I’m the first to admit that I’m out of the loop. I try not to spend a lot of time wandering in the ether; as a procrastination method, it’s excellent. And most writers really don’t need any more ways to procrastinate.
Having said this, a couple of comments left here and on my Facebook page made me curious, so I went in search of the things mentioned. And that’s how I ran into the whole Dear Author v. Ellora’s Cave Kerfuffle. And it is a Kerfuffle with a big, big K. I’m not going to go into all the details here (you can read about the whole mess here, here, here, or here) but to summarize:
1. Jane Litte of Dear Author wrote a post about Ellora’s Cave, a publishing house, summarizing everything she had learned about their less than ideal business practices and financial dealings. She was specific and detailed in some of her criticism.
2. Ellora’s Cave is suing Jane Litte and Dear Author. The lawsuit began in September 2014 and is still gaining steam. Initial reactions were very supportive of Jane’s position. Smart Bitches Trashy Books wrote about Jane’s situation and organized a legal fund.
3. In the course of discovery — where lawyers spend time researching the facts — the fact that Jane Litte is not only the primary mover behind Dear Author (with the phrase “for readers, by readers” placed prominently) and its approach to reviewing romance novels, she also has published romance novels under a pen name, something she didn’t reveal to her Dear Author readership until that fact became public by means of her deposition.[1. In fact, Jane Litte is also a pen name. In the legal proceedings publicly available on this case, she is identified as Jennifer Gerrish-Lampe . The purpose of this double-layer of anonymity is unclear to me.]
4. Jane Litte has written at great length and in detail about her decision to remain anonymous as a novelist. She remains convinced that it was the right decision, but openly acknowledges that some people will take exception.
5. A good number of people have taken exception, and loudly. Initial unconditional support for her plight became conditional in many quarters. Individual reasons for unhappiness about Litte’s non-disclosure are complicated.
So that’s it in a nutshell. Now, after thinking about all this for a couple days, I’d like to make a couple observations.
Litte’s position is that EC sued her in an effort to intimidate her, and curtail criticism. I agree with her that it’s important to defend the right to free expression and I hope that the court case would sort all that out in her favor. The issue of her writing novels anonymously while running a review site is a different matter.
Dear Author and Smart Bitches have both mentioned authors who responded with glee to the news that Litte was being sued. Both have been disdainful of the persons who have been openly gleeful.
This is where I need to point out something that has bothered me for a long time. I touched on it a few days ago in a post about negative reviews, but here it is more succinctly: Websites and website authors who provide reviews for any reading community have rights under the first amendment to the constitution that should be protected. But those same websites move beyond expressing opinions by fostering a toxic tone and atmosphere. I believe that some of the gleeful reaction to Litte’s situation has to do with that tone.
Litte spent ten years putting together a popular, well structured weblog about romance writers and novels. The set up was provocative, in that the reviewer was writing directly to the author. In a very short time Litte established herself as an arbiter of author behavior, and she did it vocally and with what struck me as glee. Her readers did not challenge the way she assumed authority; they supported her in it. One aspect of this was her habit of identifying authors whose behavior she didn’t approve of, and putting them on a public list called Authors Behaving Badly.
Full disclosure: None of my novels have been reviewed at Dear Author, so I am not resentful about a bad grade (but I do think the grading approach is questionable); on the other hand, Litte did put me on that list in 2006 for defending a specific weblog review which was very critical of another author’s novel. I had no right to express this opinion, as she saw it.
Authors are always warned not to respond to negative reviews. Litte’s Authors Behaving Badly is a kind of meta review not of the author’s work, but of the author his or herself. It was really impossible to respond to Litte’s relegation of me to her list without making the whole thing worse. And of course, she knew that. She knew that simply by putting an author on that list, she was suppressing response.
The problem is far bigger than the Author Behaving Badly list. I wrote last week about the Cassie Edwards debacle that was started and promoted primary by Smart Bitches and Dear Author. The issue was not outing Edwards’s poor and unethical choices, which was in fact a public service. The issue was the tone. Authors and commenters seemed intent not just on exposing plagiarism, but also on shaming the author. The tone went from critical to cruel. My position is that the whole discussion should have remained neutral in tone, but of course, it wasn’t my call. I sat back and watched it all happen, the proverbial car crash.
Stop the Goodreads Bullies is a weblog run by anonymous readers, dedicated to identifying and stopping systematic bullying of authors on the internet, at Goodreads in particular. They have written a lot about Jane Litte, documenting some cases of her behavior which are questionable at best.
Litte has voiced very strong opinions on what’s right and wrong for authors, but didn’t stop to mention that she is herself an author; further, as an author she has done things that she has criticized about other authors.
When all of this is taken into account, the idea that there are authors out there who are gleeful about Litte’s being sued is less of a mystery.
JT’s comment regarding the Jane Litte non-disclosure summarizes my own take very closely. I reproduce it here:
Deljah wrote: “However, not many people have positioned themselves as and created a reputation as an industry watchdog, a champion of disclosure, and foremost reader advocate who carefully examines and sounds an alarm about ethical issues and integrity. Not many people have vigorously put forward standards in such a public way, year after year, while at the same time violating those same standards in the name of self-interest. Jane’s/Jen’s behavior reflects staggering hypocrisy, and the fact that the disclosure was forced just adds to it. It should not be swept under the rug.”
This. 100%, this. Jane has yet to acknowledge her hypocrisy. I do not expect her to. Like I commented on the Smart Bitches blog, I’ve found that hypocrites rarely own up to their hypocrisy. Jane set herself up as a community watchdog, going after anyone she felt was acting in a way she deemed Behaving Badly. She demanded transparency from others while concealing herself as an author on private groups. It’s Jane’s right to justify her actions, to try to make it seem less than sneaky by saying the groups had hundreds and hundreds of members and by excusing her bad choices away with whatever reasons she decides to give…even though she rarely gave anyone else that same respect if someone was in her crossfire. The truth remains, though, Jane demanded a certain standard from others all the while acting in a way that is less than that standard herself. Jane would have pounced on anyone she caught catfishing. Yet there she was, doing exactly that to authors who had no idea they were interacting with Jane Litte. No amount of self-publishing information Jane shared as Jen Frederick on those groups can erase the way she lied by omission to authors who, Jane must know, might not have welcomed her as Jane Litte.
Sarah (SB) wrote: But no one is just one thing. We are all complex humans who are making decisions based on what we know and think is best at the time.
My reply to that was: You and Jane reduced countless authors/editors/publishers to ‘one thing’. You and Jane gleefully crucified ‘complex humans’ who might have made decisions based on what they knew or thought was best at the time.
It would be refreshing to have Jane apologize for reducing others to ‘just one thing’ if she felt they acted badly, and to have her treat people respectfully and with a bit more care now that she’s acted in a way that, by her own standards, is an Author Behaving Badly.
edited to correct typos
I must live beneath a rock…I had no idea this sort of thing went on, let alone that there was an entire website dedicated to authors behaving ‘badly’.
I have to say, it makes the idea of putting any kind of work into the public sphere even more terrifying that it already is.
Meredith — It’s true that things can get messy, but it’s also true that you can steer clear of that and still take advantage of what the web offers. So please don’t let the craziness stop you if you want to put your work out there. Sometime I’ll post something about the role of chaos in the lives of adult children of alcoholics — that would be me — and the way that plays out.