Saturday, September 27, 2014

Little Miss Crabby Pants Is (Almost) Speechless

The birth of my online persona coincides directly with discovering, and falling in love, with the romance genre.  99.9% of "me online" has everything to do with romance novels.  And I've been "me online talking about romance novels" since 1999.  Let's do the math kiddies: That's 15 years.  Wendy has been online blathering about romance novels for 15 years.

In other news, I have no life.

Which is why when "stuff happens" around my little corner of Online Romancelandia I don't always feel the need to comment.  Why?  Because chances are very good that it's a rerun of something that was playing online 2, 5, 10 or 15 years ago.  My policy is basically to only haul out Little Miss Crabby Pants when I feel like I have something to say and I'm not immediately bored by the topic.

And then the Internet decides to wake-up one day and throw me the Granddaddy of All Curve Balls:

A publisher is suing a blogger.

News broke on Friday that Ellora's Cave is suing Dear Author for their recent post: The Curious Case of Ellora's Cave.  Go ahead, go read the post.  And then try to figure out why it's worth suing over - because I've read it a few times now and can't quite figure that out.

Other nice commentary on this recent WT-Actual-F can be found over at Smart Bitches, AztecLady's blog, and Sunita's blog.  Go ahead, go read those posts.

Done?  Ok.

Now let me tell you why we all need to care.

"But, but, but....Little Miss Crabby Pants!  I don't read Ellora's Cave books!  I don't even like Dear Author!  Heck, I'm not even a blogger!  Why should I care?"

Do you like to read books?  Do you like to find out about books?  Yeah, time to start caring.

EC is looking to, essentially, gag Dear Author.  Don't say anything "bad" about us or else we're going all Tom Cruise Nuclear on you and dragging you into court.  Now there are many authors and readers who feel that Dear Author is a Mean Girl blog.  Honestly, I've never gotten that - but to each their own.  The Internet is a wide open space and there's nothing saying you have to like every blog - even mine.  There's a lot of variety out there, find what you like and run with it.

But this suit scares the bejeebus out of me.  Why?  Because in the 15 years I have been online, talking about romance novels, the great, the good, the bad, the OMGWHY?!?!?!?!! of the romance novel world never once - not once! - did I see something like this coming.

We all need to care because if a publisher can go after a blogger for essentially writing a news story, featuring facts culled from other sources (oh, like the public record since EC has been a part of a few lawsuits already), what does this mean for any of us who want to talk about books?

Are we entering into a world where a self-published author can sue a reader for leaving a one-star review of their book on GoodReads?  If I write a ranty-pants review on my blog stating how I thought the hero was a jerk and the heroine was as dumb as a sack of hair, will the publisher sue me for hurting book sales? (In which case I'd tell them to look at my blog numbers and not worry about it)

Where does that leave us?

It leaves us with romance novels pre-Internet.  The days of No Talk and Yes Men.  The only way you heard about new books was to go blindly browsing in the drugstore or listening to Yes Men reviews that glowed about everything published.

So many of us came to the Internet to find "our people."  To find people who would honestly, openly, and not disparagingly talk about the books we loved to read.  And dagnabit, we wanted it all.  We wanted to talk about the great, the good, the bad, and the really, really ugly.  We wanted to learn what each others' ugly was.  We recommend books we hate to other readers who we think might really like them (Dude, I've totally done this).  We squee! about books we love hoping other readers will find them and love them just as much as we did.

And here's a newsflash to publishers and authors: you really don't want to silence that.  Yes, sometimes readers do things you don't like.  We hate on books.  But we also love on books.  Heck, we're TALKING ABOUT BOOKS!  Boooooooooks.  We think books are cool.  We love books!  Books are your business.  Heck, you should love that we think books are cool.

You probably, should, you know, not sue us.  Especially if things are less than rosy.  It might be more prudent to get your own house in order.  Just sayin'.

I was part of the Wild West of Online Romancelandia - back when The Romance Reader (TRR) and All About Romance (AAR) were The Devil.  Even when I felt I had to attend RWA as a Librarian First and keep my reviewing/blogging gigs somewhat quiet, the idea of something like a publisher suing a blogger never, in a million years, entered into my mind.

And that folks, is why we should all care.  Because it really is THAT messed up.  What's next?  A reader/blogger getting sued because that 4-star review just didn't feel quite positive enough?  Because the animated gifs that induce seizures just weren't quite OMG BESTEST BOOK EVER IT CHANGED MY LIFE enough?

If that day comes, someone stick a fork in me.  I'll be done.

26 comments:

azteclady said...

How I love thee, I don't have the words tor.

bookish29 said...

I caught this last night and I am still flabbergasted. As you've said, the bottom line is that we're people who talk about BOOKS and READING - things we so often hear are under threat from all these new-fangled technological things like Xboxes and Angry Birds. It seems to me, from the sheer volume of book bloggers out there that we're doing a damn good job at disproving the assumption that the written word is on the way out. It doesn't matter if we're loving or slagging off, the fact is that we're TALKING about them, and sometimes, it just so happens that we slag off because we love.

Honestly, I still can't believe this is happening.

Lynne Connolly said...

Chances are it won't get to court. Because, you know, disclosure. I'm an Ellora's Cave author, stuck in the middle of this mess, and it's completely nuts. I'll just be a bit careful what I say and make sure I have evidence for anything that isn't my opinion. But I ain't clamming up.

azteclady said...

Go, Lynne!

Sandra Schwab said...

So sorry you're caught up in that mess, Lynne. As somebody who went through the Dorchester mess, I can safely say that gosh, it sucks so bad!

Miss Bates said...

According to The Atlantic (here's a link to a pretty hopeful article on the state of reading in America: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/the-decline-of-the-american-book-lover/283222/), Americans read, on average, five books a year. 76% of the population reads one book a year. Not so bad, huh? It's small potatoes when you compare it to the hours spent watching films, or TV shows, or surfing the Net, for example, watching kitty videos ... readers, heck, are kind of a fringe group. In all this morass of minimal book reading, romance readers are a mainstay and smart publishers know this. They read many many many books a year: they read them in "e"; they read'em in paper; and they listen to 'em too. An even smaller percentage take time and effort to think about them, to write about them (some do it for 15 years; thank you, Wendy, for making me a romance reader and giving me a model to write about them) ... and they do it out of LOVE. They love books; they love romance and they want to share that love: heck, it's a romance, folks!! That doesn't mean that they will LOVE every book they read, but they will, as you say, write and discuss them and keep the love going, nor do they write about romance to advocate for publishers, or authors. They're here because of the books, good and bad, interesting and yawn-worthy. There is no such thing as collective love: let's leave that to metaphysics, shall we?

Sensible minds, in publishing, understand that, one hopes; and the EC situation is an aberration. But I agree that it is a frightening and distasteful one because it brings freedom of expression and the press into question. The Internet is a "Wild West," (b/c Wendy will enjoy the metaphor, like the romance ;-): it has made many things technologically possible, but it has yet to fully regulate itself in terms of journalistic ethics. I don't think that EC is interested in the broader picture, but the smart people writing about romance and the latest debacle, here with Miss CP, and the blogs Wendy has linked to above, are defining and redefining what this means and why it's important. And THAT is what will hopefully prevail.

Lori said...

I feel terrible for everyone who is in the middle of this mess. I hope that it's resolved quickly and that authors are able to get their rights reverted and move on with their careers. I certainly hope that the case doesn't end up setting a precedent that chills people's ability to give honest, fair reviews online.

That said, I have to think this is a fairly unique situation. EC is large enough to be able to afford a lawyer to file a suit, but small enough to be dominated by the mishegoss of a few people at the top. A larger publisher with a professional PR staff would know that the bad publicity generated by this kind of bullying does far more damage than a blog post or review ever could. A smaller publisher wouldn't have the resources to pursue a suit that's unlikely to go anywhere and could easily blow up in their face in discovery.

I really hope I'm not being overly optimistic about that.

BevBB said...

Egads. I don't have time to go read a lot of posts unless maybe I get curious later about the actual details but you know I can't honestly say I'm surprised. It was going to happen some day.

PK the Bookeemonster said...

Don't be afraid of this, Wendy. As you mentioned, Dear Author's post is almost all verifiable facts. The only comment I could ascertain was speculation/opinion was "So why is it that tax liens go unpaid as well as the salaries or royalties of creative individuals? It is unknown but it sounds like the money is being mismanaged at best and improperly diverted at worst." This mess isn't about readers' or reviewers' opinions on what they read so keep doing what you're doing, as should we all. It is good to know about the issue so thanks for telling us about it.

azteclady said...

IANAL and TINLA, but I'm pretty certain that opinion is protected speech.

Defamation would be is someone said outright lies and claimed those were the facts--repeating known facts and asking questions raised by said facts? Not even close.

The hassle for the defendants is the point for EC, though.

Cathryn Cade said...

Dear Super Librarian,

As a fellow librarian turned romance writer, I share your hatred of muzzling free speech (except for that one bad review I got, which should be stricken from the Internet).

I support all bloggers talking about books, because BOOKS!!

I've offered to donate to DA's defense fund, along with many, many others. That said, I am not really worried about the outcome of this kerfluffle, chiefly because 'interesting' behavior by certain parties has already been noted by everyone who can read and use a computer mouse, and will no doubt be duly noted by the judge assigned to the case.

So blog on, and keep those thighs in shape by leaping to the defense of the cornerstones of our free society. I'm behind you all the way (far behind, because my thighs in no way resemble those of your SL avatar)

MaryK said...

"This mess isn't about readers' or reviewers' opinions on what they read"

Not exactly. But it is about a reader/reviewer asking questions about things she's read around the internet. And the reader/reviewer has to shell out money to defend herself as a result.

If EC were to get away with this, other people could be emboldened enough to sue over opinions about books. It doesn't matter if the reader/reviewer is completely in the right. All it takes is a lawyer willing to be paid to file a lawsuit. And then the defendant has to pay to clear it up.

Jami Davenport said...

Wendy, I, too, am observing all this EC stuff with amazement and a little bit of shock. All I can think is "oh, how the mighty have fallen." Seriously, EC used to be THE erotic publisher to go to for cutting edge novels and a good income as an author. I'm just shaking my head. I'm so sorry for all the authors going through this. It could happen to any of us at any time.

Wendy said...

AL: I love you too sweetie :)

Wendy said...

Caz: It's mind boggling. Especially since most of what Jane put in that blog post I had already seen 1) on the public record or 2) on other corners of the Internet. It's not like she donned a disguise and went undercover. Only the Facebook stuff was new-to-me and hello? It was on Facebook. Hard to dispute that.

Wendy said...

Lynne: It's awful when something like this happens because in the end it hurts everybody - authors, readers, the industry at large. I was just an observer when the Dorchester meltdown happened and ugh - I'm still sick over it. My best wishes to you, personally. I know this is so something you don't want to be dealing with right now.

And everybody - go buy Lynne's books with other publishers. She's got a new Georgian series out with Lyrical/Kensington :)

Wendy said...

Miss Bates: Like you I suspect this EC suit is an aberration - but as publishing (and the players) seem to change daily, it makes for an ever-shifting playground. What I am concerned about is what this will mean for independent small publishers. We've already seen many traditional publishers go the route of offering digital-only imprints (Carina/Harlequin, Lyrical/Kensington, Avon Impulse/Harpercollins). I'm wondering if, when the dust settles, we see these smaller independents feel more of a pinch....

Wendy said...

Lori: I also hope you're not being overly optimistic because you bring up many valid points. Also, Ohio doesn't have anti-SLAPP legislation in place, and EC is based out of Ohio. I can't imagine any state with such legislation in place would see a lawsuit like this get very far.

We'll see where this goes. I'm no lawyer but I'm thinking Jane and her lawyer could demand quite a bit re: discovery. And that's a big ol' can of worms right there.

Wendy said...

BevBB: What really boggles my mind is Jane's post didn't really disclose anything that I hadn't already seen on other corners of the Internet, and the past lawsuits are public record. So, yeah, flabbergasted.

Wendy said...

PK, AL, MaryK: I do think targeting a review would be harder, unless they could prove "lost wages" - which I'm not sure how you could do that. But like Mary said, all it takes is someone with the cajones and a lawyer willing to be paid to file the suit. And that I could totally see happening. Because I'm a pessimist.

Wendy said...

Cathryn: Only my alter-ego has those thighs ;)

I don't see this suit going much of any place either, but it's so very sad that Jane has to even deal with this. The time, money and aggravation for a suit that doesn't have very strong legs to stand on to begin with.

Wendy said...

Jami: When I first read Jane's post I really liked how she gave a nice history of EC and of the erotic-romance-boom in general. I was kicking around online in those days + reviewing for TRR and I remember it well. I remember people being shocked by Kensington Brava and Harlequin Blaze ;)

I know a few folks who publish with EC and I feel so bad for them. It's an awful mess and no good for anybody.

BevBB said...

I will say this very quickly. About a year or so ago I was sorting out ebooks I still "owned" from those I no longer had access to and I remember going to the EC site and there was no log-in link. You know like for customers to buy and pay. Definitely a red flag.

That may have only been a temporary thing and I feel for the authors and others caught up in this but surprising that there's some kind of internal implosion going on? Not really.

Suing over what was basically a cataloging of public record stuff, however, goes way beyond internal problems...

azteclady said...

I thought you may want to direct your readers to Deirdre Saoirse Moen's EC Author Exodus Support thread.

Wendy said...

Thanks AL! I've been crap for updating my links.

Also, if anyone directly (authors, editors, cover artists etc.) involved in this nightmare is willing to provide information and/or testify, provide an affidavit - please see Jane's latest update over at DA

http://dearauthor.com/misc/elloras-cave-v-dear-author-update/

lbgregg said...

Shame on them.