Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banned Books Week in the Internet Age

I was going to post about/celebrate Banned Books Week yesterday, but I needed another day to think this through. Certainly, I'm sure we all can agree that censorship, in all its forms, is retrograde, oppressive, contrary to democratic ideals, and rightly associated with totalitarianism and all sorts of other bad "isms." Free exchange of ideas serves the greater good. Censorship = horrible. And we should fight it when it happens.

At the same time, I want to kind of acknowledge that the fight against censorship and banned books is changing somewhat in the Internet era, no? And ultimately, I think, for the better.

Three cheers for the fact that it's less viable for someone to try and ban a book than it ever has been. Up until the Internet era, if someone successfully banned a book in a library or in bookstores in a region, that was it. Good luck finding that book! You'd have to drive to another region to find it, if you heard about it at all.

With the Internet though, good luck stopping someone from finding that book. Chances are they can buy it very easily online.

Now, obviously there is uneven access to money and computers and the Internet and this does not mean everything is peachy and that we should stop being vigilant. The youth of America will always be the most vulnerable to censorship as libraries are more central to their reading lives, so there are still choke points that can stop a worthy book from reaching a child who needs it.

And I also wonder if there's a new danger created by the Internet, which is that any yahoo with a crazy agenda can easily hijack our attention by doing offensive stunts. This has obviously always been a part of life, but it seems like it's now easier and more common than ever. You see this everywhere on the Internet and the media: someone wants to get some attention so they say the most horrible things they can think of, then they sit back and watch the show, feasting on their newfound attention. On every scale, from the smallest website to the national media, the Internet is greasing the crazyperson skids.

Lately I've been wondering if these people deserve our scorn or if they deserve our restraint. Is there a way to fight these people without playing right into their hands and giving them the attention they're craving? Is there a risk in elevating a crazyperson's agenda by treating them so seriously? What's the balance?

If there's actual censorship going on then yes, definitely, fight it like there's no tomorrow, because if censorship takes hold there may as well not be a tomorrow. I don't think there's much ambiguity about that.

But what about when people are staging book-related stunts and saying ridiculous things on the Internet? Is the best tactic to treat them seriously and fight back or to deprive them of the attention they're aiming for?

That's an honest question, I really don't know the answer.

On the one hand, truth and decency and free expression are absolutely worth fighting for, and even if it's a mosquito biting you, you swat it.

On the other hand, I can't help but feel that as we learn to navigate the Internet era, if there's a virtual dog pile every time someone says something vile, are we increasing the likelihood of people provoking us in the future? Does it become more appealing for people to try and pull similar stunts for attention? Do we make ourselves a target by being easily provoked?

I'm not leaving off this post with any answers, only questions, because I don't feel like I know what's best. The Internet is changing our lives very quickly, and our instinct is to use the tactics we know.

Maybe those tactics are still the best or maybe we'll need to change with the times.


Abra said...

Is the best tactic to treat them seriously and fight back or to deprive them of the attention they're aiming for?

Sometimes the oddball is just running his mouth, and sometimes he comes back and shoots thirty people. We need a better way of telling which ones need our attention.

Steph Sinkhorn said...

"You see this everywhere on the Internet and the media: someone wants to get some attention so they say the most horrible things they can think of, then they sit back and watch the show, feasting on their newfound attention."

It's real life trolling, is what it is. Heh.

I agree that, overall, we give small-time yahoos way too much attention, because some small local news story can explode and become national news in just a few hours (hello, random dude from Florida who was going to have a Qur'an bonfire). It ends up creating much more of a stir and those types of people get far more attention than they ever, ever should.

At the same time, you're spot on - it spreads the word and lets people know that a potential banning is taking place, which stirs retaliation and a push back to make sure that very book is MORE than available.

So, I'm torn. I hate giving people like this attention, but I'm glad I can hear about what they're doing so I can combat against it. Ultimately, they always seem to fail because the reaction is so overwhelmingly powerful.

Locusts and Wild Honey said...

"Consider the source and ignore it."

That's what mama taught us and it holds true for the Internet.

If someone wants to engage in a healthy dialogue, that's one thing. But an Internet troll slinging arrows in an attempt to get attention? That's quite another.

Dana Bailey said...

I think how you fight back would depend on the crazy person and how they are going about it. If they are obviously a crazy person with little clout then you may need to ignore it, but if it's someone who could do potential harm, then you do whatever you can. Like in Laurie Halse Anderson's situation. I think that is a great example of how to react. She is pushing back with real facts about her work and having others stand up with her.

Reena Jacobs said...

Excellent post. I've had this concern over the last couple of week with the publicity some individuals have received over a banning issue. I couldn't help but wonder if the matter was brought to the surface in order to boost sales.

From what I've seen, an author getting his/her novel on a ban list would be a dream come true these days. It seems as if all a person has to do is request a work be removed from a system, and people want to purchase the book out of rebellion. It doesn't matter if it's the genre they normally read or not. It's almost as if people want to teach the person attempting to ban a work a lesson without knowing if there's any merit to the actual work.

I guess that's human nature.

Sommer said...

I'm thinking of the recent call to ban Speak in the article written by that guy who has certainly received more publicity than he ever would have by sticking to his mainline religious agenda instead of picking on beloved books. I remember thinking, "I do not want to give this guy any more spotlight than he deserves, but..."

At the same time, what became of his 15 minutes of fame, so to speak, was a stronger, healthier, more outspoken book blogging community. His stunt gave everyone a platform from which to speak about censorship just before Banned Book Week. His stupid internet antics made a for a much stronger, angrier army of book lovers who won't take this kind of nonsense lying down.

So I don't know. There are a lot of people saying things on the internet that aren't good, and there's not enough time in the day to fight all those battles. Maybe the internet has taught us how to pick the right fights.

lora96 said...

I truly appreciate the coverage of Banned Books Week on the Internet among many of the bloggers I follow. It's increased my awareness of how many of my favorite titles have found themselves under fire.

My concern about ignoring the crackpots who try to kick up a fuss about what they deem to be inappropriate content is the following:

A failed attempt to provoke the masses sometimes results in an escalated bid for attention. They will, in some cases, behave even more abominably until they incite the desired result.

Sommer said...


I think this comes up a lot, that authors would love to have their books challenged, and sure it might be good for sales, but I doubt anyone wants to be told their books are inappropriate and shameful. After the big Humble Texas Teen festival thing where Ellen Hopkins was disinvited, Pete Hautman wrote a great post about it and I remember in it he mentions joking with Judy Blume about how he could get his books censored to help his sales, and she was not amused with him. The post is here:

Jenny said...

Agree it's a conundrum. I ignore everything viral not worth the attention, however Censorship is not the way to go. Everything is so fleeting that many promotional efforts are forgotten almost as soon as they're aired.

clp3333 said...

I always just try to do what seems like the right thing. If speaking my mind to fight against someone who says something vile I think it should be done, regardless of their motives. If someone says something ridiculously wrong I think it is more important for people to stand up to it than sit around hoping the other person doesn't garner attention for it. It's almost like the bystander effect where we can now get so worried about what someone else is going to do that we don't worry about what the best thing we should do is.

Jess Tudor said...

Reena - no one wants their book banned, whether or not it increases sales. You hear this from time to time, but it's really not true. Check out for interviews all this week with people who have actually been in this situation.

I like what Abra said. The problem is you can't tell which oddball is which, and are you willing to risk that this oddball is harmless?

A lot of good food for thought here, Nathan. E. M. Kokie had many of the same ideas during SPEAKLoudly. I don't have answers, either, but I think of it this way: evil flourishes when good men do nothing. I don't want to say nothing and later regret it. I'd rather take the time and energy to get behind something I believe in and hope I made a difference, no matter how small.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Your post has been deemed socially objectionable to the delicate minds of people we don't want to think for themselves, therefore, we have decided to ban your post from public view lest it give people ideas and unapproved thoughts ....


What d'ya mean we can't do that?

But we're WE, of course WE CAN! We can ban anything We want to ban! Do not question the authority of WE!

Take that tone with WE and we shall ban your entire internets!


Ann M said...

You raise some really good issues to ponder...

I guess information availability isn't a bad thing, right? So, I wouldn't want to see information pushed aside (free speech and all that). But still, I so dislike seeing something that is obviously absurd getting the same ranking on news as a major issues.

I wonder if how people react is just as important as if they do or do not react at all.
If hundreds or thousands of people reply with strong emotions, and get all riled up, that's probably more satisfying for the fame-seeker than if those hundreds or thousands of people replied with straight forward facts and (not emotionally charged) opinions. I'm not trying to say that the emotions are wrong or should be ignored, just that perhaps if the attention garnered was more analytical, then the information could still be available to people, could still be widely known, but it wouldn't achieve the sensation that the poster was after.

Maybe... but then again, maybe not...

Ted Cross said...

You should start a Ban Jacob Wonderbar movement so you can top the bestsellers lists!

E. VERNA said...

YOU WONT BELIEVE THIS: The Holy Bible, Noli Me Tangere, El Felibusterismo, Newton's Law of Physics are BOOKS that were banned long time ago. Know what? After the age of darkness there is so called AGE of Enlightenment and all these "banned books" are widely read today by people who can READ and understand the values of who you are and what you stand for.

Bane of Anubis said...

So, if censorship bad, why moderate?

The largest problem w/ the crazies (the real crazies, not the attention whores) is that their words will speak to fellow crazies and we get this resonant insanity.

Debating/ignoring it doesn't matter. The best way to defuse is through censorship, not dialogue (or lack thereof).

Now, what/who is determined nutsoid is the gray area, and (in some ways) shouldn't be left to mob (cow) mentality.... democracy's nice and all, as long as it fits our mental mold.

Personally, I do think there are books that should be banned/burned (e.g., that pedophile's how-to handbook that cropped up in Florida a month or so ago)... sure, maybe it will be discovered that man-boy love isn't detrimental and is better for society, but there are lines I will never feel comfortable crossing.

Anonymous said...

Author Jonathan Lethem bids farewell to NY. Very long but an awesome interview.

I only post this because I do believe one of his books was being banned by some redneck school in Texas

Anne R. Allen said...

Ted's joke has some truth to it. We should all be so lucky. But the results aren't always so positive.

Focusing on crazypersons can have disastrous consequences--like the attention given that potential arsonist in Florida, which almost killed more US citizens than 9/11. Or it can have nice ones--like making Laurie Halse Anderson's name a household word.

But the scariest thing is it can result in a crazyperson minority hijacking the political process, which may happen in November. That makes me afraid. Very afraid.

Vanessa said...

I think you are correct, that often, it's just a call for attention. But as Abra points out, we can't know which is which, often until it's too late.

I'd rather give them the attention now, negative or not, then find out later that by ignoring them, we permitted those atrocities to happen. After all, the worst kind of evil is for good people to sit by idly and allow evil to happen.

Katherine Hyde said...

When a child is having a tantrum, you ignore it. When a crazy person pulls a crazy stunt to get attention, you ignore them, unless they're actually harming someone. Basic Parenting 101.

Reena Jacobs said...

I certainly understand what others are saying about an author not wanting their book to be censored or labeled as shameful or inappropriate. On the other hand, I do think we as a society need to use common sense. For example, I write some erotic. I would be appalled to find my erotic writing in a elementary, junior, or high school. I don't even let my daughters read some of my stuff, and my oldest is 17.

This is not to say Speak, which has been on twitter and blogs lately, is erotic. I wouldn't know. I haven't read it. However, it's important to remember that adults and children have two different set of rules. Adults should have the right to read anything they want. Making those same reads available to minors is a different story.

I think it's important to research the issue, which might include reading the actual book, before jumping on the bandwagon and making the blanket statement all censorship is wrong. Children deserve censorship for their mental well being.

I have nothing against Ms. Anderson or other writers who want their works to be seen or fight against the censorship of their works. However, I do question why one individual from one city was placed on the map when he requested the school board to look into the issue of the material available to students in his area.

I'm not saying I agree with Dr. Scoggins' viewpoint on the works he mentioned. I don't even take his stance on sexual education. But as a parent wanting the best for her children, I would at least want the matter investigated.

I also question why Ms. Anderson made a appeal to the general public when it was a school board issue and not a ban to remove it from the public viewing. For the record, I'm not against Speak. In fact, I've heard quite a few great things about the novel. I just wonder what the purpose of bringing to light the school board issues of a city of 14,000.

Think of it like this. I'm sure many parents would be highly offended if one of my erotic pieces was assigned as required reading to their children. Again, I'm not saying that's the case with Speak. It may very well be suitable for children. I'm just saying, censorship for children is very different than censorship for adults. And we need to act accordingly.

Anonymous said...

DA VINCI CODE the novel and the movie was banned before but probably those inquiring minds of few cryptologists made this awesome amazing movie passed the strict test allowing it to be seen for public viewing.

Emily said...

It's a fine line to walk. You're right, we shouldn't give more attention to attention seekers, however, some of these people are very adept at getting large portions of the population riled up about something they wouldn't have ever gotten riled up about, on their own. So I think you take it on a case by case situation. Which means we (the publishing community, writers, agents, editors etc) can never let our guard done when it comes to defending the rights of our children, ourselves and our communitites to choose for ourselves what we will or won't read.

John Jack said...

Either/or polarity only leaves two choices. The world ain't made nor operated that way. Stepping outside the polarized box leads to other choices, infinite possibilities.

The occasional wingnuts who pop up above the radar blind of anoymity in numbers have self-serving agendas that empower their damaged personalities. Pitiable, no; evocative, no, though both frequently transpire.

The real value of wingnuts is their capacity to innure the public consciousness against insanity. Both good and bad, and indifferent. It's proactive, consicious, critical thinking practicing resisting viral insanity that's most important.

The Mob rules in majority rules societies. The Mob wants convenient, predictable compliance and conformity. Strangers and strange behaviors are anethema.

Strangness means change, change to be resisted at all costs and by any means to an end. But that's knee-jerk reactionaryism, which when cooler heads finally prevail in hindsight is seen as precipitiously premature.

Wingnuts are a needed element in a healthy society. They keep us aware of our failings. They remind us to count to ten before we go off on a witch hunt. And they shake up our apathetic complacency. Life would be much less interesting without them.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

I recently read an article about how the internet is growing up and the slammers are gradually becoming a little more civilized. We'll see. I'm not entirely convinced it's true.
I don't believe in censorship as a general rule, but if you censor nothing, how do you control child pornography, internet stalking, internet hate crimes, or snuff - all of which are abhorrent. There have to be rules - involving common sense if nothing else.
Ignoring or fighting? I have no idea which works best.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but the whole issue is a joke (I don't mean it's not useful to examine it--as you do here--rather the social structure surrounding the issue is comical).
I'm writing what will be one of the most controversial books in all of history...and I don't care one whit who wants to ban it, burn it, or wipe their nether regions with it.
Be my guest...everyone's a critic, and if you don't like what I think, then more power to you.
(Unfortunately for my critics, my books is about personal empowerment, so they're just cutting off their noses to spite their faces).
Personally, I have bigger (much bigger) fish to fry: Specifically, the tyranny of invalid law (which I won't get into here) is a much more pernicious problem then any fool on a hill spitting into the wind--and at my proverbial face.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

I agree that's no easy fix for this one. One person might just be craving attention while another might be ready to do something dangerous. I think maybe a little bit of listening might be in order, but if someone is outright going for provocation, then we just don't respond to them.

Chuck H. said...

Some books should be banned but who decides? I decide for myself. I am my own personal censor. I think everyone should have the same privilege but only in regard to themselves, no one else. Don't tell me what I can or cannot read and I will extend to you the same courtesy.

ryan field said...

"Is there a way to fight these people without playing right into their hands and giving them the attention they're craving?"

Dismissal. It happens all the time, and it's not always the typical crazy people. There are a few clever souls on the net who know how to get attention and still manage to come off looking perfectly sane while they are creating chaos.

Leila said...

I wonder if, in addition to what everyone else has said thus far, there is an issue of what triggers these 'yahoos' raise in terms of our own values/ethics/morals/life experiences etc that actually prompts us to act, in whatever form, v’s let the comments slide.

If you don't add fuel to a fire, eventually it has to die down. Granted it will happen slowly, so slowly, burning lots around it, but it does eventually die.

I think it's hardest to resist responding when comments either hit a personal trigger, or when it appears the 'yahoo' is getting free reign because nobody appears to be sufficiently addressing/containing them.

In reality, they aren't getting free reign, they're exposing themselves and those who subscribe to their views as ignorant/discriminatory/insert any other label that's appropriate.

And, in my simple opinion, given enough time they 'hang' themselves. They run out of dumb things to say, so they move onto their dumber stash, and when that doesn't have the desired shock value they move onto their dumbest stash, and, oh...oh dear, they have nothing left. And they are left looking like fools.

And, to borrow Nathan’s mosquito analysis, if a mosquito bites you, you absolutely swat it. But if you don't scratch the site where you were bitten, the itchiness fades pretty fast.

Anyway, just my two cents worth for an interesting topic! I certainly don’t profess to have the answers either, it’s a tricky issue.

jjdebenedictis said...

The best way to deal with trolls is to not respond to them (not that I'm always very good at that.) Only talk to the ones who seem like they can be reasoned with.

But I think we need to step up when the person is doing real harm. Making a stink on the internet is not real harm. Banning a book is.

Jens Porup said...

More serious than censorship is self-censorship.

"Oh, you can't say that!" Squash. Splat. Elbows flail as crowd stomps errant truth-teller to death.

Democracy, after all, is tyranny of the majority. And the majority of people are idiots.

Touchy-feely namby-pamby "oh you hurt my feelings!" has made the ability to call a spade a spade impossible in America these days.

Want free speech? Get a lawyer. And a bullet-proof vest. Then you might consider speaking your mind.

Is censorship in America any different than censorship was in the Soviet Union? In Russia, you could not write anything that critized the communist system. Now, if you write something that is not "commercially viable" (translation: undermines the capitalist system), it won't get published either.

Only instead of there being a Central Committee, this censorship is outsourced free of charge to New York publishers and agents, and all the people at Comcast and other conglomerates who dominate the media-industrial complex.

You need to go deeper than just "banned books". Many books get banned before they're published, sometimes before they're even thought.


The Invisible Writer said...

Too much credit is given to trolls. I hate seeing a meaningful article derailed in the comments section of a website by mindless 'yes men' pointlessly arguing with mindless 'hate men.'

Most sites need to dump their comment sections to a secondary webpage so that the anger doesn't polute the issues (I'm talking to you, news and politcal websites.) Comments are fine, but seperate the commentary from the actual report.

As for the shock jocks - they open discussion in exciting/disturbing ways - feeling like they need to raise awareness of a terrible issue or to get a thrill from millions of people seeing their private parts. This last part isn't going away, unfortunately.

What is sad is that truly important messages get lost behind the noise of the perverse.

Rick Daley said...

I try to ignore the wackos who try to hijack our National Attention Span, especially those who do it on purpose (i.e. sometimes the media is to blame, not the perpetrator).

The crazy people have always been out there, and for all I know they have been acting on their urges all along, and the Internet and 24x7 news cycle has merely given rise to visibility of their actions.

But it is possible that the crazy people have been there, but have suppressed their urges because they lacked a wide audience for their performance art, but now they have a platform so they go all in, like a bunch of Joaquin Phoenixes.

WORD VERIFICATION: monfrat. The fraternity I belong to, in French. Also, this word verification makes me miss the Editorial Ass blog for some reason.

Ted said...

Yes, if you believe the moon landing was faked or Elvis is alive or that dinosaurs lived 8K years ago, the Internet lets you trumpet your beliefs to billions.

But that's a two-edged sword, because your message will be competing with a billion other messages of all types -- cogent, delusional, and in-between.

So the only kind of censorship needed is the type imposed by individual readers. Let the ranters rant; unless a rant makes sense, it will lose the competition for intelligent eyeballs.

abc said...

I need some examples because all I can think of is scary republicans (my apologies to not-scary republicans).

Patricia A. Timms said...

The problem with these types of topics is that the masses don't win out because they don't care enough to speak up. That's why some farming community somewhere has determined that James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl should be banned and therefore it has been. Just an example, a hypothetical if you will, but still, it's amazing how few people realize what can and what cannot based on just a few people who care enough to make a fuss.

I posted Monday about this topic and included a bit of information about how the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews amongst several other series in the syndicate were banned from 1927 until the mid 1960's. All because people thought series books were terrible.

The reasons for banning anything are always silly, unfounded, unresearched loads of garbage.

Kristi Helvig said...

I don't think it's a black and white issue. I think it depends on the situation and most importantly, HOW you respond to it.

For instance, I responded to the SPEAK issue, not by attacking the person who promoted the ignorance, but by educating people about the issue of date rape in our society. There are ways to speak up in ways that are professional and respectful.

Some issues are too important to take the silent route.

Extra: We're hosting a giveaway of SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson on our blog for anyone who is interested.

J. Stryker said...

I'm glad that you used crazyperson as a single noun. It seems that crazy is more of a core identity feature instead of an adjective for some of these attention seekers.

readingkidsbooks said...

Thought provoking post Nathan. Thoughtful replies also appreciated. Yes, more questions than answers, but the important thing is that the dialogue continues. If the response to suppression of intellectual freedom is silence, don't we risk losing that intellectual freedom by virtue of the removal of books that deserve our attention and may well be needed by a host of readers who no longer have access? My vote is for respectfully "Speak"ing out. I do not care to have my reading choices, nor those of my children or grandchildren (hopefully one day; no pressure girls honest) dictated. Sheryl

lahn said...

"On the one hand, truth and decency and free expression are absolutely worth fighting for, and even if it's a mosquito biting you, you swat it."

I'm in favor of swatting the mosquito.

When I read this post, the issue that jumped most quickly to my mind was the furor over the misnamed "Ground Zero Mosque" followed by the "wingnut" burning of the Quran.

It's fine to argue that the truth will come out, that crazies will fade away if denied the attention they seek, that they will prove themselves idiots. But it doesn't always happen that way.

Lots of people listen to wingnuts, especially when the wingnuts have the loudest voice. If we don't have anything else to listen to, then we believe the crazies and the fire grows. It doesn't die out. When the internet was filled with stories about the "Ground Zero Mosque," it was important to spread more accurate information about Park51. It was important, to me, to speak out.

We believe what we hear most frequently. If we hear that there is no genocide in Rwanda (in the 1990s), then most of us will believe that there is no genocide in Rwanda. The wingnuts can be subtle, after all. Crazy doesn't mean stupid. Ultimately, a lack of information, a failure to spread the truth, to speak out, can be worse than pulling a book from a shelf, or even burning a book on the street. It can mean lasting hatred, the kind that burns cities, and people, instead.

My two cents, shined hard.

Mira said...

Great post - I really appreciate that you laid out both sides of the issue, with its ambiguity and complication.

This is a hard one. I know not everyone agrees with me, but I was really angry about the Slushpile Hell agent. However, I stopped talking about it because I got the sense that the agent enjoys the attention. No point in that. But I was also aware the issue was being pursued in another way.

I guess that would be my guideline. Is responding to this person going to have benefit? Or is another way to handle it that will be more effective?

And is there benefit in speaking out? If I speak out will it:

a. educate that person
b. educate other people
c. add ideas and perspectives that balance out the conversation
d. allow me to make positive connections with those who share my beliefs.
e. help build community that may go on to advocate on many levels.
f. counter a very strong voice.

c. and f. are important. Deciding to 'rise above' it can be risky because the silence can be misunderstood. That voice can become much stronger than it should be.

So, as irritating as it may be to feed a bid for attention, if it can be transformed into something positive - like education - then it can be worth it.

Those are my two cents, for what they are worth. :)

Appreciate the chance to explore a really interesting topic, Nathan. Thanks.

Ariana Richards said...

I agree. This is a sharp double-edged sword. On the one side it's so important to speak out against this kind of prejudice and ignorance. On the other...the last thing these people need is another ear directed toward their preaching...Very torn about this and not sure what the solution is.

Anonymous said...

About the virtual dogpile. What bothers me about that is that people jump in who may not even really have a true knowledge of the situation. It's way easier to become an angry mob. Because some people don't see themselves as being accountable for what they say on the internet.

That being said, I'm going Anon on this one. haha

Yat-Yee said...

Tough question. One of many difficult problems that can arise out a society that values freedom. These problems may be one reason some people just want to surrender and clamp down on certain freedoms because the results are messy.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Ignoring vs. piling on: this has always been a choice/option, but I agree the internet has made it easier to pile on, less easy to ignore.

While this feeds the attention-mongers, I also think this enables even more group-think than there has been in the past. Both are the ugly underbelly of the many benefits that this hyper-connectedness brings.

I think it's still a net positive, which is why I stick around. :)

Munk said...

Fundamentally, I believe the information age will dilute fundamentalism.
In other words, no answer to your conundrum is necessary, at least not from a philosophical platform--case by case, maybe.
Consider historical trends. Those crazy people you speak of have been around forever. The most successful crazies are those that are able to control the masses by controlling the messages they hear, or censorship. I submit that media control has such a greater propensity for damage, rather than the strength of the message itself, that over time truth will win out. People know crap when they hear it. Here's an analogy... Think of the Nazi movement in 1936 Germany as a HUGE bubble filled with toxic gas. Hitler, in the control of the media, was able to keep pundits from throwing darts and popping the damn thing until the allies built a giant dart. I don't believe the bubbles can grow as big any more, not with everyone watching. My cup... half full.

Doug Pardee said...

What Reena Jacobs said.

Almost all of these "banned" books are just titles that some parents didn't want their children exposed to in public schools. For most children—in the US, at least—attending public school is not optional. Public schools are required to exercise sensitivity in their role as influential guardians of other people's children. And it's not like parents can't provide the "banned" books to their own children.

Melanie said...

I'm surprised we haven't been talking about the Pentagon's destruction of nearly 10,000 copies of OPERATION DARK HEART this week. It's a blatant example of high-level censorship, but it was carried out, supposedly, in the name of national security. Wondering how everyone falls on that one...

M.A.Leslie said...

I don't think that we have to censor the crazed attention seeker. I believe we should treat them like our little sister, if you ignore her then she will stop doing the thing that is annoying you. They are seeking attention so don't give it to them.
Just because it is written doesn't mean you have to read it and if by chance you read it you don't have to respond to it.

Just remember: TREAT THEM LIKE YOUR LITTLE SISTER. Words that we can all live by.

Remilda Graystone said...

I think Reena Jacobs--as well as many others--had great points. I don't believe censorship, in and of itself, is bad, but I'm a person who believes that there are very few things that are truly, truly bad, so... Parents should be doing the censoring for their own children--and not anyone else.

As for whether we should ignore it or react, I think it depends, really. There's no one answer to everything, and in some cases, ignoring it is the right thing to do and in other cases, ignoring it causes more harm than good. I also believe that giving them attention isn't necessarily a bad thing because that also brings attention to the other side of the issue.

As for being easily provoked, the person being provoked has full control of that, and they decide whether they're going to be a target. You can't control what another person does and you can't control how you feel, but you can always control how you react. I'd say choose wisely according to the situation and keep the consequences of what you do in mind.

Thad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
k10wnsta said...

Prologue: Sorry about the length. It ended up being as much a comment as it is a demonstration (see Epilogue).

A big part of the problem with book burners and those flailing their arms while heaping attention on trolls is hypersensitivity, and it's being ground deeper and deeper into the fabric of society every day.

Two days ago, while discussing literary greats with a friend (who's a senior in high school), I mentioned Mark Twain and he said, "I've never read any of his work, but I know he was a terrible racist."
Stunned by this declaration, I asked him how he came to such a conclusion.
He said they learned about Twain in 8th grade and revisited the subject last year.
It truly astonished me to hear that a public school was 'teaching' such blatant falsehoods about such a compassionate man who also happens to serve as the bedrock for great American literature.

This revelation reminded me that there was once a time when you actually had to do something to be a racist. It wasn't enough to reference a word like 'nigger' in the context of social commentary, you had to march down Main Street in white garb and a pointy hat or categorically refuse to associate with members of a specific race or burn a cross in someone's yard. Indeed, being racist required more than mere utterance of a single word - it required action.

Ironically, this extreme sensitivity - the same that demands students refer to Halloween as the 'Harvest Festival' - is exactly what's required to raise a legitimately racist human being. Those who normally champion free speech are often the first to pick up torches and villify someone who writes or says a word like 'nigger' or 'faggot' - no matter what the context - and, in doing so, they bed down with the same extremists who have fought so hard to ban Harry Potter and Huckleberry Finn. It is society's extremes bleeding together and working in concert to undermine it.

We teach our kids to recoil before reflecting, to react without reasoning, and then wonder why society is consumed in a maelstrom of offended ideals, trumped-up scandals, and everyone pitching in to censor everything.
And isn't that sad?

Epilogue: I'm aware that a couple words in this post may have provoked a visceral reaction in some (if not all) who read it. In fact, in the initial draft, I actually wrote out 'the N-word' and 'the F-word', but while revising it, I thought, 'What the hell am I doing? Am I really censoring myself in a post decrying censorship? And what are people gonna think 'the F-word' is anyway?'
So, I wrote them as they are, and if you had no reaction to reading them, then your granite-like emotion-maker must do well in keeping you focused - just remember that indifference can be as insidious as overreaction.
If your initial response upon seeing them was to immediately presume I'm a racist or a homophobe - even if logic later prevailed and you reversed that conclusion - you need only look to it as an example of what I was trying to say.
If you thought (or are still thinking), "How insenstitive...Nathan should unconditionally delete comments containing words like this", well, then I am truly sorry I offended your extreme sensibilities...just not as sorry as I am that society must suffer them.

hannah said...

I have to be honest, I think the whole concept of banned books has become so irrelevant with the rise of the internet. How long has it been since "banning" did anything but make a book MORE popular?

I don't know. This month, everyone's expected me to get up on my little soapbox and yell about how censorship sucks. And yeah. Censorship sucks. But that's not what banning books is anymore.

You want to talk about censorship, talk about what doesn't get published. Yes, the primary reason a book doesn't get published is that it's not good, but there ARE other factors.

I don't think there's anyone out there who thinks it's as easy to get a conservative-leaning book pubbed as it is a liberal one. And as a blue state girl, I can only get so frustrated with that, but if I weren't?

And just a few years ago, publishing a book for kids with a gay character was practically unheard of, and now publishing barely bats an eye. Are people out there still freaking out? Of course. But people out there will ALWAYS freak out. And now, with the internet, the books will get out anyway.

We don't have to worry about them freaking out. We have to worry about what we won't publish. That's the only censorship that's still effective. And with self-publishing, even that's going down the toilet.

k10wnsta said...

Was the removed comment above mine, perchance?

Nathan Bransford said...


Sorry, yours got trapped by Blogger's new spam filter. Should be published now.

lcasella said...

Ray Bradbury wrote "Fahrenheit 451," a novel, to defend freedom of expression. I'm sure it must be a banned book too somewhere. I guess success is the best defense against censorship.

Jan O'Hara (Tartitude) said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and these are my conclusions: I'd like effective change, not soundbites. To that end, the best teachers I have ever had modelled their values in real-life examples of "show, don't tell." So what does it say when we shame someone because he's attempting to place shame where it doesn't belong? It's easy to copy a ribbon, write a post and slam someone; far harder to educate, model and protect the vulnerable by having frank discussion about sexuality. I vote for the latter.

Anyway, just my $0.02.

lcasella said...

Ray Bradbury wrote "Fahrenheit 451," a novel, to defend freedom of expression. Not a bad protest. I'm sure it appears on a banned book list somewhere. The best protest is rewarding success like his and preventing anyone else from taking away my rights to read.

Anonymous said...

This is slightly unrelated to the post but I just need soome shoulder (/s) to cry on. As a new writer, I know I have to work on editor's terms and respond to everything positively and I did and I got a lot of praise for work being original, well prepared, excellent etc. But I find I'm always walking on eggs - if I even make a small change or suggestion, people get upset and delay the book. Even in the final M/s there are some editing flaws but the moment I point them out (to correct them), it gets people angry. So I have let go of small errors (like you know wrong capitalization of eastern region etc. and some too many brackets the editors has added - I thought commercial books should have no brackets..etc etc).
I don't mind being ragged and beaten about - but it is a current affairs book so this whole thing of blanking me out or delaying it if I even make a small suggestion (only the essential one, not the small one like above)kind of not right for the book.

Nothing to be done except bite my nails but is this common? Any shoulders?

Nathan Bransford said...

Sorry to hear that, anon. The Forums area also a great place to connect with writers going through publishing pains!

Adam Heine said...

That's a tough question, Nathan. On an individual level, ignoring the attention seekers is usually best (as you know well, running this blog).

But scaled to the size of the internet, I don't think it's even possible. Even if all the wisest people choose not to react, there will be plenty of well-meaning folks who give these guys attention (plus, you know, the media, which gets paid better every time book-burning nutjobs hit the national scene).

On the other hand, if this dog piling does end up creating more attention seekers, eventually might not the public get bored of even that? "Look, you're the sixth guy to ban a book on CNN this week. What makes you any different than the other five?"

I say we pick our battles wisely. That way when we do say something, it will be more likely to be heard.

Anonymous said...

You can't not fight them directly, even with a merited argument of your own. Aritstole pointed out that humans can make anything sound rational. And they will come right back with an argument that seems just as sold as yours.

The best way is to make fun of them using their own words and absurdities. They want attention but people laughing at them isn't it.

The guy who's trying to ban Speak works for a university. Is censorship really the message colleges and universities want to send to their students? I sent a message to the board of directors, asking them that very same question.

kerrygans said...

There is no easy answer. I am with the posters who say consider the source, consider if this person can really cause any harm (for example, if he/she has influence with a school board or libraries), and react in a calm and rational manner. I also agree that ignoring is almost impossible on the Intenet in that many other fellow crazies will pick up the theme. But major, respected news sources can ignore, which would keep the crazies away from the majority of people.

So I think you have to pick your battles. As Nathan said, "On the one hand, truth and decency and free expression are absolutely worth fighting for, and even if it's a mosquito biting you, you swat it."

Because even "just" a mosquito can give you a fatal disease.

Ishta Mercurio said...

What Mira said.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

@Nathan 6:13pm, Thanks for taking time to answer my question. I think you put it in perspective for me by calling it the "publishing pains". Guess there is no way to be born without going thru the birth pangs. Thanks.

Tracy Hahn-Burkett said...

I'm sympathetic to the argument that too many nutjobs are getting too much undeserved attention. There are a lot of crazies out there who have lasted way beyond their alloted fifteen minutes of fame.

The problem in keeping silent, though, just because another "wacko" has pulled another stunt is that if we do so for the very real concern of not wanting to give this person the very attention he or she craves, then we permit his or her actions to continue without condemnation. Maybe once, that's not such a big deal. Maybe twice, well, who really cares? But the third time? The fourth? The twentieth? At what point does the book-banning (or anti-Muslim slurs, or take your pick of what's been in the news lately) become a trend? At what point is the problem serious enough that we feel compelled to speak out and say, "This is unacceptable in our society"?

What happens if no one or not enough people speak out against those who would ban books or otherwise limit ideas or people's rights is that the flow of information itself becomes limited. People start receiving information only from the side that's speaking out. One of the previous commenters here discussed the question of the novel, Speak, whether it was erotic in nature and whether erotic material should be read by kids. As it happens, I blogged about Speak today (it's my pick for Banned Books Week this year) and why I want my kids to read it when they're adolescents. There's nothing remotely erotic about that book. It's about rape, trauma and depression in an adolescent who is afraid to speak about what happened to her. These are the facts about the book, but you would never know this if you only read the editorial written by the professor who most recently attempted to ban the book. For the facts, you need information from someone who is making the effort to present them.

Yes, this guy is getting more attention than he deserves. So did that pastor down in Florida recently. Look at the series of turnabout stunts he pulled. But I think we (the public) and the media bear some of the responsibility for that, because we eat these sensational news stories up like the cotton candy they are. That story deserved some reporting, but not the non-stop, there's-nothing-else-happening-in-the-world coverage it received.

Freedom of expression and intellectual freedom are hard. They're complex. Sometimes they're annoying. Sometimes people say things that make me want to punch them in the mouth. But the best thing we can do as writers is pick up our pens (or go to our keyboards) and express ourselves right back.

Tracy Hahn-Burkett said...

Sorry about that, everybody--especially Nathan. I kept getting error messages telling me that my comment wasn't posted. And then there were three of them. I was not, um, trying to pull an attention-getting media stunt. *hangs head*

Nathan, I can't delete the extras, so please get rid of them at your convenience. Again, sorry.

Anonymous said...

I suspect Tracy was just techno-inept, as I am, and posted three times in error.

But those posts point up -in a way- the problem of "ignore". If we ignore the destructive or annoying the media becomes dominated by it.

Just the appearance of the crazies' messages provide all the positive reinforcement the need to perservere and there is no way to reach them with negative reinforcement.

So what to do?

I just stopped to listen. I can hear traffic, two trains, kids playing b-ball down the street and a sprinkler next door.

But I'm not dominated by it, only the media is. I just finished an excellent sonnet and did not notice the noise at all.

We can learn to ignore ambient noise. If we want our internet, we're going to have to learn to do it here too.

tim pfau

Erica75 said...

Pay attention to what you believe Fight for what you believe to be true. Ignore all the crap.
Since most of my living was before the internet age, that's what I believe.

That said, fight if you need to. Fight against people who find homosexuality and rape (and witchcraft and wizardry, although I can't believe that's even a part of this) topics to be censored. Fight. Buy. Believe.

Anne Louise Bannon said...

This is probably way too late in the conversation (and somebody may have already said so). But I have always felt that the best way to treat inappropriate, irresponsible use of media is the same way you treat a toddler's temper tantrum. You ignore it. Why give these bozos any more attention than they deserve? Then, quietly and positively, endorse that which you believe is good and true.
It's true that cream rises to the top. So why worry about some crazy stirring folks up? If they start acting on it, then maybe you'll have to take steps. And we all called to cry out injustice as we find it. But sometimes the most potent cry is the silent one.

Whirlochre said...

I suppose it's a case of trusting that we're big enough to own the internet — it is just us talking, after all.

In the battle of ideas, will reason win out? I hope so.

Sure, there will be thousands of cranks, but it's not as if they will suddenly be spawned. Cranks exist already.

My fear is that the internet will be censored in subtle ways in the years to come. It's an on/off mechanism much like a swipe card door, and if ways can be found to link readily gleanable info about your IP address to sites, information etc, 'banning' could be achieved by such means.

However, I entertain such fears rarely (usually on Tuesdays at 2pm, over tea and a muffin) and I don't think it will come to that.

One thing I consider a privilege is being able to discern the difference first-hand between an internet world and an internet-free world. TV, radio, toothpaste, I take for granted — but not the net. Future generations won't have this Before & After Net Sense (though hopefully, they'll still have toothpaste.)

Jeannie said...

Taking the quote "Censorship=horrible," let me step out and be way unpopular here for a minute.

There's an old saying that my rights end where someone else's begin. I suggest that this is really what the debates over censorship are all about. I also want to suggest that there's a little blind spot, especially among writers, on the subject.

Most of us know very well that there are good reasons to censor certain information and keep it from public view: private medical records, the identities of sex crime victims, the reports of informants and spies where a revelation would lead to the death of the person reporting--the list is actually quite extensive.

The sticky point comes when personal rights are debated. Writer X may have every right to post hateful racist comments on a blog--but Blogger Z doesn't want the discussion hijacked into mindless screaming, and as the blog author, he has the right to mold the blog's image and direction.

Then there are values--no, you can't get away from the values debate, no matter how much you'd like to. There will be a line drawn somewhere--unless you're fine with having schools teach the joys of child marriage or sadomasochism to six year olds. Yes, that sounds absurd. But please, let's take the thing to its logical conclusion.

Between totalitarianism and the anarchy of the vile, there is little to choose. Democracy such as it is exists on a very small and fragile plain--and only survives in the struggle between all concerned--because we can all agree that we don't want someone else dictating our values, whether he's the censor or the pedophile. We grant the other person some small ground in trade for our own, but in the back of our minds, we know it doesn't really work--taken to extremes, it can't work.

May I suggest that nothing which depends on human beings ever will--in the long run?

And no, I don't believe--fortunately--that it all depends on us.

Claire Dawn said...

The possibility exists though, that the one you ignore will be the one who succeeds in making all books go through some sort of National Approval system before publishing.

Khanada said...

I just want to say I LOVE "the Internet is greasing the crazyperson skids."

And I agree with you. No easy answers here. For me, it helps to focus on the issue and not use the crazyperson's name. At least I feel like I'm swatting the mosquito and not giving her too much blood that way.

J.M. Lacey said...

As artists, we'd be hypocritical if we screamed First Amendment, but banned others from doing the same. Censorship becomes confusing because there will always be someone that pushes the line (much like a child under a parent's guidance)and moral laws have to be re-reviewed. It wasn't long ago that the Bible was banned for being immoral.

Whether it's a book, the Internet, movies, music or whatever, it's up to us as individuals to make an informed decision for OURSELVES what we deem is right and proper. Parents have the responsibility to be involved with what their children choose as recreation until the child learns to make an informed decision. As adults, we need to do the same. Notice I said "informed decision" because not everyone will agree with another individual's decision. It's a personal choice.

The ones that push the line will continue to push as long as they have an audience. Why do we cringe when we see celebrities on the news daily because of their (bad or good) choices? Because there is an audience.

If there's no audience for a book, show or blog, etc., the writer/creator will be forced to go away because no one cares.

But the reality is, the world's ideas of what is right or wrong are constantly changing. What was considered indecent 10 years ago is now acceptable. Therefore, censorship is under the gun because there is no right or wrong.

So the choice comes down to the individual.

WitLiz Today said...

Crazyperson, whackjobs, nutjobs, trolls, bozos, crazies, oddballs, attention whores, fame whores, etc...

What a sad world we live in, when writers and agents are reduced to name-calling entities to try to understand the pathology of human behavior.

Why in the holy hell of intelligent reasoning must you attach perjorative terms to fuel your arguments? I can't even begin to tell you how immature that is, and how it wrecks any semblance of a cogent explanation as to why you think we face such adversity in dealing with our fellow humans.

Here's a truism. In order to fight for what you believe in, you better damn well understand the humanness behind the face that fuels the kind of behavior being talked about here.

Furthermore, a prolonged look into your own heart might be in order before you even attempt to understand forces and motivations that drive a feeling, thinking human person to do things that maybe they wouldn't do under normal circumstances. And in this day and age, there are so many people living under such extreme conditions, I'm not surprised to see a lot of venting on the internet, or attention-seeking behavior.

Yes, the internet has given a troubled voice a chance to be heard. We may not like what we read, but we don't have to lose our humanity trying to understand it. That means, whenever possible be civil, courteous, empathetic and always compassionate when dealing with, or trying to understand difficult behavior that touches you personally.

There are a few things in this world that we have control over. One of them is our reaction to what we witness on the internet, or the adversity we face on a daily basis.

Mira said...

Ishta - wow, thanks. :)

Nathan Bransford said...


Comment, thy name is irony.

Debbie said...

You've raised a hot topic, Nathan. I'm of two minds about this. As writers, we need to be able to stand up and speak about what we believe in, whether or not if fits within the accepted norm or current political agenda. We are often seen as the voice of the people. Silence us, and you silence that voice.

The severity of the offense does need to be considered, though. I've always believed that silence is permission. Hate mongering, for example, should have no place in our society. You can't just ignore it and hope it will go away.

We're lucky enough to live in countries where we can write freely about what we think. Freedom does come with the responsibility to do something about it when someone crosses the line.

The tricky part is knowing where the line starts and ends.

Ted said...

or to quote the drill sergeant in STRIPES, "lighten up, Francis."

Anonymous said...

Opinions, like excretory orifices, are impossible to argue against, and everybody's got at least one of each.

I never saw the value of censorship as a restrictive tool. Censors had to read a book in order to ban it. Prurient interest posing as moral superiority.

Banned book lists just enticed me to seek out the books. No one stopped my from reading them. The underground library's grapevine was pretty active before censorship faded in my youth.

The grapevine is faster than the Internet can ever be. So-and-so can split his drawers in church and it will be known across town before the service is over.

Buzz, Buzz, Buzz that's all censorship does. Bring it on.

Actually, banning books and freely speaking controversial opinions published on the Internet aren't that far apart in the buzz department. Bring it on.

KK said...

I don't see anyone mentioning the fact that in the publishing world, there is a lot of "groupthink" going on, including you, Nathan - from my perspective.

If an anti-war sentiment seems to be out there, or anti-chocolate chip cookies or we love gays or we hate negativity (please note the pun there) THAT seems to be what agents are interested in. And who helps people get published? AGENTS. You are the ones who are banning books before they are printed because of your agendas and "groupthink" ideology.

If it were as easy as knowing exactly how many are going to be sold and that you can make money on it no matter what the content, great!

But an agent is a human being who has ideals and thoughts that only they rationalize into what they think is the Eden of the world and that only certain books will help people understand THAT is how it should be.

If you could open your own minds and see Eden from someone else's perspective, there would be a lot more great books out there than there is. Agents are the main stiflers, from my perspective. Because your opinions on CONTENT and not SALES put up the blockages LONG before there is a book on the shelf at all.

This content has nothing to do with writing ability, either. Just plain content. Don't make more of what I'm saying than what I'm saying.

Nathan Bransford said...


Well, first of all Hannah did mention that. Tangent, sorry, but I am always mystified when people lead their comment with, "I don't see anyone talking about X." Why take an accusatory tone about what people aren't talking about, as if there's something wrong with someone not mentioning every possible reaction and every possible opinion? Anyway.

I don't know that I'd overstate the extent to which agents are a monolith of groupthink or that agents solely represent works with which they agree politically. People often accuse the industry of being a bastion of liberalism, but you need only look at the bestseller list to see that there are books across the political spectrum that are being published. I don't think deciding against publishing what is not considered economically viable remotely amounts to censorship, especially when there are so many avenues to publication and platform building outside of the industry. The publishing industry is capitalistic. If there's money to be made in publishing a book, someone is gonna publish it regardless of its political leaning.

Angela Perry said...

I recently had to make a decision on this topic. Should I ignore the crazy? Or fight it? I think it comes down to picking your battles.

There's a difference between filtering and censorship. Censorship is imposing your choice on others. Filtering is making the choice for yourself. If I don't agree with a view, I'm not going to call attention to it by yelling about it or giving the crazy person a platform.

However, if it has already become an issue (due to the crazies yelling loudly enough that they are impossible to ignore, or because other people paid them attention when they shouldn't), that's the time to stand up and fight. At that point, ignoring the issue won't fix it any longer, and if I care about the issue, I need to take action.

Em-Musing said...

Gently asking, is there a banned book a child really "needs" to read?

kimberlyloomis said...

We have control over ourselves, our ideals and our actions and so we must work hard to communicate them when we can and to stand up for them when we determine they're in peril. Let the asses bray if your conscience says to; if your conscience indicates otherwise bray louder. ;-)

Remember: One person's crazy could very well be many people's hero. It's all in the subjective definition.

lahn said...

The argument that we should ignore fanatics as we might ignore a toddler's tantrum has a few logical flaws. First, toddlers generally aren't armed; fanatics often are. Second, there is a difference in vocal range. My four-year old can scream so loudly in a tantrum that our wind chimes vibrate. You still can't hear her next door. Fanatics can be heard across the globe.

Ultimately, I think everyone here is writing from within a fairly narrow niche. I would guess that all of the contributors to this thread are well-educated and care passionately about words, even if we might disagree on how and when to use them. This is, after all, the blog of a lit agent.

Widen the view a bit and the perspective shifts. Go historical, go global. The fanatics get coverage and they get followers even if we, within this niche, ignore them.

World catastrophes don't happen because too many people speak out against hatred and injustice. They happen because too many people remain silent. Yes, the internet widens the scope, but it doesn't change everything. There was newspaper coverage of the Holocaust. It wasn't a secret. The fires didn't die out -- and yes, I mean that both figuratively and literally.

We do not have the right to rest, complacent, in our cultural or historical moment. In our niche. We have a responsibility to speak out, to provide alternatives to fanaticism. It doesn't just go away.

HHB said...

The internet is not always in time.

I posted it on my blog to kick off Banned Books week~

KK said...

Nathan - I re-read Hannah's post - she didn't actually come out and say "agent". I am talking about groupthink in general facilitated by agents. I wasn't actually going after liberalism nor conservatism. "Isms" seem to go in trends, anyway. That's why I felt the issue had not been discussed yet.

I understand the need to make the moolah, but if something is well-written and daring, why would an agent NOT want to take the chance on it? I sure would.

Yes, we need the cash to live, but isn't there a sense of pride and honor in knowing you helped facilitate a great literary publishing for the world? There is more to life than going along with what everyone else is doing. That is to include thinking a celebrity is a writer. Blech.

Nathan Bransford said...


I wouldn't lump agents together on that count either. Agents take chances on books like that all the time. But if you want a world where daring literary works receive attention commensurate with highly commercial works I think you'd have to look hard at the culture as a whole. It's tempting to say oh, if agents just represented this type of book and if publishers just published this type of book it would be popular. I think the world is more bottom-up than that, and now more than ever. The fact is that daring literary works are out there, and the reading public is not seeking them out in large numbers. I don't think you can blame agents for that, particularly when agents are far, far, far more likely to be fond of daring literary works than the public at large.

Nathan Bransford said...

Of course, we're talking about this at a time when daring work is a #1 NY Times bestseller. I'm not sure whose point that proves.

Anonymous said...

I think I had sort of demonized my publisher when I need indeed be grateful to him. We newbies also tend to be over reactive and take things personally.. (I'm the whining anon of yesterday). Actually the publisher has also spent enormous time and energy on my project while knowing fully well that I'm as an yet unpublished author as well as have no publicity platform. Reading this about daring new works not getting a chance - he actually gave me a chance. I wish I could delete my whining message of yesterday.

KK said...

Nathan and Anonymous - I'm not trying to prove a point, just comment that in my experience and from what sounds like the experiences of others, the positions of agents and/or publishers on who gets published and who doesn't seems to a) be a groupthink issue and b) based on sales. You cannot plan on your book being wildly popular with people, whether you are a great writer or not. People like what they like. Agents like what they like. They represent what they like and chuck the rest. Doesn't matter if it's good. If you are writing to a specific market, you can hope they'll eat it up (I for one have had enough of vampires). However, if you are an awesome writer and have something importantly relevant to say, why would an agent not represent an obviously important piece because it may not sell enough in their minds because they know it's important but not their opinion? Maybe because if it isn't their opinion, they think it won't sell. I think of agents like movie producers - you throw in your chips and hope you get a return. No guarantees.

What I've been meaning in all these posts is that it seems that chips are more than not thrown in where there seems to be a sure thing like a previously published writer or a celebrity - one has a public platform and the other is continuing their show or whatever. I for one will never buy a child-rearing book from someone like Madonna. Her background doesn't prove her an expert, but she gets her book published because some think she can sing. For me, that removes a lot of respect and credibility for agents and publishers at large. I am waiting to see if a political piece get published by Lady Gaga, that's how low I think the publishing world has sunk. That is what frustrates and angers real writers. And may also be a part of the cause less books get read. The publishing of crap hurts us all.

Nathan, I totally understand what your job is. I just think unpublished writers are given the shaft because of the cultural "groupthink" that goes on and prevents a lot of great writing to be hidden from us that we are all the sorrier for not getting to read.

Anonymous, I get you. But I don't think the lack of a public platform is an excuse to not get published. Everyone had to start somewhere. And whining is okay, it comes with the territory!

Nathan Bransford said...


Still seems to me that your posts are more about wanting certain types of books to be more popular than they are. And for that I think you'd have to take a hard look at the reading public.

J. T. Shea said...

Good question, Em-Musing. Gently replying, there is probably no single banned book a child needs to read. But freedom is not a matter of necessitarianism or utilitarianism. Apply the test of necessity to all freedoms and you would soon whittle them down to whatever some authority thinks we need, not what we want.

Most human activities can be dismissed as unnecessary by other people. Most HUMANS can be dismissed as unnecessary by other humans. Dr. Samuel Johnson famously asked what was the utility of any new-born baby. He had a point.

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