On ethical dilemmas in literary culture

On ethical dilemmas in literary culture

My thoughts on recent developments in the romance community. Warning: Very long post.

Many romance readers will still be reeling from the news that Jane Litte, one of the most — if not the most — prominent romance novel reviewers is also a successful author. There are a lot of issues to unpack, so fair warning: this post will be long.

My initial reaction to the news was…less surprised than I should have been, and more generous than one might have expected. Let me explain.

It doesn’t bother me that a reader-blogger is also an author. It’s a fairly common phenomenon, and a social-media-fied version of the ‘I love reading romance books, so I thought I’d try writing one myself.’ I was surprised that Jane managed to keep it secret for so long. The temptation to display one’s achievements is pretty strong. (At least, I think it is; it could just be me.)

But I know that not everyone is comfortable with the concept of separate personas. (I’d like to think I am, at least insofar as the communities in which I participate, both online and in real life.) I also know this would be very problematic for many people who consider Dear Author a vital part of the reading community. I’m therefore amazed that the conversations about the issues stemming from Jane’s decision to keep her author persona a secret are so measured.

The sound of silence

This issue has highlighted to me the fact that we do, in fact, have romance community…well, oligarchies, I suppose. That’s not really the right term, but they’re basically influential people around whom most readers congregate for news, discussion and commentary. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, except when those people are also all friends.

For example, Sarah Wendell, whom I would have expected in any other circumstance to have a post up on the same day commenting on this latest news, was conspicuously silent. I understand this: she and Jane are friends. There’s really no way for Sarah to comment without people questioning her ability to not be biased. But this leaves two of the biggest romance blogs unavailable to talk about exactly the kinds of issues that, ordinarily, would have us flocking to them for some brutally honest discussions. And I say this as someone who considers Sarah a friend (hopefully this is mutual and I’m not creepy Australian stalker fan to her — I’d like to think she eats my Tim Tams). And before you ask, I have no idea if Sarah knew about Jen Frederick or not. That’s not the point.

(I wrote this last night, and since then Sarah has posted about this topic on Smart Bitches. I’m so glad she did, and I can see it was a really tough call for her to make on how to approach the subject, and I’m actually quite heartened by the post. Sarah also touches on the conflict of interest and disclosure issues she faced in the past.)

As a consequence, the discussion of something quite important to romance readers is fragmented because there are few blogs that can match the reach and influence of Dear Author and Smart Bitches. Wendy posted her thoughts, which has led to some interesting discussions in the comments. Ceilidhann posted a thoughtful reflection on the issues this has raised. But still — these are fairly restrained reactions.

Even on Twitter, the response is notably muted. I expected my Twitter stream to be filled with comments all day Wednesday, yet I had to actively search for any negative commentary on Jane’s actions. I don’t think Jane intended for this to happen, but it’s what happened.

It’s entirely possible — even probable — of course, that I just need more diversity in my Twitter feed. I’ll certainly be working on that. It’s also very likely that this was such a shock to Dear Author readers that it’s taking a few days to sink in and articulate our reactions (this certainly applies to me). Still, I can’t help but think about what it means that we’re taking so much time to reflect now, when perhaps we wouldn’t have done so in other circumstances.

The mythical spaces for authors and readers

If I were to guess the most troubling aspect, for readers and authors, of Jane’s dual roles, it’s probably the encroachment on author and reader spaces. This is something Dear Author has aggressively defended over the years — that authors are guests in reader spaces and thus ought not be seen as silencing reader voices.

Jane must have realised how problematic this would be for Dear Author’s readership when they eventually found out about Jen Frederick (whether now, two years ago, or ten years from now). Personally, based on what I’ve observed over the years, I’m pretty comfortable with my opinion that Jane is able to keep her blogger/reader hat separate from her author hat. But that’s my opinion, and it won’t be everyone’s opinion.

Even with the assurance that Jane the Blogger and Jen the Author can interact with readers in distinct ways, it’s not unreasonable for readers to expect that when an author interacts with them, they know that they’re in an author-reader conversation. As bloggers have pointed out many times in the past, there’s an inherent imbalance of power when authors interact with readers, and awareness of this imbalance partly frames any author/reader discussion. (I personally have argued against a black-and-white presentation of the power imbalance, because I think when we’re talking about readers with huge social platforms, like Dear Author, then the power differential isn’t always so clear-cut.) Many readers are understandably upset because they feel like they have been duped in these interactions.

I didn’t immediately think about author reactions to this news, because I guess I just assumed they would fall into two broad camps: those concerned with the ethics of disclosure — for example, Courtney Milan’s tweets:

— and those who basically dislike Jane already and will use Jane/Jen as proof of whatever behaviour they want to accuse Jane of.

But then I read this post on The Passive Voice (via willaful’s comment on Wendy’s post), and I was a little horrified, to be honest. Again, let me preface this by saying I don’t even think Jane was trying to be malicious. I’m willing to assume that Jane/Jen was in author loops to learn about the craft and business side of writing and self-publishing. I also acknowledge that TPV hasn’t always been a neutral commentator with respect to Dear Author, and that the quote below is an anonymous one. Still, I think authors have reason to be upset (emphases mine):

Firstly, reviews are sacrosanct. Reviewers are sacrosanct. We are told on a daily basis, as authors, that we are not allowed to respond to reviews publicly…

I make sure that, if I vent at all about anything industry or book related, I vent to trusted friends and colleagues and in loops with other authors. In those private loops (and yes, I’m aware nothing online is ever truly private) likeminded authors speak more freely. Because you have to understand, we don’t have an after work softball team, or a water cooler, or a birthday cake for Sally on Tuesday where we get to bitch about old Mr. Jennings and how he’s really busting our hump at work that day.

We just have each other and those loops. Most of us never see another author face to face more than once or twice in a given year, if that.

Imagine my surprise, then, to realize that Jane is on more than one of these loops with me as Jen Frederick. I find myself…not okay with that. Not because I’m ashamed by anything I’ve said, but because I even have to sit here and worry about it. And I’m feeling even sicker for the authors who thought they were in a place that was safe to share certain things and did so who would NOT have done so had they known Jane was present. Do I believe Jane would or has intentionally retaliated against these authors if they said something negatively about her site, her books, her writing partner, or the EC case or any myriad of things? No. But that doesn’t change the fact that it feels like a violation.

This, above all the other issues, bothers me the most. I think we’re all aware that many (most?) authors can’t separate themselves from their work. So most bloggers who are willing to criticise books do so with the knowledge (I think? I hope? I assume!) that some authors will probably dislike us intensely because of it. As a blogger, the corollary of this is that I need to allow authors to not engage with me.

The incestuous relationships in literary culture

I want to step back a little and talk about the fact that we in romance, at least in the community that Dear Author helped build, hold our reviewers and authors to a higher standard than many other blogs and even, I would argue, than people who actually move in literary circles. Perhaps it’s because the literary scene in Australia is so small, but the kinds of conflicts of interest raised by Jane/Jen’s lack of disclosure — reviewing a book by Berkeley, reporting on Amazon news, not excluding her books from Dear Author lists — seems quite minor compared with what actually goes on in the business of books. I mean, I think that’s the reality of it.

And I love that in romance we try to set a higher standard. I love that we can love what Dear Author has done, and what Jane has achieved, and still be critical of this particular thing. But the ethical questions being raised here are questions that remain murky in the literary world, and especially in a literary world where the relationship between reader and author is increasingly disintermediated.

I feel this every time I go to an event where I interact socially with authors. It’s really difficult to say hello to authors and have to do a quick mental recap of every review I’ve ever done and figure out if maybe the author would actually prefer that I just go away. Eventually, I had to stop doing it. My current strategy is try never to bring up reviewing unless the author introduces the topic, and even then, it’s almost always super awkward. Twitter has actually been great, because I can introduce myself via my Twitter handle, and sidestep the issue of reviewing altogether. (Even though I know we’re both probably thinking about it.)

Paradoxically, perhaps, I think this incestuousness, this blurring of relationships, is why it’s so vitally important that we encourage author reviewers. It’s also why I’m not a huge fan of the no-exceptions approach to reader/author spaces. At the end of the day, it’s just really impractical. And for me, the solution is to make critical reviews so commonplace, so well accepted in romance, that no one bats an eye at snarky Goodreads shelves, or 1-star ratings.

Interestingly, we went through a similar but opposite dilemma just over a year ago in Australia. The Saturday Paper decided that all its book reviews would be pseudonymous. Reviewers would be identified by initials (not reflective of their names or author pseudonyms). This caused a furore in the literary community, to a degree that surprised me, because I come from an online tradition that starts with anonymity, which develops into pseudonymity…and then maybe sheds it along the way (or not).

If you’re interested in these perspectives, you can find some thoughtful pieces here:

Some random thoughts that don’t fit anywhere else

Look, honestly? I think Jane tried to do the best she could when faced with difficult choices. I’m comfortable with my assumption that Jane is capable of segregating her blogger, author and entrepreneur selves at Dear Author. I’m also comfortable with my assumption that Jane never set out to be in author spaces for the purposes of eavesdropping on conversations, or to somehow use information from those spaces for her blog posts. I give Jane every benefit of doubt, frankly. That’s how much trust she has earned from me over the years.

I find some of the more OTT accusations pretty silly, but then I often feel that way about romance brouhahas, which is why I’m rarely moved to comment on them in detail. Do I think reviewing a book for Berkeley was affected by the film option? Absolutely not. Listen, it didn’t even occur to me to disclose my affiliation with Penguin (for the Heart to Heart podcast) when I was reviewing their books until I had to review one by an author I had interviewed on the podcast. Then the lightbulb went on. I don’t think it affected my review. And if I felt it would affect my review, I almost always end up just not writing the review at all. I wear a different hat when I’m working on the podcast.

Similarly, I edit the Romance Buzz for Booktopia. Every month, I mull over my obligation to Booktopia, to Book Thingo, and to authors and readers. It really is murky in real life. Disclosure helps, yes. But in each space, I have a different function. At Book Thingo, I try to be as candid and as passionate as possible about the books I do or don’t love. At Booktopia, that’s not my role. My role is to find the books that I think the newsletter’s subscribers will love. Literally, it’s not about me. Does that mean my reviews in the Romance Buzz are less legitimate? I don’t think so. But I also think that this difference is fairly clear to readers here and readers there.

I don’t know what it’s like in the US, but in Australia — at least among romance publishers — all the interactions I have ever had with publishers, editors, publicists, agents, and booksellers have been nothing but professional. Every single one. These folks have worked with far more difficult and critical reviewers than I will ever be. And they’re pretty generous, considering most Australian blogs are relatively tiny.

As for featuring on Daily Deals lists and KatiD’s Best Of list, I honestly don’t care as long as no one was coerced or cajoled to include the titles. I also don’t know that KatiD even knew about Jane/Jen. Based on what I’ve heard, and this post by willaful, it doesn’t sound like all the Dear Author bloggers knew about it until just before Jane made the information public.

I also don’t have any issue with my donation to Jane’s legal defence fund. You know the stuff we see on Courtney and Deirdre’s blogs? That’s the stuff that made it to court. I can’t even begin to guess the shenanigans happening off the record. People who think Jane is profiting from that fund likely have never had to face litigation. And I also still do believe that this case has wider implications for bloggers, and that hasn’t changed just because Jane turns out to also be an author.

Again, I’m personally not fussed about Jen Frederick ads on Dear Author, or sponsoring a DABWAHA prize under her name. I don’t read any malice or harm in either of those actions. Did Jen’s ads prevent some other advertiser being on Dear Author? Doubtful. That would have been ad revenue lost to Dear Author. And even if it did, is it a big deal? Not to me.

And finally, I don’t believe Jane posted about killing the historical in order to promote her new adult book. There’s probably some merit to the argument that immersing herself in the new adult world (because she was writing it) meant that Jane had a bias for the genre. But again, I don’t really find this problematic. I don’t actually think she can kill the historical, and the net positive of promoting new adult benefited other authors, too. You can’t point a finger at that post and tell me it made a significant contribution into making Jen Frederick’s book such a success.

And yes, this is my opinion. YMMV.

tl;dr

Fundamentally, bloggers — and particularly those who review products — amass social capital through reader trust. Jane has done a lot over the years to gain our trust, but in concealing her identity as an author and casting doubt on which role she was playing in which spaces — regardless of intention, and again I stress that I personally don’t feel she intended harm or malice — I feel she eroded not only some of the trust she has earned, but also some of the goodwill that readers extend to blogger-reviewers in general, especially those of us who weave in and out of those spaces ourselves.

I don’t take Jane’s actions personally. I’m even awed by her success. But that’s me as an individual, reacting to her accomplishments as an individual. The part of me that recognises that the romance community is an essential part of why I enjoy blogging and tweeting is well aware that things are Not Okay. I’m saddened that this thing has caused anguish among fellow readers.

I’m disturbed to hear of readers who have a relationship with Jane feeling it would be counterproductive to defend her actions. I’m disturbed that authors upset because they may have inadvertently said something that they feel could affect how readers view them might fear that speaking out will get them tagged as Authors Behaving Badly. (Whether or not this is true isn’t the issue — it’s that these authors feel vulnerable even though they did these things in author spaces.) Olivia Waite summed it up well, I think:

I’m not angry that Jane Litte is Jen Frederick. I’m not angry that her books are doing well. I AM angry that I’m expected to be uncritically happy about this news, though, if I want to be seen as nice.

All this speaks to a silencing of certain voices in our community. At the very least it speaks to people feeling unable to express their concerns. I don’t believe this is something Jane intended to do, but it’s what is happening. And it’s not something that makes our community better.

Round-up

A no doubt incomplete round-up of blogger and author reactions, ranging from the supportive to the cynical:

  • Ceilidhann at Bibliodaze — Much more succinct than me
  • Azteclady at Her Hands, My Hands — Breaks down all the issues, with links (she is much more diligent than I am)
  • Wendy at The Misadventures of Super Librarian — On why this thing looks squirky
  • Sarah at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books — On Sarah’s own dilemmas arising from Jane/Jen, and some really robust discussions in the (very lengthy) comments
  • Meoskop at Genre Baby — Reflections on subtle changes at Dear Author
  • Deirdre Saoirse Moen (author) — A good reflection on possible issues related to the Ellora’s Cave lawsuit and Jane’s legal defence fund
  • Olivia Waite (author) — Articulates the underlying issue after Jane/Jen’s disclosure: ‘Where do readers go now?’

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20 comments

  1. Pauline says:

    I posted this opinion as well on another blog.

    This question has been asked by a few people to DA but never answered.

    If this were another author, would Jane not have been all over that author, pulling up links, and turning it into a virtual blood bath, dragging that author’s name through the mud?

    Dear Author have continuously shamed and named authors who were caught using a sock puppet and/or catfishing. For example, that author who catfished a blogger and stalked her comes to mind. Not that I think that was right or ethical, that was wrong and creepy as well, however, Jane did the exact same thing.

    She joined author only spaces with authors she had been negative to, on Twitter and in her scathing reviews. When they blocked her from their Facebook she friended them as Jen Frederick and then gets assistance and help for her own publishing venture?

    Doesn’t anyone see how creepy and wrong this is? Do her cohorts who helped her with this ruse not see how wrong this is? All her supporters think it’s okay that she pulled the wool over so many author’s eyes. That she misrepresented herself to authors who would never invite her to be a part of boxed set or part of their author group had they known who Jen really was.

    She claims it was to help her with her own publishing career. This from the woman who comes across as being an expert in all things publishing and writing related? She’s been around long enough, I’m sure she reads enough blogs on writing and marketing as well, so that excuse is lame and just makes no sense.

    If it were true, then why not tell the authors, I’m writing now, and I know we have a rocky relationship and past due to my blogging, but I want to start over and connect with you as a colleague. Also would have been prudent of her to step down from DA and let people know where her real passion was heading, and that was as an author.

    Not once in her posts since this came out, have I seen an apology, or owning what she did. I imagine, as a lawyer she probably equates apology to guilt and doesn’t want to go down that road, as perhaps she really doesn’t see what she did as wrong or unethical.

    And that in itself is cause for concern. When a person has misrepresented themselves and then doesn’t own it, or feel she needs to make amends. Instead, she goes on her merry way and posts on her facebook page as Jen Frederick as if nothing happened.

    I also think she was forced to come out of the murky closet, and think that this never would have seen the light of day had her hand not been forced.

    The authors that partnered with her, and Sarah at SBTB who knew about her secret identity enabled Jane to keep this ruse up, and a good friend would have advised her that perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to trick other authors into making them think they are helping Jen Frederik a debut author, but in fact they were actually conversing with Jane Litte someone they did not want in their circle.

    Yes, I do think bloggers/reviewers and authors can have a pen name and keep their private life private, however, when they do that, they can’t be hypocritical about it. Coming out as Jane the reviewer/blogger and slamming authors for bad behavior, unethical practices, claiming that her blog was transparent and how authors SHOULD behave, when all along she was doing the exact thing as the authors she deemed to be unethical.

    But of course, Dear Author and other sites like hers won’t take her or her cohorts to task on any of this.

    As for people upset over donating to the legal fund. Nobody forced them to donate, it was all voluntary, and I don’t think one has anything to do with the other. However, I do think she should have been upfront about her author career at that time, and let people decide if they still wanted to support her legal fund.

    This too shall pass, until another author screws up and does something to again tarnish the romance genre and leave readers wondering if we indeed even need reviewers/bloggers. Put the books out there, let readers talk about them, spread them by word of mouth. I personally no longer trust any blogger’s point of view when it comes to recommending books, because I have a feeling this is the tip of the unethical iceberg and there are probably a lot of these situations lurking in the background, waiting to come out. Waiting for the next Twitter-Facebook drama.

    But I still would love someone from Dear Author to answer this. How would your blog respond to another author pulling this stunt?

  2. azteclady says:

    Courtney Milan has brought up a much, much, more disturbing and important issue created by Jane Litte interacting with authors in authors-only spaces as Jen Frederick–see her comment here.

  3. Kat says:

    Pauline — I definitely think there’s a huge hypocrisy in what just happened. I don’t know what Jane’s friends did or didn’t advise her to do. I’m not willing to assume they all stayed silent, but as it wasn’t their secret, I think they were put in a really tough situation — one that Jane should have foreseen and, as a friend if nothing else, done her best to not put them into. I can totally understand Sarah’s dilemma, and I have great sympathy for the DA bloggers who either have just found out, or who knew but felt they couldn’t reveal what they knew.

    I absolutely think that in any other circumstance, DA would have covered this incident with screencaps, author leaks and whatever else is needed to build a complete picture of Jane’s actions.

    I’m sympathetic towards her, but at this point, I’m not sure Jane can apologise in any way that would satisfy people. I suspect her tactic will be to sit it out quietly, hope the discussion eventually stops, and then assess what she has left after that.

    AZ — That’s really disturbing indeed, although I wonder if it was somewhat careless of Courtney to publicly post that until such time as EC’s lawyers thought of it themselves. Don’t get me wrong — if true, that’s absolutely dreadful — but I’m on the side of authors on the EC case, so I hope that doesn’t come back to bite them.

    In any case, this makes authors’ concerns even more compelling. We’re not just talking about drama, or hyperemotion (I type that sarcastically), but actually feeling that they’re unsafe. That said, I’ve heard smidgens of some of the stuff around the lawsuit and I think the EC side are a bunch of unprintable curse words, so this doesn’t mean I have any sympathy for EC management at all. I feel for authors on this one, especially those who thought who feel betrayed or unsafe.

  4. azteclady says:

    Kat,

    Courney Milan’s bringing it up in public does not, I think, favor EC’s case, but it may serve as the first time some EC’s authors realize how precarious their position is, *if* they were in a loop somewhere with Jen Frederick.

    I believe those authors have a right to know, and I have no clue whether a) Jane/Jen could tell them because that would be talking about an ongoing lawsuit, or b) she would tell them even if she could.

    Yes, my trust in her has been shattered, not just broken.

    Part of why my trust in Jane continues to fracture comes from this comment at SmartBitches by the Bree half of Moira Rogers.

    So I’ll go on a limb here and say that Jane Litte admitted to being Jen Frederick solely because a subpoena for all her communications had likely been discussed or threatened already by EC’s lawyers–it’s important to remember that Jaid Black and company have been on both side of lawsuits. Even if their current lawyer didn’t know enough to ask for it, Jaid Black and her mother do know.

    Another problem here is that, regardless of whether Ellora’s Cave and company are *insert unladylike expletives galore* and even if Jane Litte/Dear Author win the defamation case, just the fact that Ellora’s Cave could conceivably subpoena all those conversations will adversely affect ALL of EC’s authors.

    Many EC authors chose not to speak out–in public. Now those authors’ choice has been rendered invalid.

    As far as what Jane should or shouldn’t do–I don’t know that anything she may do would satisfy a lot of people or even many people, but there are a number of things she should already have done, whether commenting publicly or not.

    Create a bio page for everyone who is a regular contributor/reviewer at Dear Author, and put her Jen Frederick name there, prominently.

    Take down the “for readers, by readers” tag on Dear Author’s logo/banner–she is an author and, not being two separate hard drives running alternatively and independently of each other, she’s is not solely a reader; she can’t have it both ways.

    I get that she may never apologize–whether she might want to or not is another matter–because a public apology *might* put her in a disfavorable position if someone decides to sue her based on her deception. Doesn’t mean she doesn’t owe a metric ton of people an apology.

    As far as sitting the storm out quietly…seems to me she’s all business as usual, which is far worse than silence, in my eyes.

    But I am not a lawyer and I don’t claim to be as intelligent as Jane is. All I know is that trust was broken in a major, major way here, and that the ripples continue to expand.

    The “who knew what when” alone is enough to make one think twice and thrice about any interactions with anyone.

  5. Merrian says:

    My thing with all this resolves into two points; the breathtaking hypocrisy/situational ethics of Jane/Jen which demands a standard of behaviour of others but then doesn’t apply that to herself. The egregious illustration is AJH and his reviewing but that example of calling out doesn’t stand alone. I have no issue with pseudonyms and Jane/Jen’s desire to see her work valued on it’s own merits and I understand the juggling of multiple roles in the publishing industry but the bookernet is rife with people having a go at doing this ethically, SBTB, BookSmugglers, your Booktopia gig, etc are examples of that work in progress. My key concern is my aha! moment a few years ago of Dear Author reading as an industry blog not a reader one. At that point I approached my relationship as a regular DA reader and commenter very differently because it felt that I was there to be monetised. These events are the final nail in the coffin of DA as a reader space and I lament that loss. The nature and possibilities of reader space and why is it important should be highlighted by this mess not smothered by it. Vassiliki’s comments on ARRC2015 are also relevant; is it just for authors to market to readers or is it about the experience of reading and being a reader? (I understand that both can happen and financially need too) The uniqueness lf the reader experience and the value that has is lost now we are consumers only.

  6. Kat says:

    AZ

    Courney Milan’s bringing it up in public does not, I think, favor EC’s case, but it may serve as the first time some EC’s authors realize how precarious their position is, *if* they were in a loop somewhere with Jen Frederick.

    Yeah, I think you’re right. And I also suspect we’re getting the disclosure now because of the EC litigation. On one hand, I feel like it would have been easier for Jane to take down the EC post and avoid litigation, and she chose the option that stands up for authors. On the other hand, well, it’s murky, and the authors she championed might, as you say, have their choices taken away from them anyway.

    As far as sitting the storm out quietly…seems to me she’s all business as usual, which is far worse than silence, in my eyes.

    This will be the media-savvy option, I expect. The repercussions will be in whether or not Dear Author’s traffic will decrease enough to affect advertising, or Jen’s books will drop in sales enough to affect her author career. I don’t have any predictions around either.

    What I think might be lost — or at least harder to find — are the wonderful, passionate discussions that help shape the romance community. I think it will be very difficult now for Dear Author to host those discussions because they’ve lost not just the moral high ground, but reader trust to an extent that, I suspect, will be impossible to gain back.

  7. azteclady says:

    I am not a lawyer and don’t play one anywhere, but I don’t think that taking the blog down would have worked–even leaving aside the wider implications of free speech, I think likely that if Jane had said, “okay, the post will go down,” then Ellora’s Cave would have said, “that’s not enough, I want your sources, or I’ll sue anyway.”

  8. Kat says:

    Merrian — As always, you have pointed some of the most difficult issues to grapple with. I only caught up on the AJH issue last night, and, well, I was appalled, particularly in light of Jane’s own conflicts of interest.

    I’m still processing a lot of the new allegations around author spaces, favours for friends, and just generally putting friends in untenable situations. But they don’t look good, and even with huge benefit of doubt, I’m struggling to understand how Jane didn’t foresee that this would all end in bitter tears.

    I love your perspective on the murky reader spaces as works in progress. It definitely applies to me, and I think what I’ve lost in Dear Author is that guide to navigating some of those grey areas. I mean, I don’t think Jane’s news affects what I’ve taken and learned from Dear Author over the years, but it’s probably not going to be there for me in the same way from now on.

    Vassiliki’s comments on ARRC2015 are also relevant; is it just for authors to market to readers or is it about the experience of reading and being a reader?

    Thank you for reminding me of this. I’m super uncomfortable using Book Thingo to market to readers, but I’m also very conscious that the dribs and drabs of affiliate links are necessary to at least break even on the costs of running the blog. I certainly don’t feel I manage that balance well all of the time.

    I wear a different hat at Booktopia, and to some extent I’m relieved that I have a very specific outlet in which I can put on my reader-cheerleader hat, and the two spaces are very separate for me. The Penguin podcast actually feels murkier sometimes, as interviews feel a lot more personal. But in both cases, neither Booktopia nor Penguin have ever asked me to cross hats, which definitely helps (except when they’re so separate that I forget I have a conflict of interest). Occasionally I wonder if authors might resent the fact that if they hate something I’ve done on Book Thingo, they may feel forced to interact with me because of what I do in other spheres. My way forward is just to act professionally as much as I can, and never to write anything in a review that I feel I can’t defend in front of the author.

    But there are also more subtle things, like launch parties, publishing events, even drinks with publishers or authors. Every single one of those occasions requires some level of soul-searching, and I’d be kidding myself if I said it feels like I always get it right. I’m at the point now where I’ve met enough authors that it would be ridiculous to prefix every review with every time I ever shared a drink or a meal with someone in publishing (assuming I even remember). How do I handle disclosure in these cases? I don’t actually have an answer for this. :(

  9. Kat says:

    AZ — You’re probably right. I don’t think we’re seeing even half the sucky behaviour happening behind the scenes in that lawsuit.

  10. Merrian says:

    One of the things lost with DA’s reputation is a sense that there was/is an emergent baseline of blogger ethics that can be referred back too. One of the positives of big blogs like DA and SBTB is their ability to speak and be listened too. In an environment where readers have little if any authority this was a positive emergent property and there was pushback but the push-pull is a good thing. My best hope is that we learn and own the importance of transparency in our interactions. As an old Social Worker I know we have a code of ethics because in unclear or murky circumstances there is value in having something to test our behaviour and decisions against and that we can be held accountable for. I’m not saying there should be industry standards for blogging. I am saying bloggers need to be running a mental checklist so they are consistent and comfortable with themselves. The mix of friendships, power relationships and business has tripped up a number of people besides Jane in this mess. If they had been asking themselves questions along the way, doing a conscious testing of their ethical approach to their blogging, it might not have trapped them in this public disaster

  11. Sonya Heaney says:

    I reviewed under a pseudonym for years and years, and then in 2012 got really, really brave and started a review blog under my real name, and closed my old Goodreads account and started a new one as Sonya Heaney.

    I am a published author. There’s no point in denying it. However, so far I am not a romance novelist, and that is primarily the genre I review. I doubt you’d ever find me in a Google search.

    But, look: I have a degree titled “Professional Writing” and I decided a few years ago that if I ever act on it, I wanted my real name and real persona to already be out there. It was so scary when I originally posted under my real name, but then I figured that I stand by everything I say, so I have to be brave enough to be honest about it…

    Now, off to read all those links, because I haven’t kept up with it all so far!

  12. Sonya Heaney says:

    Also, I really wonder how this sort of thing will work out in the future. Often these days being a blogger turns into being an author. I really don’t know how it should work.

  13. Kat says:

    Merrian — Sometimes I feel like I’m playing in a very small pool, because I seem to follow (and enjoy) a lot of blogs with strict ethical parameters. This is not reflected when I look more broadly at other book blogs. But I want to try and keep as close to those parameters as possible, because to become blogger-as-promoter ranks pretty high on my list of what would make blogging boring as batshit.

    I think I’m still comfortable giving everyone involved the benefit of doubt, but that doesn’t take away from also acknowledging and being sympathetic to people who feel duped, betrayed or ill-used.

  14. Kat says:

    Sonya — I have absolutely no proof, but my gut feeling is that there are more bloggers who are also authors than we probably think. And honestly, it doesn’t bother me that much. Maybe it depends on why people visit book blogs and what they do there? I don’t generally buy books just because someone I like also likes it. I research the hell out of it first to try and ensure I’ll only get books I like.

    Even when I have close relationships with other people on Twitter, I generally don’t assume we’re best friends or that they owe me more than their online persona. But I understand that others interact online differently, and that’s fine, and they’re pretty angry.

    I really don’t know how it should work.

    I don’t think any of us do. And I’ve been thinking about the many other conflicts of interest we don’t really acknowledge, and whether or not they total to an unacceptable level. I mean, who can even measure something like that?

  15. You know I have read a ton on this and I think I should be more upset than I am. Here is basically where I stand at the moment (granted I quit reading DA when it started focusing on NA and Contemporary Romance):

    As a reader: If she was honest on her feeling about the books that she read then whatever it is fine.

    As a blogger: She did probably break a few FTC rules. As a leader in our space that is leading badly by example. Also some of the things lead by her seem rather circumspect but to be honest, I think she would have done them more. There are a few things that are a little not on the up and up (Meljean Brook price thing as an example) but who among us can say that we are totally “not swayed by who we like”. I am disappointed but nothing I can’t forgive. However, I no longer see her as a champion of readers and perhaps that is the biggest loss of all. She has a invested interest in bridging the two now and nothing can take that back. I can see why some are questioning some of the things she has done over the last 2 years. She is smart though and had to expect it.

    If I was an author: If I was in one of those loops I would be pissed. Especially if I wasn’t a fan of DA. I am not an author so this doesn’t bug me.

    Final thoughts: I think 2 years is really my biggest sticking point and something I still haven’t processed. She wanted her cake and ate it too. It worked for awhile. I am sure she expected the fall out. You very rarely get to have things both ways (aka to be an author free of what your blogger persona did and to be a blogger free of what your author persona did). The thing is where the fall out will lie in a few weeks, months, whatever. Only time will tell but she will do fine. I just don’t know that I would go to her for ethics advice (because despite me not being overly upset it was shady whether meant to be or not).

  16. Christina R. says:

    Sarah shut down her comments- and I don’t blame her, it’s not her who should be being held responsible, and I think she understands where everyone is coming from, but Jane is her friend and she doesn’t want to facilitate the discussion of what Jane has done.

    Jane ignoring the whole situation- bad move. I think resentment will die down but it will fester. I am deleting my Dear Author bookmark because Jane’s explanation and lack of apology are very dissatisfactory.

  17. azteclady says:

    Merriam, your entire last comment is spot on–and this last bit:

    The mix of friendships, power relationships and business has tripped up a number of people besides Jane in this mess. If they had been asking themselves questions along the way, doing a conscious testing of their ethical approach to their blogging, it might not have trapped them in this public disaster

    is key to the current fallout.

    I know that there are times I want to fly of the handle, and it’s the thought of the potential consequences that stops me. That self-censorship is not necessarily a bad thing, it helps me ensure that when I do speak is because it matters enough to risk those potentially negative consequences.

    Perhaps overtime several/many/most of the people involved in carrying out this deception lost sight of two things: secrets never last forever and once things became known, they would all be under a much closer scrutiny.

    We are still seeing pieces fall down, but who knows how long will this incident and all the ripples will be brought up at proof of whatever agenda the person bringing it up backs.

  18. Kat says:

    Felicia — I think you basically summed up how I feel. What Jane did doesn’t feel unforgivable to me, personally, but I think the community lost something because of it. And like you, I have find her participation in author loops problematic.

    Christina — I think Sarah probably closed comments because they were getting personal between some commenters. I think she was generous to host the comments at all, and I was glad there was somewhere that (many) readers felt comfortable expressing their thoughts.

    I think I’ll still be visiting DA for the opinion pieces, though I will miss the discussions on ethics. That said, there are other bloggers who touch on these issues once in a while also, so hopefully we’ll see those topics addressed elsewhere.

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