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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

The YA Mafia Ninjas - On the clique...

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!

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Ariana Ferrone said...

I totally agree. I only started my newest blog because I thought it would be a good idea to start networking and break into what seems like such a close-knit community.

The internet keeps track of everything you 'say.' I think that the members of the YA community want to be seen as 'nice' and therefore blithely promote and praise one another's works. After all, that means that the author they are praising will probably return the favour.

I admire what you do. I think it is important to acknowledge the flaws within this genre and more importantly, to do something about them. I want my YA novels to be published in the future and I hope that I can avoid the issues that bother me in current books, issues that you address.

Keep up the good work. It is not your job to conform to the current model of the community. Everyone listens to an independent voice and I believe that you have one.

Unknown said...

There seems to be a clique in the industry as a whole, a whole "Not what you know" but "Who you know" kind of thing. It explains so much-- how horrible writers are being promoted over excellent writers who can't catch a break.

I grew up wanting to be a writer, wanting to be heralded among the voices that inspired me as I grew. But as I've gotten older, I question that dream in part because I know nobody. And I'm not the kind of person to kiss ass just to get a break.

I'm glad I'm not the only one noticing this clique of writers. While it can be fun-- Libba Bray and John Green being friends? That sounds like fun!--to follow multiple authors you like who also like each other, you get into the gray area of the ones who you really don't like, that the ones you do champion. And then you feel like you're betraying people. It's just like in real life: Your best friend has a new friend that you can't stand, but you have to act nice. Except, you don't know these people personally, but since the internet allows you to connect with them in new ways-- no more writing letter after letter to never receive a response-- you feel like you know these people and can betray them.

And now I'm just blabbering.

The main point, I guess: I don't like how I see the publishing industry today. The editing is sloppy, people who don't deserve it get breaks, and it's just overall not a good thing, a clique of popularity, as you point out. There is so much that needs to be changed about the industry, but I feel at times that I don't have a way of pointing any of it out. I'm glad, though, that I'm not the only one who feels uneasy about what the publishing industry has become.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed this too more so over the past year as I've had more time to get re-acquainted with the YA genre. I think it's like that in other genres though, just maybe not to the extent that we notice it in the YA authors. I wonder if that's because it's only in the past few years that YA books have come to the fore as publishing and money sucesses. Maybe there's a history there of them banding together for support and now with social media, it's more obvious who is friends with who.

That said, I think the kind of thing you've described is beyond the beyonds. If you're going to read the good press, you have to read the bad too and going about how you'll be hurt if someone gets a bad review? Jeebus, take it easy, love! Save that angst for your next YA epic about naked werewolf teens and the girls who fall in love with them for no obvious reason.
I say, call them out on what you feel needs to be adressed. You can start your own clique of good YA writers!

Anonymous said...

Why, this sounds familiar! (I edited this article--though it needed almost no work at all--and am one of the folks looking at the author's novel in progress, which, btw, if I may, is wonderful so far. So inventive and original, and even has some in-jokes I get!)

Also, I am so glad to be going into journalism instead of publishing. I was on the receiving end of some of Stiefvater's comments (which were a ridiculous response to legitimate criticism) and she was genuinely shocking me! I realized I couldn't rationally debate her because she was behaving irrationally! I was like "is this an adult or a teenager?" I was once a teenager and behaved badly when faced with what was undoubtedly rational criticism of my work. But then I grew up.

fromthisgirl said...

When I read Stiefvater's comments I thought she was behaving well enough, but I did find myself particularly annoyed at that bit about Carrie Ryan. I think I disliked Ryan's work more than you did. For me, the zombies and Argos the dog were the only things that interested me, and that's because I love zombies and I love dogs. Anyway, I seriously disliked her book and am only vaguely considering reading the sequel to see if she gets any better. With that said, having someone like Stiefvater basically make a plea that you not tear Ryan a new one is irritating. If your friend is an asshole to most or all people they meet, it's your duty as their friend to tell them, "Hey, stop being an asshole to everyone, it's not getting you anywhere." If Stiefvater is a good friend of Ryan's, she does her no favors by telling people she wouldn't like the idea of Ryan being criticized.

Anonymous said...

I guess you've heard about the 'Tough Chicks Kick It' tour? Yeah, I think that sounds like fun, except when you realise they're friends who hand each other starring reviews and cover quotes like candy and go defense mode on your ass if you dare criticise some of their work.

I agree with you, I don't see anything wrong with writers being friends, talking about their work, I think it's awesome, but when they start kissing each other's bums and sharing reviews, you know something's not right. The YA market has definitely become too cliquey.

[i]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.[/i]
Believe me when I say, I've been asking myself that question for a long time. Because, it's not possible that they're not aware of the state the YA market is currently in. And what crap some of them write. I mean, how can they read crap, turn a blind eye and say 'great job', even if they are friends?
I find it silly they got offended over your criticism, which definitely had valid points. Like you, I also value criticism and they definiely shouldn't shy away from it.

I'm looking forward to your future posts. :)
I would love it if you'd do a review of 'The Hunger Games' once you've finished reading it. It's not the best book out there, but it is better than some of the YA crap we have now.
I also think it would be a fun idea if you did some writing posts, where you post about things you learned about writing, your advice, what you noticed about certain genres, what should be avoided, etc.
Oh, and you should definitely do a review of 'The Demon's Lexicon' by Sarah Rees Brennan, which is quite popular in the YA market. It's not so bad, but it definitely has things to snark about.

Oh my...sorry to bother you with such a long comment. D: I'll just go back to lurker mode. ;)

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, what you've been told about negativity affecting your chances of being published is true. That's why I feel like I have to write this anonymously, ridiculous as that is. The YA world is small and close-knit and EXTREMELY uncomfortable with public criticism. Authors and aspiring authors are warned all the time that ANY critique or criticism of other books, other authors, agents, the industry, anything will result in agents and publishing houses being less likely to take you on (not to mention, obviously, exclusion from the 'club'). And while I think it makes sense that people wouldn't want to work with someone who's lambasting others all the time, the result is that any critical discussion about what's going on the genre or problematic messages that are being sent is completely shut down. We're all essentially FORCED to play nice all the time.

Anonymous said...

Maureen Johnson referenced your blog post although not directly. There's internet dramaz with a book list published by Bitch Magazine where a few YA authors legitimately rally around a couple of books taken off the list and censored. She mentions with a fair bit of disdain how people think of them as a clique at one point. A few google searches with 'YA novels + author cliques' led me to you. You have an excellent point and you are the only one that really popped up so I guess it's needless to say that you have the YA author community paying attention. You have more of a voice than the average reader and I'm glad you're using it.

KT Grant said...

Remember, the on-line community is very small if you think about it. There's thousands of authors out there and hundreds of agents and editors that have more important things on their mind to spend hours searchign for a review an aspiring author may have left somewhere. Don't sweat it and do what makes you happy.

Jessica said...

Oh my god, thank you for this post! I am getting just a little tired of well-known writers saying "There is absolutely no such thing as cliques and if there is evidence of such a thing, it's all in your head anyway." Especially when they happen to be part of the clique(s) in question. Of course they're going to say there's no such thing because the genre made them successful and god forbid they (or anyone) say there's problems with it!

The biggest problem I have with this clique-iness is, it's not just in the YA genre. I do not trust any author praise at the front of any urban fantasy novel because let's face it, they're not talking about the actual writing, they're just saying "It is amazing because this person is my oh my god best best best best BEST friend EVER!"

Watch me not get published in the future for being so blunt in this comment, therefore proving that cliques do in fact exist.

Anonymous said...

I read the comments Stiefvater made on the post and I think you guys did overreact a bit. It read to me more like she was trying to say "This may come back and bite you in the ass so be careful and I know because I've been there" than she was trying to threaten you or anything. It's not threatening to say the truth. When you review you run the risk of offending someone and if you tie your reviewer identity and your author identity together it could very well come back to get you. Is it fair? No, not at all. But that's how it is, so it's your call.

I do however think it was a dumb idea of her to try and comment. That sort of thing never ends well.

amberargyle said...

Some people look at a squirming puppy and think "that's the cutiest thing ever, I want three." Others will look at the same puppy and think of germs, poop, and bitemarks.
It's the same animal. It's just a persons perpective that changes.
So you can think of it as a click, and authors can think of it as networking. And neither of you are wrong.

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