This weekend, I was mostly unplugged from the Internet, since I was busy doing things in the bright shiny real world. Sunday evening, a friend told me about The Incident that had the book blogging & YA world up in arms.
Summary of The Incident: Kathleen Hale, author of No One Else Can Have You, published an article on The Guardian about how she stalked a blogger who posted a negative review of her book.
This morning, I finally read the article & then read countless responses from other authors and bloggers.
I have a few thoughts of my own, and they’re a little disorganized, but I’ll try and sort them out as best I can for you here. They start with these three things:
- First rule of the Internet: Do not engage the trolls.
- First rule of being a published author: Do not respond to negative reviews.
- First rule of being a book blogger: Do not bait authors with your negative reviews.
1) Let me start by saying this: stalking is not okay, ever. Unmasking someone’s chosen online pseudonym is not okay. People are entitled to their privacy, especially on the Internet. Using a made up persona for blogging is understandable (now more than ever, in light of this debacle). Going the extra mile to post fake/stolen photos as your own, and making up an entire fake life for yourself through social media platforms strikes me as odd and a little suspicious – but there’s really nothing wrong with it, so long as you’re not doing it for personal gain or to the detriment of others.
2) Posting a negative review of an author’s book is totally acceptable. Baiting the author to see your review and respond is not. It’s unclear if this actually happened, since the evidence listed in Hale’s article does not actually exist anymore (if it ever did). If it did happen, shame on the reviewer.* I’ve long frowned on bloggers or reviewers who call an author’s attention to their negative review. I have my own reasons for not posting negative reviews, though not all of my reviews are glowing – but I won’t even @ mention an author on twitter if my review is anything less than stellar. It’s just rude to call an author’s attention to your review of their book if it’s negative. There’s just no need to let them personally know that you hated their book. You’re entitled to not like it, and to post a review saying so – but there’s no need to make sure the author sees it.
*To be clear, this does not justify Hale’s actions.
3) While I can understand an author’s desire to defend their book against negative reviews (we ALL want to defend ourselves against criticism; it’s a natural response), it’s frowned upon for a reason: it’s just tacky. It’s in bad taste. And everyone is entitled to their opinion. Part of being an author is knowing that your book is going out into the world and that people are going to have their own feelings about it: positive, negative, and everywhere in between. You have to embrace your inner Elsa and “let it go.” Read the positive ones, ignore the rest. Carrie Mesrobian writes brilliantly about her process for responding to negative reviews here, in light of The Incident.
Part of the reason I’ve long abstained from reviewing self-published books (with rare exceptions) is because those are most often the cases where I’ve been confronted by an author defending their book, and arguing with my review. To hear this happening with a traditionally published author is shocking to me, and it makes me wonder about her future career. I can only imagine what the folks at HarperTeen are thinking right now … especially since Hale has another book due out in a few months!
4) There is a part of me that can appreciate Hale’s desire to respond and defend her book, especially if she was being baited to engage the negative reviewer. But that just does not make her behavior acceptable. It is not okay to track down a reviewer’s address, go to their home, call them at their place of business, and then post about it for the world to see. And I can understand why The Guardian would publish the piece – we’re all talking about it, aren’t we? — but I can’t understand why they would do so without investigating the other side of the story. That’s just lazy journalism. (Also lazy & potentially unethical? The Guardian editors’ lack of fact-checking and use of reliable sources in the published article. Hale’s account is more opinion than factual reporting, and there are a lot of holes in her story. And that’s my opinion as someone who worked in the news industry for a decade. The Guardian has a responsibility to get the other side of the story.)
5) While I am not justifying Hale’s behavior, I do want to say that I don’t think it’s okay for bloggers to be rude in their negative reviews. The Internet has created this chasm that makes people feel like it’s okay to be mean and rude; to act like bullies. The act of typing things on the screen creates some kind of mental block, with the writer forgetting there are actual human beings with actual feelings and emotions on the other side. Write your negative review, but don’t be a dick about it. The same goes for engaging in discussions in comment threads. Remember that you’re conversing with a real person, and don’t be a jerk.
6) Though there is no actual evidence to support it, if true, what Hale alleges the blogger did is NOT OKAY.
7) What Hale did in response, is really NOT OKAY.
8) After all of that … I’m also left with a weird feeling about my own review of Hale’s book. I actually liked it quite a bit. Sort of a Fargo vibe, and really lovely writing. Some of Hale’s other online essays were pretty rad, too – including her snark-fest response to that awful Slate article. But her piece in The Guardian? Shoddy journalism and lazy half-assed excuses for unacceptable, borderline (actual?) illegal behavior.
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I debated posting these thoughts or not on the blog, as I tend to avoid drama. But after encouragement from some fellow bloggers, decided to add my voice to the conversation. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! (Just don’t be a dick about it!)
Meanwhile, here are some other responses I found particularly good:
- Dear Author: On the importance of pseudonymous activity
- Kate @ Ex Libris: Book Blogging, Personal Safety, and My Faith in Humanity
- Maggie Stiefvater’s Tumblr Response
- Carrie Mesrobian: An Open Letter to Online Book Reviewers & Bloggers
I’m glad you decided to share your thoughts on this!
Really interesting perspective given your own experience in industry, and considers both sides well. Glad you shared this.
Thanks for posting both sides of this issue.