It’s been a very long seven days.
A week has passed since author Kathleen Hale revealed her exploits as a stalker in the Guardian, misrepresenting crucial facts and painting a narrative that smeared a blogger who gave her a bad review as a notorious troll, and a lot has happened in the interim period. If you’re unfamiliar with what happened, our open letter to Hale and Guardian Books is here, but so much has been uncovered since then.
Details of Hale’s previous stalking became common knowledge thanks to an article she’d written detailing her sustained attack against a young woman who accused Hale’s mother of molestation. Said attack climaxed with Hale pouring peroxide over the young woman’s head. We’ve also seen numerous news sites report on the story with varying degrees of accuracy. Many chose to take the ‘both sides’ argument, regurgitating Hale’s unfounded claims about the reviewer and using this as an excuse to paint the issue as a kind of war between reviewers and authors. Jezebel smugly declared themselves to be ‘Team Nobody’, rather than say, ‘Team Stalking Is Terrible And We Condemn It’. Hale’s loudest defenders have been friends, such as the editor of the Hairpin, where Hale writes. Ironically, it was the evil bully book bloggers who reported on the story accurately, and provided the context and crucial evidence missing from Hale’s own piece. Dear Author’s piece is a must read, as is Alex Hurst’s.
A number of truths have been uncovered: The reviewer in question had not even finished reading Hale’s book when Hale claimed the nasty attacks started. Tweets and Goodreads status dates back this up.
We also have tweets showing Hale’s excitement over getting the reviewer’s address from YA Reads, who organised the debut author tour both participated in. Screencaps show the full passive aggressive attacks she sent on Twitter regarding a 3 star review of the book that called out some problematic word choice. That 3 star review wasn’t by the woman she stalked (these screencaps can be found in Hurst’s post, linked above). We have a myriad of evidence that refutes Hale’s claim that Blythe Harris launched some kind of extensive bully blogger attack of her as well as a glaring lack of evidence that such attacks ever took place. No screencaps, no blogger write-ups (we are if nothing else extremely good at recording such incidents), not even a whisper of such drama ever occurring.
Bloggers were justifiably angry, but they were also scared witless. This incident opened up the possibility that not only were we unsafe for participating in a mere hobby but that publishers may be complicit in these attacks. Harper Teen and Hale have since come out and said the publisher did not give out anyone’s address (Hale procured it through dishonest means by way of a blog tour, claiming she wanted to send Blythe a present) but the lack of action and condemnation from HarperCollins, especially with the revelation that Hale’s future mother-in-law is an executive editor there, did nothing to calm anyone’s concerns.
The hashtag started shortly after HarperTeen tweeted Dear Author to comment that they had not given Harris’s address to Hale (the tag’s name was by Cuddlebuggery). Its aim was simple – book bloggers, a crucial part of marketing in the publishing ecosystem, would refuse to give Kathleen Hale any space on their respective sites. No book tours, no reviews, no cover reveals, to interviews, nothing that would benefit her. She didn’t respect bloggers and saw stalking as ‘investigative journalism’ so why should she be welcome on the blogs we’ve all worked so hard on? It quickly gained steam and even trended on Twitter for a short time. #AuthorYes quickly followed, allowing bloggers to express their gratitude to the authors who have condemned Hale’s actions, and there are many authors who have done so. Bloggers wanted action from HarperTeen, and so far none seems to have taken place, although we have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes.
The next step was the blogger blackout, which followed a similar pattern to #HaleNo. Many blogs will black out for a chosen period of time to take a stand. Some will black out entirely, others will simply show no content related to new releases. Much space will be given to pieces on blogger safety and issues crucial to the community. Every blogger participating, ourselves included, has taken the step they have deemed to be the right one for them. For us, that also included a full boycott of HarperTeen releases. We understand that this is a drastic step and we also fully understand why others are not going as far. It could be seen as unfair to other HarperTeen authors who have condemned Hale, and we are sympathetic to them. However, this is the right step for us. This is one small but active step we can make in order to take a stand. Only a handful of bloggers are doing this and we do not condemn those who are taking smaller steps. We’re all doing what we have to do.
I feel that the blogger blackout and #HaleNo have become misunderstood by some, be it wilfully or otherwise. Salon reported on the story by titling it as a war between authors and bloggers. Let me be categorically clear – there is no war and there never has been a war. There are incidents that have happened, lines have been crossed but it is a microcosm of a larger community that by and large has created respectful and passionate working and personal relationships. Stop The Goodreads Bullies, the harassing and doxxing site that Hale uncritically cited in her article, are not representative of anyone other than themselves. As is typical, the loudest voices tend to be the most extreme (or as extreme as it gets in book blogging) and as such we’ve all become a little more vigilant.
We don’t want to give money or publicity to those who delight in public attacks of bloggers and who have seen Hale’s actions as somehow justifiable. Many bloggers have shared lists of such authors and this has been seen as somehow comparable to Hale stalking someone. It’s not even close. Frankly, after seeing Hale delight in what she did, it’s a matter of public safety to avoid authors who think stalking is okay. Some have compared #HaleNo and the blackout to terrorism. Deborah Smith called such bloggers the Taliban and “Thought Police” then ominously declared “authors are watching”. I shouldn’t even have to tell you how wrong that is.
#HaleNo isn’t just about Hale. It’s about blogger safety and accountability. When a woman with power, connections and a massive respected platform can spread outright lies and a wilfully mischaracterised narrative in order to paint her stalking of another woman as a quirky story, there’s a huge problem there. When she can do that without real consequences while the blogger in question has to quit reviewing, that doesn’t just damage Blythe, it affects us all. Joanne Harris is making claims of AuthorGate taking place (because GamerGate comparisons are just what everyone needs) and dismissing bloggers’s responses as a ‘not all authors’ situation. We know not all authors are Kathleen Hale, but the fact that she exists, that she did what she did and she gets away with it is bad enough. One stalker author is one too many.
We don’t have multiple publications banging on our door to let us tell the full story. We don’t have publishers or well-connected in-laws to back us up. We don’t have a widely spread narrative that paints all bloggers as trolls in waiting, eager to ruin lives and careers with one star reviews. Blogging has democratised criticism in a big way, and not just in literary circles. Numerous film websites started out as hobby blogs and became full time careers. For many, sites like Bleeding Cool and HitFix are offing film criticism as important and reliable as traditional publications like the New York Times. For lovers of books, particularly YA and genre fiction, blogs are all we have to decide which purchases to make and to engage in the kind of discussions we’re passionate about. The Guardian don’t do extensive coverage of romance novels or really see them as something worthy of discussion. The New York Times still has a problem with reviewing science-fiction or other genres, while coverage of young adult fiction that isn’t mired in Twilight jokes and passive-aggressive sneering seems non-existent in the New Yorker.
Many have embraced this new model and it has reaped successes for a great number of writers, particularly as self-publishing becomes the norm. Others, however, see no respectability in blogs. They’re not ‘real’ reviewers, their opinions somehow mean less. It’s easy to punch down at bloggers because they’re so frequently characterised as trolls, as bullies, as people with too much time on their hands who delight in chaos. The truth is most of us are hobbyists who enjoy being part of a community with a shared passion. We want this hobby of ours to be enjoyable and to be safe.
To authors who see our efforts as overblown, who think we’re punishing them for taking a stand, I say this – it’s not all about you. This is about us, this is about bloggers putting bloggers first. We’re not some super oppressed group, we’re just people who think stalking should be condemned and that publishers should take our concerns seriously. We’re also not here to serve authors solely as promotional outlets. We are often delighted to participate in such activities but it’s not our one purpose. It’s also important for us to note that a lot of bloggers are young men and women, teenagers enthusiastically sharing their love of books. We take their safety very seriously.
Nobody should have to fear posting a bad review of a book. The fact that for many of us that is a daily concern is a sign that big changes need to take place. We demand the changes not just because we need them but because they’ll benefit everyone.
The Bibliodaze blackout will take place from 26th October to 1st November.
Our petition to Goodreads demanding better privacy settings can be found here. Please sign and share.
Claire Rousseau shared her letter to the Guardian and their breach in editorial conduct as well as information on sending your own letter of formal complaint.