A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
At YALC this weekend, I gave a seminar on Social media with the wonderful Alice Oseman. This blog post is adapted from that seminar, for anyone who missed the workshop.
Alice and I have both been using social media since we were kids. However, since we’ve become authors, we’ve noticed a difference between our place online. It’s very different interacting in an online space as an author and as a fan.
The author’s place online is a difficult one to navigate. Often, people love seeing their favourite authors online because they might share small snippets about their favourite characters. But sometimes even this can be received badly. J K Rowling frequently releases canon details about the Harry Potter series, nearly a decade after the release of the books. Fans often react badly to this, as it feels like she’s ‘messing with their childhood’ unnecessarily.
John Green was also accused of being too present in fandom and on social media sites like Tumblr by some of his fans, even though his YouTube channel was where he began his career, and helped launch his books into success. Does the level of interaction authors can have with fans change as authors grow from a debut unknown into a bestseller?
Fandom is a wonderful place for fans to share their love. But how much should the author be involved in this? For example, should authors be involved in the book blogging community, especially in a community that are reviewing their own books?
Understandably, authors can be hurt by bad reviews of their books, which are very personal and important to them. It can be hard for them to see people write negatively about their creations – especially when entering the Goodreads culture, where reviewers posting gif-laden over-exaggerated reviews.
Sometimes authors feel they have the right to defend themselves against reviewers because it’s hard to separate a book from the author, especially for a debut. Sometimes, this leads to authors commenting on reviews of their books, which can be a minor embarrassment for everyone involved. Occasionally it can lead to more extreme reactions.
In 2014, YA author Kathleen Hale stalked a blogger who left negative reviews of her debut. She looked up census reports, paid for a background check and drove to her address to confront her for using a false name online. Kiera Cass and her agent also left nasty anonymous comments on a 1* review on Goodreads in 2012, and called the reviewer a bitch on Twitter.
Obviously these are extreme examples of what not to do, but should authors read reviews at all? Even if it might help improve their writing to read criticism?
As an author, I had to decide months before my book was released whether I was going to read reviews of The Next Together. I found very quickly that positive comments are easily forgotten, but bad reviews are remembered for a long time – even if the good reviews far outnumber the bad. Personally, Alice and I only read reviews that we are tagged in on Twitter – and even then, only positive ones!
But should bloggers tag authors in negative reviews? While it is important for bloggers to remember there’s a real person behind the brand, we should also point out that reviewers do not have a responsibility to try to make sure they don’t hurt an author’s feelings. Reviewers are unpaid and unbiased and reviews are not for authors.
Authors (should!) understand that their books aren’t for everyone. Authors (should!) encourage reviewing and bloggers – they are huge parts of this community and personally, as authors, Alice and I are very grateful for their hard work.
It should also be noted that the current social media sites we use are all still very new. The rules and social etiquette can vary from site to site, with different interactions expected on Goodreads, Twitter and Tumblr. Goodreads has only been popular for four years. It’s very likely that the way in which we use these sites will develop over time.
People – authors and readers alike – also need to remember that books are pieces of art, and are therefore SUBJECTIVE. There’s no official mark scheme to assess how ‘good’ books are – you can’t really call books good and bad, because there’s too much variety to compare them to.
As author Beth Revis says, “Got [a favourite] book in mind? Now go to Goodreads. Look the book up. Filter the reviews for 1-stars (because I promise you, it does have one stars). And smile. Because if people can rate your favouritest book in the whole world with one star, then of course people can rate your book that way, too.”
Another negative part of the reviewer community is book piracy. I have a google alert set up about my book, and I’m sent at least one link a week to a PDF download of my book. Bloggers often share links to pirated copies of books with their friends without guilt. They see it as growing a fandom for a book, so it’s free publicity for the author.
However, pirating books is different from downloading films, which effect only a big multi-million-pound industry. Book piracy effects only one person – the author. It’s important to remember that an author’s popularity is not a sign of their commercial success. Twitter followers do not equal sales.
Author Maggie Stiefvater has said “If 500 people pirate that book instead of buying it, that could mean the difference between the publisher taking on book 2 in the series or telling her no, the series didn’t do well enough to go on. Pirating can kill a budding career, especially at a smaller publishing house.”
Maggie has said that several of her book series haven’t been continued in some countries as translations because too many people pirate them. The Raven King sold out within the first day of its release, because the publishers didn’t order a large enough print run. They didn’t realise how large the fandom for the Raven Cycle was. Most fans read PDF copies of the books which they’d found on Tumblr. An author’s career is directing impacted by piracy, and can often be cut short because of it.
It should be noted that if you want to read a book and can’t afford it, authors receive the same royalty from a library loan as a book purchase. And libraries are free!
Another big part of fandom is fanfiction. Firstly, we should point out that writing fanfiction is not an inferior creative pursuit. Many authors get their start in fandom and it gives them ‘training’ for later careers – for example, Simon Pegg started out as a Star Trek nerd during his childhood, and went on to act in and write the new film Star Trek Beyond. Lots of USYA authors are writing superhero novels which will be published over the next few years, after starting out as fans of Batman and Superman instead of writers.
Fandom is a very intelligent, creative community. However, the fact that so much creative energy is being put into a subject for free can be taken advantage of. There can sometimes be a manipulative relationship between writers and fandoms.
Cassandra Clare’s career started in the HP fandom in 2001, where she was a Big Name Fan who wrote (often controversial) novel-length fics. Her first novel CITY OF BONES sold 4 years later, and is said to have been reworked from a Draco/Ginny fic. E L James changed the names of a Twilight fic and published it as 50 SHADES OF GREY and Anna Todd changed a One Direction fanfiction and published it under the name AFTER, both to great success.
These fics were written based on collaborative ideas and plots developed collectively in fandom, and built off of existing fics by other authors. A member of the Twilight fandom has said about E L James: “As she posted a new chapter every week. We reviewed every week. As much as she fed us, we fed her with our comments AND suggestions in how far she could or couldn’t take the story.”
These authors are profiting from things they didn’t personally create, while also taking advantage of the free editing services that members of fandom offer.
There are alternatives for writers looking to develop their skills – Alice put an early draft of Solitaire on a (now-defunct) site called Authonomy, which was a peer review community founded on constructive, kind criticism. This worked extremely well in getting feedback from people interested in helping develop her work. A similar site which is still running is Wattpad – however, this is focussed mainly on reading for fun, instead of feedback.
While directly changing fanfiction into original fiction is a moral grey area – especially as it’s based on an author’s world and characters, as well as taking advantage of fandom – there are other ways in which fanfiction is affecting literature.
Fic is ‘mainstream’ now and is crossing over into published works more and more frequently. People love fan fiction, and are increasingly utilising the ‘fic’ styles, something which is instantly recognisable, in original works – for example, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Fanfiction is becoming a new genre of literature.
It can also be argued that an awareness of fandom tropes making better books. There has been a huge increase in LGBT YA literature since the advent of social media. The demand online for better and more respectful diversity has encouraged more publishers to buy diverse books.
However, sometimes this can be done in a less informed way. The fetishisation of m/m relationships, as it often is in fanfiction, is appearing more and more in mainstream fiction. Does inaccurate representation still count as representation?
There was a huge social media backlash called #buryyourgays this year after the TV show The 100 killed off a much beloved gay character, which led to a drop in views and ratings of the show. Now there’s a huge uproar any time this happens. YA authors have also been called out for killing off gay characters.
People engage critically with the media they consume, and they feel that it’s the author responsibility to educate themselves about these social issues. Long term fandoms can feel especially betrayed by writers – especially if they’re writing about characters which they didn’t create themselves, for example, Joss Whedon’s characterisation of Black Widow in the latest Avengers film, or the whitewashing in Dr Strange and other book-to-film adaptations.
Fandom feels that writers have a debt to fandom to do right by these characters, but this can often be misinterpreted as fan entitlement – especially as there is a vocal minority who make their complaints clear in less careful ways. There is a huge difference between asking Disney to #GiveElsaAGirlfriend and attacking actor Leslie Jones on Twitter over the all-female Ghostbusters reboot.
It is also becoming clear that social justice campaigns by fandoms actually do cause a change in authors’ works. Publishers are now offering BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) internships due to complaints on twitter about the lack of opportunities available for minority candidates in publishing. The We Need Diverse Books campaign now offers scholarships for #ownvoices authors. Publishers do listen!
The book community online can do both good and bad things – but overall it’s a positive force. Our community is on the forefront of change. Things happen more rapidly and collaboratively here than anywhere else. Online communities have power – socially, economically and emotionally.
As authors, Alice and I think it’s our responsibility to listen very carefully to what fandom tells us. YA authors write things which children read, things which can shape their views for life. Fandom is a huge educational resource which can help us to get that right.
Lauren James was born in 1992, and graduated in 2014 from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics.
She sold the rights to her first novel The Next Together, a Young Adult science fiction romance, when she was 21. It has been translated into five languages worldwide and is out now with Walker Books in the UK and Australia, and will also be published by Sky Pony Press in the USA. It was described by The Bookseller as ‘funny, romantic and compulsively readable’. It was also longlisted for the Branford Boase Award, a prize given to recognise an outstanding novel by a first time writer. Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient.
Her other novels include The Last Beginning, the epic conclusion to The Next Together about love, destiny and time travel. A short story set in the world of The Next Together series, Another Together, is also available as a free eBook. You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James or her website http://www.laurenejames.co.uk.
Alice Oseman is an author and has just finished an English degree at Durham University. Her debut novel, Solitaire was published to critical acclaim – “The Catcher in the Rye for the digital age”, The Times. Her second novel, Radio Silence, was released in February 2016. Like her characters, Alice was once a sarcastic teenager who spent all of her time on internet. Now she is a sarcastic 21-year-old who spends all of her time on the internet. Twitter Tumblr