Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Little Miss Crabby Pants Ruminates On Disclosure

Just as I thought things were simmering down in Romancelandia, news broke today of epic proportions.  Jane, of Dear Author fame, "came out" as New Adult author Jen Frederick.  I'm not a NA reader, but I know the author by name recognition (job hazard).  It also helped that I just had lunch with Rosie (who doesn't blog anymore because she hates me) this past weekend and she mentioned liking Frederick's books.  So the name had burrowed into my ear just recently.

Reaction to this news has, at the time of this blog posting, mostly been positive.  And here Little Miss Crabby Pants sits ruminating.  On one hand?  Fine.  Whatever.  On the other?

I'm calling shenanigans.

I've talked about disclosure and blogging before.  I defended Smart Bitch Sarah way back in 2011 on the subject.  The takeaway from my opinion then is pretty much my feelings on the subject now as it applies to "Jen Frederick."  I'm a grown-up and can make up my own mind.  But I'm not going to lie.  There are elements here I find squirky as heck.

Look, good on Jane for writing several books that have obviously been well-received and done well.  She's not the first reviewer/blogger who has published book(s), nor will she be the last.  I even understand why she opted to write under a pen name and keep this news secret.  Dear Author is a big platform.  Would her fiction sink or swim on it's own merits and not have the "baggage" attached to her blogging identity.  So yes, I get that.  I really, really get that.

My issues start when the perceived waters begin to get murky.  Like Kati naming a Jen Frederick's title in her Best of 2014 post.  Yes, she discloses that she has beta read for Frederick in the past.  She does not disclose that she writes for Jen Frederick's blog.  Was Kati's recommendation sincere?  Sure.  It probably was.

I'm just saying it looks squirky.

Also, when a Jen Frederick's book is highlighted on the Daily Deals feature.  Hey, it's a book!  It's on sale!  And for every book sold?  That money is going to Dear Author Jane with no disclosure prior to the fact.  Is this "wrong?"

I'm just saying it looks squirky.

Or the time a reader named Melissa did a post on military heroes and featured a Jen Frederick's title.  Sure.  Melissa could be a genuine reader who really did just submit a post for consideration to Dear Author that just happened to highlight that book by Jen Frederick.  That could be totally innocent and coincidental.

I'm just saying it looks squirky.

Anyway I slice this, I realize I'm going to come off as sour grapes here.  And, truly, I'm not.

I'm just saying it looks squirky.

I've been kicking around Romancelandia online for a long time.  I've made relationships with those in the publishing industry and with authors.  And when I think those relationships should be disclosed?  I disclose the heck out of them.  I love Harlequin, Avon, Michelle Willingham, and Portia Da Costa - and they've all gotten their fair share of DNFs and Squee's! from me over the years.  I've worked hard over the years to carry myself well and honestly?  The Librarian Thing doesn't hurt.

I've often stated that the early days of my online reviewing (starting in 1999) and blogging (starting in 2003) were a bit "Wild West."  However events in the past year have had me revising that statement.  Bloggers and reviewers are more suspect now than they were 10 years ago.  I don't believe that authors or bloggers are "required" to disclose their whole lives online.  I think anonymity is important and should be valued.

I'm just saying that when the waters get murky?  It looks squirky.

Jane had her reasons.  I *get* pretty much all of those reasons.  Truly, I do.  But stepping away and taking a look at the big picture?  I've got issues.  And no it's not because I'm jealous and no it's not because I want to pee on anyone's Cherrios.  Like I stated back in that 2011 post?  We're all grown-ups and we're all capable of making up our own minds.

I'm  just still trying to make up my own.

55 comments:

A Library Girl said...

I didn't recognize her author pseudonym, probably because I still avoid New Adult as much as possible. With the details laid out like this, yeah, I do think it should have been disclosed earlier. If she didn't feel like disclosing, it might have been better to not include her books on the site, in any way. Dear Author has opted not to review or post about works from entire publishers in the past, so avoiding books from a single author wouldn't have been that hard.

Amber said...

You know, at first, I was apathetic about this. I wasn't outraged. I wasn't feeling betrayed. I was just...meh. Now, I'm still not outraged or feeling betrayed, but I'm definitely giving this a bit of side eye.

If Jane truly wanted her books to sink or swim on their own, there would have been an impenetrable wall around her author pen name. You should have been able to search DA and find zero mentions of it. Even if it required some fancy footwork, awkward explanations to others at DA, or made her appear like she had some beef with those books.

As a blogger who is NOT an author, who has no aspirations to be one, I'm just a little bit PO'd that we'll be right back to the "all bloggers are just frustrated authors" line again.

And I am sick to death of the never ending drama in our small slice of the book world. One more reason to move away from Romance, which makes me so very sad.

Gina Drayer said...

I think anonymity can be an important and powerful tool to help people express ideas and thoughts (and write books), but I do think transparency is equally important.

I don't think Jane did anything wrong. I appreciate that she didn't want people to buy the books JUST b/c of the Dear Author blog.

But I do think DA lost some credibility by not disclosing this fact. Once both of her online "lives" started to cross paths, it would have been prudent to disclose her pen name. If for no other reason than to avoid conversations like these.

Wendy said...

Library Girl: That, for me. Exactly. They never did a full-fledged review (that I could find) - but the Frederick books were promoted in a way. That's where the line blurs considerably for me.

Wendy said...

Amber: The longer I think on it, the more I find things that bother me. Like DA's past vehemence on the need for transparency and disclosure. Their being critical of the murky fandom between authors and readers on social media and how that inhibits critical discourse. And then we get this big announcement and it's hard to not give the whole thing the side-eye. ::shrug::

In the end, we're grown-ups. Everyone will make their own decisions on how they want to process this information. For me? Not likely to change much of anything since DA was not a go-to source for me on reading recommendations/book buying outside of Willaful and Sunita's category rom recs. Outside of those two my tastes rarely meshed with DA reviewers and I mostly lurk on the site for news and the occasional Daily Deal post.

Wendy said...

Gina: The not disclosing when the lines started blurring is exactly where my issue lies. The rest of it - writing books, publishing books, anonymity etc. - I'm totally down with. But the minute those two worlds started to bleed together? Disclose it. And that moment happened the minute Jen Frederick's books were promoted in any way on the site. Period.

sybil said...

Yeah I am with Amber. I wasn't shocked by the news. But honestly assumed she kept the name off DA since she didn't disclose.

Sad... still not angry just really surprised.

Erin Burns said...

Yes, it is a little bit squicky. Unless the people who did the posts were equally as in the dark about her pen name. I am not quite sure how to feel about this.

Kristie (J) said...

I'm delighted that DA is a successful author - just delighted. But yes, the lines do become a bit blurred when the book is promoted at her site without full disclosure.
When SB Sarah started promoting her books - the whole romance world knew - their name was right up there and I was delighted for them. But - hindsight being 20/20 - letting us know before Kati named it as one of her faves - because DA has always been about transparency.
And now - I think I will check it out!

Michael said...

DA has some harsh reviews, and they've essentially come from a fellow author hiding behind a veil of anonymity. That makes me very uncomfortable.

Wendy said...

Erin: I'm going to opt for the opinion that they genuinely did not know. That said the presumption will be that they did know and that the blog as a collective is trying to pull a fast one on readers while lining Jane's pockets. Whether that's the truth or a vast conspiracy is irrelevant. The minute the waters got murky is when it should have been disclosed. Because it wasn't? We now get theories that everyone at DA was on the grassy knoll.

Wendy said...

Kristie: I loved Lisa's (LB Gregg's) last book. I mean I LOVED that novella (and I know you don't read m/m but seriously it was SO good). And I was squirked out all the heck giving it an A- grade to the point where I disclosed our friendship prior to the review (also the fact that she's bought me drinks at RWA *g*). And this is just a friendship disclosure.

The recommendations, the Daily Deals feature - these bother me. Because money is changing hands without disclosure. Readers trust Dear Author as an entity. They trust them when they talk about transparency and disclosure and they assume the opinions given are genuine. Jane's books benefited from those few promo mentions. How much? No way for us to know. But the minute that wall was breached? It should have been disclosed. Dear Author has, in the past, boycotted reviewing certain publishers and authors - as is their right. Would it have been difficult for Jane to go to Kati and say - "Uh look, I'm glad you like Jen Frederick's books but we can't feature them on the blog." Yes, that would have been an awkward conversation - but now those recommendations feel completely disingenuous. At least to me. I'm probably making mountains out of molehills and taking this all way too seriously.

But I've long believed that the last source for truly genuine book squee'ing is you :) Keep up the good work roomie!

Wendy said...

Michael: I'm totally fine with authors reviewing. Always have been, always will be. I'm also completely fine with anonymity. People are anonymous online for a variety of reasons - from the serious to the totally mundane.

My issues have everything to do with the fact that the line between author and blog got muddy - and when that happened things weren't disclosed pronto. Honestly, it's not that hard to keep an author/publisher off your blog. In the 12 years this blog has existed I've kept thousands of authors from being mentioned on this blog and it's not like I'm trying very hard at it. But it got murky in the form of recommendations and sale posts - which means money is changing hands. Which I find disingenuous to readers who did not know about the relationship up front. I think duped is too strong a word - but there was an omission. And that bothers me.

Megan Frampton said...

I had a whole long comment, and then because I'm a moron, I didn't sign in until after writing it, so my brilliance is lost forever.
It's weird, I'm not completely immersed in the romance world because of the job change, and I think I am okay with what Jane did. I was definitely less shocked than I would have been if I had still been at H&H. I think whatever she chose to do would have been scrutinized (unless she'd decided never to publish in the first place), so the way she did it is okay with me. Yes, I think it's a little hinky to have promoted her own books in any way, given her vigilance about transparency, but except for that (and it didn't seem like that big a deal, to met at least), I'm okay with it.
At H&H, we always made sure to have a disclaimer about who I was to the site before writing anything about my books, but Jane, working as a one-person shop, didn't have that, plus the way the site is run and presented is entirely different.

Ros said...

I find it hard to believe that Kati did not know, given that she beta read some of the books. That's the post that I find most troubling because she discloses the beta reading, but does not disclose the other, even more significant relationship she has with the author.

azteclady said...

This is the most troublesome one for me as well--unless Jane used the Jen Frederick name to solicit Kati as a beta reader, which frankly sounds convoluted to me. Occam's razor says, Kati knew.

azteclady said...

I have issues with the phrase "fellow author" and I'm not sure why--I'll have to ponder this.

A Library Girl said...

If they didn't know, wouldn't that mean that Jane threw them under the bus? Her lack of disclosure didn't just reflect on her, but also anyone who mentioned the books on DA. People would wonder (have been wondering) if they knew and opted not to give full disclosure.

Las said...

In a previous year's DABAwhatever, "Jen Frederick" donated a Kindle Fire as a prize. That post was written by Jane.

http://dearauthor.com/features/da-bwaha/the-sweet-sixteen-voting-has-begun-dabwaha/

Amber said...

I think what bugs me is how DA and Jane are pretending that "not reviewing" is the same as "not promoting" the books on the site. ANY mention of those books on DA is raising the profile of that author. The blog is just that big. And to find so many instances so easily...I'm calling shenanigans.

Yes, she absolutely would have been criticized no matter how she went about publishing and disclosing. Good on her for adding another feather to her cap. But to be so in-your-face about disclosure regarding other authors and reviewers, then do this? It just smells bad.

Oh, and the nonstop campaigning and enthusiasm for NA when that's what she's writing. Hinky.

A Library Girl said...

I just saw Willaful's comments/blog post about no longer writing for DA. I now feel that Jane threw everyone who posts for DA under the bus. Unless they knew, in which case their lack of disclosure was just as shady.

This thing gets more upsetting the more I think about it. :-/

zannerina said...

I'm still feeling a bit "crabby" about the big reveal. What sticks in my mind is a two part SB podcast featuring (and promoting) Jessica Clare/Jessica Sims/Jill Myles, writing partner of Dear Author's Jane. I ask myself now if Sarah Wendell was also privy to the writing partnership. Now, in light of what I have learned, I feel a tad foolish for listening to the podcast and uncomfortable about what I read and hear from either site.

Ann Aguirre said...

Nobody has mentioned the white whale here. Don't y'all think she should have disclosed before the fundraiser? People who are very strapped for cash may have donated who did not realize that Jane had access to additional resources as a successful author.

willaful said...

There are some very pertinent comments about that here: http://www.thepassivevoice.com/03/2015/jane-littejen-frederick/

Wendy said...

Amber: That's it for me. You can't be "in-your-face" about disclosure when it comes to other bloggers and authors and then pull something like this out of your hat. I have a very real problem with the hypocrisy of it.

Wendy said...

A Library Girl: If I had been placed in that situation I would be really, really not cool with it. I've been reviewing online for over 15 years now. All you have in this gig/hobby is your reputation. You sink or swim by it. It's how others "judge" you. Are these reviews written by someone I can "trust?" And to me the promotion of JF books (even if it was only a few times), and some would argue the promotion of NA as a whole? The tarring and feathering won't just stop at Jane's doorstep. It reflects poorly, whether justified or not, on the staff as a whole.

I had a very similar reaction when there was an incident at AAR and a site owner questioned how "serious readers" could read dreck like category romance. I thought of all those reviewers who contributed content to the site over the years, provided REAMS of it on category romance/authors and worked hard for nothing more than free review copies. And then a site owner says that on a public forum? Oh hell to the no! I would have been leaving a trail of dust behind me.

But everyone feels differently about these things and maybe I'm the only one who thinks this is a big deal.

Wendy said...

Megan: I always thought you and H&H handled that well. Also, in my own disclosure at my blog, I do mention that Macmillan runs H&H, I get paid for my blog posts, but that I've never been held back on what I write over there. Which, if you look at my posts over at H&H, is really obvious. How many times have I pimped out Harlequin books on a Macmillan run blog?

Uh, a few times ;)

Wendy said...

Las: I saw that - but didn't include it in my original post because it didn't bother me as much as the other instances. Unless the presence of the Kindle Fire swayed folks to "vote" for a Jen Frederick book? Don't know if one was ever in a DABA-whatever bracket in years past....

Wendy said...

Zannerina: For me this is the big implication. As a reader who reads the blog, and takes the blog's strong stance on transparency at face value? I would find the revelations troubling. It now appears that some of the DA staff (only Willaful has spoken publicly I believe?) were also in the dark. Maybe Sarah was too? We may never know - but like the others on DA staff - the assumption will be that she did.

Wendy said...

Willaful: Oh Lord - you're going to make me go through and read all those comments. I stopped halfway through originally.....

Ann: I was thinking about that as I wrote up this blog post and I'm still trying to decide how to feel about it. I, personally, donated. As a blogger, EC suing a blog has very real implications for me, so I donated. That said, I'm in a solid financial situation and not worrying about how to pay the electric bill this month either.

Everyone knew going in that Jane is a lawyer, and last I checked they make decent money and people still donated. But yeah, the not disclosing another income stream? I could totally understand folks being NOT happy about that at all. I wouldn't blame them. Like I said, I'm still trying to decide if I'm ticked off about donating as it pertains to "just me." In the end, not so much - although I also have to assume that my donation is truly being used towards the lawsuit. Which I never would have questioned months ago. But now people will question and that makes the situation very, very sad.

Las said...

I don't know about influencing votes or even it was included in DABLABLA, but just the mention is enough, let alone a link. I routinely look up new-to-me authors mentioned in tweets/blog posts/comments--you name it. Having an author donate a big prize like that? That was deliberate--Jane knew the affect that would have.

Wendy said...

Las: That's a good point. I hadn't thought about it that way.

Ros said...

For me, it's not just the extra income. I didn't donate because I thought Jane was poor. I was sure she earned way more than I do. For me it's more that I donated because, as an author, I wanted to make it clear that I stood with readers and reviewers on that issue. And now I find that I was supporting another author after all. That feels different to me. I might have donated anyway, because I think that EC's case is so egregious. But it feels different now.

PK the Bookeemonster said...

I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I can't get outraged at this. The world is on fire .....and an author also has a book review blog where she 99% of the time features other authors' work. Would it be better if she were an unsuccessful author? I'm sorry and I expect to take some hits for this opinion.

A Library Girl said...

I can care about more than one thing at once. Also, I can't speak for anyone else, but if she had made her announcement and her books hadn't been successful, I'd still have had issues with the lack of disclosure.

azteclady said...

Like a Library Girl, I can care about a number of things at once, and feel more than one way about the same thing or person, depending on what aspect of that thing or person I focus on.

So bringing up that the world is on fire? Not relevant to this discussion.

Hilcia said...

Muddied waters on many levels, Wendy. We know that it is possible for bloggers to successfully move on as writers while fully disclosing the shift. It has been done. Transparency works. It is unfortunate that Jane's personal decision has affected others. My sympathy lies with those unfairly placed in the unnecessary position of being questioned or scrutinized.

Wendy said...

Ros: And I can understand why it would feel different for you. It makes sense. In the end? I did donate and, now knowing what we know, I would still donate. I have "issues" with the EC suit and as a blogger it scares the bejeebus out of me. But again, I understand why some people would be (are) upset about the donation fund in hindsight.

Wendy said...

PK: And a lot of folks aren't upset and think those who are are making a big deal over nothing. That pretty much describes every kerfuffle since the dawn of the Internet.

My issues have nothing to do with her publishing books, using a pen name, or if she's successful in those endeavors or not. My issues stem entirely from the fact that DA has been extremely vocal over the years on being a "reader space" and that space altered the moment the JF persona showed up on the blog. Even if it was only a few times. Once is enough. Especially when DA has, over the years, been extremely vocal on the issues of disclosure and transparency and held others up to the highest standard to the point of calling them out for lack thereof. It's a goose and gander issue for me. Don't hold up the community to these standards and then dismiss them for yourself. That, in my book, is being a hypocrite. Which bugs me no end in both Real Life and Online Life.

Wendy said...

Hils: And I totally "get" why she kept it underwraps in the beginning. I really do. If it were me? I would have done the same thing and this blog is small potatoes.

But a lot, obviously, bothers me here. The minute JF started bleeding into "blog business" is when the disclosure should have happened. And honestly, the instances that bother me the most happened well after the JF brand was pretty well established with several books published. By this point Jane knew that her books were sinking/swimming on their own merits and not because all her blog followers ran out and bought a zillion copies.

I also feel very, very badly for folks caught in the middle - DA staff especially. I can't speak for them, but it appears many of them were unaware as well. I know how I would feel if I were in their situation and really.....it's not good. Not good at all.

Jami Davenport said...

Wow, Wendy, I'm not sure what to say either. I'm torn. I haven't read her books, but I guess I was on some loops with her and didn't know it. She's always treated me fairly, and I often agree with her assessment on books. Whatever happens, I wish her luck.

cleo reader said...

I still don't know how I feel about this either. I agree with you that the overlap / lack of transparency is troubling. On the one hand, only 3 mentions of JF on DA in 3 years is pretty minor, on the other hand, it's a little squicky.

Right now I feel the same way I felt about SB Sarah in 2011 - like I've lost a little innocence. I thought we were just all hanging out, talking about books, and it turns out it's more complicated and more commercial than that.

I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt and right now I'm not inclined to believe any conspiracy theories. And I'll keep reading DA. But my trust is tarnished. And I really feel for the DA bloggers who were apparently blindsided, as well as the authors who befriended JF.

Mary Watkins said...

I'm not upset about this, but I understand why others are.
However, I think a lot of the things said about Jane (not here!) have been quite vicious and kind of scary. I think you have handled your discomfort well.
Jane has, in a comment on the original post, basically said that "hindsight is 20/20", and I think she does regret that she has made this a squicky situation. HOWEVER, I do think that given the number of Daily Deals posts on DA, one mention in one of those isn't a biggie. It being on Kati's list was a little more problematic for me, but in the end I am not going to change how I read DA and I don't respect Jane any less. I think she was in a tough spot, and she did the best she could.
(If maybe she'd come out of the closet as say, Courtney Milan, then I probably would have had more issues. But I had never heard of Jen Frederick. [although I don't read NA. so that could be why. but I also don't read Courtney Milan. She's promoted a lot on DA though]).

~Mary, just a reader/lurker of romance blogs

JMK said...

Has she revealed on Jen Frederick's blog that she is Jane Litte of Dear Author?

Katharina said...

Hey, just out of curiosity. Which closet did Courtney Milan come out from? Or do you mean that she's a lawyer? Another lurker

azteclady said...

I believe Mary means, that if it was revealed that Jane Litte's author name was Courtney Milan, then she (Mary) would have stronger feelings about it.

Wendy said...

Cleo: Yeah, naturally the tin-foil-hat-wearers are in full force and there are a lot of conspiracy theories out there. I have a low tolerance for conspiracy theories in general so stopped reading most comment threads as of Saturday morning.

I'm in the "lost innocence" camp. Now I've been kicking around long enough that it's shocking I would still have any innocence to lose - but I feel like the last three big kerfuffles in particular were real doozies. It took me months (I'm not kidding - MONTHS) to feel somewhat normal after the Hale thing broke, and then you've got the EC suit and now this? Ugh.

Wendy said...

Jami: I spent most of the past several days yo-yo'ing around - and I think that reaction has been pretty normal for a lot of folks. You can literally see people thinking out loud online and trying to piece it all together for themselves.

Wendy said...

Katharina: What AztecLady said :)

Mary: And certainly there are a lot of folks who feel as you do. Those who liked DA before and continue to like them will continue to read. Those who are bothered by this? Will possibly change how they interact with the site. Mostly I'm just sad for the community and the folks caught in the middle.

Wendy said...

JMK: I know Jen Frederick revealed on her Facebook page that she's Jane from DA. Not sure about JF's web site and/or blog.....

Kate Rothwell said...

Jaid sent this out to EC authors (and I've got permission to share). It might help relieve authors who'd hung around on loops with Jane/Jen "We have no interest in what goes on in author loops. We don't even monitor our own let alone anyone else's. Closed loops are closed for a reason: so authors can vent to each other and support each other. We would never violate your space. If you could find even one credible instance wherein we've ever violated authors' private spaces then I could understand getting worked up, but since no such incidents exist it amounts to worrying over literally nothing."

Bona Caballero said...

I feel uncomfortable about this thing. Of course a person can be a blogger and an author at the same time. It's not something to be ashamed of. And sure, she will probably try to be honest in everything she does.

But as a reader I cannot see the opinion of someone who is a writer the same way as I see the opinion of someone who is just a reader.

For me you are either a consumer (reader) or a professional producer (the publishing industry).

When a writer is blogging he/she is either talking about products of her own firm (her publishing house) or competitors in the same niche in the market. Unless you consider her subgenre as something completely apart from the rest of romance.

So it's logical to see her reviews in a different light. At least that's what happens to me.

There's a reason why referees cannot belong to the same country to the teams who are playing in the field. No matter how good they are in what they do, they have a personal interest in the game.

Wendy said...

Bona: I think for me it was a matter of feeling blind-sided. I actually enjoy it when authors review or give recommendations, but I've learned to read between the lines. I've seen some authors blindly champion anything written by their "friends" - and other authors who are a bit more circumspect in their recommendations. So I've learned to "read in between the lines" quite a bit.

I also do that with some bloggers, especially bloggers I don't "know" all that well. But I never felt like I had to with DA because I never realized there was an "agenda." OK, maybe there isn't one. But the perception is there now - and that makes me angry? Sad? Probably a little of both. The moment JF bled on to the blog is when it threw everything into "second guess" territory for me. And that might not be fair, or right, or whatever - but it's how I feel now.

In the end readers will need to reevaluate what's best for them. Some will continue to see DA as a reader space and enjoy it. And then there will be others who find that they can't or won't be able to move past the revelation.

Ros said...

Yeah, no. It's not about what Jaid is or isn't interested in. It's about what her lawyer deems relevant to the case.

Wendy said...

Yeah, that. The whole thing is such a giant mess.