I will be the first to admit that I am not the most up-to-date on EVERYTHING on the internet or even in a niche of the internet. Even when I was a full-time book blogger there were a TON of things I did not know were going on and one of those things happens to be the very real scandal of author Kathleen Hale. Before today, I knew nothing on the subject. Unfortunately, due to recent events, she has become news again and I have read what happened, including her own account of the events that went down in 2014. And despite the fact that I am no longer blogging, I am so angry about this topic and people’s reactions to it (the author’s included) so at the moment I have to say:
FUCK THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY!
First thing’s first. If you are not aware of what happened, please read Kathleen’s self-written article on the event and her actions back in 2014. You can find it here. All quotes are pulled from that article. As always, I pull no punches and while I do my best to not attack authors, this author behaved like a criminal and her author status has nothing to do with the following commentary.
Quick notes before delving into details: Two paragraphs into Kathleen’s article and I didn’t like her. Her voice is immature, arrogant, privileged, entitled, and she does what she can to make everyone feel she is the victim. SHE IS NOT! She is the aggressor and I will get into that down below. Now let’s begin.
This all started with Kathleen’s first publication, No One Else Can Have You, a “dark comedy, which included references to murder and abuse” (Buzzfeed)
First off, I can’t think of ANY circumstance where abuse or murder would be defined as comedy, ESPECIALLY in a young adult novel. I have not personally read this book and cannot comment to how this was executed, but society has a very serious problem with making light of very dark, very tragic, very real events that do actually occur in people’s lives and this makes me nauseous just thinking what the book might be about. Moving on.
A book blogger posted a vehement review for Kathleen’s then-soon-to-be-published book:
“Fuck this,” it said. “I think this book is awfully written and offensive; its execution in regards to all aspects is horrible and honestly, nonexistent.”
Blythe went on to warn other readers that my characters were rape apologists and slut-shamers. She accused my book of mocking everything from domestic abuse to PTSD. “I can say with utmost certainty that this is one of the worst books I’ve read this year,” she said, “maybe my life.”
“Rape is brushed off as if it is nothing,” Blythe explained to one commenter. “PTSD is referred to insensitively; domestic abuse is the punch line of a joke, as is mental illness.”
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this review. Readers and bloggers are allowed to have their own opinions about a book AND post them. After all, this reviewer clearly had an advanced copy and was expected to post a review, good or bad. I, myself, have posted many a bad review with some very choice language depending on how much I felt towards a book. And I have, myself, read MANY books that have been HIGHLY inappropriate and insensitive and inaccurate. So there is NOTHING wrong with writing a review calling out a book for being offensive. That is what a review is supposed to do.
Other commenters joined in to say they’d been thinking of reading my book, but now wouldn’t. Or they’d liked it, but could see where Blythe was coming from, and would reduce their ratings.
“In following weeks, Blythe’s vitriol continued to create a ripple effect: every time someone admitted to having like my book on Twitter or Goodreads, they included a caveat that referenced her review. The ones who truly loathed it tweeted reviews at me.”
Do not EVER tweet a review at an author. That is extremely unprofessional and highly inappropriate. That said, readers read reviews. That is literally THE purpose of reviews: to offer other readers insight into whether they should read the book. So it is simply expected that a bad review (one that others did agree with, mind you, not just a one-off attacking review), would sway others to not want to read the book. Honestly, if other readers are commenting the same things AND agreeing to what this blogger had to say, then clearly there is something wrong with the BOOK, not the blogger. Check yourself, writer. You’re not god.
“But there isn’t rape in my book,” I thought. I racked my brain, trying to see where I had gone wrong. I wished I could magically transform all the copies being printed with a quick swish of my little red pen. (“Not to make fun of PTSD, or anything,” I might add to one character’s comment. “Because that would be wrong.”)
The commentary in parentheses – the potential addition to the author’s book that she thought of in response to the review – just goes to show how LITTLE this author truly understands PTSD. That little comment is NOT a saving grace. The wording and tone pretty much states that she doesn’t understand the gravity of PTSD because it’s an after-thought statement trying to cover someone’s ass for the shitty thing they just said. That is not a pass. It’s you acknowledging you fucked up and rather than apologizing for you, you try to pretend like you’re not that big of an asshole. In so doing, you’ve made yourself a bigger one.
Writing for a living means working in an industry where one’s success or failure hinges on the subjective reactions of an audience.
This is true. Your career is entirely based on other people’s opinions. HOWEVER! If you write poorly about a topic you have not experienced, you are going to get backlash. That is not on the readers. That is on the author. And we in the book community have seen authors make this mistake again and again and again. Making light of mental health struggles is just as bad as stereotyping a black character. All of it is wrong and you are not exempt.
One afternoon, good-naturedly drunk on bourbon and after watching Blythe tweet about her in-progress manuscript, I sub-tweeted that, while weird, derivative reviews could be irritating, it was a relief to remember that all bloggers were also aspiring authors.
My notifications feed exploded. Bloggers who’d been nice to me were hurt. Those who hated me now had an excuse to write long posts about what a bitch I was, making it clear that:
1) Reviews are for readers, not authors.
2) When authors engage with reviewers, it’s abusive behaviour.
3) Mean-spirited or even inaccurate reviews are fair game so long as they focus on the book.
“Sorry,” I pleaded on Twitter. “Didn’t mean all bloggers, just the ones who talk shit then tweet about their in-progress manuscripts.”
Wooooooow. Where do I even…? Let me say this again for those not listening: READERS ARE ALLOWED THEIR OPINIONS! Their standing as aspiring authors has NOTHING to do with being a blogger. I was a blogger who called out bad books because that was MY opinion. I know tons of people who loved those books. But my bad reviews has NO correlation to whether or not I write well or should be an author. Yeah, it may burn some bridges and may put off potential readers, but if they don’t like my opinion, they won’t like my books. That’s that. Do not call people shitty because they aren’t worshipping at your privileged feet. And do NOT attack other authors. As an author you know DAMN WELL how difficult it is to get published and you should NEVER take someone down just because you’re published.
So instead I ate a lot of candy and engaged in light stalking: I prowled Blythe’s Instagram and Twitter, I read her reviews, considered photos of her baked goods and watched from a distance as she got on her soapbox – at one point bragging she was the only person she knew who used her real name and profession online. As my fascination mounted, and my self-loathing deepened, I reminded myself that there are worse things than rabid bloggers (cancer, for instance) and that people suffer greater degradations than becoming writers. But still, I wanted to respond.
Opening a new internet window, I absent-mindedly returned to stalking Blythe Harris.
Was Blythe Harris even real?
“Stalking” is really all that needs to be said here. On more than one occasion, the author self proclaims stalking a book blogger because she can’t let that ONE review go. THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T READ REVIEWS! Under no circumstance are you ENTITLED to stalk someone. Don’t like what they have to say? TOO BAD! They’re allowed to say it because it’s about the book and not about you, but you’re clearly taking this review as a personal attack and that is your problem. You do NOT go scrounging the internet to find out if someone is real. Why? BECAUSE PEOPLE LIKE TO STAY ANONYMOUS ON THE INTERNET! GOOD GOD! Have you NEVER heard of interest safety? Bloggers. Youtubers. Musicians. Authors. THOUSANDS, maybe MILLIONS of people use false names on the internet ALL THE TIME to protect themselves from shit like THIS!
Then a book club wanted an interview, and suggested I pick a blogger to do it.
“Blythe Harris,” I wrote back. I knew tons of nice bloggers, but I still longed to engage with Blythe directly.
The book club explained that it was common for authors to do “giveaways” in conjunction with the interview, and asked if I could sign some books. I agreed, and they forwarded me Blythe’s address.
The exterior of the house that showed up on Google maps looked thousands of square feet too small for the interiors Blythe had posted on Instagram. According to the telephone directory and recent census reports, nobody named Blythe Harris lived there. The address belonged to someone I’ll call Judy Donofrio who, according to an internet background check ($19), was 46 – not 27, as Blythe was – and worked as vice-president of a company that authorises disability claims.
Oh. My. Fucking. God. Not only did you go ahead and ‘light stalk’ online you LEGITIMATELY USED YOUR OPPORTUNITIES TO STALK SOMEONE IN PERSON! You abused your author privileges to find someone’s address and then PAID TO HAVE A BACKGROUND CHECK done on them because you CLEARLY are obsessed and can’t let this go. This is criminal. Any person to ever find out someone had done this to them would be horrified, especially if they are trying to stay anonymous. You have NO RIGHT to track someone down because you didn’t like their review. But shit. It gets worse.
I parked down the street from Judy’s house.
I strolled to the front door.
The curtains were drawn, but I could see a figure silhouetted in one window, looking at me.
I dropped the book on the step and walked away.
Please note how she phrases this ‘strolled to the front door’ as if it were some casual jaunt through the park. YOU WENT TO SOMEONE’S HOUSE BECAUSE YOU WERE OBSESSED WITH THEIR REVIEW! This is stalking. Don’t joke about it. It’s not fucking funny. It’s not something to make light of or be rewarded for. You stalked someone. You made the effort to go to their house. This is wrong.
I will paraphrase this next part because it’s a couple of phone conversations where this author called the phone number she found for the woman living in the house she had just visited. Not once, but twice. There was yelling. There were accusations made.
Say it with me: THIS IS HARASSMENT. The fact that the blogger in question then went dark on the internet after these encounters CLEARLY shows how uncomfortable she felt, not because of her review, but because an author went out of their way to stalk and harass the blogger.
In some ways I’m grateful to Judy, or whoever is posing as Blythe, for making her Twitter and Instagram private, because it has helped me drop that obsessive part of my daily routine. Although, like anyone with a tendency for low-grade insanity, I occasionally grow nostalgic for the thing that makes me nuts.
I… have no words for this because the author is admitting to her obsessive behavior in stalking a woman who had an opinion that differed from the author’s. I don’t care if you don’t know who she is. That is not your right. I don’t care if you didn’t like her review. You don’t just deserve good reviews because you got published. But this behavior is unhealthy and terrifying and, had anyone else done it, would have been considered criminal. The fact that this author has now been REWARDED with a 6-essay deal in a book is abhorrent and speaks volumes for the publisher.
The author in question, Kathleen Hale, feels like a victim. Every piece, every word she has written on these events is manipulative and makes her out to be the victim, but she is not. She is the aggressor. The fact that her publishing career was ruined has NOTHING to do with this single blogger. It is a direct result of the topic matter which Kathleen wrote about – because others had clearly left similar reviews – and Kathleen’s behavior in response to the reviews. She burned her own career. And she has no one to blame but herself.
With all of this said, I want to leave some notes that are repeated again and again to new and experienced authors: DO NOT ENGAGE. You write what you can. Write what you love. Send it out into the world and then let it go. You don’t have it anymore. You don’t have control over what people think. If someone attacks you personally in a review, report it. If someone attacks your book without any reasoning, report it. If someone attacks your book with reasons to back-up the attack, that’s their opinion. Shut up. Sit down. Write a new book. Nothing will ruin your career faster than getting involved in inappropriate, hateful, or criminal behavior. Be better than that. And continue writing.