TRIGGER WARNING FOR SEXUAL VIOLENCE. TOWARD THE END OF THIS POST IS A QUOTE FROM AN EMAIL SENT TO THE AUTHOR OF THE STRANGE HORIZON ESSAY LINKED AT THE START.
You know what I love about last night’s kerfuffle about authors/reviewers? How many bloggers came out in support of authors. Hell yeah!
— Abhinav Jain (@abhinavjain87) September 16, 2013
That’s usually the only big positive about these things. Reaffirms my faith in the blog culture and keeps me going even. Here’s to y’all!!
— Abhinav Jain (@abhinavjain87) September 16, 2013
I was going to stay out of this until I saw these two tweets from Jain, whom I like, but I think whiffed quite dramatically on this particular point. His tweets imply that one of our jobs as bloggers is to support authors. This feeds into the idea that blogs exist to serve, in some undefined way, publishing. To say the least, I think that’s a bunch of hogwash.
In a recent Strange Horizons essay by Renay, she drew a comparison between the INDUSTRY blogger and the FAN blogger, as though there was a tangible difference between the two. Embedded in that argument is the notion that once someone becomes sufficiently connected to the publishing industry or influenced by external forces (whatever those might be), then that individual becomes functionally disabled as a fan. Specifically, Renay said:
Industry track book bloggers (who may have started as fans) may do the above as well as some, all, or more than the following:
- Support the industry and creators with guest posts from creators, giveaways, cover reveals, release announcements, reviews, round-table discussions, and interviews.
- Attend industry events. They attend in some ways as fans, but they also attend as fans who have created a recognizable brand and use it to acquire new capital and network with people within the industry.
- Own interactive online spaces where subscribers inform the direction of the site. “What do my readers want to see? What’s relevant to them?” are driving factors in content decisions.
- They accept review copies on a regular basis, both for themselves, to follow market trends, and to let their readers know what’s upcoming.
- New book releases are a high percentage of review content.
- Organization includes a certain level of scheduling and planned events, and a level of consistency that persists over time.
- There’s more explicit interaction with creators and the industry (editors, publicists, etc.).
I love what Renay wrote, despite disagreeing with almost all of it, because it’s what I do all the time. She took a position and started a discussion. It’s wonderful. But, the presumption that I am no longer a fan due to my connections to authors, editors, and agents is not something I can support. Except, none of that is what most took away from the article because Renay quickly went off that track to discuss how ‘industry blogging’ has led to creators invading consumer space,
Some parts of the industry feel comfortable doing so because these blogs parlayed their fannish excitement into looking appealing to publishers/creators. Creators can comment on fan conversation that they were not explicitly invited into, sometimes with interesting discussions, but sometimes with really terrible results…
…What happened was a direct result of The Book Smugglers as a fannish project being subsumed by the industry. As the parts of The Book Smugglers that were explicitly fannish when they started became muted over time due to their excellent work with the publishing industry, parts of the industry may feel that space belongs to them even without an outright invitation.
All of that sounds like a statement made by someone functionally uncomfortable with the relationship between authors and fans. Because she is. There’s a reason for that. Renay’s background is in fan fiction, a community that has a love/hate relationship with authors across many genres. Anyone heavily invested in that community has been lambasted time and again by different authors who view fan fiction as outright theft. They pervert what Renay sees as an act of love and turn it into an act of aggression. Of course authors coming to the party make her nervous. And, guess what boys and girls, it’s a perfectly legitimate position to take. I take some offense to the notion that misbehaving commentors are a result of my overly publishing friendly blog, but by taking that position she’s started a conversation that clearly we needed to have.
Unfortunately, that conversation has gotten out of hand. I can’t imagine that I–the Arbiter of Anger, Sultan of Sass, and Hater of the Hugos–have to be the voice of reason. I don’t like it anymore than you do, trust me. Nothing in Renay’s post was bullying, toward Ben Aaronovitch or anyone else. Some of the comments on both sides got out of hand. The reality is there is a perfectly defensible position on either side of this equation. When something is posted on the internet, I believe there is an implicit contract between the writer (blogger) and the reader. It is open to public scrutiny. Public scrutiny includes authors and editors, and anyone else who may have a vested interest in the topic.
Under that logic, Aaronovitch and other authors have every right to participate in the conversation. In fact, I suspect that Renay, the Book Smugglers, and Jonathan McCalmont would undoubtedly agree with that statement. I think their argument is merely that authors shouldn’t because of reasons. I would strongly suggest reading Robert Jackson Bennett and Courtney Schafer for what those reasons might be. Some of the more outspoken opponents of author interaction might even suggest that authors should never get involved in discussing their own work. In countering that argument many of my critic/reviewer peers have in some ways made one Renay’s point for her. Or, at least, the point I find much more interesting–that some bloggers have become so close to the industry that they no longer represent a fan perspective.
And that brings me back to the tweets that led this off. In the industry blogger world everything before this is what we call “writing your way into the discussion.” Jain’s comments are confirming Renay’s point that many blogs have become an extension of the publisher. Jain is arguing that one of the roles he serves, and that he sees blogs serving at large, is to support, protect, and encourage authors. Jain isn’t alone. Prolific reviewer Paul Weimer tweeted,
@RuthlessCult Well, Jonathan, in some cases, my review IS a dialogue to the author. Not always but sometimes.
— Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) September 16, 2013
This is a slightly less aggressive take than Jain, but it continues to support this notion that reviewers (blogs, critics, whatever) exist in a space that’s hand and glove with those who write/publish. Regardless, I could not disagree more with both Weimer and Jain. We don’t exist for the purposes of getting close to publishing. We don’t exist to further our own agendas as aspiring writers. We don’t exist to boost sales for writers we’ve never met. Or at least we shouldn’t exist for those reasons. I believe we should exist, at least in part to hold people accountable who would send a Strange Horizons essayists an email like this,
you’ve got so much to say about authors maybe if I jammed my dick down your throat and filled it up with cum you’d shut up and give everyone else a break from your whining
Well, fuck that, right? This blog exists to hold people like that accountable.
The truth is, I believe we exist to hold the entire community, industry included, accountable to itself. And guess what folks. . .the ‘industry’ is made up of fans.
We’re all fans. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.
Tom Doherty? Fan.
Betsy Wohlheim? Fan.
Aidan Moher? Fan.
Sam Sykes? Fan.
Kameron Hurley? Fan.
Ana Grilo and Thea James? Fans.
This is what makes the entire science fiction and fantasy community so incredible and so fucked up. It’s an industry run by people who absolutely love it. But, it’s an industry run by people who absolutely love it. Meaning bad decisions are made all the time. Books are bought that had no business being published because an editor was reminded of some nostalgic moment when that kind of drivel used to sell. Covers get made because Michael Whelan’s covers used to be awesome. And authors chime in on reviews because they want to geek out on their own stuff.
A couple years ago at a convention I watched THE FANBOY (seriously, patient zero of fanboys) come up to Brent Weeks. He was sitting at a table in the bar with Robin Hobb, Douglas Hulick, and… me. We were talking about something smart, or rather the three men were listening to Robin Hobb be smart. This FANBOY plopped down next to Weeks and went off about Kylar and the Night Angel Trilogy. Weeks lit up and I watched him geek out like nobody’s business with a kid who connected with his work. Sure, that’s different than him walking into a negative review and lighting up the reviewer up for misinterpreting Kylar’s motivations for kicking ass, but that can be a hard line to draw, particularly in a community that has so little ability to differentiate between fan and professional.
I really believe that’s the root of our problem. In fact, it might be the problem with the entire industry. It’s an industry run by fans. Not business people. Not editors and publishers who got lost in the Penguin building and ended up working in genre. Not sales people who finished Harvard business school and ended up slinging science fiction. Not authors who love litfic and write genre because it sells. Nope. This is a multi-million dollars business run by people who love it to a fault.
So, all of that goes to say, is Renay wrong? Are some bloggers too close to the industry? Are authors invading fan spaces because there’s been an erosion of fannish space? Or is the truth that the industry itself is so ingrained in fandom that we can’t tell where one ends and the other begins? Put me down for the latter.