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March 27th, 2015

Romancelandia is in an uproar this week. Speaking as someone who has been living in that particular country for over ten years, uproar is nothing new. Uproar is out national pastime. It’s a baseball double-header, without the 7th inning stretches. All the freakin’ time.

The Recap (which many of you don’t need): There are two big blogs, Dear Author, and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. The head of Dear Author is Jane Litte (not her real name). This week, Jane Litte admitted that she is also Jen Frederick (still not her real name).

Jane is a blogger who reviews, watches the industry, and has always demanded transparency from writers and other industry professionals. She has been quick to find scandal. Sometimes, she’s been a little too quick.

Jen is a best-selling writer of New Adult fiction, who has been welcomed into various writing lists as a friend and co-worker, by authors who would have been less than thrilled had they known that she was also Jane Litte. Jane got thrown out of Romance Writers of America a few years ago because some of her actions were deemed not romance writer/industry friendly.

Although Jane claims to have worked hard to keep Jen out of the blog, instances have been found of Jen’s works being advertised or promoted on Jane’s blog, mostly by people working with Jane.

So far, Jen has not said anything in public about efforts to keep Jane out of her writing. And if you are wondering, Jane and Jen have been the same person for 2 or 3 years now.

Jane is half of a Podcast with Sarah, from Smart Bitches.

Smart Bitches used to be two people. Now it is mostly one. Except for the fact that there are now other reviewers as well. But we’re only really talking about one bitches, when we talk about Smart Bitches. And she only has one name, even though she blogs, writes non-fiction, and occasionally fiction.

But Smart Bitch Sarah has been working with Jane, and knowing she was Jen, but unable or unwilling to say so, because Jane told her a secret. So Jen ended up being promoted on a podcast run by Sarah and Jane, and gave a prize in a contest run by Sarah and Jane. And maybe it was Jen’s publisher’s fault, and not Jane’s inability to keep Jen out of Jane’s work.

Confused yet?

And writer’s who thought that Jen was a real person are kind of furious that they were talking to Jane. But now, apparently, Jane is offering some of them promo opportunities on the Dear Author blog, trying to make amends… And there’s this lawsuit that has nothing to do with Jen, but is probably kind of sticking to Jane’s real name, which will not be mentioned here. But people want to know if the person doing the suing is posting stuff as another person…

And mostly, there are way too many people to match up with the number of bodies in the room. It’s like Sybil in here.

I’m just Chris, BTW. Hi. Nice to meet you. Sometimes embarrassed to be using my real name. Because sometimes it is nice to separate the out author (AKA THE FABULOUS CHRISTINE MERRILL), and leave her behind.

If I could dump Christine, Chris could post stuff on blogs and not be accused of only talking because she was trying to sell books. If Chris has an opinion, she could afford to argue it and not lose any sales. She could have a bad day and not spoil what might be her only chance to make a good impression with a fan or blogger.

Christine has to sell books. And Chris needs the money to pay big honkin’ medical bills (since #2 son lost his job, possibly because of illness, and is not able to sell blood like a normal college student, because said blood is now tainted).

So, generally speaking, unless the topic is how much people like vanilla pudding with a side of white bread, both Chris and Christine keep their big mouths shut on the review blogs. Chris used to post. And occasionally, she’d mix it up a little. But only a little.

But eventually, she decided to back away, because both blogs did some shit she didn’t agree with. Sometimes it was the main posters. But mostly it was the commenters who would go on a rampage over real or perceived slights by authors, followed with name calling, virtual hair pulling, wailing, lamentations, threats of bad reviews, and the dreaded I WILL NEVER READ HER OR ANYONE WHO DEFENDS HER, EVER AGAIN!

Did Jane or her blog have the power to ruin someone’s career? I don’t really think so. There was that time when Smart Bitches took down a plagiarist. And it always kind of seemed like Dear Author might have wanted to find someone who could fall that far from grace.

Mostly, the blogs and their commenters have the power to ruin your day. Or maybe your week. They can ruin your confidence in yourself. They can make you feel stupid and powerless, because as a writer, you have to be able to take a bad review like a fast ball to the gut, and walk it off. They can make writing hard. And writing is what pays the bills.

But you know what? Readers and bloggers have the right to talk. But just saying that in some blogs would get me called out as a condescending author graciously conceding the audience their God given free speech like she thinks she’s some kind of queen…

Fuck that shit. The best way to avoid a fight is not to say anything. How’s your vanilla pudding? Mine is delicious. But I welcome your opinion on the recipe and acknowledge your right to prefer chocolate. Or even butterscotch (you freak).

Hence the writers loops that Jen was a part of. Now known by some non-writer, defenders of Jane as cliques or super, secret author clubs that we writers make, just to exclude fans (because we are just that bitchy. Shame on us. Fie and for shame, you book writing, high school, mean girls).

These loops are not sales spaces. They are not performance spaces. They are not public. They are usually invitation only. And for friends. Specifically, for friends who can keep secrets. We all promise, going in, not to speak publically about what is said.

I was invited to one a couple of years ago, that was started by friends, who were allowed to bring friends, thus creating a ‘friends of friends’ thing. But while I was off watching my father die of cancer, arranging a funeral, etc (which is the sort of stuff I might discuss on a list like this), that whole damned list disappeared.

I started to wonder if I’d done something to get shunned. But the friend who invited me said some other FOF blabbed, thus causing the whole list to disband as a bad idea. Another list I was on had a beloved, longtime member drop out because a member of her family got a job with a publishing house some of us worked with. This connection could chill conversation in both directions, so she voluntarily quit.

Yes. We writers are that serious about our secrecy. We talk about marketing, publishing, sales numbers, editors, and salaries, and are up front about who is likely to screw you over. It is not a ‘special club’ thing, but more of a ‘none of your beeswax unless I know you well’ area. It is also not a sales area, or a performance space. Writers are stuck in performance mode for a lot of their on-line lives, like actors.

This is backstage. The audience isn’t invited. We also talk about personal stuff, like death and illness and divorce. We cry. On the ones I’m on, we use our REAL NAMES. It’s close friends only. Friends of friends can’t be trusted. And we sure as hell aren’t inviting editors and reviewers, since they might be the ones who made us cry.

After years of blogging about author behavior, and demanding complete transparency in business interactions: insisting that authors shouldn’t be messin’ in the reader space, and calling herself anti-author, pro-reader, Jane Litte was on a lot of people’s list as someone they wouldn’t piss on if she was on fire.

Not me. I would piss on anyone. I mean, I would use water… I mean…

Seriously. I will admit to schadenfreude in this. But I don’t have any grudges in the industry that would have me yelling “Burn witch, burn!” and spraying lighter fluid. I mostly keep away from the blogs. And I will admit I do it out of fear of reprisal, and fear of the loss of reputation. I am able to stay not angry, because I do not engage.

But now? This.

There is a seriously long comment list on Smart Bitches right now that is winding down to the “Well, just what do you expect them to do?” phase of beating the dead horse.

I can only answer for me.

What do I expect?

Apologies are nice. I don’t think we’ve gotten a good enough one out of Jan Litte yet. And Sarah is at least on her second one since she had to apologize for running PR a couple of years ago.

I don’t think “Sorry, this will never happen again,” will work. If not this? Then something else. Something will happen. To forgive and forget is to ignore valuable experience.

I think first we need to let go of the idea that either of these blogs is just a reader space. Blogging has been business not fandom for a long time. There is advertising. Money coming down from publishers for the podcast. Books pushed for friends. Books written by the bloggers on both sites.

As an industry, we’ve been treating both Dear Author and Smart Bitches as if they’ve been on the other side of the ethical divide from authors. We were interacting in public to sell books. They were there to keep us honest. They called us on our shit, which is a good thing. We needed that. I am coming out on the vanilla pudding idea that ethics is good! Disclosure is good!

In that vein, I, Christine Merrill am an author who once handed out a promo copy during a gynecological exam. Even though I don’t want to, on some subconscious level, I am trying to sell you books.

Which are out RIGHT NOW! Where ever fine books are sold. Did I mention my medical bills? Poor Sean and his kidneys. That I just had to buy a new fridge on credit, because taxes, tuition… And the Bookscan numbers? Oy. For God’s sake people. Throw me a friggin’ bone.

Ahem.

But I think it’s time that we all admit that the blue sky over the main romance blogs, is being painted under a pseudonym, and sponsored by Penguin, Putnam, Harper Collins, Grand Central, et al. They are ‘in the business’ and selling books, just like authors are. The next time someone calls out an author behaving badly, remember, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”