprise for her readers, and the only amplification that was necessary on our end was to point press to her tweet [about the publication], which we did.”

So, if a simple tweet will suffice to drive the sales of this book (and it absolutely will and has), I have to ask…why would anyone go the extra mile to potentially squash the sales of other authors? Maybe I’m just not retail savvy enough to understand it. Either Amazon is behind the campaign (possible) or Vintage Press has sprung for the placement (more possible). Either way, the retail behemoth has to understand that Grey is guaranteed money in their pockets with or without this advertisment, so it doesn’t make sense to undercut sales of other titles.

 

I guess the lesson we can all learn from this is that there is no coattail so small that E.L. James’s masterwork cannot ride it.