The culture of internet book criticism is passionate and intense. Late last month, Amélie Wen Zhao, a debut author, canceled her young adult fantasy novel after early readers accused her of racial insensitivity online. Here are two different perspectives from writers who have had similar experiences.
In March 2018, a lifelong dream came true for me: My debut novel, “The Continent,” was published. It was real — a hardcover that smelled good, felt amazing in my hands and had a gorgeous, shiny cover. But the road to publication was a rocky one that included, among other things, handfuls of people setting advance copies of my book on fire.
Let’s rewind for a moment. I wrote a book. I pitched it via email to literary agents all over the country. Within five months, I landed an agent, and in February 2016, the novel sold in a three-book deal after receiving multiple offers from top-tier publishers. I was elated. I was proud to tell my daughter that all those hours spent typing and constructing a story had paid off, and that I was now going to be a published author.
Galleys were printed and widely distributed to bloggers, booksellers, librarians and readers. For seven months, the book picked up buzz, and my publisher (Harlequin Teen) was receiving excellent feedback. The average rating on Goodreads was high, eventually 4.75 out of a possible 5 stars. Every day, I floated around in a giddy bubble. But in November 2016, just eight weeks before publication, everything changed.
I woke up one morning to scores of messages on my phone: “Are you all right?” “Is there anything I can do?” “Is this true?” I had no idea what was going on, but in short order discovered that a controversy over my book had erupted on Twitter and was growing more intense by the minute.
“The Continent” is a young adult fantasy in which a privileged girl from a peaceful, technologically advanced society becomes stranded on an icy continent in the middle of a war zone. Difficulties, action and a bit of romance ensue, culminating in a bloody battle that forces our peaceful heroine to face the brutal reality of war. The main theme? How easily privilege allows us to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others.
“Racist trash,” someone tweeted about my book. “Ghastly racist,” someone else posted. The rebukes multiplied: “racist pile of garbage.” “A truly disgusting and racist piece of work.” “DEAR GOD THIS IS SO RACIST AND REPULSIVE.” “I hope this book tanks and the writer never writes another word again.” On one author’s Twitter feed, I found a long thread about my book. The author was reading my book and live-tweeting negative commentary as she went, demonstrating both what a terrible writer I am and how offensive my book was. The principal criticisms were:
One group of people in the book appeared to be modeled after Native Americans, and my depiction included racist tropes and stereotypes;
The other group of people was obviously based on Japanese culture, and the depiction included racist tropes and stereotypes, which might best be described as “fetishist.”
This book featured a white savior plot in which the white girl saved the “other” cultures. The use of words such as “primitive,” “uncivilized” and “savages” was racist and inappropriate.
There were many other criticisms, too many to list here, but they ranged from “even the so-called dark skinned people have BLUE eyes” to comments about the book betraying my white privilege.
My initial response was shock and denial. Why would people say these things? The cultures in the book were of my own invention! Vaela, the main character, wasn’t meant to be a white savior!
The fact was, though, that Vaela was a white savior type. One group did closely resemble Native Americans by physical description, and they were engaging in behavior that embraced negative stereotypes of First Nations people. The other group was based on an amalgam of Asian cultures, and most explicitly, the Japanese.
The critics were right.
Within a few hours, I could see my mistakes with crystal clarity. I was embarrassed and ashamed. By the end of the day, I had called my publisher and asked to delay the book. It had already been the subject of hundreds of tweets, mostly from people who had never read it — a fact that didn’t stop them from sending me messages of disgust, of support, of hatred, of constructive criticism, of utter cruelty. One person suggested that I commit suicide.
My publisher agreed to delay the release. Over the following year, I rewrote the book with the help of four sensitivity readers — professional editors trained to flag problematic or potentially controversial content that may need revision. Stay with me, because once people hear “sensitivity reader” they often start getting nervous. They talk about “1984” and censorship and how free speech is dead in America.
Allow me to clarify that sensitivity readers are no different from any other editor. If a publisher or author wants to enlist the services of such an editor, they can do so, for a price. It is optional. If an author does not care to do it, a sensitivity read is not done. In any case, none of the suggestions provided by sensitivity readers are forced on an author. Which brings me to an important point: There is a material difference between criticism and censorship.
[ Read our article on sensitivity readers here ]
Criticism is the most valuable thing writers can receive: It challenges and stimulates our minds; it puts us in problem-solving mode; and it makes our work better when we heed the criticisms that ring true. Censorship, on the other hand, is the suppression or prohibition of speech by a political or social authority.
Did I embrace every suggestion provided by my sensitivity readers? No. Did I consider all their comments and advice? Yes, and every change that I made to the revised version was one that I wrote myself, based on the criticisms I’d received, because I found the feedback relevant and important.
I was proud of the revised version of “The Continent.” Yet on Twitter, the attacks persisted. One group argued that no amount of changes would ever be enough, that the premise of the book was fatally flawed. “Unfixable” was a sentiment that appeared frequently in these threads. Another group condemned me for revising, declaring “meet the face of politically correct censorship,” “so much for intellectual integrity,” “an author that gutless is unlikely to turn out anything worth reading” and that “authors who write by committee — and far worse, internet comments — deserve to be humiliated and shamed.”
Here I learned another important, if obvious, lesson: You cannot please everyone. The only thing I could do was to listen to the critiques, heed my own instincts, and write the best book I could. There was no forced compliance, just me and my manuscript and a second chance.
While I chose to embrace the criticisms I received, and to rewrite my book, many authors choose to do otherwise, and that is their prerogative. Either way, a Twitter pile-on of the sort I experienced is not the appropriate way for criticism to be delivered. The hateful messages, the maligning of my character in tweets and articles across the internet, an organized campaign to find, attack and harass online anyone who had ever given my book a good review: None of this is acceptable. Authors, bloggers, readers, editors — these are real people, and this kind of behavior can have devastating consequences not only professionally but psychologically.
Twitter callout culture is a shameful stain on the young adult book community, and yet these incidents happen again and again, typically before a book is even published. And here’s what makes the least sense of all: I’m fairly certain that we all want the same things. We all want great books, breathtaking storytelling, characters we can love and hate and mourn, themes that make us think and reconsider aspects of the world as we know it. Stories that are diverse and inclusive, so they might be enjoyed by all.
So how do we get there? How can we leave this prepublication callout culture behind and move toward establishing more productive, thoughtful and important conversations between authors and critics? I don’t have the answer, but I am hopeful that we can reach a solution.
Keira Drake is the author of “The Continent.”
Two years ago, a children’s book I wrote about the making of the atom bomb was criticized on social media. I was accused of erasing and misrepresenting Native Americans, a crime I did not commit but of which I was nonetheless found guilty in the online court in which I was charged and sentenced. My book, “The Secret Project,” which was published to glowing early reviews, is a 32-page, 600-word picture book; the critics were upset that on one of those pages I referred to a Hopi katsina doll carver rather than someone from a pueblo geographically closer to Los Alamos. Moreover, I had “erased” indigenous history by implying that there were no Native Americans in the region surrounding Los Alamos. (The first words of the book, on a page showing a desert vista, were “In the beginning, there was just a peaceful desert mountain landscape.”)
After these reviews appeared, along with one on Goodreads that no one seems to have fact-checked citing historical “errors and omissions” in my book, one journal amended its starred review with a new assessment stating that the controversy surrounding my book effectively put it out of contention for a Caldecott Medal, the prestigious award for illustration. (The images in my book were drawn by Jeanette Winter, a professional children’s book illustrator who happens to be my mother.)
I’ve had a lot of time to think about my experience, and a lot of time to ponder the best response to social media “critics.” Many of those who attack a book or an author are not professional book reviewers — some admit that they haven’t seen the book that offends them. Four years ago, internet critics attacked another children’s book on the grounds that it was racist. That book, “A Fine Dessert,” contained images of smiling slaves (something that, for the record, I’m no fan of). The author of “A Fine Dessert,” Emily Jenkins, offered an apology and donated her advance to a nonprofit called “We Need Diverse Books.” However, the illustrator of “A Fine Dessert,” Sophie Blackall, defended the book, writing on her blog: “I cannot ensure my images will be read the way I intended, I can only approach each illustration with as much research, thoughtfulness, empathy and imagination as I can muster.” Evidently, her career as an illustrator (and author) has not suffered. One year after “A Fine Dessert” appeared, she won a Caldecott for a different book. And this year she won another.
I wish I had defended my book the way Blackall defended hers. I chose to remain silent, a course of action I regret. No doubt my silence came off as an admission of guilt — little different than vocally conceding to the critics, as the young adult author Amélie Wen Zhao did last week. Confronted with allegations on social media that her debut fantasy novel, “Blood Heir,” was racist, she asked her publisher to cancel the book, four months before the publication date. There is bitter irony in the fact that Zhao is a Chinese immigrant who grew up in a country known for its censorship, and now finds herself being told in America that her debut novel is offensive. In China, the government shuts down art it deems offensive. Here in America, we use social media.
According to descriptions online, “Blood Heir” is set in an imaginary world and depicts a society that includes an enslaved population, the Affinites. One of the book’s central characters is a slave who some early readers have assumed is African-American. (Her eyes are described as “aquamarine,” her skin alternately as “bronze” and her hair as “dark curls.”) On Twitter and Goodreads, early readers, some of whom understand the setting of the novel to be Russia, accused Zhao of “anti-blackness” and “blatant bigotry” for her portrayal of slavery. One Goodreads review reads: “This book is about slavery, a false oppression narrative that equates having legitimately dangerous magical powers that kill people with being an oppressed minority, like a person of color. This whole story is absolutely repulsive. … The Russian rep is fundamentally awful, the author didn’t even get the gendering of basic words right. The only disabled character is a villain who walks with a cane.”
In a post on her Twitter feed announcing the cancellation of her book, Zhao said that she has a different perspective on slavery than the one on which we tend to focus in America, explaining that she was not envisioning American slavery when she wrote the book. “The issues around Affinite indenturement in the story represent a specific critique of the epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking prevalent in many industries across Asia, including in my own home country,” she said. That social media critics would expect that she, a Chinese immigrant, frame the depiction of slavery in her book to reflect an American narrative is the height of cultural solipsism and American arrogance.
[ Read our article about Amélie Wen Zhao’s book here ]
But the specific nature of these allegations is not the point. The point is that books should not be canceled just because some readers find aspects of them offensive. If every book that might offend someone were canceled in advance of its publication date, few books would wind up on store shelves. A few bullying critics pressured Zhao into depriving me and thousands of other people of the opportunity to read her book and come to our own conclusions. That’s not fair. And it’s not right.
In her announcement online, Zhao apologized for the “pain” she has caused with her book. The only way her book could cause pain is if it were dropped from a high-story window onto somebody’s head. The notion that a book can cause pain is just one more example of the tyrannical coddling of overly sensitive readers that defines this era. Zhao did not cause any pain with her book. But by making the decision to cancel, she will indeed cause pain — to herself and to other authors. By caving to the social media critics, she sets a chilling template for the future, and reinforces the power of the online mob.
There is a climate of fear right now among writers and editors and reviewers in the children’s book world. As in Salem, Mass., circa 1692, this sort of fear often prompts decent people to stay silent. I am well aware that what I’ve written here may get me in a lot of trouble online. I can already see the pithy put-downs, the references to my white privilege, the seemingly endless analyses of everything that’s wrong with what I’ve said from a moral/political/historical/cultural perspective, the sanctimoniousness, the snarkiness, the outrage. Friends and editors will tell me that I have just seriously shot myself in the foot, that I should have stayed silent, and let all this madness blow over. Except it’s not blowing over. And so, to the online mob, I say, and encourage Amélie Wen Zhao to say, as did the Duke of Wellington in response to a threat to expose his extramarital affair, “Publish and be damned.”
Jonah Winter is the author, most recently, of “Elvis Is King!”B:
2016跑狗图高清彩图【无】【数】【势】【力】【对】【闪】【耀】【世】【界】【具】【有】【极】【高】【的】【热】【情】，【随】【着】【新】【星】【域】【大】【开】【发】【的】【进】【行】，【自】【由】【竞】【争】【区】【探】【索】【区】【域】【越】【来】【越】【深】【入】【腹】【地】，【效】【率】【远】【超】【前】【三】【期】【封】【闭】【开】【发】。 【费】【恩】【星】，【这】【是】【绿】【宝】【石】【星】【团】【的】【一】【颗】【枢】【纽】【星】【球】，【位】【于】【外】【围】【星】【系】【与】【内】【围】【星】【系】【的】【交】【界】【处】，【位】【置】【优】【越】。 【本】【来】【这】【是】【摩】【多】【文】【明】【先】【行】【占】【据】【的】【地】【盘】，【然】【而】【两】【个】【超】A【级】【势】【力】【火】【并】【的】【余】【波】【不】【幸】“【波】【及】
【终】【场】【比】【分】【是】： 104:109 【孟】【菲】【斯】【灰】【熊】【以】【一】【种】【意】【想】【不】【到】【的】【方】【式】【干】【掉】【了】【波】【特】【兰】【开】【拓】【者】。 【王】【朝】【圣】【殿】【球】【馆】【像】【夺】【冠】【了】【一】【样】【欢】【庆】，【球】【迷】【们】【把】【刚】【刚】【得】【到】【的】【袜】【子】【抛】【向】【天】【空】，【雀】【跃】，【欢】【呼】，【见】【人】【就】【抱】…… 【这】【是】【格】【兰】【特】•【希】【尔】【送】【给】【球】【迷】，【也】【是】【送】【给】【自】【己】【最】【珍】【贵】【的】【圣】【诞】【礼】【物】。 【队】【友】【们】【在】【全】【场】【球】【迷】【轰】【鸣】【的】MVP【声】【中】，【把】
“(･_･)ﾉ⌒●~*” 【冬】【弥】【放】【弃】，【这】【活】【他】【干】【不】【了】，【还】【是】【交】【给】【乔】【伊】【吧】。 【次】【日】，【冬】【弥】【带】【着】【波】【克】【比】【去】【检】【查】【身】【体】。 【而】【伊】【布】【捞】【住】【手】【机】，【死】【都】【不】【去】，【还】【用】【看】【护】“【冬】【弥】【的】【实】【验】【成】【果】”【作】【为】【借】【口】。 【一】【圈】【下】【来】，【波】【克】【比】【一】【切】【正】【常】，【就】【是】……【就】【是】【吃】【得】【有】【点】【撑】。 【乔】【伊】【小】【姐】【还】【嗔】【怪】【冬】【弥】【把】【波】【克】【比】【当】【小】【卡】【比】【兽】【一】【样】【养】。
【玄】【武】【国】【的】【电】【竞】【选】【手】【们】，【他】【们】【在】【连】【续】【遭】【到】【了】【那】【个】【北】【极】【熊】【国】【选】【手】【们】【的】【打】【击】【之】【后】，【他】【们】【也】【总】【结】【出】【了】【许】【多】【北】【极】【熊】【国】【电】【竞】【选】【手】【的】【弱】【点】，【他】【们】【也】【有】【了】【具】【体】【的】【应】【对】【方】【案】，【魏】【泰】【强】【他】【们】【旗】【下】【的】【电】【竞】【选】【手】，【他】【们】【不】【再】【被】【那】【个】【北】【极】【熊】【国】【的】【电】【竞】【选】【手】【压】【着】【打】【了】。 【在】【魏】【泰】【强】【他】【们】【的】【帮】【助】【下】，【那】【个】【玄】【武】【国】【的】【电】【竞】【选】【手】，【他】【们】【也】【保】【住】【了】【自】【己】【的】【一】【部】【分】2016跑狗图高清彩图【不】【管】【是】【切】【菜】，【还】【是】【之】【后】【的】【炒】【菜】【之】【类】【的】，【顾】【惜】【瑶】【这】【样】【的】【强】【者】【想】【要】【掌】【握】【的】【话】，【难】【度】【都】【很】【低】。 【像】【是】【炒】【菜】【时】【候】【什】【么】【时】【候】【放】【调】【料】，【是】【不】【是】【熟】【了】，【这】【样】【的】【事】【情】，【对】【于】【顾】【惜】【瑶】【这】【样】【的】【强】【者】【而】【言】，【只】【要】【试】【验】【几】【次】【就】【能】【够】【掌】【握】【了】，【宗】【师】【强】【者】【的】【直】【觉】，【可】【是】【很】【厉】【害】【的】。 “【惜】【瑶】，【你】【也】【吃】！”【林】【泽】【笑】【着】【说】【道】。 “【嗯】，【味】【道】【很】【不】【错】，【我】
【推】【一】【本】【书】。【作】【者】【群】【里】【认】【识】【的】【一】【个】【朋】【友】，【写】【的】。 【我】【真】【不】【是】【大】【明】【星】【呀】。 【这】【本】【书】【首】【发】【起】【点】，【想】【看】【的】【可】【以】【去】【看】【呦】。【写】【的】【还】【不】【错】～
【这】【一】【巴】【掌】【下】【去】，【白】【凤】【棠】【心】【里】【总】【算】【痛】【快】【了】【一】【分】，【这】【丫】【头】【跟】【了】【自】【己】【这】【些】【年】，【骨】【子】【里】【却】【始】【终】【是】【白】【府】【的】【丫】【鬟】。 【亏】【的】【自】【己】【还】【想】【着】【等】【王】【爷】【回】【来】【以】【后】，【自】【己】【有】【了】【好】【日】【子】【一】【定】【不】【会】【忘】【了】【她】。 【可】【她】【到】【好】，【前】【几】【天】【见】【白】【芷】【荞】【欺】【负】【自】【己】，【却】【只】【能】【站】【在】【那】【里】，【连】【屁】【都】【不】【会】【放】【一】【个】，【这】【白】【府】【出】【来】【的】【丫】【鬟】，【就】【是】【一】【只】【养】【不】【熟】【的】【白】【眼】【狼】。 【看】【着】
【白】【子】【阳】【抱】【起】【元】【小】【星】，【他】【揉】【了】【揉】【他】【的】【头】：“【小】【星】，【喜】【欢】【吗】？” “【嗯】【嗯】。”【他】【高】【兴】【的】【东】【张】【西】【望】，【小】【嘴】【不】【停】【的】【说】【着】：“【奶】【奶】【身】【体】【不】【好】，【所】【以】【我】【都】【不】【敢】【让】【奶】【奶】【带】【我】【出】【来】【玩】，【万】【一】【把】【奶】【奶】【弄】【掉】【了】，【该】【怎】【么】【办】。” 【元】【月】【听】【着】【元】【小】【星】【这】【小】【大】【人】【的】【话】，【她】【扑】【哧】【的】【就】【笑】【出】【声】【来】。 【夸】【赞】【着】【元】【小】【星】：“【小】【星】【真】【乖】，【走】【吧】，【今】【天】【想】【玩】【什】【么】？”