I had a conversation with an author over email. I'm not going to disclose the name of the author because it was a private conversation, but one of the things she kept asking me was what about the way forward?
Kathleen Hale told a bunch of lies about a blogger and they got published in the Guardian in the guise of an insightful tale about how an author was pushed past the brink of decency, into stalking, by a troll.
Okay. The community, through the hard work of many different voices and bloggers, proved that her non-fiction essay was basically fiction from start to finish. Nothing happened as she said it did. And, arguably, The Guardian and Hale breached their own Code of Ethics, to which they voluntarily subscribe. And, finally, neither of them are prepared to take a lick of responsibility for their own mendaciousness, their irresponsibility, or the inappropriateness of giving the friends and family platform to someone who is settling a score.
And please don't think that I am ignoring the actual physical assault that occurred to a reviewer in the UK. That situation has gotten much less attention because, I believe, the perpetrator isn't a "real" author. In other words, he has one book that has been self-published, isn't a part of the author establishment, doesn't have a place in the author community, and is completely unprofessional. He is, at best, a delusional hobbyist who uploaded the equivalent of an unfinished nanowrimo manuscript for sale through KDP.
Note: Please do not interpret this as dismissing all self-published authors. Many self-published authors are absolutely "real" authors, They are professional. They write outstanding books. He isn't you.
The other reason that situation has gotten less attention is because he wasn't given a platform by a major - and well-respected - media outlet, and no one tweeted that he was a "self-excoriating writer" or that he was "fascinating." Universal revulsion was the order of the day
But, moving forward from here, and if this is to be the low-point of the relationship between bloggers and authors (and, I hope that it is), maybe it is time to start talking about how we are going to deal with the sharp edges between our two communities.
Because there are sharp edges. When you have authors with the stature of Joanne Harris (why, Joanne, why? she wailed, I love your books) saying things like: "we've seen recently what happens when unstable people get trolled online" and "engaging a troll never ends well," it is clear that we still have a problem.
We can start by returning "troll" to a word that has some actual meaning (along with bully, for that matter). A bad review is not trolling. A bad review - even one that the authors perceives as "malicious" is not trolling. Trolling, first and foremost, requires contact with its victim. If I post the meanest review in the world of a book on my blog, that is not trolling. I have not made contact with the author. The fact that someone is talking about you on the internet is not trolling.
If authors like Joanne Harris want to improve relationships between bloggers and authors, the place to start is by acknowledging that accusing someone of trolling doesn't make them a troll. It means that, instead of rushing to judgment to defend a colleague and a peer, you need to actually do your own due diligence and approach it without confirmation bias. Because if I had a dollar for every time an author said "we welcome honest negative reviews" and then went on to refer, sometimes in the following sentence, to "trolling, malicious, attack reviews," I'd have a much bigger library than the one I actually have, (because I would clearly spend all of it on books).
Before you defend an author against a troll, make sure that the troll is, you know, actually a troll. Because 99 out of 100 times, there is no actual troll under the bridge. There is a reviewer, a blogger, a reader who didn't like that author's book, and who said so.
It is tempting to support our friends even when they are wrong. As a blogger, I will say this: I think that it would be trolling for someone to harass an author whose book they didn't like, to take to twitter and repeatedly tweet to the author that their book sucks, to go onto all of the positive reviews of that author's books and pick fights with their fans and call them stupid and other names. It is, of course, possible for a reviewer to be a troll.
But that behavior - that I just talked about above - what we see much more often is that authors are tweeting at reviewers, and authors are sending their fans (or themselves) to harass negative reviewers.
One of the things that is clear is that bloggers are tired of this. We are tired of being your favorite punching bag, your monster under the bed. We're tired of the leap to conclusions against us. If it isn't fair to attribute responsibility to all authors for a few bad apples (and it is not) it is equally unfair to assume that when an author claims they've been trolled, that they have been trolled.
I have asked, repeatedly, and I will ask again, to please, find me this malicious blogger who exists for the sole purpose of ruining author's careers. Because this entity seems to me to be as mythical as the Loch Ness monster and as elusive as the silver unicorn. I have never seen such a thing, and I am personally sick of this tired trope being dragged out to defend unprofessional behavior.
"Well, yeah, author was out of line, but you know, we've all been driven to it by those book blogging Goodreads bullies and trolls . . . "
What The Guardian piece has revealed is that, among the general public as well as among authors, book bloggers (and reviewers) are presumed guilty of trolling and bullying until they have established their innocence otherwise, and for some authors, no proof is sufficient to not dismiss them as jealous haters. What it has proven is that the schism between authors and reviewers runs much deeper than any of us want to admit - that at a base level, the attitudes exemplified by the completely discredited STGRB, have taken on a visceral and emotionally-laden legitimacy that they do not deserve.
We choose to blog about books because we love books. I hate professional sports - and in order to blog about professional sports, I would have to watch them. Thus, I do not blog about professional sports. People blog about stuff they love - stuff about which they are passionate. That blogger/reviewers are often lumped together and reviled as "hating authors" and "hating books" is beyond puzzling. Why would anyone think that we choose to spend our precious free time reading books we hate written by authors we hate and then hate-blogging about them. It's crazy.
And saying "well, not all bloggers. Just the ones who hate authors" isn't helpful at all. #notallbloggers isn't any more helpful than #notallauthors. Bloggers do not hate authors. Let's all type that in calligraphy and put it above our computers, please. The author-hating-book-blogger is a myth.
If we want to move forward from here, to a more productive relationship between the communities, we need to abandon that mindset. Permanently. And not trot it out ever again. When you read a review of your book - positive or negative - approach it, at the outset, as a legitimate expression of an opinion. Give the reviewer the benefit of the doubt.
I know that there are a lot of important things to say before the communities can move on from this point. But I think we can move on from this point, stronger, and united in our love of books, through a process of confrontation of an unfair stereotype and reconciliation, even if we sometimes disagree about the details.