Monday, March 07, 2011

YA Mafia, reviewing books, and relationships/friendships in business

Last week (well, I think it was last week) the hashtag "YAmafia" started appearing on Twitter. (see some of the #YAmafia tweets here) I was having a particularly busy week and wasn't online that much, and so didn't have time to figure out what it was referring to, but when someone tweeted this wrap-up of the whole "controversy," I was able to get a handle on what was being discussed.

I just wanted to touch on the fact that it's the nature of social media that furthers things like this. In an age where "one in five U.S. divorces are fueled by Facebook" and Facebook and social media are making it harder to get over your ex, when people's interactions are more public than ever before, it's perhaps unfortunate but somewhat natural that suspicions and jealousy and paranoia increases as well. When I first got on Twitter, I remember feeling a little weird and jealous eavesdropping on authors and editors and agents banter and reply to each other. Are they really such good friends? I wondered. Of course, as I got more in the swing of how Twitter worked, and I "bantered" with other Tweeps myself, I realized that in some cases, yes, and other cases, no--in many cases, people only know each other via Twitter.

Anyway, to my knowledge, there is no YA Mafia (and yes, I know personally and have worked with many of the authors who have been mentioned as possible "members"). There are, however, authors who are friends, and these friendships can seem cliquey on occasion, especially from the outside. Just as friendships in the workplace can seem cliquey. And yes, authors (and editors and agents and, well, people) can be thin-skinned and sensitive, and sometimes hold grudges. But that's just part of the business. Any business.

As it is with pretty much every other industry, networking is important, and relationships matter. However, just as in every industry, it's not the end all, be all.

I don't want honest, negative reviews to go away. I read bad reviews of the books I edit all the time. I have Google alerts for my books, after all. Bad reviews don't really bother me all that much any more, although of course any kind of bad review can sting, and a mean-spirited review, whether it's from Kirkus or on a blog, stings even more. But negative reviews can be helpful in terms of editing--if I'm seeing the same criticism over and over, I know what to watch out for in future books. When I'm trying to acquire a book, if a colleague on our acquisitions meeting isn't in support, I do have to hear them criticize the book--but of course the criticism is said in such a way because they're telling it to my face. And at that stage, it's constructive criticism, because if I do end up acquiring the book, I can work towards addressing the concerns. Anyway, if for whatever reason it's your mission to review books, for better or for worse, then by all means, be honest. You don't have to be especially nice about it, but you don't have to be mean about it either.But keep in mind that more likely than not, the author, editor, and agent of the book will read your review.

The problem with social media is that it's public, but people don't seem to remember that. If I discuss a book in my book group and criticize it, that's where it would end. It's doubtful that someone in my book group would go running to the agent of that book and tell him/her how much I hated it, and that the agent would then tell the author that I hated his/her book. And if I knew the author of agent or editor of the book personally, I wouldn't diss the book to their face. It's just not good manners. If they ask my honest opinion, I'd be honest, but would be professional about it, too. Let's say a friend asks you how you think she looks in her wedding pictures, and you honestly think she looks terrible, you wouldn't tell her that to her face, would you? (Well, I wouldn't). It's called manners. And common sense. Just as someone shouldn't make fun of a colleague's appearance on a public blog, one shouldn't make fun of a colleague's book on a public blog. And if you do, you have to accept the consequences that you've perhaps damaged your relationship with that person, whether temporarily or permanently. This isn't a threat, this is just business advice. Venting and criticizing something on a blog or Twitter or Facebook shouldn't be different from doing so in person.

Grace, I know, posted what she did about judging books last week before she even heard of the controversy. I also stopped rating books on Goodreads a while back. I know it's a small industry. I critique books in person, to friends, in my book groups, within my publishing company. I don't criticize them online anymore. Who knows which author, editor, or agent I'll end up working with. I wouldn't want to start things off on the wrong foot. That's just my decision. Other editors give negative ratings to books. That's their decision.

Sorry for the rambling post! What do all of you think of the whole shebang? Or is this old news and you're already sick of the whole thing?


Julia Karr said...

I enjoyed following your ramble about this! And agree totally, but particularly with this "Venting and criticizing something on a blog or Twitter or Facebook shouldn't be different from doing so in person."

Very well-said!

Manners are manners - in person, or online. If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, why would you say it on a public forum?

kellye said...

Thanks for your thoughtful and honest post. Still, I wish you'd post a video demonstrating the secret handshake. (Yes, JOKING. Well, about that last part. I wish I didn't have to add the clarification, but, it's true that some things just don't translate on the internets...) Have a good one.

Sheela Chari said...

This was a very sensibly written post. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint as an editor. It's a relief actually to hear that so many people seem to be realizing and articulating the same feelings and observations about social media. It has certainly forced me to recalibrate how I socialize/interact online. Twitter and facebook has always seemed like such a public forum, I find it rather surprising that people forget that. But I have already found cases of that, of people tweeting indiscreetly as if they didn't know their tweets were being read by everyone. Or maybe they didn't care.

I think today's social media calls upon us for to show better responsibility and yes...manners!

Sara said...

I think people really need to see this as a business and authors as fellow co-workers or potential fellow co-workers. As an author, I don't publicly review or critique books because it's not really my place to do that. Imagine if, in my advertising day job, I posted a bunch of critiques of my colleagues' work - especially critiques that were scathing or snarky. People would look askance at that. For one, I never know who I might end up working with in the future. For another, I wouldn't want one of my colleagues publicly railing against my work. We are a community and, for the most part, should support one another. That has nothing to do with whether people should be allowed to write negative reviews. I don't mind getting them and certainly am not going to go tattle to my agent or editor about them. Because honestly, if a blogger happened to write a book so freaking kick-butt that it put Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter to shame in its marketability, NO ONE WILL CARE if I didn't like what that person said about my book. I do think, however, that if someone aspires to be part of the YA author community, then they need to start looking at themselves as a colleague and co-worker, which may mean toning down the negative reviews.I guarantee that once a blogger gets a contract and starts working toward seeing his/her book on the shelves, he/she will naturally feel that urge to be more forgiving and tactful toward fellow authors' work. It's just different at that point. I could go into all of the reasons why, but I've already taken up too much space here...

sbjames said...

Very sensible! Thanks for posting. Publishing is a business. Authors are paid. We can't forget that no matter how chatty they seem online. And hey, I shout out for friends and colleagues. We all do.

Libby Koponen said...

Yes, sensible is the word. And I absolutely agree that it's called MANNERS.

One other thing: I don't mind negative reviews so much as super-egotistical reviewers more concerned with sounding clever and making points than trying to understand what the author was saying. Or trying to say!

Anonymous said...

Great post -

and great comment:

"And I absolutely agree that it's called MANNERS.