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Field Trip Friday Special Edition: The YA Mafia

- Usually, I post "the big news" of the week as part of our Friday round up, but there was just too much to include on this topic. Be sure to check out the main post for lots of other great publishing links! -

The short version: 

On Wednesday, Holly Black posted about the supposed "YA Mafia," assuring everyone it doesn't exist. Justine Larbalestier expanded on Holly's post, blaming the online disinhibition effect for the issue (and quoting our friend Phoebe North at length). Then a #YAMafia hashtag appeared, which some people found amusing, and others perceived as yet another threat.

How did this start?

The debate over negative reviews isn't unique to the YA community (see here, here and here). But when you're a small, tightly-knit group with a lot of crossover between writers, readers, book bloggers, colleagues, crit partners, and friends, the debate takes on a more personal tone-- and comes up over and over.

The term for this particular episode probably came from the Sparkle Project and controversy that followed, but it's just one example of the debate. I rounded up a similar conversation on January 28th after agent Jill Corcoran's comments during #yalitchat. A few weeks later, Becca Fitzpatrick wrote her "Be Nice" post, which spawned this Goodreads discussion that makes clear: Some people definitely believe the "clique" or "mafia" is real. (EDIT: This discussion, also involving Fitzpatrick at Goodreads, is also pertinent.)

You might notice YA Highway mentioned in the Goodreads thread. Per their concerns: No, we don't "blacklist" anyone (but we did get a really good laugh out of the idea that we have that power). They also note that the aforementioned Phoebe North guest posted for us in defense of negative reviews. We've posted our own less-than-glowing reviews, and we continue to link to other sites even when they're less-than-glowing about our own books, because while we won't deny criticism hurts, we also appreciate an even-handed approach.

But there's the key word: EVEN-HANDED. As Highwayer Kaitlin Ward said in a private conversation,
"It's about being professional, whether your reviews are honest or not. No one wants a psycho who laments how all [insert genre here] sucks and why can't something good be published."
(quoted with permission)

And that's where the real issue lies. There's a difference between justified, civil criticism and full-on troll bait looking for blog traffic. There's a difference between eviscerating a book and eviscerating the author. There's a difference between negativity and vitriol; a difference between professional and not.

Unfortunately, the line between them is subjective, and few people will agree on its exact location. 

So how do you deal with it?

Regarding cliques:
I can only speak from my own experience. People naturally make friends and form groups in every industry. Some will be nice and some will be jerks and it's pretty easy to tell who's who. Sometimes you just need to be less shy. Sometimes groups have to restrict the number of members, simply to function.

If someone maliciously excludes you? They're no one you want to hang with anyway. In the immortal words of Garth Algar: "Get over it. Go out with somebody else."

Blurbs and favors
Crit partners are people whose opinions you trust-- which means you also respect the work they're doing. Of course you're going to do all you can to help them get published and promote their books. There's nothing disingenuous about that.

But if you suspect a blurb is dishonest? Ignore it. It's no skin off your nose.

Once you're published, should you respond to bad reviews?
In addition to the links above, Ilona Andrews points out that as an author, everything is your fault. You can't argue criticism without looking like a whiner, and you can't agree without shooting yourself in the foot. Your only other choice is to be quiet. Phoebe is debating a similar question with Diana Peterfreund in Holly's comments. 

For reviewers:
Cleolinda Jones says reviews are not for authors, and reviewers have to make choices. Foz Meadows similarly points out that if you're going to post negative reviews, you need to consider where and when. (In the time it's taken me to write this, she's also written a longer post about this entire issue.)

If you're both writer and reviewer?
You have to find a way to review without alienating your future colleagues. Negativity is a calculated risk and the consequences may or may not be worth it to you. That's the important part: TO YOU. There's no one-size-fits-all answer and there are a lot of variables. But if you're set on writing books and reviews, take heart: John Green has made it work. (And after I wrote all that, I saw that Dia Reeves said basically the same thing, and Jani Lee Simner says she doesn't mind if you hate her books. See? Variables!)

And if there really is a mafia and we can't join?
Secret cabals are overrated anyway, says Gwenda Bond. It's also possible that  the YA Mafia and the YA Clique both really do exist, and they'll destroy each other in a secret rumble, leaving the rest of us free to seize power. But of course, we all know who really controls YA.......

...annnnnnd here's where I was going to link to my very first Field Trip Friday. In it, I made fun of the idea that a so-called "Mormon Mafia" controls YA, and to illustrate my sarcasm, I Photoshopped Stephenie Meyer, Aprilynne Pike and Ally Condie into a Godfather-style picture. Today I was going to add another well-known author and joke that we were on to her shenanigans.

But it has been suggested that I'm not as funny as I think, and may have inadvertently hurt some feelings way back when. Two morals of the story:
  • The things you say on the internet don't always come across the way you intend. Especially sarcasm. This also applies to book reviews.

"Sometimes the thought that someone could 'make or break' my career, or that a good book would guarantee success, sounds like an alluring one as compared to the terrifying reality that everything is kind of a crapshoot."

But S. Jae-Jones at St. Martin's Press points out that the only person who can ruin your career is you, and for writers,
"the best way to go about it is to stew in bitterness. ... As for book bloggers and reviewers, a writer cannot prevent you from getting published yourself. Your work has to speak for itself. A review is a review. A manuscript is a manuscript. They are not the same thing."

Sarah Rees Brennan sums it up the best:
"Possibly the only conclusion that can be reached is that authors and reviewers are people, and dealing with people will always be complicated. Some authors are going to behave badly and some reviewers are going to behave badly - but them's the breaks, and at least nobody's career can be destroyed.


*Note: Although I use "we" pretty liberally in this post, my opinions do not necessarily represent those of everyone at YA Highway. :)


Kate Hart

Kate is the author of After the Fall, coming January 24, 2017 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. A former teacher and grant writer, she now owns a treehouse-building business in the Ozarks and hosts the Badass Ladies You Should Know interview series.

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  1. This was a great roundup, Kate. I felt like I missed a bunch of this this am, so it's good to get an update all in one place.

    I actually recently closed my book review blog that I'd had for over 2 years and had over 500 followers. But it's not because I thought there was some mafia working behind the scenes to stomp me out if I didn't say nice things. It's more because I just didn't feel right about it anymore. It was a personal decision, but not really because I thought I was going to be put on some blacklist.

  2. You did an AMAZING JOB with this. Thanks for all the work you did collecting all this, and all the work you do every single week <3

  3. Kate: this is an amazing round-up! thanks so much for such a comprehensive and balanced post.

    and that Like Mandarin cover ROFL ROFL ROFL ROFL ROFL

  4. This was really interesting to read, especially since I just got my first negative e-mail from an author where they asked why I would rate their book 1 star on Goodreads because I hadn't had a chance to put up an accompanying review. When I clicked on their twitter I was disappointed to learn they'd been saying things (and directly linking to my blog) like that I just review to get books for free. Once I posted my review they said they understood my opinion, but I let them know I was upset about the twitter-bashing going on. The whole thing has really upset me and made me wonder if I really want to book blog at all. I put so much time and effort into it, and incidents like that- just make me not want to bother. I'm not sure what comes next, but I think sometimes authors should accept that not everyone will like their book, and bashing a rating or review they don't like just seems petty.

  5. Brilliant round-up, brilliant covers.


    "But it has been suggested that I'm not as funny as I think."

    Actually, you are funnier than you think. #trufax

  6. Wow. This was awesome. But it did cause me to get totally lost in the internets for 2 hours 0.O

    I certainly agree with the sentiment that thinking there is some kind of higher order makes the (potential) futility of attempting to write/publish a bit easier to swallow. But publishing is chaos theory made business, and maybe we should all embrace our inner YA anarchists.

    That barely made sense. See: lost in internets.

    Also it is obvious that you are exactly as funny, if not funnier, than you think you are Kate. (But no mafia RPatz alligator???)

  7. Oh, we Mormons ABSOLUTELY control everything. And we all know each other, too. Even though there are twelve million of us. We social network like NOBODY'S BUSINESS.

  8. (Which is to say, if you can't have a sense of humor about being Mormon, man alive you're going to have a miserable life. People need to lighten up.)

    (Also, Like Mandarin OR ELSE--utter and complete genius and I heart you like crazy.)

  9. I stand by everything I post.

  10. Ohhhh Kiersten, it's ironic you should comment because you're totally the author I added! LOL

    Thanks for reading, everyone!

  11. DYING at your mad photoshop skills. DYING.

    Also, you are smart.

  12. Kate, your Photoshopping is every kind of awesome. :) An Abundance of Katherines and gangsters... Like Mandarin or else... ROFL.

    Great roundup, and I appreciate the thoughts posted. Kaitlin's right about professionalism. If we both praise and criticize in a professional manner, blacklisting shouldn't happen. I hope it won't, as I review much of what I read. :)

  13. Haha oh my god I love this (and am giddytired). Thorough. Insanely thorough.

    It'd probably be overly optimistic of me to say, "Now let us never speak of this again," huh? ;)

  14. DAMN YOU, YA Highway! It is 2:00 AM and I was totally about to go to bed, and then you put up not one BUT TWO FIELD TRIP FRIDAYS?

    I am going to be up til sunrise. :-)

  15. Kate Hart, your awesome humor is what keeps me sane most days <3 Excellent job rounding all of this up and laying it out!

    Writers and reviewers are passionate people who are bound to feel protective of their words, and while I don't think there's any right or wrong answer to all this controversy, I'm glad to see posts with real thought and effort behind them.

  16. Thank you for clearing this up, I was a bit confused. Mostly what I've seen happening is people taking things out of context and blowing things out of proportion, so it is good to see the original sources to be able to decide for myself.

  17. Excellent post. Love the adapted book covers. Ha!

  18. I echo the thanks yous (youse?) because I'd seen the hashtag, but had NO idea what was going on.

  19. Great post! I've been curious about what's going on with the #YaMafia hashtag on Twitter, so this really clarifies things.

  20. Thanks for the roundup. Also, can I mention how much I adore your edited photos. FANTASTIC!

  21. I just want to know where people who want to be writers are coming up with the TIME to write book reviews. I had a book review blog I loved that I had to abandon like three years ago because I got serious about finishing my novels, and every time I think about going back to it I'm like, "and who's going to write the novel, then?"

  22. Great post. And the pictures are pretty awesome too.

    You guys did a great round-up.

  23. This was fantastic. Great work elaborating on what is obviously a touchy subject for some. Have a wonderful weekend guys:)

  24. Round of applause for a fantastic round-up.

  25. As one of the people who contributed to the Goodreads discussion, I would like to make clear that the whole YA Mafia thing was brought up kind of in jest. It is quite easy to notice when authors are significantly tight knit.

    That, accompanied by Ms. Fitzpatrick's post and the recent debates about negative reviews made the entire discussion snowball. It DID feel like Ms. Fitzpatrick (and Ceilidh mentioned Maggie Stiefvater's response to her review of SHIVER, echoing Ms. Fitzpatrick's sentiments) was telling people to censor themselves in reviews for the sake of "being nice."

    I ALSO don't think it helps when agents like Jill Corcoran (as wonderful as she is) claim they won't sign someone who has negatively reviewed her client's work and neither will editors.

    So when you have a slew of authors saying it, a super agent agreeing, and claiming editors do too, it feels a bit Mafia-ish. After all, a "nice" negative review is entirely subjective, isn't it?

  26. For me this whole debate comes down to a conflict of interest. If you want to become an author, you should not review books. Period. There is an inherent conflict of interest between the two goals that lie behind the two professions.

    I for one do occasionally review books, but only if I love them. I am an aspiring novelist, so to say something negative about someone else's hard work would be extremely arrogant of me. In my opinion.

    That being said, if there is a Mafia, can I please join?

  27. I re-posted this blog - sometimes being insecure about yourself and your work can make you FEEL as if there's a YA Mafia.

  28. Matthew, with respect to your opinion, I disagree entirely. When did Fiction writing become so exclusive to Author and Reviewer? When did authors become so thin-skinned that this dichotomy had to develop?

    In academic writing, the rule isn't: if you want to be a professional in this field, you have to be nice to everyone in this field. They say, "to HELL with that." They critique each other's work all the time, and they're worse than some of the meanest reviewers I've seen on Goodreads. It is also not, by any means, considered a conflict of interest.

    Just because people are colleagues does not necessarily mean they shouldn't be able to critique each other's work or write reviews. It's sad that Fiction writing has developed into something where people have to walk on eggshells around each other.

  29. I'm trying to stay out of this, because my POV is pretty centrist in this debate -- threats are uncool, authors are friends because they have similar interests (just like book bloggers who band together!), negative reviews are valuable, spiteful author-bashing isn't -- but I want to mention I do get why an agent wouldn't want to sign a writer who bashed one of her client's books. There is indeed a conflict of interest. An agent makes her living off those books. And her loyalty, above all else, is to her clients, not to writers she doesn't represent.

    On top of that, an agent reps books she loves, and usually has a big hand in revisions. She's only a degree away from the book, and a hugely negative review is only a degree less painful for her than it is for the author.

    I feel like it should be a non-issue, anyway. Why would you want an agent to represent you who reps a book you despised? You obviously have very different tastes, you know? There are lots of agents out there, including ones who rep books you love. My agent's taste and mine totally align, and it's awesome! But I wouldn't want it any other way.

  30. I still maintain that professionalism is the most important factor, whether your reviews are positive or negative. There's a massive difference between a review that points out a book's flaws in a well-spoken manner and one that rips into the book on a personal level, insulting the author or being purely malicious.
    That's just my feelings on the subject. I know as a reader, I completely disregard reviews where I feel like the reviewer is just being nasty, but I enjoy thoughtful reviews, good and bad, even of books I loved.

  31. are y'all blacklisting people again? geez

    I kid, I kid. Thanks for the links, Kate

  32. We are only blacklisting you, Laurie ;)

  33. As one who has joked about there being a Mormon Mafia in YA publishing, inside jokes are great, but when PW picks it up and uses it in an article, it can be pretty embarrassing when people not associated with it are lumped in, then other people think you're serious, and . . . and . . .

    Yeah, I've learned my lesson on that one. See, Kate? My humor is much worse than yours.

    Before I post the link, let me just mention that several facts in the article, in addition to the whole Mormon Mafia thing, weren't completely accurate. Just a disclaimer so I don't feel as stupid.

  34. Oh goodness, Michelle, thanks for linking that. I think it's just like Phoebe said on her blog-- we made the mistake, it wasn't ill-intended, and we've owned up to it. It's when you deliberately attack someone with no remorse that things get really squicky.

    I'm glad the links have been helpful to people!

  35. This is an awesome analysis of publishing politics. Well done!

  36. I've been out of the loop for a while now because I was focusing on other, less-than-awesome things and so had to go and play catch up. I did read a lot of those links, and from what I saw, in the comments more so than in the posts, there was a *lot* of vitriol and venom being thrown around.

    And it wasn't pretty.

    It got pretty dirty and nasty as it went, and that made me a little sad and disheartened, to be honest. There's always going to be someone who has their head on upside down no matter what's being discussed or what's taking place, and so I don't see this a take-this-side kind of thing. I see it as just treating people well even when they aren't treating you well. It won't cost you your life, and that applies to everyone in general. I think everyone who was involved in it (and everyone who wasn't) wants that. Somehow that seemed to get lost, for whatever reason.

    I think that no matter what you say/do and no matter your intention, two things will happen 1) there will be consequences and 2) someone will take it the wrong way.

    Anyway, I totally agree it's about professionalism no matter which side you're on. I really, really hope we get past this and everything goes well. There can never be too much peace, right?

    Kate, this was an awesome round-up. I can't imagine how much time it took to put this post together. Kudos to you!

  37. Like Mandarin....or ELSE.

    *snerk* That made me totally LOL!

  38. Great round up. Thank you for helping me understand what is going on. As a reader and a reviewer, it definitely provides food for thought.

  39. Dearest Kate:

    Please forget about this YA Mafia nonsense. Instead, move to Canada so we can become Pink Ladies a'la Grease ( Bring Kaitlin. She's practically Canadian, anyway.


  40. Kate--That picture just MADE MY LIFE. I think I'll have it framed. And I like my smile, like, "Hey, sure, we're pretty and we're religious, but do you really want to cross me?"

  41. Good write-up. I just want you to know that when I first came across your Mormon Mafia picture with my wife's head photoshopped over the Corleones?

    Right-click. "Save Image As."

    You are every bit as funny as you think you are. d^_^b

  42. LOL - Okay, between Kenny and Kiersten, I'm putting my neuroses to bed. :) Thanks for the sweet comments!

  43. "There's a difference between justified, civil criticism and full-on troll bait looking for blog traffic."

    I think I just fell in love with you!

  44. Great round-up! Thanks.

    There's also a podcast discussing this that just went up, with Cleolinda, and Kayleigh from The Sparkle Project:

  45. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  46. The Mormon Mafia! I love it. David Farland was approached at a recent conference by a group of men who were told he was the Mormon Mafia's Godfather. They weren't Mormons, but could David please let them in. I about died laughing.

    But seriously though, if you're going to photoshop the Mormon Mafia, you might want to put David in. Can I be a hitman? Pretty please?


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Item Reviewed: Field Trip Friday Special Edition: The YA Mafia Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kate Hart