Recently, Jane Litte, of the super popular book review blog Dear Author, revealed that she’s not just a blogger, but Jen Frederick, a best-selling New Adult author with eight published novels and a movie deal to her name. Litte and her site get talked about, a lot. Some people love Dear Author and the community of readers who comment there. Some people hate the site, and Litte, due to various run-ins with the site and readership over the years. And some people, like me, go to the site to find out what books are free or on sale any given day, and occasionally read blog articles and either agree or disagree, but generally without “picking sides.”
Yes, we’re about to discuss drama happening in the book world that I have not “picked a side” on. I’ll give you a moment to recover from your shock.
My personal stance on the issue is that I’m happy for Jane Litte’s success and I’m a bit gleeful that a certain website now has to accept that she’s not a jealous hater born from the frustrated ashes of a thwarted literary career. I’m also one of the people who can see why her ethics have come into question, and that it’s possible to do that questioning without it being a matter of a personal vendetta or an attempt to sabotage an author’s career.
Reviews written by authors on the Dear Author site are usually labelled with a disclaimer stating that the person writing the review is an author. Now, clearly I have no problem reviewing the works of other authors. Look around the blog you’re reading right now. I don’t believe that the moment you become an author, you lose all right to criticize and become obligated to unquestioningly support other authors. But a situation like this falls into an ethical sore spot. This wasn’t an author reviewing books, this was an author pretending to not be an author while reviewing those books. There might not seem like much of a difference, but there is, and people are right to question it, especially in the wake of allegations that Litte didn’t just keep mum about her author identity, but actively represented herself to the book blogging community as a wholly separate person.
As an author who reviews–and let’s be honest, my reviews are impossibly long, incredibly detailed, and usually blisteringly harsh–I’m aware that my blogging absolutely has an effect on my career and readership. There are consequences for everything you write as an author/blogger, and you accept those bad things with all the good things. But Litte tried to keep the views she expressed as a reader from impacting her writing career, and I feel like that’s poor form. I’m not saying that authors have to tell readers all their deepest, darkest secrets, but if there’s a conflict of interest in something they’re doing (for example, an author reviewing books in her own genre without disclosing that she is an author, or that author’s books showing up in deal and recommendation posts on her blog, as happened at Dear Author), then they should be upfront about that.
So, people have a right to be upset about this news. Yes, there are people who dislike Litte on a personal level, and their criticism of the situation is worded strongly. But that doesn’t make their criticism less valid just because it isn’t couched in careful language. There are some who now seek to defend Litte by accusing those asking questions of having a vendetta against her, creating a “Be Nice” quagmire in which anyone who isn’t thrilled about the news is a hater or a troll. As author Olivia Waite wrote, “I AM angry that I’m expected to be uncritically happy about this news, though, if I want to be seen as nice.”
Did Jane Litte go about conducting her dual careers in an unethical way? I agree with those who are saying yes. Does that mean I hate her, have harbored a long-time grudge against her, and will stop at nothing to destroy her and everything Dear Author stands for? No, and I actually like Jane Litte based on the occasional interaction I’ve had with her, despite disagreements I’ve had with some views expressed on her site. Am I happy that Dear Author isn’t going away, and that Jen Frederick is enjoying the success of bestselling books and a movie deal? Sure, why not be happy for an author who’s succeeding? It’s entirely possible to be happy that a good thing has happened for another author without supporting every single thing they’ve said or done, and it’s also possible to be happy that Dear Author isn’t shutting down while simultaneously recognizing that the site must now implement and adhere to new policies in order to operate in good faith with its readership.
The “us vs. them” mentality that has sprung up around this incident is disheartening, because this isn’t an “us vs. them” situation. It’s a clear case of an author/blogger making unethical choices. Yes, even if she didn’t intend for it to happen this way. Yes, even if she didn’t review her book on her blog. And no, the criticism she is receiving isn’t invalid because some of it is coming from people who don’t care for her on a personal level. These criticisms aren’t going to destroy Jen Frederick’s career, nor are they intended for that purpose.
As a post script, for those who are saying they now feel cheated for having supported the DA Legal Defense Fund: I have no patience for you. You donated money because a blogger was being slapped with a groundless libel lawsuit by a publisher who was angry that their bad business practices were brought to light. You donated money because you objected to the actions of Ellora’s Cave, not because you thought Jane Litte wasn’t an author or her bank account balance was smaller than you estimated. You donated that money to send a message to Ellora’s Cave and any other publisher in the future who thinks they can silence voices in the romance community with threats of litigation. Jane Litte being an author doesn’t change the impact of that lawsuit, so why should you now feel that you’ve been tricked? The underlying issue has not changed.
The takeaway from all of this is that readers (and fellow authors) want transparency. Authors want to know that if we submit a book for a review request, we’re going to get a fair review, and not one that’s influenced by the fact that we’re in competition with an author or their publisher. Readers want to know that the reviews they’re reading aren’t influenced by those same factors. Bloggers and readers both want to know that books they’re purchasing or accepting for review aren’t written by someone they have a negative opinion about and don’t feel comfortable promoting or financially supporting. And they certainly have a right to feel hurt or betrayed when an author whose online presence they’re following and engaging with turns out to be a different person entirely. So when it comes to secret author identities, think hard about what you should be disclosing. Seeing a conflict of interest and ignoring the implications until your success becomes too large to continue the dual life? Don’t do that, ever.