#YASaves (Social Media Gets the Rebound and Scores!)

by Greg on June 6, 2011

Over the weekend, there was a bit of a brouhaha in the YA literature space after a Wall Street Journal article called Darkness Too Visible by Meghan Cox Gurdon appeared.

The article was not well-received by folks I know who write or read YA, though I’m sure there are folks out there who agreed with its premise that “Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity” and that this is neither good in general nor can one escape from this in the bookstore.

Rather than focus on the arguments presented in the article or in rebuttal, what fascinates me here is how social media helped unite a community in response.

Many readers and authors of YA (as well as editors, agents, booksellers, and teachers) took to Twitter, starting the #YAsaves hashtag which became a trending topic on Twitter, climbing as high as number three and accounting for multiple thousands of tweets.

The Wall Street Journal’s Twitter account was included in many tweets… and joined the conversation as well. The account become a point of contact with the paper. It also offered up a collection of #YASaves tweets (in a tweet that was retweeted at least 100 times):

On Facebook, long comment threads popped up everywhere I looked talking about the article. More people reposted the original link or links to other conversations as their updates. The Wall Street Journal’s page had a lot of good conversation (and a lot of spam, too).

Blogs came into the fray, as well, with YA authors (including multiple authors whose books were mentioned in the article), teachers, and reviewers chiming in as the day(s) went on. Fans, readers, professors… well… you name it, they were blogging and still are.

As I write this, the conversation continues to grow. People who felt voiceless or attacked by the article have been finding that they can have a voice and have support. Social media gave connections to people who, in the past, would not have been able to find each other (on both sides of the issue, no doubt).

The fact that the raised voices were able to interact with the Journal, where the flashpoint originated, is certainly something that couldn’t have happened at this scale decades ago. Most of the conversation was respectful and designed to express and bridge differences of opinion, perhaps part of the reason so many joined in.

The fact that individual authors singled out in the article had a visible, public support network is also a recent development. In the case of authors, seeing readers express how a book has made a difference to them, as many tweets and comments expressed, goes a long way and is proof that their book matters, despite any reviews or commentary otherwise. This, too, is new in the real-time sense.

This is not a case of governments being overthrown or stolen goods returned by the connections that social media creates. Still, while not as instantly newsworthy, it does show the power of connectivity and what a motivated, motivating group can do.

Got a favorite link or thoughts about the weekend’s activity? Feel free to share below. I know I’ve only seen a fraction of what’s out there, and it’s been fascinating to see the different approaches folks have had while speaking out.

 

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Book Chook June 7, 2011 at 12:42 am
Greg Pincus June 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Thanks, Susan. I always like reading Donalyn’s thoughts….

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Sally Apokedak June 7, 2011 at 5:42 am

The thing that I wonder, though, is why the YA community can’t see that it’s living in a bubble.

I didn’t read the article or the responses. I started the article, got a few paragraphs in and thought, “I don’t have time for this.” Since then I have skimmed some of the outraged responses.

I am amazed at the cries of outrage over a woman expressing her opinion that YA books are too dark. And here’s why–almost every woman I’ve ever spoken to in real life who hears that I write YA books says to me, “I was in the book store the other day looking for a book for my daughter/niece/friend and I couldn’t believe it. The shelves are full of black covers and the books are all about demons and vampires and werewolves and sex.”

I’m not making this up. This is the response I get.

I freely admit that I live in a bubble. I live in a Christian bubble and so it makes sense that my real life friends see those books as dark and disturbing. They want goodness and light. And, no, I don’t agree with all of them. I think many Christians are ignorant–willfully ill-informed.

But I am always a little surprised that NY publishers and YA writers don’t realize that they also live in a bubble and the majority of the world does not agree with them on everything. Other people are allowed to express opinions and they really do need to stop lifting their skirts and screaming “censorship” every time someone suggests that this book is crap and shouldn’t be taking up shelf space.

If you are going to publish books you need to be ready for the public to interact with the ideas you lay out. It’s part of living in the world.

So, what does this have to do with social media? I wonder if people see these trending topics on twitter and think the WHOLE world cares about this latest flare-up, when in reality most of the world heard nothing of this and cares nothing of this. We who read the blogs and hang on Twitter and Facebook are still a pretty small segment of the population.

Or, maybe I’m wrong and this is where it starts. The publishing people are on social media and what’s trending for them today affects what they publish. So what’s trending for publishing people today will be trending for the general public a year or two down the line.

It’s fascinating to think about, and probably important, too.

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Greg Pincus June 7, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Sally – I think your thoughts on social media are interesting, and I’ll join that convo farther down. That said, since you mischaracterize what happened – after admitting that you didn’t read the article or most of the responses – I feel a need to address that instead.

The WSJ piece was not labelled as opinion. It ran in the newspaper proper. As Jenn Hubbard notes below, use of the word “depraved” in reportage seems a tad much. There were many other complaints well stated in the responses you might not have read. Throughout, I didn’t see anyone upset about an opinion, nor did I see anyone say “hey, no one can disagree with us!” Perhaps you can post some links? I would agree that those attitudes would be troubling. I simply didn’t run into them.

As for people unable to find the books they want in a bookstore… well… it might take digging on the part of your friends. If they choose not to do that, they have only themselves to blame. When I used to work in a video store, and folks complained that there were no “family” movies to rent and Hollywood was at fault, I would often learn that they had not, in fact, spent any money on the last dozen family movies released in theaters nor would they rent the movies available because, usually, they hadn’t heard of them. This does not seem Hollywood’s fault, even if Hollywood has many faults. I find a similar situation here. No question there’s a lot of darker YA. But there is more. I have yet to see an editor or YA author state that other voices shouldn’t be heard. Have you? Again, links would be helpful to bolster your position.

As for the social media aspect of things (which is where my post focuses), I do find that communities can become insular and only listen to themselves. I also agree we can place an over-importance on social media.

However, if you followed the link in that Wall Street Journal tweet I highlighed, you’d find a wide range of people speaking up about YA’s power with the only thing they seem to have in common being that they are on Twitter. Those are voices making an effort, and they should be listened to, don’t you think? And while I hope no one would say they are the only voices, they do indicate that something is working. It’s not conclusive, but if I’m a publisher or editor, I’d be paying attention.

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Sally Apokedak June 7, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Sorry. I have no time to read either side of the issue. I am sick to death of the drama. So I will happily retract my statement that the woman was expressing an opinion that YA books are too dark. I have no idea whose opinion she was expressing.

And, no, I’m not going to sift through the garbage looking for quotes to prove myself right, so I’ll give you that the YA people never whine about censorship when people say they don’t like certain books or don’t want certain authors to speak at events.

The only point I really wanted to make was that the YA community my be blind to how the majority of the people in the world think. They may be too full of themselves. They are at least as full of themselves as the religious right, in my opinion.

We all seem to think that we are in the mainstream and people who don’t think like we do are on the fringe. That was really the only point I was trying to make.

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Greg Pincus June 7, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Sally – your attempts to put words into the mouths of others really aren’t helpful to having a productive dialog. No one said that YA people never whine about censorship. Where was that mentioned? What I said was that in this brouhaha – which you freely admit you did not read either side of – the conversation I saw AND linked to was not about issues like that. However, instead of responding to what’s been written, you create a faux argument to make the “other side” look unreasonable. It’s a “have you stopped beating your wife?” type of attack, and it’s unproductive.

If you wish to discuss the issues in specific, you need to be informed about them. If the only point you wanted to make was that the YA community might have some blindness, then you should have made that point (particularly on a post that is about social media and NOT about the controversy). Again, you brought these other issues up. No one else. Retracting statements that weren’t questioned and “giving” folks things they’ve never asked for does not change the facts of your initial statements.

Where we agree is that hypocrisy and ego are not limited to the right or left or religion or politics. I also guarantee you that neither you nor I nor anyone in YA knows how “the majority of the people in the world think.” Again, going back to the facts, I have not seen anyone in YA claim they do. This is classic straw man arguing, nothing more.

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Sally Apokedak June 7, 2011 at 10:52 pm

I’m really not trying to argue with you, Greg. Not at all. I’m sorry for commenting. Truly, I am. I have not commented on any other blog about this, precisely because I have not read and do not intend to read any of it. I simply thought the social media aspect was interesting. Forgive me, please for saying things that I had no intention of backing up and for assuming as facts things that you do not believe are facts. It was not my intention to cause offense.

Susan Berger June 7, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Retweeted and sent to our Facebook page. Thanks for the links. Remember when Catcher in the Rye was considered too gritty and banned?

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Lupe Fernandez June 7, 2011 at 1:47 pm

For those of you in doubt of age appropriate material, I suggest:

The Pen And Ink Blog: How To Write Books for Boys and Girls

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Jenn Hubbard June 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Usually, I ignore essays like the WSJ one. Someone is always going on about how YA is either irrelevant and substandard literature (on the one hand, trivializing it) or evil and dangerous (on the other, treating it as a horrible threat).

My problem with the WSJ piece was not that the author thinks YA books are dark. That’s an opinion, she’s entitled to it, and who cares. My problem was with her repeated use of the word “depraved,” which frankly I find extremely offensive. People have asked why the YA community was so outraged–well, that is why. We were called “depraved,” which means immoral and corrupting of others. That’s a very heavy charge to lay, especially with no better “evidence” than was presented in that opinion piece.

The other problem I had was with the continued confusion of parenting and personal judgment with censorship. We have seen plenty of cases where one person’s objection pulls a book from an entire school or library, or pulls an author from an event–often in violation of the organization’s own formal procedures for challenging books. It’s time that when the one person raises an objection, those who disagree get to speak up too, so that it’s clear that first voice does not speak for everyone. And yes, we will continue to cry “censorship” when we see it.

We are a society full of different people. There are many, many people for whom Meghan Cox Gurdon does not speak, and they’re just as entitled to be heard as she is.

But I must say that, although I read many wonderful and heartfelt responses, ultimately humor was my favorite response:
http://mudmambas.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/brightness-too-visible/
(This parody only makes sense if you’ve read the original WSJ article)

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Greg Pincus June 7, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Funny link, Jenn. And I agree there are times to ignore attacks/disagreements/whatever (and no matter what side of an issue you’re on, someone is likely to publicly disagree with you at some point). Sometimes, however, silence doesn’t work. What interests me, again, is how social media played a role in the way the reaction happened. Interesting times, indeed.

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Jenn Bertman June 9, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Hi Greg,

I thought you might be interested in a project I started in response to the WSJ article. I called it “The Light and Round Project” and I wrote in depth about it here: http://writerjenn.blogspot.com/2011/06/light-and-round-project.html

As I wrote in the post, there’s nothing I like more than turning something annoying and exhausting, like the attack and defense of a literary genre I care about deeply, into something positive. So that’s what the project is about. Promoting the variety and diversity that YA has to offer in addition to the books some people consider too dark and edgy. I hope you’ll take a look. I’d love to hear what you think about it!

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