As you may or may not know, there have been a lot of YA author meltdowns this year. I've always believed in speaking up when I see someone being attacked, particularly when it's someone I know to be a fair reviewer and whom I consider to be a friend. Still, when it happened to me over a comical review I wrote of The Selection by Kiera Cass, I tried to avoid speaking publicly about this other than on my own review and in a single interview in an attempt to refrain from further fanning the flames. I've turned down all other requests to talk about it, even though I understood why people were interested: when a public figure goes on the offensive towards someone who is not a professional reviewer, it is an ugly and shameful thing. What made me really furious about that behavior was that if it happened to me, it could happen to anybody. There are a lot of fledgling bloggers and casual reviewers who don't have nearly the kind of support system I do, and the thought of someone being guilted into changing or deleting his or her review made me very upset.
The Facts, Recapped:
January 13, 2012: My review of The Selection went live on this blog and on GoodReads. Within hours, the first trollish comment appears on GoodReads, followed by repeated negative comments by "Anonymous" on this blog. Later that day, I discover that the author's agent, Elana Roth, called me a bitch on Twitter. She and the author then publicly discuss trying to game the system by burying my review and upvoting positive ones instead. I published my status update (screenshots linked above) to the GR feed along with a few subsequent comments, and the whole thing exploded. Numerous people tweet the author and her agent to express their disgust.
January 14, 2012: Kiera Cass sends me an private message via GoodReads to say she feels someone should apologize, so she's sorry. She proceeds to explain why she and her agent wanted to vote up reviews in the hopes of people seeing good ones when they visited the page. I did not respond.
January 17, 2012: Karen Stringen from Publishers Weekly contacts me about the YA author controversy. I speak with her via telephone the following day.
January 18, 2012: Elana Roth sends me an email to formally apologize. I formally accept.
January 19, 2012: Publishers Weekly publishes the story Should Authors and Agents Weigh in on Citizen Reviews?
January - May Numerous blogs write about the situation. (I'll come back and add links later.) Trolls come and go every week on the reviews. Fellow bloggers and GoodReaders go on the attack weighing in on my reviewing policies and a supposed "hive mentality" when it comes to these meltdowns. The author's friends leap to her defense, and one person writes that blaming her for her employee's actions (and her failure to stop them, I might add) is equivalent to "blaming ever(y) Muslim for 9/11 or every American for the bombing of Hiroshima." Authors, friends, and complete strangers write to me with messages of support, both publicly and privately. Kiera Cass and Elana Roth tweet about how the author shouldn't be blamed for the agent's actions and imply that they hope the book won't be affected. An entire blog is created to mock GoodReads reviewers, including me. Countless new GoodReads account pop up with an interesting amount of activity devoted to this book, and countless 5 star Amazon reviews are posted where it is the reviewer's sole contribution.
May 29, 2012 A self-published author with a long history of reader attacks, leaving abusive comments, creating sock puppet accounts, and who was even banned from GoodReads for that behavior, decides to publish a 5-star review of The Selection onto Amazon and onto her blog, which freely quotes my review and comments on my "ignorance" and also compares the book to Fahrenheit 451. It receives no attention.
I leave a note about this occurrence in the comments section of my "review" of her book (which I freely admit is on my "will never read" shelf due to her previous behavior) since it further illustrates her contempt for reviewers in general. More quotes from her Amazon review: "I'm sorry but some reviewers these days are such incredible idiots that I have hard time containing my frustration of their ignorance. Some reviews I read are such a cesspit of stupidity, it makes me wonder how these people are even able to function from day to day in their lives."
May 30, 2012 The self-same author--whom I refuse to name because this is clearly a bid for more traffic and possibly align herself with people in the industry--publishes a vicious and defamatory post full of misquotes and outright lies. Words are twisted, whole scenarios are made up, and if that weren't enough, she also publishes what she claims is my real name, my photo, my email, my husband's work info, and various other tidbits she thinks will be damaging, as if she's going to score some sort of victory. Oh, and also, apparently I'm not a legitimate reviewer who writes critical reviews of books, and I am a bully who calls upon my vast army of friends to stalk and harass authors relentlessly. And Publishers Weekly is apparently in the business of damaging authors' reputations and the future sales of their books.
There have been a lot of accusations and misconceptions from a lot of different sources over this review, though this is certainly the most heinous one to date.
Here's what I did not do:
- I never wrote a blog post about The Selection debacle until now.
- After the initial posts with the screenshots and a few comments, I refrained from publishing further info to the GoodReads feed, and kept it semi-private in my review. I did not post it on Facebook, and only linked to it on Twitter after I was asked about it.
- I never emailed friends to ask them to vote on my review, blog about the story, or otherwise take any sort of action on my behalf.
- I never emailed friends to ask them to downvote negative reviews of the book on Amazon.
- I never went out of my way to badmouth the book or the author on other reader's reviews, whether it was on positive reviews or even on negative ones that I agreed with. I think I've commented on maybe a half dozen reviews written by good friends in all this time.
- I never initiated contact either the author or the agent in any way.
- I never contacted Publishers Weekly to pitch them this story.
- I never posted the PW story to GoodReads, and only commented on it after someone else posted it on my review.
- I never tweeted, blogged about, or publicly put out the many blog stories written about this situation, other than on the discussion on my own review.
- I never contacted any of the considerable resources I have at other news media across the country to alert them to this story.
The truth of the matter is: yes, over 10 years ago, I did contribute fiction reviews to Publishers Weekly for two years. The writer who contacted me about the story had no idea about this connection and was surprised to hear of it since my editor had long retired. There was no "conspiracy" to badmouth anyone, and to imply so shows an offensive lack of understanding of how journalism works. The publishing industry's biggest trade publication is obviously going to be interested in a story on a topic that recently made international headlines. The gross exaggerations and outright lies contained within the vanity author's blog post are ludicrous and delusional.
Here's what I continued to do, even after all this occurred:
- I have never retaliated by calling Kiera Cass or Elana Roth any names. (Well, in public, anyway.)
- I have repeatedly corrected misconceptions about the book and/or defended the points that I thought did not deserve mockery.
- I have never told a single person NOT to read this book.
- I have never asked anyone to downvote a single positive Amazon review for this book.
- I have never withdrawn a single "like" on a positive GoodReads review of this book that I had already cast in support of my friends before the debacle occurred.
- I have made it very clear to friends that my relationship with them would not be affected if they decided to read this book.
How this has affected me:
I have to deal with the fallout from that review of The Selection every day. I literally cringe whenever I get a notification on it, or when someone sends me an email about it. As I previously mentioned, I haven't been around much lately and I've taken several prolonged breaks from GoodReads and from the blog, simply because I've lost a great deal of my enthusiasm for reviewing. I put a lot of thought and heart into the reviews I write, and I spend so much time dealing with this negativity that I sometimes can't even muster up enough energy to keep up with what my friends are doing, let alone try to write something myself. Shamefully, I'm 20 reviews behind, although I've even had a hard time reading for long stretches of time. Every time I think it's safe and things have finally died down, I try to ease back in, but something always seems to happen to turn everything upside down again.
The irony is, I know for a fact that even though I have a fair number of readers who see my reviews, this particular review never would have been as popular as it was were it not for the underhanded actions surrounding it. At over 1100 "likes" in just 4 months, it quickly became one of the top 5 reviews of all time on GoodReads, a site with 7.5 million users. Every time an author meltdown occurs, someone, somewhere, feels less inclined to write a review--even a positive one. If authors want the free publicity and marketing tools that come with social media and citizen reviews, there must be an understanding that GoodReads, Facebook, Twitter, etc. users have a right to express their opinions, whether they're positive or negative. I don't view reprimanding other people for their opinions on their own space as any different than standing on a street corner and yelling at strangers for disagreeing with you.
This situation has also made me look at everyone around me in a whole new way. It's impossible not to, when something this crazy happens and not everyone reacts the way you would expect or hope.
My Standpoint on Various Issues:
- This review got the reaction it did because a. it was a negative review and b. I happen to have a lot of readers, so it received a lot of attention. There are plenty of reviews that are far more sarcastic and dismissive than mine, but a panic ensued because of my rankings and nasty behaviors reared their heads because of personal agendas.
- As anyone who reads a lot of reviews knows--who doesn't have a stake in the industry or an axe to grind, that is--my review of The Selection is not all that harsh. I take a great deal of care to soften my language with my negative reviews because I never want to write one in the heat of anger or annoyance. Believe me, I don't publish half of the snark that runs through my head! But I often do use humor to take the edge off what would normally be a scathing review. I've reread this review dozens of times by this point, and I still stand by all of my statements as ones that are fair. Most reasonable people also recognize that for a good portion of the review, I allow the book to speak for itself--and that I have always advocated for readers to make up their own minds about it.
- "Did not finish" reviews are perfectly valid. To know why a book didn't hold someone's attention is often extremely useful to me, but if it's not useful to someone else, for heaven's sake, move on! It is poor etiquette to weigh in on another blogger's reviewing policies, and authors/author affiliates who do it just sound like they're complaining. My DNF review of this book had more data to back it up than most regular ones, and if I hadn't been honest and disclosed that information, no one would have been any the wiser. In fact, I even had one "big six" author email me to say how much she appreciated my earlier 3-star, DNF review of her book and how terrible she thought this situation was, stating that she thought I was fair in what I wrote about her book and she appreciated my saying other people would probably enjoy it more than I did.
- I am not a professional reviewer. As long as I'm not violating terms of service for Blogger or GoodReads, no one has any business telling me what I should or shouldn't write in my review. Not even publishers do this! I owe them more than I owe anyone, and they place absolutely no demands or restrictions upon me whatsoever. I certainly have my own standard of conduct that I abide by--and I feel so strongly about disrespectful reviews that I even have a note about it in my GoodReads profile in regards to friends requests--but no one else has the right to police me for it. And while thoughtful conversations and dissenting opinions are usually welcome, there comes a point when it crosses the line into being pointless, counter-productive, and just plain rude. I don't go onto blogs of authors I dislike and tell them their books are vapid and meaningless, and I don't expect them to come onto mine and tell me I'm wrong for not liking their books.
- The type of behavior exhibited by with the trolling remarks, sock puppet accounts, etc., was in poor taste even from reader to reader. There is an etiquette to interacting with your fellow readers, especially when you disagree about a book. Deliberately antagonizing a reviewer on his or her review space is incredibly rude, and will never, ever lead to the reviewer being open to your point of view.
- No one will agree with another reader or another reviewing style 100% of the time. One of the most shocking and hurtful things to come out of this situation has been seeing how other reviewers or bloggers have felt the need to go out of their way to attack me as well. I certainly don't publicly comment about reviewers who do nothing but squee over books and award 5 stars like they're candy, because in my opinion, it's poor form to weigh in on someone else's policies. And while I wouldn't expect or want anyone to summarily dismiss any author's books because of any one situation, it's also disappointing to see readers who choose not to research what happened so they can make their own decisions. It's very easy to look the other way...until it happens to you or someone you know.
- Whether I use a pen name or not--and most people who interact online do--the fact remains that in the year or so that I've been active in the YA community, my reputation stands for itself. It's ironic that someone who was kicked off GoodReads for having multiple false accounts (who, amusingly, sometimes talked to themselves) doesn't understand the definition of the word "sock puppet."
- Your representation represents you.
It's true: there is a positive side to this story. I work with many wonderful publishers who make books available to me for review, and not a single one has penalized me over this situation that I know of. Including the amazing people at HarperCollins, whose poor publicity department has probably gotten quite an earful about this fiasco. Fortunately, they are consummate professionals over there and have never publicly spoken about the situation. They also know I've written dozens of glowing reviews about their books and will continue to do so long after the dust has settled on this one book.
The biggest blessing to come out of this, however, is the many, many new friends I've made. I have been so touched and incredibly humbled by the staggering amount of support I've received, from casual friends who rallied to my defense to random strangers who were standing up for what's right. I've had trolls post on my review and not even known it until literally hundreds of comments later, by which time my friends had already come to my defense and addressed the silly arguments. I will be forever grateful to those who stuck out their necks for me. I've never been one who put too much stock into numbers, but I think it's worth noting that I had approximately 1700 GoodReads friends and followers at the beginning of the year before this happened, and that number has since grown to over 4200. Whether you agree with the review or not, I think having a strong point of view and holding fast to your convictions have to stand for something.
Most of us who blog about books do so for the sheer love of it. We're not required to do it, we're not paid to do it, and the amount of time we put into it would astound those who have never attempted it. We do all of this because we love the experience of sharing our books with others--and if people conspire to make it difficult for us to love the experience, there is a very real danger that some of us may stop. And with that loss goes the countless positive reviews that have helped to sell an immeasurable number of books.
I don't have any grand words of wisdom to impart about this overall, except that I'll say what I've said all along before any of this happened directly to me: no one book will be universally loved, and very little good can come of authors who go on the offensive over negative reviews. The chances of alienating a potential audience, however, are pretty high, because public perception of authors WILL change. Repeated attempts by authors and "friends" of authors to defend the book by trolling reviews or attacking reviewers just add more fuel to the fire.
Finally, if readers can't trust me to tell the truth about a book I didn't like, they will never trust my opinions about the books I love. Books should stand or fall on their own merits--and I, for one, know that my fellow readers are intelligent enough to make up their own minds, no matter what I say.
Note: rude or inflammatory comments on this post WILL be deleted.