Can't we all just get along? (Alice in Blunderland and a Few Simple Rules for a happier publishing community)

The publishing world was all a-twitter yesterday with gossip, bloggery, and a rush to judgment about the weekend meltdown of venerable bestselling author Alice Hoffman.

Just the facts, ma'am:
Sunday, the Boston Globe published Roberta Silman's review of Hoffman's new novel The Story Sisters.

Later in the day, Hoffman posted this response on Twitter:

A flurry of blah blah blah ensued, and Hoffman eventually posted this:

And that's why she's now being thrown into the volcano all over the internet.

First of all, the phone number was incorrect and Silman herself said there was no harm done. And one thing Alice and I agree on:

I think it would have been fine to post the number of the Boston Globe and the email posted with her public profile. Proffering an already public contact for a newspaper that "welcomes your opinion" would have been perfectly acceptable. Sadly, this looks like a personal email address, and twittering another writer's private contact info is very ungroovy. Clearly, Alice Hoffman understands this. She issued an apology, and that's all the damage control that can be done. End of story. Except it isn't. Now she has to get dragged through town behind a pickup truck of righteous bloggo wrath. And that sucks.

My heart really goes out to Alice Hoffman today, and I just want to say to her, "Peace be with you, girl. Hang tough." I don't know her, but she is an incredibly talented author. If she's a "diva," she's earned it, but everything else I've ever heard about her indicates that she's a generous and lovely person who supports and mentors her fellow artists.

Let's be honest, people, if this was Harlan Ellison or Dean Koontz or any MALE author, HE would be getting clapped on the back. Everyone would be having a ballsy old chuckle about how he "put that Boston bitch in her place." Let's admit that right up front. Women aren't allowed a slitting fraction of the blowhard moments men are freely applauded for in this biz. So before we proceed, could we please choke chain the snark Rottweilers?

At the root of this situation is the mounting pressure on authors whose sole ambition is to do good art. How is everyone so shocked that somebody snapped? I'm more stunned there's not a blogger buried in the backyard of every author on the Times list. The internet has changed the nature of books and book reviews in a way that is ridiculously punishing for authors and unhealthy for the publishing industry as a whole body, and my darlings, we are one body. Make no mistake. We are one body, and good art is our soul. We dare not strangle and kill it.

I would like to humbly propose a Few Simple Rules for a kinder, gentler publishing universe that would benefit us all:

I keep hearing "Why all the fuss? The review wasn't even that bad." But the review contained spoilers. That makes it more brutal than the worst panning. And it's just plain bad, lazy-ass writing on Silman's part. An author spends thousands of hours crafting a story, agonizing over each small reveal, carefully unfolding little letters to the reader, or lying in wait to explode a sweet plot bomb. In the space of a five-minute read -- maybe 55 minutes at the keyboard -- Silman carelessly belched out every major plot turn in Hoffman's novel. That is beyond uncool. That's one of the most emotionally and financially damaging things that can be done to an author.


As a reader, I feel ripped off when a spoiler is plopped in my face, and as a writer -- Good God! I would literally prefer that someone come to my home and hit me in the kidney with a baseball bat. SPOILERS ARE SATAN. Why are we even having this conversation? Roberta, I know you know better. NO SPOILERS. Sheesh.

Rule #2 Authors: DO NOT ENGAGE
Fellow artisans, my darlings, we will never ever win this kind of battle. Discretion is the better part of valor. I carry my share of scars from blame-it-on-the-Chardonnay frays, and it's never worth it. Never. I now have a sign posted on my Wisdom Wall: DO NOT ENGAGE. That's why God created henchmen. Which brings us to...

Rule #3 Authors (and others): Do not DISENGAGE.
We have to be henchmen (in the most civil manner possible) for each other. I didn't email Roberta Silman to tell her off; she's entitled to her opinion. So am I. I emailed her editor and complained that I, as a reader, was robbed of my opportunity to experience this story as the author intended it to unfold. Fellow authors, PR Hildes, editors, could we all please muster some balls and stick up for authors once in a while?

Rule #4 Bloggers: Be nice.
The ability to take a horse-whipping is a huge component in an author's success. We know it going in. We take it daily. But how about a little compassion when someone stumbles? C'mon. In the last 40 hours, as bloggers swooped in with the poo-storm on Alice Hoffman, we quickly made the leap from "author experiences lapse in judgement" to "author is evil, evil syphilitic dragon diva who eats babies with hot sauce." I'm not begrudging anyone their say, but there's a nice way to say it, and we're all experts with the wordsmithery, right? Let's use our power for good and not for evil. Yes, she offered the tastiest tidbit of snark fodder since Judith Regan, but for the good of the oversoul, as the rabbi says, "Let the law of kindness be in your mouth." And if you just can't find it in yourself to be kind, then kindly shut up.

The conversation on the changing world of book reviews needs to continue, and I'd love to hear from publishing folks in all walks. Watch this space for more. I will do my utmost to offer my opinions with lovingkindness and a sincere wish that peace and prosperity be with us all.


Suzan Harden said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suzan Harden said…
Ooooo! I'm so glad I've been immersed in the MJ coverage for the last couple of days.

Poor Alice. I hope she sitting on the back porch, deck, whatever, indulging in her favorite vice and ignoring the computer right now.

Joni, you know someone will now quote your blog post, saying that Alice Hoffman "eats babies with hot sauce." Honestly, they taste better with chocolate syrup.


And I removed my previous post because I spelled 'immerse' incorrectly. See? We all screw up once in a while.
Joni Rodgers said…
Must be the heat.

Alain de Botton (author of "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" to Caleb Crain (NYT Review of Books):

"I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude."
Joni Rodgers said…
Oops. Try this link instead:

Authors gone wild.

I hate the pack mentality of Offended Righteousness I've seen in the reading/writing community over the last few years. There's a gleeful savagery about it that makes one shiver and realize the pack can turn its collective wrath with all too little provocation. There are times I long for the days when authors were mysterious, aloof icons. Though I really don't want this kind of distance from my readers and others in the community, it certainly was safer in a lot of ways.

Great post, Joni. Good distraction while sitting at the airport. :)
Lisa said…
In my opinion, Alice Hoffman issued a non-apology, skipping over the person who deserved an apology (the reviewer). "I'm sorry if you were offended" is not quite the same as "I'm sorry I behaved badly" and a writer should know the difference.

I agree that spoilers should be off limits. If I read the review and it spoiled the story for me, I would be furious. That's a bad move on the reviewers part. It is sometimes a delicate balance - tell enough to back up your opinions without giving away too much - but you've got to work at it.

But I have to say the stuff about "if this were any MALE author" is wrong, in my opinion. Most of the instances I've heard about so far (of writers going off the rails) have been men. There are a number of stories that bloggers tell about crazy authors (I've only had to deal with one, thank heavens) and they are mostly men. Hoffman is, however, the most well known, with the exception of Anne Rice's famous meltdown on Amazon.

With blogs and Twitter and Facebook, we are closer to celebrities - whether they are actors or authors or musicians - than we have ever been before and it has changed all the rules. It's going to be a learning experience for everyone.
jenny milchman said…
I feel for anyone who is in a fish bowl--be she author or reviewer--so that one misstep gets this much attention. Honestly, I haven't been following, and thank you ladies for alerting me to tidbits still beyond my ken at this point. Certainly having your novel plundered in this way absolutely blows. And reviewers always have a smug out available to them: This is just sour grapes so neh neh neh, I don't have to listen. I also think there's a backlash once an author reaches a certain level of success so that reviews become tougher and maybe less careful.

Hey, bottom line, I love Alice Hoffman and will certainly get her new one regardless. Has anybody read AT RISK?
Erin said…
I don't know much, and I've never read a book by Alice Hoffman, but this whole incident has spurred me to buy a couple of her books. Seems like both the reviewer and the author will come out of this none the worse for wear.
Wayne said…
Sweet plot bombs? Gross.

And I disagree with the line about "if a male author did this." Look at how reviled Jonathan Franzen was for being conflicted about Oprah's Book Club.

Bad behavior is bad behavior.
Great post. Your comments about the pressures that the internet puts on authors were thought-provoking and interesting.

I do have to respectfully disagree, though, with the assertion that a male writer would be clapped on the back for this kind of behavior. No matter how bad the review or how egregious the spoilers, posting a reviewer's personal contact information and encouraging harrassment is a pretty obnoxious thing to do, and I personally have a hard time imagining that the book community would've responded very differently if the author in question were a man.

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