Communities: You Got Your Industry in my Fanwork

By Renay

One of the lessons I took from media fandom back in the ’90s was "don't talk about fanwork with creators." Don't show them your fanfiction or send them links to fanart, and generally keep fanwork away from creators because the fanwork isn't for them, it’s for us. I never ran into this problem personally, because my fandoms were a) Japanese anime and b) Japanese video games, and those guys were often more interested in torturing me with footage of Final Fantasy games that wouldn't drop for years than worrying about sexy fanfiction of their characters.

Since getting into television fandoms, I've heard secondhand stories of fans presenting actors with explicit fanwork, emailing them links to fanwork and asking for commentary, or other potentially disastrous things that might bias a creator against the fandom. I grew up in a time when technology was bringing us ever closer to the creators of the media we were remixing, but it still felt like there were vast distances between us. These days most, if not all, that distance is gone, depending how large, well-known, or infamous a particular fandom might be.

And of all the fandoms I've been in, SF book blogging fandom is running out of fannish fourth wall—fast.

I am probably a minority in considering nonfiction reviews fanwork, but I approach all media from a place of fannish inquiry. I am interested in what I can extrapolate from a source myself, rather than relying on external canonical information from creators. Coming to book blogging fandom, and SF fandom in particular, is downright weird: book bloggers and creators interacting on social media; book bloggers and creators hanging out at conventions; and book bloggers sending review links, both negative and positive, to publishers and the creators! The classification between book bloggers as "fans" or "professionals" continues to shift and become increasingly nebulous as we adapt to the industry noticing us. This has contributed to what I see as creators and publishers carving out a space inside fan communities for themselves and settling in for the long haul. My eye is on the fact that sometimes creators will comment on my reviews and I'll have to go breathe into a paper bag, because all those "do not engage with creators over fanwork" warnings I took to heart as a teenager are exploding in the name of technological and fannish cultural progress. Because I'm aware of how badly things can go when fans seek to engage with creators, I'm intensely dubious that some creators think it's acceptable to walk into book blogger fan spaces featuring their work and argue about intentions and readings without an explicit invitation.

After watching many of my favorite book bloggers shift from primarily fanwork toward the industry, I contextualized what I see happening in book blogging amid all the debates about where book bloggers fit. Book bloggers are fans, but as book blogger culture has grown and the ability of blogs to create "buzz" for books has increased, they've continued to grow closer to the publishing industry, which can be a detriment to the fan community around those blogs. It's hard to build a robust fan community when The Powers That Be are so close, and discussions can easily feel observed, or even interrupted, by creators. The very basic idea is a scale, with "industry track blogs" on one end and "fannish track blogs" on the other. I think of fannish book blogs as having some, all, or more of the following characteristics:

  • Primarily purchasing books for themselves, requesting them through libraries, or via book exchange programs for the bulk of their review base. ARCs are supplemental or not accepted.
  • Content is often reviews of books for their own use, such as records of yearly reading, statistic tracking, or personal reading projects. Critical analysis, gaining experience writing, and learning more about genre(s) as a whole can also be factors.
  • Other types of publicity beyond reviews are generally absent in favor of personal reviews, in-depth discussions, and community reading projects.
  • Attending events, such as signings and conventions where creators will speak is often tied more to bloggers' experience as fans, and less to any attempt to develop an ongoing working relationship with creators/publishers or to develop a blog's brand.
  • These blogs tend to not always focus on "new" titles, but perhaps draw from to-read lists, focus on back catalogues, and follow recommendations from friends.
  • Scheduling tends to be more relaxed, less structured, and based on personal schedules of reading/reviewing, rather than connected to street dates.
  • There's a focus on wanting to share thoughts about reading primarily with their existing social networks/friends, rather than attempting to bring in a larger or different audience by "growing" their influence.

Industry track book bloggers (who may have started as fans) may do the above as well as some, all, or more than the following:

  • Support the industry and creators with guest posts from creators, giveaways, cover reveals, release announcements, reviews, round-table discussions, and interviews.
  • Attend industry events. They attend in some ways as fans, but they also attend as fans who have created a recognizable brand and use it to acquire new capital and network with people within the industry.
  • Own interactive online spaces where subscribers inform the direction of the site. "What do my readers want to see? What's relevant to them?" are driving factors in content decisions.
  • They accept review copies on a regular basis, both for themselves, to follow market trends, and to let their readers know what's upcoming.
  • New book releases are a high percentage of review content.
  • Organization includes a certain level of scheduling and planned events, and a level of consistency that persists over time.
  • There's more explicit interaction with creators and the industry (editors, publicists, etc.).

Over the last few years many previously fannish book blogs I follow have slowly shifted into industry track blogs. I suspect it's why the industry can step into these spaces, which are ostensibly fan spaces because their owners are not being compensated. Some parts of the industry feel comfortable doing so because these blogs parlayed their fannish excitement into looking appealing to publishers/creators. Creators can comment on fan conversation that they were not explicitly invited into, sometimes with interesting discussions, but sometimes with really terrible results.

I saw this happen recently in SF at The Book Smugglers: "Smugglers' Ponderings: On the Peter Grant Series by Ben Aaronovitch". To me as a fan, this looked like a case of an author walking into an explicitly fannish discussion to throw around his canonical weight. From my perspective, the blogger (Ana Grilo) reacted much better than I know some fans (including myself) would have if an author had made that choice. The fact that Grant preceded his comment with "Authors commenting on reviews is usually a mistake but . . ." suggests to me he knew that the playing field was not level, yet he spoke, anyway. The nature of the shift from fan blogs to industry blogs is making creators bolder, and perhaps, allowing them to think less complexly about their positions.

What happened was a direct result of The Book Smugglers as a fannish project being subsumed by the industry. As the parts of The Book Smugglers that were explicitly fannish when they started became muted over time due to their excellent work with the publishing industry, parts of the industry may feel that space belongs to them even without an outright invitation. I can't imagine a creator walking into critical fan space like this and not bringing the force of whatever fandom down on their head. For example, Jeff Davis and the race issues surrounding Teen Wolf casting did not leave another fandom I'm in very happy at all. When Davis took to his short-lived tumblr to defend his casting decisions by engaging directly with fan criticisms, he was quickly buried under hundreds of rebuttals by fans with their own interpretations and experiences of the canon, especially those invested in portrayals of minorities. Because tumblr often "equalizes" fans and creators, it likely felt safe for Davis to enter that space. In reality, it rankled many fans who found his reasoning flawed, his assurances empty, and felt that he had invaded their space only to cast himself and his work in a more positive light.

SF fandom is much smaller in scope than big, sprawling television fandoms, but the takeaway remains the same—sometimes fan criticism is not meant for creators to engage with at all, and they shouldn't comment even if they read it, no matter how much the environment of the discussion looks open to interaction. Fans have open conversations about work online with other fans because they trust creators not to punch down; that trust needs to be respected by the people with the canonical power.

As a book blogger who identifies primarily as a fan; with only author signings under her belt, without the review copy (except as a special treat); with the lack of explicit organization in my writing; and with my history as a member of media fandom, I'm dubious about the crumbling of this wall between fans and creators. I call this my Fourth Wall Complex; I am intensely uncomfortable in fan/creator interactions because I'm never sure where the conversations about the work will go. Will it cause a fandom pileup with creators and fans at odds, or worse, different groups of fans? Will it challenge fannish interpretation in negative ways? Because once I read a work, that work is mine. I'm going to interpret it my way, disregard authorial intention, embrace alternate readings of the canonical facts, and probably consider writing explicit fanfic about characters an author likely never intended to be together. Years of fanwork debates, watching creators discover fandom, and horrible characterizations of fans have made me guarded against creators. I promise, industry/creators/publicists/editors: it's not you (okay, sometimes it's you; please stop comparing fanwork creators to thieves, okay?), it's me.

Over the last few years, we've been watching creators slip into our communities and our social circles; sometimes we invite them in and sometimes we don't, but as some book blogs, born from fannish beginnings and with fannish goals, become industry blogs, we'll continue to see incidents where creators step in and find themselves the target of severe discomfort that takes form as anger and hostility. The line between fan/professional has blurred, and I think we're in for even more breakdowns of the fannish and authorial fourth walls as fandom expands and spreads across more platforms, as fans continue finding ways to be fannish and support their fandoms at the same time, and as technology improves. For me, the takeaway is still, and probably will always be, that creators have canonical power and fans have interpretive power; bringing them both into a critical discussion is a recipe for fireworks.


Renay has been writing SF and fantasy fan fiction, criticism, and commentary since the early 1990s. She has founded and contributed to several gaming fandom fanwork newsletters and fanwork exchanges and serves as staff within the Organization for Transformative Works. You can find more of her work at Lady Business or follow her on Twitter.

Comments

Excellent post, and really interesting point for reflection--it's a pretty new development that creators can respond to individual fans so easily and directly, and you make a very good argument why creators should consider whether they want to take advantage of that ability.

Awesome stuff as ever Renay!

I've always felt incredibly uncomfortable about the infiltration (and subversion) of fannish spaces by the priorities of the publishing industry and while I'm not as concerned as you seem to be about being 'wrong' but I do fear being 'inauthentic' in my interpretations and feelings, which I feel is quite similar.

I really value these columns as while our routes into fandom are clearly quite different, you invariably seem to present me with interestingly skewed perspectives on thoughts I already have.

Thanks, Renay.

I think there is a spectrum or gradient of bloggers, ranging from pure-fanhood to pure-Industry blogger-dom. I seem to partake of both camps, and see some of my fellows being on points of that scale different than where I am standing.

Great article. I actually think some of the blurring of lines comes from authors (especially newer ones like myself!) still perceiving themselves as fans first and foremost. We may have spent years discussing SFF without a care on blogs and forums; as such, it can be awfully hard to remember to put on the brakes when it comes to our own work, especially in spaces that otherwise are very open to discussion.

And yet, hard as it may be, we DO need to remember. Reviews are for readers, not authors (no matter how much we may enjoy reading them). That, and it doesn't matter what was in your head if it didn't show on the page.

Great post, Renay. I hadn't thought of book blogging as being part of fandom before. Very thought-provoking and empowering. :D

Great piece, Renay.

Good article, Renay. Well thought out. I agree with Paul that there is definitely a gradient. I also suspect there are many industry outsiders who want to be in the second camp. It would seem normal for fans to want to interact with their favorite authors and hosting interviews or giveaways lends that opportunity. Does that lessen their fan status? I guess it depends on the individual.

The idea of getting free books once appealed to me, but I value time much more. If someone emails me about something mildly interesting, but is real enthusiastic and appreciative, I'll be inclined to give it a chance.

Courtney makes a good point too about authors being fans first. If I come across an sf fan, it seems normal to ask if they write. You probably wouldn't assume the same of a romance or mystery or thriller novel fan. Pure speculation on my part, though.

A lot to ponder here for reviewers who are often bridges between fans and writers.

One small note: you say that "Grant preceded his comment" but you clearly meant Aaronovitch.

I love the idea of me throwing my canonical weight around. I thought I was joining in a lively conversation about the gap between how writer's think their character's will be read and how the audience reacts to them. I thought I was adding to the conversation - my mistake.

I feel that I'm on stronger ground here since Strange Horizons has many other established writers who contribute regularly and you saw fit to use me as an example.

Most writers don't have a lot of spare time to do the sophisticated traffic analysis needed to determine whether they are welcome or unwelcome in any particular commentary space. Therefore I suggest those bloggers who do not welcome input from writers should explicitly say so somewhere prominent. I'm more than happy to provide a NO WRITERS icon if you need one.

Really interesting post - and issue. I can see how it might feel weird, to have writers suddenly 'answer back' in places that were a strictly fan-only space - but I'm not sure why it's such a problem. (The cosying up of blogs/fansites to the publishing industry, on the other hand - that's a much more serious issue...) I thought Ben Aaronovitch was engaging in a relatively open way, expressing something of the bemusement writers experience when they realise their characters have a life beyond/different to what they intended. I know when I've written a character, I have a strong idea in my head about how they are - but equally I have to acknowledge that they are out of my hands once they're published - I can't rewrite them, and I can't (nor would I want to) control their reception! So in a way, I'm not sure the writer has any 'top-down' weight to throw around. They can't reveal back story and expect it to trump the readers' interpretations - if the back story's not in the book, it's not relevant. Which I think Aaronovitch acknowledged quite happily.

@Ben Aaronovitch: Please don't erect complicated barriers to a simple concept. This is not a complicated process. There is no need for creator to do sophisticated traffic analysis to know whether or not they should comment on a fan discussion. All it requires is empathy. Were you invited explicitly to the discussion? No? Then don't comment. If you were invited explicitly, i.e. it's a discussion born of a guest post or interview, then obviously you will be involved as you were invited into the space for that event. In any other situation where you're not sure, ask -- most fans have contact addresses, especially on blog like The Book Smugglers, or even better, social media like Twitter. The time it takes to ask is less than the time it probably took you to choose to enter the discussion in the first place. No response? Don't get involved.

Why are you placing the onus on the fans? It's hard enough to develop robust fan communities with how fast the Internet runs now. Now the authors are entitled to enter any space in which their work is being discussed, and it's up to the fans to make it clear to the author in which situations they're not welcome? Are you really lacking this much compassion for how silencing creators can be to critical fan discussions? How for some of us, the mere idea that a creator could show up or even be reading, expressed with a "NO CREATORS" icon, is enough to keep us far away from any sort of space? We don't need a NO CREATORS sign. What we need is for creators to think more deeply about how they are using their presence as a canonical power, and when they hurt people with that power, to apologize without qualification or complaining about how they MEANT well.

@ C.J. Busby If you don't believe that writers have any top-down weight, or that infusions of secondary canon can't change how a fandom reacts to a source, or that how an author interacts with fan interpretation doesn't change how that fan views their own interpretations, perhaps you have never been in any fanwork fandoms? Because my experience is the exact opposite, and I know I'm not alone. Perhaps Aaronovitch felt he acknowledged and engaged just fine. My read on the situation was different and mirrored multiple, extremely problematic creator/fan interactions I have seen over the last several years, due to the creator believing they belong in the discussion, wherever their work is being discussed, because it's *their* work.

I do struggle some with defining that blogging about certain things makes someone COZY with publishing. I publicize things I enjoy. I never allow guest posts or giveaways from authors I can't recommend. And I do cover art, but only when I love the art or want to mock it.

I accept review copies. I socialize with authors, editors, and publicists. But, I also publicly tell them when they're full of shit. Am I cozy or a jerk? Dunno.

So, forgive me if I'm misunderstanding you, writers should assume that they are not wanted on any discussion of their work unless explicitly invited to contribute?

Ben: In a word, yes.

To elucidate, it's a nice gesture for authors to send a private message (or an @-reply on Twitter) to a blogger who has written a review you appreciate or respect for its thoughtfulness, thanking them for their comments. But for an author to correct, modify, or argue with critical discourse about their books in a public forum has the effect of silencing further discussion and also making the author look thin-skinned and ungracious.

I know it's hard when you feel your books have been misunderstood or misrepresented, and that if the reviewer had only read a little more attentively all the problems would be cleared up. Believe me, I know. I have read reviews of my work that made me squirm and grind my teeth with frustration, because ooooh, if only I could remind them of that all-important bit of dialogue on page 173 --!

But I've also found that if I keep my mouth shut and let the readers talk amongst themselves, others may well make those same points for me. And it will come across a whole lot better and be more persuasive than it would if I stepped in to issue the correction myself.

(And even if nobody does step in to correct the misapprehension, the likelihood of anyone who really is interested in your books being put off by one person's opinions which they know full well may or may not be justified is fairly slim. Whereas the likelihood of people being put off your books by a high-handed authorial intervention is, I fear, fairly great.

If you are legitimately having trouble evaluating a critical fan discussion and whether or not you should be involved, then yes, that would be a safe assumption for all parties. You are not entitled by nature of the discussion being about your work, to enter every discussion about said work.

It might be the way I moved into what could be called fandom, and the places I move through but for me writers and readers (programmers and gamers) have always intertwined and interacted. The writers have always come in to join discussions, not necessarily on their own works, because they are often fans we well. Lead programmers and CEO's play and talk with the gamers, look at the mod scenes and people move between them all the time.

The barrier that exists in the media fandom about 'fanworks' you describe seems alien to me. To me it does not look that writers are slipping in to my communities, they were always there and part of the fabric.

The world of blogs (and fora) in genre writing seems to be more like the world that I am familiar with. To me as a fan I tend to like it when writers drop and for a bit of discussion, or dropping some clues to their thought processes. And I would feel a loss when they'd feel that they could not do that anymore. And I'd hate it if that would happen because people with a different experience in fandom try to force through their interpretation of 'what it should be'.

Mmm... Seems a bit harsh - but it reminds me a bit of the debates over 'women only' spaces back in university in the eighties. If you accept that writers have more power to set the terms of the debate than fans, then it's reasonable to want fan-only spaces. Duly noted. (And you're right, I don't have much experience of fan-sites, my readers are a bit too young to set them up!)

@Ben - I think that's an entirely reasonable assumption to make.

Once a text finds an audience, that audience can make what it wants of the text regardless of the intent or desires of the text's original creator. This includes both interpretative readings of the text and fictional play in the world of the text because fan fiction is really just a different manifestation of the same creative and interpretative urges that feed into literary criticism.

You don't get to police how people react to your work.

You know how conventional wisdom tells you not to argue with people who write negative reviews of your work? The principle also applies to people who produce what you consider to be 'incorrect' interpretations of your work.

I would also like to ask the 'writers' who commented here to reflect upon what it is they have done. Renay wrote a column in which she expressed anxiety about having authors turn up in the comments in order to police the discussion and this prompts two writers to turn up and begin whining about how bloggers are being unreasonable and need to change their ways. How can you not see what you are doing as problematic?

Do you believe that I am 'entitled' to respond to you in this fan forum and if so why?

Shit...hit the wrong button...

Since Renay went out of her way to involve me your characterisation of my response as 'whining' is childish as are the quotes around writer. If I'm not a writer then your argument has no merit so you're going to have to make up your mind.

That what garbled by a send mistake ignore the last post.

I'll try not to hit the wrong key this time.

@Jonathan M: In the first place Renay chose to involve me not through mmy work but through my particpation, however unwise, in a discussion. She chose to do this and therefore it is disengenious to suggest that she shouldn't expect a response. In the second place Renay chose to place her article in a forum which routinely sees writers posting their opinions - if she didn't want to discuss this with writers then she should have posted it on a fan exclusive site.

You can insert the thing about whinging and quotes here...

Perhaps you should think about why you are trying to shut this perfectly amicable discussion down.

@Ben

As Justin pointed out, I don't think that this distinction between 'fan exclusive' sites and sites where authors are welcome exists anywhere outside of your head. Renay pointed out that she feels anxious whenever authors turn up in discussions of their work and rather than reading this column and maybe reflecting upon how its insights relate to your behaviour, you have chosen to puff yourself up like an old tomcat (and the repeated accidental sends? totally makes it look like you're spluttering with rage).

I believe that you are entitled to respond to whatever you want whenever you want but responding with obvious hostility to a column about how authors turning up in the comments can make some people feel anxious shows a real lack of empathy on your part.

You showed up in the comments of the Book Smugglers piece in order to correct mistakes and were told that your corrections were not welcome and made people feel uneasy. Ana then went on to explain, at length, why this made her feel uneasy and Renay pointed to these explanations and wrote a column exploring their source. Despite claiming that you had 'learned your lesson' you now turn up here with absurdly pearl-clutching talk about sophisticated traffic analysis. How many times do you need to be told that you're acting like a jerk before you consider the possibility that it might be true?

I completely understand why you're puffed up and in your place I would probably puff up too but this is one of those moments when life gives you the opportunity to realise how you are perceived by people who are not you.

@Jonathan M: do you regard Strange Horizon's as a fan only site then?

@Ben -- No... But I'd certainly consider the comments of a piece about how authors shouldn't pull rank on interpretations of their own work to be a place where authors should tread lightly lest they be seen as insensitive jerks *cough*

I think Lois McMaster Bujold just summed it up beautifully in an ongoing discussion (of a different topic) on Goodreads: "Back in the day, I was taught a writer should never to respond to any review except perhaps a word of thanks if someone said something nice. I've never found this advice to be bad yet."

Umm, can I just say, I wasn't 'policing' the discussion, I was engaging in it. But anyway, point taken about not getting involved, will shut up now.

I'm not a proponent of authors completely avoiding fan discussions of their work, even online. I've seen really good things happen at conventions with authors discussing their work with fans. However, I think authors need to ask themselves why they are participating and what they bring to the table before doing so.

If they are doing it to correct an interpretation, they need to tread lightly. If they are defending their work, they need to tread lightly. If they are defending themselves, best to stay the hell away.

And if what they bring to the table is only "inside information", then it doesn't help the discussion any. What an author intended really isn't relevant to a fan discussion.

All that being said, on my own blog (mostly on hiatus) I welcome discussion from anyone, authors included. Particularly authors, because then I can tell them they are trying to police interpretations in my own space.

I think one interesting point to bring up is that Renay never says 'Hey when sites become more industry it's totally comfortable for authors to go and drop into conversations' she says that as blogs move further along the scale towards 'industry' authors feel more like they can drop in on those conversations. And, when Ben Aaronovitch says:

'In the first place Renay chose to involve me not through mmy work but through my particpation, however unwise, in a discussion. She chose to do this and therefore it is disengenious to suggest that she shouldn't expect a response.'

and asks:

'do you regard Strange Horizon's as a fan only site then?'

he pretty much makes the reality of this point very clear. To him, if I'm reading this right, the very fact that a blogger talks about his response to a discussion means that they are inviting a response IN THEIR SPACE, or are at least being 'disengenious' if they feel uncomfortable when a writer starts talking IN THEIR COMMENTS. Caps are there for a reason - author responses can take place away from the bloggers space in the author's space.

And, it seems, he feels that Strange Horizons looks like a space where he's welcome to express his point of view in the comments (rather than in a piece solicited by the creators of the site), maybe because it seems like an 'industry' space, and so he does. As Renay says, as online SFF spaces become more 'industry' writers feel that 'parts of the industry may feel that space belongs to them even without an outright invitation.'

Here's my view on whether authors are being invited into blogger spaces just by having bloggers talk about their work or their response to an issue - NOOOOOOOO. Talking about books and authors on the internet does not in any way constitute an invitation for an author to join that conversation. Saying 'I would love to speak to the author about this if they fancy it' - that's an invitation. Or, a pre-existing relationship between blogger and author might constitute a reason for an author to show up (cautiously) in the space of a blogger. Otherwise, essentially, the author is stepping into a conversation they're not being asked to take part in. Imagine if, at a convention you were talking to a group of friends about a book, didn't know the author was nearby and they jumped in to that discussion to explain how wrong we were. I imagine how uncomfortable that would be, how quickly I would shut up and how disinclined I'd be to have later open conversations even in a space I'd marked out as my own. I really do not want those of us involved in SFF blogging culture to have to worry about whether an author will show up because it does not make for free flowing discussion and I really just want to talk about books.

Looking at the comments, some bloggers feel differently and it would be interesting to talk about how different bloggers' points of view on this issue might shape this discussion. I don't really see authors having a part to play in a conversation about how and when bloggers make it clear that they are open to author involvement, and how bloggers who aren't comfortable with author involvement talk about that discomfort without being called out for 'try to force through their interpretation of 'what it should be'.

So, yeah, this particular comment conversation gives us some useful anecdotal evidence pertaining to the argument Renay is making. As I see it, at no point was Ben Aaronovitch explicitly invited to take part in this discussion by stepping into SH's space any more than talking about his book would invite him into any blogger's comments and yet he feels he is entitled to use this space and here we are. One of the articles main points backed up there I think.

Just a quick note as curator of the site -- i.e. I'm the one that asked Renay to write for us -- I don't see SH overall as a fan-only space. But I do think it's fairly obvious that this particular discussion was intended to be fan-centred/fan-led. We would consider running a response column from a writer (or publisher?) viewpoint, as Bookgazing mentions, if anyone's interested.

This is obviously the consensus and I'm not going to challange it any further.

Well, speaking as someone who's been writing reviews for many years, I'll make the following observation. If you don't want certain people to comment on the things you write, you might want to reconsider making them freely available on a public forum.

If you want to exclude certain people from the discussion, then by all means email your articles your friends or set up a private group. If you post them online, anyone can join in provided they do so in a reasoned and polite way. That's how it works. Authors understand that, once they put their work out there, it's open to be discussed by all. The same applies to critiques.

@ Jonathan M: I've given this a great of thought and I think I'm right in saying that you in fact an idiot.

I came to this post via a discussion on Twitter. I have read it and the original post on Book Smugglers, as well as all of the comments. The irony of the comments here, a post which specifically addresses why creators should not be involved in the critical process, is almost amusing. Almost, because the misogynistic vein running throughout the META discussion is disturbing. That aside, let me address this as a Reader.

When I read the Book Smugglers post, I was introduced to a series I had never heard of before which is, of course, one of the prime benefits book blogs offer writers and publishers. Despite the reviewer's points about why some of the series was weaker than other parts, and her decision to not continue the series (which is a rational, personal choice for any reader who has a TBR stack taking over their house/blog/life) I was interested in reading a UF series with POC, history, and humor. Then, I read the comments.

Writers do not need to defend their characters or books post-publication. It is done, it is yours, you made it and no one can take that away from you. Mark it up as a life achievement and move on, hopefully to the next one. The book officially belongs to the reading public after that. I can imagine it is hard, but bringing in any back story or "meant tos" only leaves the book open for even more fan/critic-interpretation. (Did y'all totally miss the whole 'Dumbledore is gay' thing? Can you imagine if Rowling had responded to the ensuing posts?)

When Mr. Aaronovitch offered "insight" into his book and characters, he discredited both the reviewer and every reader who had contributed to the FAN discussion, basically saying 'your opinion is invalid because I say so because I know this and you don't.' That move, in turn, managed to turn off the interest of potential readers (at least, this one).

The better move would be to take some of the information of what appeals to readers and apply it when working on the next book. Learn from criticism and readers, and apply it to your craft and grow as a writer. That is the main mistake the author made, but the minor grammatical ones are a huge turn-off, too.

The accusations of him being "bullied" and somehow "ganged-up on" are BS. He is the one who keeps returning to add fuel to the fire and to attempt to wield his power as Author. Now, he is insulting other commentators and potential readers--not a smooth PR move.

I stand by the statement I made on Twitter: I am tired of people using the term "Bullying" to describe criticism and minor disagreements in a comment forum. Real bullying is a systematic, aggressive form of mental torture which purposefully works to denigrate a person's esteem and life. That is absolutely not what happened here. He is only gaining publicity and, probably, readers from these posts. If an author is incapable of hearing any negative reaction to his/her writing then either stop reading reviews or stop writing. That, like a reader's decision to read or not to read, is your personal choice.

(P.S.- Please review the basic grammatical rules regarding the use of apostrophes. Please, for your readers, and for the sake of the proofreader who gets your next MS.)

I want to say up front that I've got my feet in multiple camps here (writer, editor, publisher, blogger, genre critic, scholar, etc.).

I get lurking and reading comments and being frustrated that someone's wrong on the Internet about your work. I've gotten reviews that were wrong. Not just bad, but incorrect: the reviewer misgendered a character, which cast the story in a different light, or the reviewer made assumptions about my goals as a publisher (which affected, he thought, the work I was publishing) that weren't true at all. Once, a reader thought a story I felt was benign actually needed a trigger warning. On top of that, I've gotten a few that just hated the work. It happens.

The answer to all of this is: you don't answer. It's not because there should be fan-only spaces and fans have a right to your work once you've published it. It's because you come off looking like a jackass pretty quickly when you argue with a reviewer about their take on your work. And honestly, if a reader got your story so incredibly wrong, it's only because either you didn't write it well or they didn't read it well. If you didn't write the story they're reading, and it's your fault, then accept it and write a better book. If they're reading into your work something no one else sees, then nothing you say is going to clear that up for them. (Also, see above, "jackass".)

If you really want to respond to negative comments about your work, write it on your own blog. People will find it if they want to.

I do think that if a site wants to have a fan-only or reader-only space, they should say so, because a lot of us authors do consider ourselves readers, too. Sometimes we want to talk about someone else's work the way you talk about ours, because we devour books in the same way, staying up late to read just one more chapter, blissfully happy at the resolution or disappointed that the story promised on the first page never materialized. We may stumble into a discussion because we want to talk about books, too. Making arbitrary lines that separate author from fan cuts most of us into pieces.

I'm all for writers being respectful in fan spaces. I'm all for writers knowing when to say, "Hey, thanks, I loved that about this character, too!" and when to shut up. Common sense says know when you're wearing your writer hat and when you're wearing your fan hat, and act accordingly.

But don't just decide that writers aren't fans anymore, or that your decision about who is and is not a fan should be what decides whether an author should be allowed into a space you don't own. You wouldn't want someone else deciding that you're not allowed to be a fan of the things you love anymore, would you?

Lois McMaster Bujold's view isn't unique. In writing communities, it's common advice to not respond to reviews or articles mentioning the author/their work. Examples of authors replying to tell reviewers they're wrong are considered cautionary tales about why it shouldn't be done. And though there's always someone who is sure they're the exception and they can reply without it turning into a nest of angry biting ants, they're usually going to be the next cautionary tale in line. This is simply because such a person isn't going to stick to, "Thanks for the thoughts!" They're going to explain why everyone else is wrong and such a fool and how dare they say that because the author was only giving their opinion.

But when it's the author, it's not just an opinion. They're not on an equal footing with fans. They're punching down at them. By doing so, some fans will decide not to read their books and not to review them ever again. To say it's burning bridges is something of an understatement. It's more like burning down the whole forest and its infrastructure, because fans are likely to avoid the grief of discussing the work of an author who arrives to tell people how it really is.

All of this is unrelated to whether the reviewer or article writer is right or wrong. If anything, the more wrong an author thinks a reviewer is, the more the author should avoid that discussion. I've yet to see an example of the author wading and coming out of it in a positive light.

Interesting discussion, if rather tense in places (both here and on twitter). I'm in two (actually, probably more like four) minds about these issues, but it's good to get a perspective born out of media fandom.

My feeling is that the dynamic is - can be? has been? - a little different in literary/book discussion. The fan/pro divide is much less marked on the literary side of things, both because many writers are also (or used to be) readers, and because one of the major ways genre readers and writers interacted before the internet was at conventions, where there is - in my experience - a presumption that anyone can chat to anyone in the bar. (My experience of media cons is of a much greater structural divide between the guests and the fans, although I haven't been to that many media cons, so I doubt my experience is universal.)

I do wonder, though, to what extent the rise of the internet, and the attendant pressure on writers to use their online presence to do the marketing that their publisher can't or won't pay for, is changing this - I'd like to hear writers' thoughts on this. (Since apparently it has become necessary to stake out a position on this: yes, I think it's absolutely reasonable for authors to participate in a discussion thread on a professional site, especially when their actions are under debate. In other spaces, it may be less wise/appropriate, particularly when the topic is their work rather than their actions. But more on this below.)

So conversation about genre books has been less... hierarchical(?) than the way discussions of TV series etc seem to work, in which fans and creators operate in very different spaces, and in which the tone of discussion varies a lot according to the space.

That said, and while I have reservations about using terms like 'silencing' (which seems to me to belong to discussions of bigger social justice problems), I can't deny that unexpected participation by a writer in discussion of their work can have a bit of a chilling effect on what is said. By which I mean, I know in the past I've felt a little constrained in terms of what I want to say about a book when I know the author is listening, or if I see an author has joined a comment thread about a review of their work. While authors may think of themselves as still fans/readers rather than the dead hand of canonicity :), I think they're being a little naive (or, as the case may be, disingenuous) if they don't realise that most people will see their word as carrying more weight than the average reader's does.

Maybe this is because I fall somewhere between death-of-the-author and author-as-authority-on-their-work in the way I read; I'm basically a historicist, in that I really like context to inform my reading of a text (whether that be information about what an author was aiming to do, their cultural context, their sources of inspiration, whatever), but at the same time I think every reader is the ultimate judge of whether or not a work actually succeeds *for them*.

So, yeah. I think I've contradicted myself several times here, and I hope I haven't inadvertantly upset people I like, but these are my views as they stand this morning. I reserve the right to change them later...

I don't have a problem with authors, publishing industry people, nor others posting on my blog posts, reviews, etc. I want them to, because I feel that everyone has the right to voice their opinions. However, I do not approve of the author nor others, not even bloggers, commenting and telling people how to read the book, and other condescending attitudes, as such. It is unfortunate that Mr. Aaronovitch has condescended to others here, and on Book Smugglers.

I would like to point out, though, that Lois McMaster Bujold does participate in at least fan forums (the LMB mailing list, and her Miles To Go forum on Baen Publishing's website), and as a fan, I love seeing her comments and getting different insights into her work.

I enjoy hearing the story behind the story, and I hope not all authors think a few bloggers speak for all fandom. On the other hand, if a blogger doesn't appreciate the author participation, s/he should say so. Ana certainly made that clear. I think Ben did right to apologize for wasting her time, but he should have stopped reading at that point.

Bloggers must realize, too, that as soon as they blog, they become creators themselves, and they have to deal with their fans and commenters in a manner consistent with the image they want to project.

I've done a few book reviews on my blog and a couple of the authors have sent me emails afterward, though they didn't actually comment on the post. Either way, I think it's great, as long as they keep it civil and don't try to defend their work. (As far as I'm concerned it's too late for that. Like Napoleon trying to tell me that, no, he actually wanted his left flank to advance a bit earlier.)

I am also a writer who has responded to a review. The reviewer actually like the book and it was more a (polite and reasonable) attack on the back matter/ extras that went with the book. I didn't tell him he was wrong, but explained what I had actually intended and said that I would be fixing the problem so my meaning was clearer.

I am also a reader who loves talking to writers about books.

I do think, like someone said above that any discussion on the internet is an open discussion. Anyone can join. I just think that everyone has to think before they hit enter. Especially authors. When an author joins a discussion it can be a bit like a religious argument-- it's unlikely anyone will change their mind. The more likely outcome is you will push them further in the other direction because of your strident defense.

Posted on behalf of Mely, since our comment system seems to be misbehaving.

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@ Nic -- My experience with hierarchical fandoms has been the opposite of what you suggest. I have found traditional sf cons much more status-conscious and hierarchical than media cons, and, perhaps more significantly, in online clashes between the two cultures, many sf professionals pull rank when challenges, whether the topic is their own work, the work of their friends or associates, or the culture of sf.

Part of this difference, I think, is that we are defining "media con" differently. A media con can be thousands of people organized for profit, where the fans got to meet the professionals. It can also be a hundred people or less, organized by fans for fans to discuss their favorite topics. The former has hierarchies more rigid than the typical sf con, where pros are not cordoned off from fans. The latter has hierarchies much flatter and more fluid than the typical sf con, because the lines between fanwork consumer and fanwork creator are even more fluid and permeable than the lines between sf author and sf reader. (This isn't to say there are no differences of status among fans. But I'd argue the divide isn't as great.) When professionals are there, they'r present to discuss their other interests with other fans, not as experts on their own work.

Whether authors should take part in conversations -- well, most of the authors I know are also readers and fans, and they're as entitled to speak about other people's works as readers as much as anyone else. I do think it's better for authors to avoid getting involved in discussions of their own books unless specifically invited, because of the same chilling effect you cite. I've had friends comment on reviews I've written of their books, with perfect civility and pertinent information, and it nevertheless kills conversation stone dead.

I am interested in authors' opinions on their own work, but I see authors as experts in their intentions for their work, but not in the meaning of their work. The author doesn't make meaning; the meaning is the joint production of the author and the reader, and any individual reader is the authority of their experience. Because it's informed so much by the experience of making the work, the author's opinion is sometimes less useful to me than the opinions of other readers: the author is actually the least qualified to know what they've communicated to other people.

Re: bullying and silencing: Criticizing texts and unwisely responding to reviews are not by definition bullying or silencing. But I think there are social justice issues that are affecting the opinions offered and how they're received. For one, it's notable that the vast majority of bloggers and reviewers who are being criticized or challenges for attempting to control their own spaces are women. The imperatives to "be nice", "be welcoming", and "listen to authority" are enforced by people of all genders, but they are applied much more stringently to women than to men.

Who is perceived to have this authority is, of course, not apolitical either.

To come back to our apparently thorny example, Mr Aaronovitch's interactions with The Book Smugglers were clearly shaped by these dynamics. His first comment is, "I ask you to look beyond the META -- ie: who is and who isn't a love interest and consider Peter and Lesley as characters." He responded to the reviewer and commenters as if their objections had to do with which characters they ship, whereas neither the original review nor a single comment focused on the potential romance. I question whether the same misreading would have been made if the reviewer's and commenters' name had been male. This, in addition to his insistence that he is entitled to speak in anyone's space, is what made me characterize the exchange to friends as "spilling male privilege all over The Book Smugglers' comments".

The assumptions behind who is allowed to speak where are not politically neutral.

And another not-posting comment, from Sabrina Vourvoulias. (Apologies for the issues, we're looking into them.)

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I am perplexed by much of this. As a newspaper editor I'd like to point to the journalism model: there is a stated editorial policy in place, but every editorial or opinion piece printed (on paper or online) is open to comment, nothing is sacrosanct. There are no editorial rebuttals of comments (no matter how wrongheaded the statements), at most the correction of an incorrect attribution by the letter writer, or a link to further articles or op-eds on the topic.

The interesting thing for me is that nearly everyone here and at Book Smugglers seems to be reacting as if the author who commented bears the same responsibility as the op-ed publisher in newspapers. But it's really the blog site that is the publisher (which is one of the reasons bloggers have been advocating and urging the same legal protections as those accorded to the news media). Reading back through the original posting at Book Smugglers, the commenter (in this case the author) corrects a factual mistake in the published piece about his work, then goes on to give his opinion (ad nauseam) which also challenges the understanding expressed the opinions of other commenters. The publisher (blog writer) acknowledges the mistake, says it's been corrected, then chastises him for having the audacity to comment at all. Say what? The journo in me, the one who knows everything published or posted on the internet wants an audience and engage readership, is flummoxed.

But the Latina writer and reader and advocate that I am has a far less gentle reaction. Both at Book Smugglers and here, a sacred, no-author-allowed, fan-comments-only space has been invoked.

You should have understood you were unwelcome, the author is told. As everyone, ever, who has erected and policed a border wall says.

The wall divides friends and family (as the number of people commenting here about being both fans and authors has made clear). It makes some people "safe," and criminalizes others. It is, in essence, the same border wall that keeps writers of color out of certain genre venues and spaces. It is the same border wall that seeks to shame the uninvited "other" into silence. It is the wall that says "we might have let you in, but not now that you're acting uppity."

I'm not defending the author in this drama (he exasperated me to no end), but in SFF, as in real life, I abhor what I see as the justification for (and fortification of) a wall between those who share interests. It would be a disgrace to turn the border zone -- that liminal space we SFF writers and readers like to say we understand and are fond of -- into a war zone.

@Sabrina - I see the situation as the reverse of your safe space/exclusion analogy. Based on the power differences, the concern about authors discussing their own work in fan spaces is more like men wanting to be in women-only spaces or white people in poc-only spaces. The fans are not the people with more power in this situation. The author:fan situation is not comparable to racism or sexism in institutionalization or effect. That doesn't mean there is equal power here or that racism, sexism, and other factors aren't affecting these interactions.

"Newspaper" is one analogy for a blog. So are "salon," "living room," and "publication platform." A platform is not required to publish every letter of comment it receives, and a moderator is not required to allow.

You should have understood you were unwelcome, the author is told. As everyone, ever, who has erected and policed a border wall says.

When I tell people they are unwelcome in my home, I do not feel it is an action equivalent to violent and discriminatory immigration policies.

@Mely, yes, I get that you see it that way, but I don't. Nowhere is it stipulated that the blog site, or even that post, was a "readers conversation only" safe space. That it would be assumed to be so ... well, I think is one way people from the dominant culture differ from the rest of us. I never assume "safety" nor the insularity of like-minded people when I post. Far from it. And your making THIS analogous to PoC-only spaces feels tinny and manipulative and cheap. I find myself rather insulted by it.

Thinking of blogs as salons and living rooms probably does change the character of what content gets posted, but unless it is password-protected, it is still a salon or living room set out in the middle of Times Square. You get traffic ... and fumes.

@Sabrina - And your making THIS analogous to PoC-only spaces feels tinny and manipulative and cheap. I find myself rather insulted by it.

I'm sorry. I meant to respond to your comparison of the situation to race-based exclusions of people of color, but clearly it was trivializing instead. My apologies for the trivialization, and the offense.

I hold by the comparison to women-only space (or in this case a space that is predominantly female) and my comments on the gendered power dynamics affecting both Aaronovitch's comments and their reception. This fits into a larger pattern of policing both women bloggers' opinions and their right to control their own space.

This is my sad face at being told I'm not allowed in the fan suite :-(

Like many pros, I was a con-going fanzine-publishing fan before I sold any fiction, much less began publishing books on a regular basis. (Back in the mid-eighties.) My reading of this piece is that it's rather hostile to fans like me -- it attempts to redefine us as not-fans, as fiction-producing-alien-entities who should get the hell out of fandom.

I don't know whether that was Renay's intention in writing it, but I receive it as a harsh cold-shoulder treatment.

(As for how you should read my output -- shrug. I don't care how you read it. I'll happily answer questions about my intentions in writing, but I can't dictate how you should interpret my work because human minds are not perfectly spherical frictionless objects of uniform density. Your interpretation of my words creates a new mental object, in your mind. It may or may not accurately reflect my conscious intentions -- but that doesn't invalidate your interpretation. And I've learned interesting new things about my own mind by listening to readers' interpretations. About the only thing I will take exception to is being told what my own interior state must be, on the basis of deductions from my public writing. It's psychoanalysis by proxy, and when the proxy has a weakness for writing deliberately unreliable narrators it's probably going to result in a bogus diagnosis.)

Reviews are a bit different from other writing about writing. And fanfiction has a few problems of its own. But I think you might be missing some deep history which makes written-SF fandom a bit different.

For at least three quarters of a century, fans have been becoming professionals. There's a sense of common community, and shared creativity. There are a couple of 21st Century Hugo winners who I knew when they were fans, exceptional but not different. Another Hugo-winning writer, I have been in the same filk circle. I don't see any reason to think I am special in that. Not responding to reviews (a pretty sensible rule) isn't the same as not being a fan, not being a part of that community.

Seen from my background and experience, there's not so much strange about what is happening in the blogs and comment threads. It's just an extension of what has always seemed to happen in the convention bar.

This really upsets me.

The assumption that writers need to be explicitly invited to a conversation as if a public blog were a house and a writer were a vampire is oddly entitled. While I don't think it's always a good idea for a writer to respond to commentary on their work, the idea that by doing so they are invading others' space is disturbing. At best, it's a de-personalization of artists that treats them as machines that produce items for consumption rather than people with an intimate connection to their work. At worst, it's an attempt to bully and silence artists from a position of privilege. It takes a sort of cognitive dissonance to claim that readers have ownership of a work of fiction once they've read it, but also that an author has canonical privilege.

More importantly, when you write a blog post that is readable by the public, you are publishing. With regard to a particular review or post you have as much privilege (or as little) as you accord the fiction writer with their own work. And as the *author* of a non-fiction piece who is clearly engaging in commentary about the interpretation of her work, I find it hypocritical that Renay wants to deny fiction writers the same right of response.

Pardon me, but how do I get to this alternate Earth where writers have lots of power and much greater "privilege" than fans with the disposable income to amass giant media collections and all the spare time in the world to blog about them? It sounds lovely.

@Mely (first comment):

We've now discussed this on twitter, so you know already, but I just wanted to acknowledge publically that I'm moving more towards your interpretation of this. :-)

@Sabrina (first comment):

Interesting perspective, thanks. At the same time, since newspaper comment threads are notoriously toxic, I'm not completely sure that's a model I'd like to see emulated elsewhere online. Also, not all newspapers follow the no-rebuttal policy: many of the Guardian Comment Is Free blogs, for example, feature the writers of the pieces commenting below the line.

@Charlie:

Understood about how it was received by you and others; the piece was, as I understand it, informed in large part by Renay's experience in other areas of fandom, and is not as applicable for the lit side of things.

I don't think anyone's been denying, here or elsewhere, that it's possible to have overlapping identities, or that many/most authors are also fans. But, I do think that someone's status in a discussion is contextual. Fans who are published writers are not simply fans: by and large, they have much bigger blog readerships and twitter followerships (to coin a term) than do those of us who are 'just' fan/reader bloggers. They carry a lot more social capital into a debate, particularly about their own work. So when a writer-fan gets into a dispute with a reader-fan - over the interpretation of a text they've written, say - the latter is quite likely to get squashed, and I do think writer-fans don't always bear that in mind as much as they might. Some are well aware of it, of course, and exploit it for Will No-one Rid Me Of This Troublesome Reviewer purposes; Anne Rice springs to mind, but I'm sure I'm not the only blogger who maintains a mental list of people whose work it's just best not to talk about in public at all, even fairly positively, for fear of casting Summon Author, and getting the more aggressive fans in tow.

@Christopher:

I genuinely don't see this is as bullying at all, simply a request that people bear context in mind when they're weighing up whether to enter a discussion or not. I wouldn't dream of intervening in a publically-viewable facebook group/forum thread/blog post where my students were discussing one of my classes, even if they'd misunderstood a point I'd made. If they express that misunderstanding in a seminar I'm leading, fine, I'll debate with them; if it's in an essay they've submitted to me, fine; if it's on the virtual learning platform set up for the course, fine. Otherwise, no: it would embarrass them (and me, frankly) if I turned up where I'm not expected, and I would change the nature of the discussion - or stifle it entirely - simply by being there in my lecturerhood, however well intentioned. Better to put my time and energy into making my next lecture clearer.

Yes, the internet is a public place, but it's surely not bullying to suggest that the unwritten rules of engagement vary from space to space. A bar is a public place, too, but you wouldn't walk into one and just sit down at the nearest table and join someone's conversation unprompted; you'd hang back, observe, judge whether you'd be welcome, and maybe ask directly.

Finally, while I some sympathy with the suggestion that certain discussions could happen on password-protected forums or invite-only email lists if people are worried about being overheard, it's important to remember that many people use blogs and forums precisely because it isn't possible for them to discuss stuff they're interested in with like-minded individuals offline, whether because of time or money or massive geographical distances; these things *have* to be public, therefore, or else the readers would never find each other.

So when a writer-fan gets into a dispute with a reader-fan - over the interpretation of a text they've written, say - the latter is quite likely to get squashed, and I do think writer-fans don't always bear that in mind as much as they might.

As we've seen in this case, with Renay having received rape threats for having the audacity to upset popular authors.

To expand on Nic's point, several years ago I was told by an author with a rather large following whose book I'd reviewed negatively that he had chosen not to link to my review because he didn't want me to have to bear the full force of his readership. At the time, my response was "yes, I probably wouldn't have liked all that attention." Now, knowing what happens to women who dare to criticize popular male authors, I'm very grateful that he had that awareness of his social capital and how it could affect other people.

I think that it's that mindfulness that a lot of the people on Renay's side are calling for. The issue isn't authors are "allowed" to comment in fannish spaces (allowed by whom?). It's an awareness of the fact that the effect of your words is modulated by who you are, what your status is, and who is listening to you.

@Nic

I find it a little offensive that you'd compare deciding not to weigh in on a discussion that your *students* are having to whether or not a artist can respond to another author (because a review is among other things, a work of non-fiction, and therefore authored). Not only are those situations not at all analogous, the power imbalances are wildly different. You have direct power and influence over your students and their grades and the weight of that power compels you to behave in a certain fashion. An artist does not have that same power over a reviewer. If an artist has power or influence, it is given or withheld by their fanbase. This very article while claiming that artists hold canonical power over their works discounts that power: "Because once I read a work, that work is mine. I'm going to interpret it my way, disregard authorial intention, embrace alternate readings of the canonical facts, and probably consider writing explicit fanfic about characters an author likely never intended to be together." while still seeking to deny them ability to engage in even discussion about the text without being specifically allowed.

As far as this being a request to bear context in mind, I refer you to Renay's above comment in response to Ben Aaronovitch: "Were you invited explicitly to the discussion? No? Then don't comment." That is not a request to to follow unwritten mores. It is a demand for him to remain silent unless allowed to speak. If you can't see an inherent problem with that, then I don't think anything I can say will convince you otherwise.

@Christopher

I'm sorry you found that offensive, but I stand by it; I agree, it's by no means a perfect analogy - there's no such thing - but for me at least it goes some way to explaining how the dynamic feels from the reader end of things. (I assume you're happier with my bar analogy.)

An author doesn't have direct power over the reader in the way a lecturer does over students, no, but both figures have a similar perceived (and disproportionate) authority over the material under discussion. In the case of an author, because they wrote the books being discussed; in the case of a lecturer, because they're the one standing at the front of the room offering their take on the topic (and sometimes also because they wrote a book on it). My interpretation of the material I'm teaching is not inherently any more valid than a student's just because I'm the lecturer; but it's perceived by them to be so, and thus a big part of my job is trying to persuade students that they should read other perspectives, marshall their evidence, and build their own case out of that evidence, rather than agree with my position just because I said it. Stepping back as much as possible: also part of my job. There's only a limited degree to which I'll succeed in this; but it doesn't mean I shouldn't try.

(Here I realise I should have been clearer in my original comment; it should probably read: "even if I felt that they'd misunderstood a point I'd made". Disagreeing doesn't have to be the result of misunderstanding, although of course it can be; hence why I said "debate with" rather than "correct".)

It was this that I was getting at: not the direct power, which I completely accept is not comparable, but the social weight that comes with being perceived to have greater expertise and/or status. I totally understand why many authors might feel they don't have it, and feel attacked by the implication; nonetheless, enough readers here and elsewhere in this debate have expressed the feeling that authors do have it that I don't think the view can be dismissed. Now, we might all of us - readers and writers and reader-writers alike - find that perception a shame and want to think of ways to break it down so that we can have conversations with fewer barriers. But that's the next step, not the current one.

If an artist has power or influence, it is given or withheld by their fanbase.

Here's where I diverge most strongly from your view, I think. Partly because I disagree that the artist's power derives solely from their fanbase; I would be surprised if you honestly think most people wouldn't be likely to take an author's word on their book more seriously than a random reader's. And partly because the power of an artist's fanbase - even a non-superstar artist - choosing to take issue with a reader who's disagreed with said artist should not be underestimated. See above, re. squashed. Ben Aaronovitch has close to 8000 twitter followers; Renay has under 500. This is not an equal fight.

(I don't mean to imply that Aaronovitch is solely reponsible for the ensuing twitterstorm. Purely used as an example of where this kicked off.)

If you can't see an inherent problem with that, then I don't think anything I can say will convince you otherwise.

Actually, I do have a problem with that instance of the discussion, as I've already said earlier in this comment thread. At the same time, there is clearly history between Renay and Aaronovitch, and the latter's first comment here read (to me) as intended to provoke an argument, so I don't think that episode should be taken as the best representation of what Renay is trying to say. There are many, many words in the original article and the comment thread that aren't "No".

@Nic:

I do have a problem with your bar analogy in that people in a bar the next table over are generally not talking about you and your work. But I largely agree that someone running a blog, or a newspaper, or a public discussion has the right to moderate the discussion, and if need be enforce whatever rules or mores they've decided on. These rules can be arbitrary and unfair. But I think it's backwards to make it incumbent on the artist being discussed to wait until being invited to respond. And there are many instances where the concept of the author being an intruder is echoed throughout the original article.

I should clarify that I don't mean to imply that a John Scalzi or a Neil Gaiman does not have significant power and influence and that they should not tread carefully (or not at all) when engaging with people about their work. But the truth of the matter is that most artists are not Neil Gaiman or John Scalzi. Also, I'm not defending Aaronovitch's behavior here, or elsewhere on the internet. But I think it's disingenuous to pretend that there is not power and influence being wielded by non-fiction reviewers, and that they should remain safe from criticism by their subjects once they have published.

Without the authors there wouldn't be "fanworks" in the first place, so this is a case of the egg complaining about the chicken (or is it the other way around?). Claiming an author should post in *public* discussions of his/her work only when invited is preposterous.

First off, @Renay: thank you for writing an interesting and thought-provoking article. I don't really agree with your central arguments, but I still feel richer for having read them.

Second, why do we need "rules" for author/critic interactions? What if I--as someone who runs a review-oriented blog--don't like or want to follow those rules? What if I do and someone else doesn't? I tried to articulate this more clearly in a blog post yesterday, but I think the bottom line is that it's okay--healthy even--for bloggers to take different approaches, here as elsewhere.

Yes, I'm aware this puts a burden on authors to figure out where they are welcome and where they are not, but it's not rocket science to figure that out. Does the blog do regular author interviews and/or guest posts? Do the bloggers interact with authors on twitter or other social media? Have you interacted with the blogger before? Five minutes of research can give you answers to these questions.

(One could also minimize the possibility of these kinds of things happening by explaining his/her "intentions" or "vision," rather than trying to "police" how one's books should be interpreted--but that's another point entirely.)

I personally like interacting with authors--I do it often, mostly on twitter, but also on our site and elsewhere. That's me, and I neither need nor want someone to tell me I "have" to do it another way. At the same time, no one else needs me to tell them how to do their job either. I can accept that other approaches are equally valid to my own. The reviewers I like to read run the gamut in this regard--and what, really, is wrong with that?

I'm an author. I'm a professional reviewer. I edit reviews.

I once commented on an online discussion of my work. My comment was more or less like so: "Thanks for talking about this; I hadn't thought about your point, because my intent was different. It's good to hear another view." I was taken aback that the blog host's response to my comment was thrilled and rather hushed in tone. I didn't expect my comment to carry all that weight.

Why didn't I expect this? Because not only have I participated for *decades* in an ostensibly anti-hierarchical literary sf fandom, I have participated for more than a decade in an ostensibly somewhat anti-hierarchical sf profession. Yes, there is competition, and there are big names, and awards, and advances. But I have talked about their work with Octavia Butler and Chip Delany, and I've discussed my work with them too. Likewise Ted Chiang, Greg Bear, Nalo Hopkinson, Maureen McHugh. The best writers in the world tend to treat me as their equal, and they've always done so, well before I was published. I'm used to talking about my work with pros *and* with fans. With anyone and everyone who is interested in it. And learning something from them.

But now I know that some people would rather I keep my comments to myself. They could have a chilling effect on the discussion. And some members of the fan community might not feel comfortable telling me that.

Renay, I'm sorry you've caught so much hell for talking about this. I had no idea.

I still like it when people discuss my work. Let me know if you want me to participate in the discussion. If I have something to say I think is worth sharing, I might.

@Christopher

[it's another epic response again; I'm long-winded, sorry!]

I do have a problem with your bar analogy in that people in a bar the next table over are generally not talking about you and your work.

The group standing next to you in (to borrow Sabrina's analogy) Times Square generally aren't either, though. Since there isn't any offline equivalent of self-googling, comparisons between online and offline concepts of private and public space are always going to be limited at best.

But the truth of the matter is that most artists are not Neil Gaiman or John Scalzi.

No, but there are degrees, and I think many/most authors - perhaps especially *because* they come from fandom and consider themselves still fans - underestimate the weight their words carry with the average reader, as Nisi Shawl describes herself discovering in the most recent comment here.

I confess I'm a bit surprised that so many of the writers and editors who have been describing themselves as still fans at heart in this debate seem to have either had very different experiences of being a fan than I had/have, or else have forgotten what it was like. (I'm using 'fan' here both in the sense of being a fan of (a) specific author(s), and of participating in the fan community of people who enjoy and discuss genre fiction more generally.) Maybe they all just grew up with much more confidence than I had, but have they genuinely never had one of those wide-eyed moments where their words first come to the attention of That Person Whose Books I've Read Since I Was Twelve, and they feel the bottom fall out of their stomach? Never been tongue-tied in a convention bar when confronted with someone whose recent book they admired so much it made them want to cry? Never made it to the front of a signing queue and found that all the half-dozen clever and witty things they'd been working on to say have completely vanished from their head, and it's all they can do to mumble out their own name at the third attempt, when asked for the dedication?

The first - wonderfully kindly and complimentary - email I ever had from an author, around 12 years ago now, happened to come from my very favourite (not the most famous) author in all the world. I was bouncing off the walls for hours; it took me the entire evening to calm down enough to type a reply, and when I did it wasn't especially coherent. I've now been writing reviews in various public venues for over ten years, have been to multiple conventions, and met many authors, plus I have a day job whose requirements (e.g. standing up in front of 200 people and wittering on for an hour) don't really mix all that well with being shy and retiring. I have much less awe now than I used to (though not none; Nicola Griffith left a brief 'thank you' comment on one of my reviews a while back and I was too flustered to reply...). There's one self-described midlist author whom I imagine would be astonished to know that it took three encounters with her before I could bring myself to mention how much I liked her books.

Nowadays, I really enjoy discussing books with their authors, under most circumstances. But - and here's the key - I don't want to assume that all fans/readers have the same level of ease and comfort I do.

But I think it's disingenuous to pretend that there is not power and influence being wielded by non-fiction reviewers, and that they should remain safe from criticism by their subjects once they have published.

Yes, but with a very few exceptions, considerably less. In any given author-reader exchange, it's unlikely that the reader will be the one with the most social capital.

Readers are entitled to read whatever they like into a book, and readers of reviews are, likewise, entitled to think whatever they like of a review. I'm just not sure I see much gain for anyone concerned in, as Renay puts it, the author 'punching down'. I'm sure it's possible to have productive author-reader conversations about a negative review, but the majority of the time the author comes off looking like a tyrant, whatever their intention. Conversations like that - "I disagree with your readingof this aspect, because of X, Y and Z" - are more effective among readers (including writers who aren't the author of the book in question), because there is a more level playing field: everyone is approaching the book as a reader of it, no-one has any more authority on it than anyone else, and thus (in theory!) the readings can be judged against each other on their own merits.

In theory. Whole different topic. But this is long enough!

When I read this, it didn't sound to me like Renay was being hostile or attempting to drive writers away from all fan spaces either online or off, or denying the fan/author identity overlap. It also didn't sound like she was saying "authors, never discuss your work with fans! Or other authors who might be fans as well! also stop discussing other authors' work online! NEVER TALK BOOKS AGAIN."

Basically, what I got from it was that authors, especially ones who come from fandom first, sometimes don't realize that if they go into a discussion of their work where they haven't been invited (so, not a panel or a guest post, etc) and comment on fannish discussion or interpretation of their work, their status as author tends to shut down or derail whatever discussion was happening before they showed up.

This makes perfect sense to me, and asking authors to be mindful of their impact sounds like good manners, good sense, and not really that hard to do! I'm not sure why Renay's getting all this backlash, but I thought this was a smart and well-thought-out piece.

Interesting to see what counts "forcing" a viewpoint on somebody. I agree that in a public space (like a comment area where everybody can post) everybody can post, unless there is a clear (=written!) rule for him/her not to. Don't want someone commenting on your work (=review)? Say so or don't post it out in the open.

Rules for not being an asshole and not to get personal still apply obviously, but didn't play any role in this case.

I was inspired by this conversation to look more critically at my on blogging/reviewing world, that of the "middle grade" science fiction and fantasy books (for kids 9-12). My basic conclusion was that it is space between fandom and industry in which it is beautifully comfortable to be a woman writing reviews. It's very different from the world of adult sci fi/fantasy blogging, in that many of us are gatekeepers for kids, not necessarily reading to suit our own tastes, and also because it is an overwhelmingly female space (though men write half the books, their presence in the blogging world is a lot less than that). And my conclusions were born out when all of my comments came from friendly women (bloggers and authors) who more or less agreed with me...

In any event, here are my thoughts: http://charlotteslibrary.blogspot.com/2013/09/middle-grade-bloggers-as-fans.html

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