Monday, 4 September 2017

On Bloggers and Authors Being Seen as Public Property

A couple of months ago, there was discussion in the YA community about privacy. Specifically, the private lives of authors. The discussion highlighted that many book reviews, especially for books about personal topics such as sexuality or mental health, would talk about the book and then lead on to speculate about the author's private life. Do they share the same sexuality as their protagonist? They wrote it so well, they must do! Does the author suffer from this mental illness, too? Has the author had this happen to them? Has the author had that happen to them? Overwhelmingly, the discussion concluded in this: an author's life is not public property to be speculated about whenever you feel like it.

I fully agree. An author's private life is totally irrelevant to their work of fiction. It's a complicated topic, because I can see why it might be relevant if they've written a problematic representation of something, but discussing an author's private life can also be dangerous. What if they do share the sexuality of their protagonist, but they're not open about it because of things we don't know about (and shouldn't have to know about)? What if they have experience of a mental illness they've written about but simply don't want to go into detail about their trauma? An author shouldn't have to publicly go into their history for the sake of a reader's curiosity. And speculating about it on the Internet... I mean, this stuff's here forever even if you delete it. And that author has a whole life ahead of them, in which what you've speculated about could crop up again, and again, and again. Because you were curious.

Having written over 300 book reviews, I'm no angel - I've probably speculated about an author's private life too. It's easily done. You see how well they've written about a topic, how detailed it is, and you think: they must have experienced this in real life, surely. You have good intentions - you're praising them on their writing - but intention doesn't mean anything when you're throwing someone under the bus. Whether I've already done it or not, I don't know, but as soon as I saw that thread on my Twitter feed I pledged never to delve into an author's private life in a review. I might mention it or allude to it, like if it's being used by them and their publisher to sell their book/s, but I will never, ever speculate or dig anywhere below the surface.

The point of this post, however - because this wasn't just me repeating what's already been said - is that all of this applies to writing about bloggers, too. I've just read an article about me by a brand which shall remain unnamed, which started off really nicely and full of praise. And then... it descended into speculation. Actually, it wasn't speculation but more stating something personal about me as fact when not only is it not a fact, but something I've literally never said in my life. It's the opposite of something I strongly believe.

Can you imagine how I felt when I read that? I was hurt and angry. I was also shocked, because all I do is blog and vlog about books - I'm not exactly an 'interest' to be written about. On top of that, I was worried. There, on the Internet for all to see, was a piece written as if it was factual - lying and saying that my belief about something is the opposite to what it really is. Their intention was good, it was a nice piece, and it had links to my blog and YouTube... but it also threw me under the bus, made up lies about me, and presented these lies as fact to their massive audience which may never find out the truth.

I don't mind people writing about things I've dealt with in my personal life. I'm an open book. But when you speculate, present fiction as fact, and quite literally make things up about a real-life person... no, I'm not happy about that. Authors, bloggers, and literally all other human beings are not public property. You don't get to make stuff up about them. If you want to make things up and mould someone so they fit your agenda: write a book.

Or maybe don't.

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  1. Ugh, sorry that happened, Amber. Did you contact them to print a retraction?

    You have made me think though. I don't think that I have ever speculated about an author in writing, but it will make me more aware about it in the future. I am going to link this post on my Sunday wrap-up this week.

    1. I did but it looks like they've 'forgotten'... thank you!