Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Disclosure, Transparency, and Blogger Jealousy

Largely stay off the Internet for the weekend, and look what happens?  Kerfuffles break out!  Now, my usual policy on kerfuffles is that just because they happen, doesn't mean you have to comment on every single one.  Honestly, I've been around long enough to know that 99.9% of these dust-ups are all things I've seen before (ad nauseum) with only the targets changing.  But every once in a while something comes along that Auntie Wendy wants to comment on, and I think that my almost 9-years of blogging (yes, 9!) on top of my 12 years of reviewing romance novels online gives me a certain perspective. 

While I was offline, some drama erupted over Smart Bitch Sarah being affiliated with a consulting company.  Said consulting company represents a number of OMG BIG NAME authors and when this relationship came to light, Sarah's objectivity was called into question.  I'll direct you over to her blog to get the general run-down.

Looking at the history of the online romance community, you have to understand the place where we used to be.  Back in the Dark Ages, unless you were Harriet Klausner, you were the enemy.  One thing I love about attending the annual RWA conference is catching up with the ladies that now run All About Romance. When I see those gals it's like a bunch of old veterans sitting around telling war stories.  Back in those early days, The Romance Reader and AAR were "the enemy."  Many authors did not like these sites.  At all.  We were accused of being unqualified hacks (to this day I'm not sure what makes a "qualified" book reviewer) or frustrated wannabe writers who were jealous of someone else's success. 

All this sounds vaguely familiar doesn't it?

Over time, the longer both TRR and AAR hung around, opinions softened.  One part of this was that many "new writers" were getting published who had "grown up" with both TRR and AAR.  Both sites had become part of the fabric of the romance genre landscape.  Also, and this can't be discounted, was that there were new targets to attack - bloggers.  TRR and AAR were no longer "the devil."  Dear Author and Smart Bitches were "the new devil."

For a long time, bloggers were sort of operating out in the Wild West, doing our own thing.  Honestly, that's ultimately why I stopped reviewing for TRR and began focusing all my energy on my own blog.  I love those ladies at TRR like chocolate cake, but I wanted to do my own thing.  So, I did.  Other bloggers started doing their own thing, and publishing took notice.

Now, part of the reason publishing took notice is because it's a tough business to be in.  Bloggers were (and still are IMHO) seen as a "word of mouth" resource.  Authors began to see that the "At The Back Fence" mentality that AAR had cultivated so many years before, was spilling out into the blogosphere.  With the advent of social media?  That's a lot publicity potential - you can't fault publishers and authors wanting to tap into that.  You also can't fault many bloggers for this - I mean, we love books.  We're whores for books.  If we weren't whores for books, we wouldn't be blogging about books.

Of course this has all meant the waters have gotten murky.  Where did Sarah go wrong?  Why did this kerfuffle break out?  My rule?  Disclose early and disclose often.  I don't think there's anything "wrong" with Sarah having a stake in this consulting company.  I also don't think it's wrong for her to write books, promote the genre, her blog, and herself.  She's putting in the work, so I say good for her.  I don't have insight into Sarah's day-to-day existence, but I have a hard time believing she's had the success she's had simply handed to her on a silver platter while she's doing nothing more than eating bon-bons, rockin' a feather boa, while reclining on a chaise lounge.

Listen, I'm not sure anybody noticed - but I know that I'm an adult.  If I think Sarah is disingenious, has a conflict of interest, or whatever, guess what?  I'm not going to "listen" to her.  I might even make the choice to ::gasp:: not read her blog.  Just because it's "out there" doesn't mean anyone is holding a gun to my head to make me "do" anything.  Otherwise?  I'd be reading all those paranormal romances some of you love so much even though I'm burnt out on them like crazy-sauce.  The blogger's job, first and foremost, is to give the review reader enough information so that they can make their own decision.  If you aren't giving me that, I'm not going to waste my time on you.  If I do get that, and yet I discover that the path the you're consistently steering me torwards is one I'm not wild about?  Yeah, maybe we should "just be friends." 

Does her not disclosing this relationship immediately alter my opinion of Sarah in any way?  Not really.  Look, I'm not sure if you've all noticed - but the relationship between readers, authors, bloggers and publishing is changing rapidly.   Sometimes on a daily basis.  And because it's changing rapidly, I think we, as bloggers, need to acknowledge something that is rarely spoken about.

Yes, I'm talking jealousy.

Any blogger who claims it doesn't exist is walking around with their pants on fire.  Just as authors can get jealous of other authors - so can bloggers be jealous of other bloggers.

Let's use me as an example.  I have been blogging since 2003.  Which makes me positively ancient.  And yet when you think of "major romance novel blogs" - do I immediately come to mind?  Uh, that would be no.  Most people are going to immediatley say "Dear Author" and/or "Smart Bitches."  Does this irritate me?  That my almost 9 years of not having a life and blogging does not immediately leap into every online romance reader's consciousness when they're asked about "major blogs."


And I'll tell you why:  the people behind Dear Author and Smart Bitches have worked really hard.  I sorta, kinda do some work around the Bat Cave - but nothing like those ladies do.  And you know what?  I don't want to work that hard.  I just don't.  I want my blog to be what I want it to be.  Which it is.  Some of you like that, and some of you don't.  Which is cool.  Blogging is a lot like books.  There is literally something out there for every reader.  And if there isn't?  Hey, why not start your own blog?  Why not add your own voice to the mix?

So yeah, at the end of the day my take on this is be a grown-up and make-up your own mind.  I've met Sarah in person, I know she adores the genre, but I'll be honest - Sarah ain't going to tell me what to think or what to do.  Ever.  I know it's easy to forget sometimes, what with the fact that trolls exist, but you know what?  We're grown-ups people.  Really, truly - we are.  And we all have our own minds.  Own yours.  Be yourself.  Like free will, it's pretty damn sexy.


Kati said...

I know you have your Man and I'm engaged, but seriously, Wendy, will you go steady with me??

I've watched the kerfuffle with fascination as the pitchforks were raised and the pot stirred, and somehow the Catholic religion brought into it (?!). But mostly what I keep thinking is, "OK, Sarah learned a valuable lesson here - disclose early and often".

The truth is that while Sarah and I are NOT friends, I have corresponded and tweeted w/her occasionally, and in general, I think Sarah is a magnificent representative of the romance genre, and I think she works her tail off doing it. Which is certainly something I don't want to do. (Hell, I haven't written a review a few days less than a month, mostly because I can't be arsed to).

Did she make a mistake? Maybe. Do I see what the hell the big deal is? No, I really don't. And I feel for her as a really bad example of gang mentality has been directed at one of the "big fish" in the Romance ocean.

Like you, I'm a tiny fish, and am happy to remain so. But this whole episode really has seemed like a tempest in a teapot to me.

Lynne Connolly said...

hoo ya, yes indeed!

alicet said...

Thanks Wendy for being a voice of reason. I think it is very easy to lose sight of the fact that readers have a choice to accept or reject what they read. I read a lot of book reviews and recommendations from several blogs but I make my own judgment on following a recommendation depending on whether a blogger has a similar taste as mine. I looked through the three sites you linked on this controversy and I am just taken aback at how catty and bitchy some of the comments were. So it is refreshing to read your take on this. If I do have to take sides I would side with Sarah on this. I agree with you that full disclosure is important but even more important is the content of their blogs.I haven't seen any evidence of Sarah compromising her credibility as a reviewer. I am more inclined to dismiss the underhanded accusations of jealous bloggers and authors who seem to be making this issue bigger than it should.

Leslie said...

"So yeah, at the end of the day my take on this is be a grown-up and make-up your own mind." YES!

This is one of the main reasons I just shake my head and think - "here we go again" when these things crop up. Why can't more of these adults act like adults?

Like you said, no one is forcing anyone to read the multitude of blogs out there, and there are plenty with new ones every day. There are blogs that I don't like - way too much snark & meanness IMO. So guess what? I don't read them. But other people do. Fine with me. It doesn't affect me. Find what you like, who you trust and leave the rest to someone else.

The jealousy, yep it's there. It's a natural emotion whether we like it or not. It's what we do about it and how we act on it that matters.

My 2 cents. Thanks Wendy for being the voice of reason and adding common sense to the equation!

Robin said...

If anyone has a right to feel slighted, IMO it's The Romance Reader. There are some great reviewers over there, and some of those one heart reviews are absolute masterpieces. But for some reason they just don't get as much play in online discussions as other review sites. Too bad, but hopefully your reminder will help people remember that they're still alive and kicking!

k reads said...

I learned that kerfuffle is not spelled kerfluffle... that's about the only thing I took away from the whole brouhaha ( I spelled that last one right, right?)

Sunita said...

Disclosure may be annoying, but it's not a difficult concept to grasp, and even simpler to carry out. I like your page very much.

I should probably come clean now and admit that I shamelessly cribbed from you when I started my tiny personal blog.

Thanks for the post, Wendy.

Phyl said...

Nicely said, Wendy. I admit to spending way too much time reading the comments to Sarah's post about her job. I wonder why I did that? Perhaps because my tender little heart can't handle the sports pages just yet? Anyhow, given all she's done in and around social media for the romance genre, she no doubt earned that job and does very well at it. Frankly, I wish her well and wish that sometimes it didn't feel so damned much like high school out there on the interwebs.

Anonymous said...

Maybe there's some history between the bloggers that I don't know about, but why is the assumption that the bloggers who mentioned Sarah's consulting gig must be jealous? Note, they mentioned it...yeah, Mrs.
G was passive aggressive as hell over it, but there was no long commentary by any of them about how Sarah was doing something wrong.

The jealousy accusation always gets thrown around when one woman has an argument with another. Not that jealousy isn't ever an issue, but I dislike seeing it thrown around, since more often than not it's used to derail the issue at hand.

Wendy said...

Anon: My bringing up jealousy has more to do with what Leslie mentioned - that it's a natural emotion whether we like it or not and that bloggers need to suck it up and acknowledge it DOES exist among us.

Now, obviously, I don't know if jealousy is playing a part in this latest brouhaha. I mean, generally speaking - it's a rare occurence when someone will admit that they're jealous. I'm merely asking that the community look in the mirror. We're all capable of jealousy. Hell, I've been jealous. I am human after all. So while I can't say, for certain, "these people are jealous" - I am saying that jealousy does exist in the community, and I'm sure that there are people out there who ARE jealous of Sarah. It's the nature of the beast.

Any of this making any sense? I think I'm coming down with a head cold and my brain is mushier than usual.....

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you're making sense. And I agree, we're all capable of jealously. It's just that several commenters at SB's mentioned jealousy as the only possible reason why anyone would criticize Sarah, and Sarah actually agreed with them. The whole thing left a really bad taste in my mouth.

*Goddess* said...

I think one only has to look at the timing of all this to come up with the word "jealousy". Why did it come up now that Sarah's book has been released? Although, they say 'there's no such thing as bad press' so who knows? Maybe this will get her more readers. I hope so!

Kaye said...

I think this is another case of 'pull on your big girl panties' and get on with it. Where is the cheese with all this whineing?

Yes, disclosure is a basic business model, and Sarah could have avoided this. But, it is her business, and she is very good at it.

At 56 years old, and having read way too many romance novels since my twenties, I have followed with interest the developement of the online romance community.

And that is what we are, a community - a sisterhood if you will - with a common love of books. I hate sensing the jealosy you spoke of, but if you have a sister (and I do) we do get bitchy from time to time. So it goes .

I have followed and posted on all of them occasionally, TRR (and have given up on it), still check in at AAR (and miss Laurie), and have drifted over to DA & SB (getting too commercial for my taste anymore), which is why I like your take on blogging.

It's yours, love it or leave it. The wide world web is full of choices, do with it what you will.

And as a personal aside, from a former Phillies fan (ouch!) good luck to your Tigers !!

Leslie said...

Anon: Just wanted to clarify when I said jealousy is there I didn't mean this specific incident. I was agreeing w/Wendy that does occur in Romanceland. Whether or not it was the motivation in this case, I have no idea. I don't read the 3 bloggers mentioned so I'm not familiar with them.

I do get why it would bother you for jealousy to be blamed when it's only speculation. We can all speculate but it doesn't make it true.

Tracy S said...

A voice of reason. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

It seems to be an accepted practice, even by Sarah, to post this links to generate controversy in Romanceland.

The two blogs and one tweet did not change my perception of Sarah's integrity or capabilities. Nor did her oversight seem to be earth shattering - we all are human. I also understand her reaction. But her response set off a chain reaction that entered verbotten territory - religion.

Had the situation been reversed - Sarah discovered that Mrs. Giggles had a professional relationship with authors - would the scenario have been any different? I doubt it.

Let's move on to celebrating romance!

Jill Sorenson said...

Reviewers are constantly questioned about objectivity, and most of us don't take it personally. As an author-reviewer, I've been called unprofessional. The conflict of interest issue has been raised--to my face! Maybe because I've navigated this space with caution and expectated ruffled feathers, I find Sarah's hurt/confused reaction surprising.

Look, I'm not jealous. I save that feeling for more successful authors. I agree that Sarah has done great things for the genre, I love her site and especially her "Everything" column, but when she accepts money to help authors with social media, and then proceeds to recommend/mention/promote her clients via social media, how am I supposed to know which hat she's wearing?

If a less well-respected, well-connected reviewer was doing the same, I think we'd hear a lot more cries of foul.

Okay, so for me the jury's still out. I have no problem with advertisements and other conflicts, such as Jane of DA being an editor. My guess is that Sarah will continue to post honest reviews and (hopefully) not review her clients, and the controversy will die down.

Jill Sorenson said...

Just to clarify. I didn't mean to imply that Sarah isn't a successful author. I meant that I'm more jealous of successful romance *fiction* authors.

Slinking off before I can dig a deeper hole...

Anonymous said...

"But her response set off a chain reaction "

Which I think was exactly her intention. Not the religion part, but everything else. How else to explain the post responding to accusations that were never made and claiming to feel surprised and hurt when she's been around long enough to know how the game is played? She's clearly doing what many authors do when they have a book coming out...create an internet controversy to generate views and get talked about all over the place. Sarah's just subtler about it.

Well played, Ms. Wendell.

Tracy S said...

OK, completely off topic, but:

Congrats on the Tiger's win Tuesday night!! :o) I watched the game--it was a good one!

Wendy said...

Yeah, once religion (or politics) starts getting tossed around I tend to avoid commenting altogether. Hence me blogging about it at the Bat Cave and not wading into the comment fray over at SB.

Jill brings up an interesting point, and one I wanted to hammer home. For me personally, I like to make up my own mind. If I have the perception (whether it's fact or fiction, it honestly doesn't matter) that Sarah can't operate in both realms of promo maven and "objective reviewer" then yeah - I'm moving on. I'll "stop listening." Unless Sarah shows up at my house, and holds a gun to my head, then I have the choice.

My choice is to follow a wide array of blogs - but I honestly only tend to "listen" to recommendations from people I seem to gel with as far as reading quirks go. Which is probably why I follow a lot of blogs on my Google Reader. It gives me the lay of the land and helps me find those "like-minded" readers.

I probably should join GoodReads to help get this fix as well - but dang, I'm scared to. I'm not sure I need that much social media in my life......

Samanthadelayed said...

Wow. I am even further behind on this whole drama that you are. FYIW. I still trust Sarah as much as I trust any other romance reviewer/blogger. I wish she had disclosed this sooner, but honestly.. it isn't a deal breaker for me.

little alys said...

As I say "here here" and toast to you post, let me also say this.

I go to your blog first when it comes to romance novel reviews rather than Dear Author or SMTB. :D

Jill Sorenson said...

FWIW, I'm more likely to listen to your recs than Sarah's because our tastes are so different. For me this is about a broader issue: if bloggers are employed by authors, who's looking out for readers?

But I think I've already said more than I should have on this topic, and I'd rather judge books than people, so I'm going to take your advice and move on.

Do join Goodreads! It's actually pretty cool.