Tag Archives: Authors Behaving Badly

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.

DON’T DO THIS EVER (an advice column for writers): “I’m not special enough!” edition

This installment may be shorter and more blunt (blunter? That doesn’t sound right) than usual, but I’m rocking a 101 degree fever and I don’t have the strength to exercise what little tact I have, or to write a long blog post.

Ayelet Waldman went on a twitter rampage when her novel, Love and Treasure, was not selected for the New York Times list of the one hundred notable books of 2014. The Daily Dot has the tweets here, in which she she says “Fuck the fucking NY times,” who reviewed the book positively, and demands that her followers to pre-order the paperback version to make her feel better.

I had never heard of Ayelet Waldman before this incident. To be honest, I wouldn’t have heard of her even if her novel had been deemed “notable.” Because I don’t read literary fiction, or at least, not much literary fiction. I’m a memoirs and genre fiction girl, and I don’t often see those types of books praised as “notable.” I’m sure there are plenty of people who use the notable books list to inform their reading choices, but if those readers care enough about fiction, they will seek out books that aren’t on that list, too.

Too many authors see themselves as competing for readers. I’ve never met a reader who only bought one book their entire lives. There’s a thing I hear repeated often, that just because a reader buys another author’s book, that doesn’t mean they won’t by your book. There is a phenomenon wherein certain authors’ new releases will absolutely sink every other release in their genre around their publication date; I don’t know why that happens, but it totally sucks. But that doesn’t mean something unfair is happening to you.

Every author feels like their book is better than everyone else’s book, that we deserve to sell more, that we deserve special treatment from publishers, that we should be critically praised. We can’t control those things, and we certainly can’t change them by throwing a tantrum. I get it, complaining is tempting; I’ve done it myself in weaker moments, albeit not on the same scale as some. But we can make a choice to accept what we have and move on, or destroy ourselves with unhappiness.

I choose the first one. I will probably never make the New York Times bestseller list. In fact, I’m pretty sure I won’t make the USA Today list again, either. I’m not going to win awards, I’m not going to have world-wide buzz. If it hasn’t happened by now, it’s not going to. My biggest books are likely behind me, but you know what? I have a niche readership who appreciate the books I have out there, and I’m able to make a living from my writing (thank you, by the way). That’s good enough.

It should be good enough for everyone else, too. And if it’s not, they’re tools.

DON’T DO THIS EVER (an advice column for writers): “On Wednesdays, we wear pink” edition

You guys know that I have absolutely no love for anti-blogger authors who treat the entire publishing world like their own personal version of high school, right? So just wipe out everything in that sentence after “for” and replace it with, “Jamie McGuire.”

Jamie McGuire. How do I even begin to explain Jamie McGuire?

Jamie McGuire is a #1 New York Times Bestseller of contemporary romance. Or YA, if that’s the award she’s trying to win. She believes that if you don’t like her books, you’ve never lived a hard life. And that reviewers should focus only on the parts of a book they enjoyed, and that negative reviews attack the readers who enjoyed the book. (Screencaps from CuddleBuggery.com) She writes books that sound even more horrifying than 50 Shades of Grey. She’s also been known to whip her devoted readers into a frenzy to attack people who have criticized her, and it truly doesn’t seem to matter how many or how few followers these reviewers and bloggers have on social media. You got 300,000 readers? McGuire will go after you. You got 30? She’ll still be at your door.

It’s no secret in the romance publishing world that McGuire and Jane Litte from Dear Author are never going to sit at the same lunch table. McGuire has accused Litte of being an opportunistic stalker, and Litte appears to get a kick out of poking McGuire. You get those stories from the links further up. So when news broke this week that publisher Ellora’s Cave was suing Litte and Dear Author,  readers saw through one of McGuire’s tweets:

mcguire tweet 1

In fact, she was so happy about the law suit, she tweeted again, hours later:

mcguire tweet 2

and again:

mcguire tweet 3

It turns out that her shade was about as obvious as a backfiring glitter canon, because everyone on twitter knew what she was talking about. The Mean Girls vibe continued on Facebook, where she and author Theresa Mummert celebrated with macros:

mcguire fb

“feeling amused”

So, they’re childishly celebrating the misfortune of their enemies. No harm there, right?

Well… not really. Litte is being sued over her post, “The Curious Case of Ellora’s Cave,” in which Litte writes that while a number of authors and editors have not been paid (some for as long as six months), the company owner has publicly bragged of shopping sprees and started up several side ventures, and that while the company posted $15 million in revenues last year, tax liens and salaries are going unpaid. Ellora’s Cave responded to these concerns by slapping Litte with a lawsuit. Litte stands by the allegations made in her post on behalf of her anonymous sources.

McGuire’s tweet opened a floodgate of responses from authors, readers, and bloggers who immediately knew exactly what she and Mummert were talking about:

As it turns out, when you celebrate a blogger getting sued for exposing business practices that are harming authors, and you, yourself are an author, you come across as kind of a traitor. To McGuire and her sycophants, they’d  just won a karmic victory. But many saw it differently.

Like, well. Me, for example. I’m an Ellora’s Cave author. I only have one book there, and it has never been a bestseller, but I love it and I would be heartbroken if it were to end up as part of a bankruptcy settlement. So, I asked for a reversion of my rights last week, after a summer of rumblings from other authors who weren’t happy with their experience with the company. I myself have never had any payment issues with Ellora’s Cave, but having been in the business for almost a decade, I’ve learned that when authors are saying that they aren’t getting paid, other things aren’t getting paid, either. As Litte points out in her post, if a company goes bankrupt, authors can lose their rights permanently, so some Ellora’s Cave authors are faced with a difficult, possibly bridge-burning choice right now. I’ve never met an Ellora’s Cave staff member about whom I could say a bad word, and it pains me to cut ties with a publisher that I feel has treated me well, but in business you have to make hard decisions to protect your interests. For authors who have been with them for twenty or more books, whose careers have begun and flourished there, who have good working and professional relationships with people in the company, the hard decisions are stacking up.

And this is what McGuire is celebrating? That she has been personally vindicated in her ego-fueled spat with Litte through the actions of a company that has recently gained attention for treating its authors badly? You’ll note that when Litte discovered and widely publicized the fact McGuire and other authors had been plagiarized, McGuire called her “courageous” for going public with important information. Litte did something to help authors, and it benefitted McGuire, so she’s courageous; when Litte does something to help authors and McGuire doesn’t benefit in any way, she’ll go ahead and cheer for whoever will tear Dear Author down, even if it means siding against fellow authors.

According to McGuire, we’re all misinterpreting her tweet:

mcguire tweet 4

But if that were the case… why not go into more detail? Why not clarify what her posts were actually about? McGuire is aware that we all know she was talking about the Ellora’s Cave suit, but she’s not interested in actually defending herself here. One of her social media talents is convincing others that she’s being victimized, thus causing a bigger stir.

Remind you of anyone?

mcguire burn book

But McGuire isn’t Regina George, publishing isn’t high school, and the social media Burn Book schtick she’s going for is just as destructive as the one assembled by the Plastics. McGuire’s lack of empathy for her peers and her inability to see past her own interests in order to celebrate some petty revenge seems at odds with the rah-rah supportive attitude she’s shown authors in her clique.

Jamie McGuire: this Ellora’s Cave situation? It isn’t about you. It’s not some cosmic gift crafted especially for you to gloat about. If it was, why would you want it, if it means other writers are facing hardship? Authors out there who just want to keep working and who don’t like the head this situation has come to? Bloggers are viewing this as a clear, serious warning that protecting authors from companies with exploitative business practices is going to result in a messy legal ordeal. So who’ll help you out if a publisher you write for starts to go under? If this plays out the way you clearly want it to in order to serve your petty vengeance, you could one day find that your rights and your royalties go away, and there will be no one willing to stand up for you.

If that happens, well, enjoy the lacrosse team, Jamie.

DON’T DO THIS, EVER (An advice column for writers): Dudley Dursley edition

Believe it or not, one of the questions I’m most often asked by people who don’t already know that I know absolutely nothing is, “Do you have you any advice for someone who wants to be/is a writer?” I’m the worst person to ask. Everything I have in my writing career, I got by falling into it ass backwards. Sure, I’ve worked hard for a long time, but to be honest, most of that work has been pointed firmly in the wrong direction. Then fate or some cosmic entity sees me struggling like a wind-up toy in a corner, and it’s like, “Awww. That’s really sad for her. You know what? Let’s just turn her around.” Something just happens, and I’ve arrived at some goal or achievement I feel I’ve done very little to earn. So, I don’t generally have any advice as to how to be a successful writer. Also, I have very little social media savvy. I talked about cutting my vulva with a pair of scissors on my twitter feed last week (@Jenny_Trout, in case you want in on all the vulva-maiming action).

I am a gossipy little streak of nonsense, though, so allow me to use someone else’s drama to craft some advice for you. Or, like Willam Belli says, “I’m going to teach you how to be better, through the faults of others.”

An author wasn’t happy the week that her latest book released:

chelsea cain 1

 

Writers, and I’m gonna be real here, especially female writers, have a really rough time balancing work and family pressures. I know that even though I’m the primary income in my household, my job is the one that’s most flexible and doesn’t require me to leave the house, so it’s always going to fall to me to make dinner, keep things straight for school, do the bills, do the phone calls, let the dogs out, give the kids baths, etc. It’s not that my husband is just too big and manly to help out, but he works a weird schedule and his job is pretty stressful, too. He’s always tired, he’s always asleep when the rest of the world is going on, so it falls to the person who is conscious (mostly) to do a lot of this stuff. And yes, the pressure is overwhelming when you’re sitting there, cooking a grilled cheese, and you know that you have a ton of work waiting for you in the next room, but your co-parent can’t exactly tell his job, “Hey, I’m going to need to leave for an hour so I can go make my kids’ dinner because my wife needs a solid eight hours to work.” It sucks so, so much to work from home, in this aspect.

So, I understand Author’s frustration at having to leave a sick kid to go on a book tour. I missed my kids so much on a two-day tour that my husband had to drive to Columbus, OH to get me, because I was a wreck. I know it must have sucked to go to a huge, mentally and emotionally draining expo when she wasn’t a hundred percent. That must have really sucked, and I know, believe me, I know, what it feels like when you work hard on something and it doesn’t do as well as you’d like it to (See also: Jenny’s entire career, 2009 to 2012). But there are a couple different reasons why authors cannot put out a message like this.

One of those reasons is that, wow. It sounds extremely entitled, doesn’t it? I’m not the only blogger to think so. In fact, I found out about this whole kerfuffle from Tez Miller’s blog. I’m linking because I don’t want you guys to think I’m straight up stealing her post when I now go on to say basically every single thing she already said. The reason our opinions are going to line up so neatly is because, well. Common sense.

The first mistake Author made was announcing that her book didn’t achieve list placement. Just a heads up: you don’t ever have to tell anyone how your book is performing. Ever. None of her readers would have noticed the book didn’t place, unless they’re particularly interested in the list placement of every author they’ve read. In fact, the first time you make a list, you get to keep saying, “Blabbity Blah Bestselling Author” for the rest of your career from the very first time you get placement, and pretty much everyone keeps on assuming all your books are bestsellers because of that. Seriously, I’m “USA Today Bestselling Author” Jenny Trout, because one book that came out in 2006 made the list one week and then dropped off and nothing of mine ever sold that well again. You just throw the title around and everyone assumes things are fine. The only people who notice that you’re not making a list is your publisher, your agent, and any of your particularly dedicated adversaries. But if you feel like being real about how a book is doing, you can. Nobody’s stopping you. Just know that you don’t have to.

If you are going to say something about your book not selling well, you might want to go with, “I’m disappointed that this book isn’t doing better, because I was really enthusiastic about it. Oh well, I hope everyone who’s reading it enjoys it!” I have heard from some readers that this kind of thing makes them uncomfortable; I’ll often refer to my fantasy series as “the one nobody read,” and I suppose that can come off a little ungrateful. After all, what about the people who did read it? Are they chopped liver? On the other hand, as someone who thrives on thinking I’ve got access to something secret, I love hearing that I’m a part of something obscure, so I guess it could go either way.

But what Author does here isn’t just, “Oh, my book isn’t performing the way I’d like it to.” She blames her readers for not pre-ordering. She can’t “count” on her loyal readers to boost her numbers and assure list placement anymore, and that’s why she’s disheartened with writing. That seems unfair, and that was her second mistake.  The people Author has a real issue with here are the people who aren’t buying her book. So why shit on the people who did buy it, by accusing them of not delivering on the promise the author assumed the readers have made? Why tell “core fans” that they’ve let you down, instead of saying, “Hey, thanks for buying and enjoying my latest book?”

The third mistake Author made here was to mention that all of her previous thrillers had made the NYT list. As in… none of her thrillers had ever not become New York Times Bestsellers. It is at this point, dear readers, that the patience of pretty much any author would wear thin. Making the New York Times Bestseller list is a dream of every novelist. If they say it isn’t, they’re lying. Everyone who says, “I don’t really care about list placement,” is going to be on the phone with every member of their extended family, their graduating class, and their dentist’s office staff within minutes of hearing that they placed on the list. People go their entire careers without ever getting close to the NYT. It is the very definition of “brass ring” for genre fiction authors. If the worst thing happening in your career is one of your books not making the New York Times Bestsellers list when all the ones before it did, you might wanna reframe your complaint. This comes off a little like Dudley Dursley counting his birthday presents. Or, as one twitter user put it, “But I ALWAYS win first place!”

She goes on to say that those thrillers that did make the NYT “didn’t sell gangbusters.” But they made the New York Times bestseller list. Here’s another tip: keep your career in perspective. You’re always going to feel like you’re not doing well enough, or that you could be selling better. That’s called insecurity, and if you’re a writer, well, congratulations, you have a wealth of it. If your books are becoming New York Times bestsellers, they’re selling well. Unless every other book under you on that list had extremely bad sales all at once, trust me. Your book is selling just fine.

The last tip I want to impart here is, don’t threaten to withhold from your readers. Whether Author intended to or not, she implied that she wouldn’t continue writing her series unless her fan base pre-ordered and got her on a list. And that’s crappy. It’s crappy when an author doesn’t finish a series, anyway–and I should know; I have two unfinished series out there, mea culpa–but it’s extra super crappy when an author claims their bestselling series is in danger because readers aren’t doing enough to directly benefit the author’s wallet.

So, if you’re a writer, or plan on being one, there’s some advice. Do not blast your readers on social media for getting you thirty-six presents this year instead of thirty-seven. And if you do… avoid zoos.