When I first started the Sparkle Project all those months ago, my friends and I joked that my reviews would somehow get me blacklisted from every YA publisher in the world, or the disgruntled authors would send out the ninjas to silence me. It wasn’t until my “Shiver” review that I started to take my jokes a little more seriously, then noticed something about the genre that set my brain firing.
The publishing industry is full of close connections and friendships and the YA market is no exception. I for one find great enjoyment out of watching some of my favourite writers tweet each other or blog about their misadventures together. I’m fascinated by the way they work together and their differences in techniques, characters, etc. It appeals to the part of me that loves the mental image of a group of writers getting together on dark, stormy nights to compose stories together like they’re Byron and the Shelleys or something. But recently, as I’ve written my reviews and done far too much research for this project, I’ve begun to think that maybe this isn’t such a good idea.
The YA community has begun to feel very cliquey. Authors become good friends with bloggers and reviewers (I myself follow several writers on Twitter and one on LiveJournal although they don’t follow me back), giving interviews and freebies to give away, organising competitions and web-chats, and then they have these glowing reviews pop up everywhere. We have writers defending each other online from criticism because they’re friends with each other (the most infamous example I myself have talked about is the “In defence of Hush, Hush” post which has now been deleted from the now agent represented author’s blog). We have authors giving each other glowing reviews and cover quotes often as big as the book author’s name without any sort of disclaimer that the writers are good friends. We have books that aren’t very good being trumpeted as the hot new thing because of combinations of all the above. If you’ll forgive my admittedly sketchy word choice, it’s all begun to feel a little incestuous.
I’ve had one personal instance of reaction to this clique-like behaviour when my review of Maggie Stiefvater’s “Shiver” brought about some comments from the author herself. Maybe I overreacted of maybe something was mistranslated over the internet as it often is, but I genuinely felt a little threatened by Ms Stiefvater’s comments, especially the part about how my reviews may prevent me from being published in the future. But her final comment mentioned that she was good friends with Carrie Ryan, author of “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” the next book I was planning on reviewing, and how she would be very hurt if I wrote a bad review of it (I didn’t, by the way, it was the only book in the Project I really liked, but that’s beside the point.) This felt very weird. A huge part of being a writer is being criticised.
I write stories. I’m trying to write a YA novel right now. I have a few friends who help me edit it and check my work as I go along and I ask them to be as critical as possible, otherwise I would just write the biggest heap of crap. Criticism makes me a better writer and it stops me from making huge mistakes over my content. I can’t help but wonder why professional authors in the YA genre aren’t calling out problematic elements of the genre, even if they are friends with the culprits. It’s possible to be friends with someone and not kiss their backsides all the time, especially when they don’t deserve it. Maybe pointing out possible problems is exactly what they need. There’s a huge difference between the author’s intent (wanting to write a romance with a bad boy) and the resulting reality (sexual harassment masquerading as love) and maybe they don’t realise this. This isn’t just the job of other writers of course, the publishers and agents need to step up and do their jobs too. I know I’m just the ranting feminist blogger who seems impossible to please but I genuinely love this genre. If writing things like this do stop me from being published, if criticising the genre and its faults makes me some sort of enemy, then I’m not sure I want to be a part of that industry. I’d rather be the rambling, opinionated nerd than the mafia ninja.
Thoughts? How do you feel the internet has helped/hindered the market? My next review will either be a House of Night recap or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie as part off Banned Book week. Tell your friends!