Ethics of Writing and Publishing

So ….

There is a book review site known as Dear Author, which reviews (as near as I can tell) contemporary young adult romance.  The site is run by a woman named Jane Litte and every posts multiple books reviews and related news blurbs.  The site pulls no punches on reviews.  Just a few days ago, a book was given a grade of “D,” and this is not unusual.

Litte is no stranger to trouble.  From the quick Google scan I did, I see that she was banned from the association Romance Writers of America, a 10k+-strong alliance of romance authors, for bad behavior.  She’s been involved in kerfluffles with authors several times (the blog Stop the Goodreads Bullies has a whole file on Litte).  None of this is surprising or unusual but the next part might be.

Dear Author is the subject of a lawsuit by the publisher Ellora’s Cave.  Details of the lawsuit are not pertinent for this post but during the process, it came out that Jane Litte writes under the nom de plume Jen Frederick and under that name has, apparently, been moving in writer circles under the radar.  Litte explained herself in a long letter a few days back (found here).

Well, well, well….  You know, I have issue with this.

(Muse:  I’m shocked.)

Quiet, you.

First of all, it is hard for me to argue with anything written in this excellent post over at the blog The Passive Voice.  To summarize, the post makes the points that:

1) There is a well-worn rule that authors should not respond to negative reviews and comments, as it looks amateurish and weak.  The blog (and I) agree with that but also points out that authors are human and like to vent their feelings.  Other circles of authors (online forums, etc.) are supposed to be safe spaces to do that.  That’s harder when the negative reviewer is lurking in that supposed safe space, posing as a friendly author … a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, as it were.  Having that reviewer in that circle, unknowingly, is not only an intrusion, but stifles discussion.

2) The brain is not a computer.  No matter how much Litte claims to have segregated her work, some bleedover between the programs is inevitable.  Having one avoid the other is almost impossible.

3) The potential for impropriety – for promoting her own books, using internal connections, suppressing competition etc. – is almost limitless.  This is a case of perception because even if Litte completely on the up-and-up and she provides countless evidence to support that, it still smells funny.  And that odor won’t go away.  It’s a textbook case of questionable ethics.  At best, it’s unprofessional.  At worst, it’s predatory.

The best definition I have heard for integrity is this:  integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching you.  Litte defends her right to review and write at the same time and I don’t think anyone questions her legal right to do so.  But ethically, I have an enormous problem with what she did.  The Passive Voice post I link above outlines most of it but there is more.  In my opinion, her actions lack integrity.  She didn’t lie but she didn’t admit to her separate identities until she had to.  She says she did not use direct influence but passive influence/bias exists and is hard for even the most self-aware of us to avoid.  She moved as a trusted agent in areas/circles where people felt safe to speak dissenting opinions to her public persona – and again, passively, it is very difficult to avoid letting that influence her actions.

You know, there is another post on Passive Voice about the Dear Author/Ellora’s Cave lawsuit.  In private conversations between authors, comments about the case may be discoverable because of Litte’s undercover involvement in the circle’s discussion.  If Ellora’s Cave was mentioned, the information may be subject to testimony or even subpoena, and so might the authors.  Litte’s hidden involvement now puts other people in the crosshairs of a lawsuit – an unintended consequence of her actions.

Litte may well survive this and keep on writing and reviewing.  But I think all this will damage her on both fronts.  And it could have been avoided if she had been more forthcoming.  It might have been harder at first for her but it would have been easier than the scrutiny she’s now under.  When I was growing up, my father used to say, “You can pay now or pay later but sooner or later, everyone pays.”

Litte elected to pay later.  And now she is.

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