My Response to Joanne Harris #HaleNo

Joanne Harris #HaleNo

I don’t want any misunderstandings so I’m responding here where I can explain fully.

First of all, in my blog post titled ‘Authors vs. Reviewers – An Ongoing War? #HaleNo’ I quoted you verbatim with a link to a screenshot of the entire conversation so those quotes could be viewed in context. That conversation took place on Oct 22nd. ‘Authorgate’, the Tumblr post you’ve linked to, I haven’t seen before and is dated two days later.

This is one of the tweets that concerned me:

You were talking of the Hale incident. Only one person had been widely referred to as a troll in that situation: the victim stalked for having written a negative review. While you didn’t explicitly say she was a troll, the implication was there. In your Tumblr post you mention nothing that could either confirm or refute it. Alex Hurst provides evidence showing that the victim never trolled Hale.

In response to this tweet, you replied “Quite. :-)”.

So, why has one incident between an author and a blogger created so much ill-will in the writing community? – Joanne Harris, ‘Authorgate’

Both of these quotes, your other tweets and your Tumblr post express the ‘not all authors’ sentiment, as in ‘not all authors are stalkers’, ‘not all authors harass reviewers’.

Most of the bloggers participating in the blackout believe that the author took advantage of a power disparity between herself and the blogger she pursued. Their protest (a protest which has already caused resentment within the writing community) is based on the idea that authors are always far more powerful than bloggers; that bloggers are basically “punching up”, and that any response from authors is, by definition, inappropriate.

But some authors have very little power. They may be mid-list, or self-published, or emerging authors with no fanbase as yet. Some authors have an enormous fanbase, and proportionally more influence.

The same is true of bloggers; some bloggers write for themselves and a small circle of friends; others have millions of followers and a readership that makes that of most national magazines look small. These top-class bloggers have far more power than your average self-published or mid-list author. – Joanne Harris, ‘Authorgate’

Bloggers with millions of readers are exceptionally rare, I actually can’t think of an example in the book reviewing community. Many bloggers with large readerships are scooped up by some corporation and paid to write. Examples include Justin Landon, now paid by publisher Tor, and Foz Meadows paid by Strange Horizons to review. Comparatively, I’d argue, there are far more ‘superstar’ authors with millions of fans, or at least millions have read their books.

Kathleen Hale’s privilege as a Harvard educated and well connected author creates an extraordinary power imbalance. She’s engaged to Simon Rich who writes for the New Yorker and has written for The ObserverThe Guardian‘s sister-newspaper, the one she chose to publish the stalking piece. Her soon-to-be father-in-law is Frank Rich who wrote for The New York Times, her mother-in-law Gail Winston, executive editor at HarperCollins – Hale’s publisher. The Guardian breached its own Editorial Code, it’s code of ethics, if you will. One wonders why. As I said, this is an extraordinary case, the imbalance between author and reviewer isn’t usually so big. But there is still an imbalance.

‘Author’ is a respected job, a profession that requires one build a reputation based on how their books are perceived and how they treat readers, their customers. We expect more from them than we do bloggers because they’re public figures, and sometimes role models. Customer service skills are an important part of the job in the age of social media. It makes and breaks careers, just as it makes and breaks manufacturers and retailers.

Book blogging is an amateur medium. No one pays to read our blog posts, nor are we paid to review. Reputations are made based on their opinions, not their fictional stories. Bloggers are customers. They financially support the author of any book they buy.

If I’m being harassed by an author, I might seek the support of my fellow reviewers and ask for advice on how to handle it. I’m sure authors do the same when the situation is reversed. I’m not seeking to rally “little empires, or cliques to attack other people.” Our community shares information, we support each other. We rely on each others’ reviews to decide on what to read next.

If someone harasses someone I know well, someone I trust and admire – I want to know about it. I want to judge for myself what happened and how I want to respond. I know I don’t want to pay money for a book only to review it negatively and be abused by the author for doing so. I don’t see that as ‘punching down’. I’m not responsible for what other reviewers do with their money or how they choose to act. I’m only responsible for my own actions, as authors should be responsible for theirs.

I acknowledge that authors are human and therefore make stupid mistakes. That’s fine. If the author makes an honest and genuine apology as Dan Krokos did for his behaviour towards Wendy Darling, then it should be accepted and we can move on:

My biggest regret is that I added to an already hostile environment. Though I’m sorry I upset so many people, I’m grateful they held me accountable. It really forced me to look at my behavior and ask, “Where is this coming from?” If I hadn’t, I doubt I would’ve learned anything about myself, or what is expected of me as an author.

A lot of it is common sense, of course, but it definitely required a mental shift away from Random Guy on the Internet to Public Figure. But yeah, it was a rough couple months.

I’d also like to address your point about “reader-space”:

I’ve heard a great deal spoken about “reader-space,” and how authors shouldn’t enter it, and how even responding politely to any kind of review is considered by some to be crossing a line. On the other hand, I’ve had many fruitful and interesting interactions with bloggers who were not only happy to hear from an author, but actively encouraged debate. – Joanne Harris, ‘Authorgate’

For me, reader-space exists. I’ve had at least two bestselling authors comment on my empty review space on Goodreads, just for adding the book to my “to be released” or “wishlist” shelves. At that time I found this extremely intimidating. I felt that should I read the book, I couldn’t be honest about my opinion if I’d not enjoyed it, because surely someone will comment on my review, and as soon as someone does any earlier commenters will receive an email and site notification; the author would see my review, my rating. I didn’t want to risk any potential backlash.

There is such a thing as personal space on the internet. If I read and reviewed your book negatively and then had the audacity to tweet you a link to it, I’ve invaded your personal space. The same goes to any author who comments on a negative review of their book. It’s asking for trouble. However, you as a public figure and supposedly professional author are advised to put your customer service face on and, in the words of Bestselling author Ilona Andrews in her blog post ‘Yet More About Reviews’, either say nothing or say “thank you”.

On Goodreads I’m friends with a few authors and regularly converse with them in groups and such. We met on neutral ground as equals. By that I mean these authors are active members of the Goodreads community who review books just as I do. If I comment on your blog post or Facebook page, then feel free to engage me for these are your marketing tools to engage with customers.

Just as you do, I do not condone the doxxing of Kathleen Hale; revealing her address and posting photos of her home. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Reading ‘Authorgate’ makes me wonder if you read past the first paragraph of my blog post. It explains why we reviewers and bloggers are reacting the way we are.

Perhaps some patience on the side of reviewers and bloggers is required for authors and other interested parties who pass judgement on our ire because you haven’t experienced what we have, you aren’t aware of the actions of other authors who behave, or have behaved, in similarly despicable ways as Kathleen Hale.

I didn’t mention these incidents in my previous blog post. I didn’t want to give these authors the oxygen of publicity they so desperately crave. But obviously this is necessary to dispel the notion that reviewers have turned on the whole writing community due to that acts of one member.

Many reviewers and bloggers have heard recountings of these events countless times. I’m sure they will be able to provide more information and links to evidence than I. However, I’ll detail a few as examples.

  • Melissa Douthit. Nicknamed ‘Vanity’. This is the most obvious author to start with. Her campaign against reviewers started in 2011. She wasn’t happy with the 1-star reviews of her book The Raie’Chaelia and she made her anger known. Goodreads was forced to delete her account and ban her from making new ones. May 2012 Douthit decided to get her own back on the reviewers who she thought were trying to ruin her career as an author with their 1-star reviews, criticisng them for sharing evidence of her harassing reviewers on Goodreads. Stop the Goodreads Bullies (STGRB) was born. This link goes to .net site not the original for your protection – it’s a comprehensive account of the site’s activities. Wendy Darling was her first victim but not the last. Douthit doxxed her targets, posting real names, addresses, where these reviewers liked to walk and dine. Supporters of this site some of which are named on the .net site referenced above are also guilty of exceptionally bad behaviour towards reviewers.
  • January 2012 was the month when several authors and members of publishing community turned on Goodreads reviewers. This time is largely seen as the beginning of a string of abuse aimed at reviewers by multiple authors continuing to the present day. In some instances apologies have been made and lessons have been learned, others have escalated.
  • Emily Giffin. The Atlantic did a good job of detailing this one, so I’m not going to.

So you see, we’re not protesting because of one author. We’re protesting the increasing number of authors who don’t know how to treat their customers with respect. Incidents like these are too common these days. And as a community we are sick of observing them, of experiencing the abuse for ourselves, and sick of losing our favourite reviewers to this phenomenon.

Some of us don’t have the will or the skill to handle the prospect of such abuse. Real life and its stresses are more important than a hobby we once relied on to, ironically, get away from stress. Pseudonyms don’t necessarily protect us anymore. “Bitter resentment,” your words, is to be expected. Our options are to put up and shut up, fight back, or remove ourselves from the internet – deleting our social media accounts, our blogs, etc.

You’ve been encouraging us to put up and shut up. That’s not your choice to make.

 

Edited to add: I’m leaving a link to  Putting a community back together – #HaleNo by Moonlight Reader /Christine here because it describes exactly how we all feel.

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11 thoughts on “My Response to Joanne Harris #HaleNo

  1. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that a privileged author refuses to believe in the power imbalances between authors and bloggers, or that she believes that authors don’t have the power. *headdesk*

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  2. Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed response. I understand your point of view and the concern of the blogging community,( although I don’t altogether share in your views about the power disparity between little-known authors and established bloggers). I am certainly not telling bloggers to “put up or shut up” – they have every right to run their sites exactly as they choose – nor do I think it’s OK for anyone to stalk anyone, online or off. What I feel most strongly is sadness for the way that the behaviour of a handful of authors has eroded the goodwill that existed between bloggers and authors in general (see the “privileged author” knee-jerk response above). I’m also sad that a blog post of mine that was meant to stress the things we all have in common (a love of books) and to urge us to stick together has been misinterpreted by a few people as victim-blaming. It wasn’t. I’ve always supported bloggers, and will continue to support them, even when their support for me isn’t immediately obvious.

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    1. Thank you for replying.

      Established bloggers. The average lifespan of a blog is two to three years. Blogs operating for more than five or ten years are a minority. Blogs with more than 100,000 page views per year are rare. Any influence a blogger has is usually short-lived.

      I’ve been blogging for 13 months and have clocked up almost 19,000 page views, the majority of which aren’t of my reviews.

      Reviewers and bloggers setting out to destroy careers don’t exist. I can’t think of a single example. If you see any, they’re usually authors using sock puppet accounts in their attempt to sabotage another author’s career.

      In the case of self-published and little-known authors, the main complaints among reviewers are of books with simple spelling and grammatical errors, books that have quite clearly never been edited or proofread. Mentioning these in a review isn’t a power wielding move to ruin these authors.

      Reviewers tease out the facts of a situation that indicates bad behaviour on the part of an author. We always, always asks for evidence or look for it themselves, if it’s not immediately obvious. If there’s compelling proof, news will spread. How far and how fast depends on the seriousness of the incident, how popular the author is, and how public the behaviour.

      Again, I’ll reiterate that it’s not just a ‘handful of authors’ but dozens and dozens, and they’re just the ones I’ve observed and experienced for myself, there may be many more.

      Yesterday, yet another author sent me spam by direct message. This is not the first, second or even the 20th time this has happened. It’s the most common (and benign) unwanted behaviour of which countless authors are guilty. It’s the cumulative effect of little incidents like those and more serious ones like Hale that has upset us.

      The way our community works also benefits authors. If an author is being plagiarized by another, reviewers and bloggers support them by alerting retailers of the theft and spreading the news to prevent anyone from being duped.

      Publishers are also getting in on the act of bashing bloggers. If you’ve not yet heard, the Dear Author blog is being sued by a publisher for this blog post which outlines the shocking treatment of its authors and their books. Bloggers have been supporting those authors by buying their books published elsewhere and by donating money to help these authors buy back their rights.

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    1. My apologies–I just now realized that I replied to two posts in the same blog mentioning Deborah Smith. Too many tabs open, not enough working braincells.

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  3. Yes, I’m aware of the various disputes, including the Dear Author situation, and I’m also aware that reviewers are often spammed by authors (usually self-pubbed authors with a poor sense of online etiquette.) I sympathize, not least because the same authors often send me exactly the same kind of mail, but in rather larger quantities. I don’t know where you got the idea that I think online reviewers set out to ruin authors. I’ve never believed that, or suggested that I did. Believe it or not, I have a lot of sympathy for book bloggers, who often have to deal with impertinent requests, begging letters and repeated, entitled demands for attention. The fact that two bloggers so far (that I know of) have been targeted or attacked in real-life by disgruntled authors is disturbing and reprehensible. The fact that this has given the opportunity to such as Peter Stothard, the editor of the TLS, to voice his offensive views on what he calls “amateur reviewers” is only one of the damaging consequences.
    However, my view is that the Kathleen Hale story is only a part of something larger; something that amounts to more than just these incidents. I’m seeing a growing separation between some authors and bloggers. I’m seeing the same separation between some self-published and traditionally-published authors. I think it’s sad that this is happening; it can only weaken the literary community as a whole. That’s why I think the emphasis should be on building bridges, not blocking them.
    My last word on the #Haleno affair is simply this: that after all the support so many authors have given to bloggers over the years; the ARCS, the free passes to festivals; the invitations from publishers; the competitions, giveaways, guest posts, interviews, stories; it is difficult for us to now be expected to stand up and publicly list all the crimes we do not condone, or be treated as apologists. I would have thought we’d earned at least that small measure of goodwill,..
    .

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  4. I’m sorry, Ms. Harris, but what you and your author friends have done “for” the bloggers has been more than repaid in the free publicity and promotion they’ve given back to you. The books and ARCs and other stuff you’ve given them does NOT — repeat, NOT — obligate them to defend one of you who not only commits a crime, for love of the goddess, but who also essentially threatens every single one of them with the same treatment if they don’t treat her the way she expects to be treated

    No one forced you (or your publishers) to give out ARCs and grant interviews. No one forced the reviewers to review. All the debts are paid, all the obligations fulfilled in a mutually beneficial and freely entered into arrangement. Hale’s stalking — and Richard Brittain’s assault — are outside the normal channels of exchange. They go beyond just altering the game; they’re a different game altogether and should never be condoned, not even tacitly.

    I cannot for the life of me understand why any writer anywhere who has any sense of integrity would defend, even with silence, Kathleen Hale and what she did. And I can only form the personal opinion that any writer who balks at standing four square against what Hale has done is silently in agreement with her, supports her, and is therefore lacking any sense of integrity and honor.

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  5. I said that was my last word. I’ve already denounced Kathleen Hale’s actions, and those of all stalkers and doxxers. The authors you have been discussing are not my friends (in fact I’d never even heard of any of them before this.).
    The silence I’m offering now is not the silence of agreement. I am simply removing myself, with regret, from a discussion that has turned out to be far less positive than I’d hoped.

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