As the continuing lawsuit between publisher Ellora’s Cave and romance blog Dear Author’s owner Jane Litte unfolds, more details are made public that ask questions about the nature of anonymity and the line separating creators from consumers. Bloggers and reviewers have felt the wrath caused by passionate opinions more times than any of us can count.
The case became even more complex as Litte revealed on the site yesterday that she was the best-selling romance and new adult author Jen Frederick. In the long and detailed post, she outlined her reasons for keeping her various identities separate, citing a desire to keep the worlds from conflict and to make sure her work as an author succeeded apart from her success as one of the biggest names in romance reviews.
To say that emotions have been running high since this revelation is an understatement. The responses have been for the most part positive and very supporting of Litte’s work as a writer in both fields. This is no surprise given Dear Author’s popularity in the romance world. The site is the first name readers think of when recommending romance novels, along with Smart Bitches Trashy Books. However, it’s that popularity that also leads to the most questions.
Disclosure is a key element of any blogger’s life. You state firmly and without ambiguity the origin of your review copies and any potential conflicts of interest you may have. This is mostly done as part of the business transaction one undertakes when accepting a publisher’s work for review, but it’s also a marker of trust between readers. Given Dear Author’s own motto – “By readers, for readers”, it’s no surprise that some feel this trust has been broken, or at least called into question. Jane has only reviewed one title with her publisher Berkely since signing her contract and there’s no extensive coverage of her work on the site, but there are potential problems to note.
I myself have seen my views on this subject evolve greatly over the past 24 hours. It should be noted that I like and respect Jane a great deal and regularly read Dear Author. I also felt great sympathy for her having to reveal this news as part of the continued stripping away of her anonymity thanks to a dodgy lawsuit designed to scare dissenters in the publishing world. Not only was Litte’s author identity revealed but so was her real life identity, and the magnitude of that shouldn’t be downplayed. Pseudonyms are not a bad thing. Safety and privacy are your right.
Dear Author contributor Kati listed one of Frederick’s books on her best of 2014 list, with a brief disclaimer that she beta-read it but no indication of her status as a writer for Frederick’s site. If the site’s contributors knew about the pseudonym then that opens up further disclosure claims. If they didn’t know then that’s a whole other pile of problems.
One of Frederick’s books was listed in a guest post of military heroes, and another featured in the regular daily deals section. Jen Frederick also donated a Kindle Fire as a gift during DABWAHA. These aren’t quite sock-puppet madness fun-times, but other bloggers have been driven from the community for less, and for many readers, these examples of lack of disclosure are enough to feel a sense of disappointment. It could all be a coincidence and chances are it probably is, but it’s not hard to see why there’s a growing sense of unease, particularly since Litte and the site have been so adamantly pro-disclosure in the past. A desire to keep pseudonyms separate would ideally mean no mention of Jen Frederick at all on Dear Author. Not reviewing is not the same as not promoting.
Of course, we look at this now with the benefit of hindsight. We talk about what we would have done differently, like disclosing the existence of the author life but giving no further details about it, but it makes little difference now.
Now more than ever, blogger-author relations are fractured at best. It’s an increasingly brutal world, one where many are deciding the risks just aren’t worth it, particularly with bona fide stalkers on the loose and the gendered toxicity of Goodreads harassment. One of the sticking points that’s thrown in the faces of basically every blogger I know is the assumption that all reviewers are jealous wannabe or failed authors. It’s a deflective argument, one with little to no basis in reality, and yet it’s a constant attack we face. I don’t think it’s fair to say this problem is exacerbated with Litte’s revelation simply because I don’t think the assumption ever had any true foundations in reality. I’m sure some will throw it back in her face, notably certain Twitter accounts we won’t mention, but that’s not the central problem here.
I’m staunchly pro-authors reviewing books and find the hostility towards the practice a touch perplexing at times, although completely understandable given the inherent conflicts of interest. I see no reason why Jane Litte and Jen Frederick cannot co-exist, especially now that the veil has been lifted. Dear Author is also not solely Litte’s outlet for reviews. There are several contributors who write everything from reviews to opinion pieces to deal round-ups to industry news. It’s bigger than Litte, and perhaps that’s where the problem lies. Dear Author is a big deal and it wields a lot of power in this tight-knit community. If they’re not practicing what they preach in terms of disclosure then that’s also a big deal. I’m not so sure a smaller blogger could reveal their secret author pseudonym and potential disclosure failures and be met with such passionate support. Indeed, I’m sure Litte would have covered it in a news post in extensive detail.
It’s clear from the talk going on in Twitter romance circles that the waters have muddied and many are concerned about the wider implications of this revelation. Personal and professional emotions are running high, trust has been broken and many questions remain unanswered. A lot of people are also remaining silent, for various reasons that are all entirely understandable. Transparency is and will remain key in the coming days, weeks and months, but it can be tough to keeps the windows clean when there are cracks in them. It’ll be a judgement call for every reader and author to make on where they now stand with Dear Author, and that call will often be a tough and personal one to make. As for me, I’m still not entirely sure if I’ve made up my mind. That in and of itself is tough.