Trust and Secrets in Romanceland

When I closed VM and started this blog I said I wouldn’t write about Romanceland anymore. And for the most part I haven’t wanted to. But Wendy’s post about the broken nature of the community struck a deep chord, one that writing a comment at her post can’t fully address. If you’re interested, read on. If you’re done with thinking about Romland, skip this and come back to read the next post.

When DA Jane told Romland that she was also author Jen, I was obviously at ground zero for the announcement. It’s hard to avoid the feeling that the Jane/Jen revelation created a seismic shift. Not for everyone; some readers, mostly people who aren’t deeply invested in Romland relationships, will keep right on reading Dear Author and/or Jen Frederick’s books. They don’t care much about the connection. Other readers won’t. Authors and longtime members of Romland seemed to fall most frequently on the sense of betrayal side. Writing communities in this genre are a combination of professional development, friend circles, and expertise exchange, and the friend/bonding component appears to be stronger here than in many other professional settings with which I’m familiar. That, combined with DA’s loud and sustained emphasis on disclosure and reader-only spaces, led to a deep sense of resentment even among Romland people who didn’t personally encounter Jen Frederick.

I think that what the DA announcement did was put the final nail in the coffin of the idea and the reality of widely-followed, reader-run sites. if Dear Author is an author-run site (which it now turns out to be), then there are no water-cooler-type review and discussion sites in Romland which are are not author-directed zones (or industry-directed, in other cases). To a great extent I think this is a reflection of the way Romland has changed over the past decade. There is little incentive or ability for someone who is only a reader to own and operate a major review and reading blog, forum, or website. It takes an enormous amount of work and time, and you need to generate a lot of content to stay in the online public’s eye. At the same time, any site that does attract readers is also going to attract authors and industry professionals, partly for the conversation, but also because selling books is a difficult task and the word of mouth praise of readers is golden. So a reader-run site with a growing reach is going to face huge pressures to be coopted. Whether that’s by taking ARCs, featuring authors, running giveaways, or transitioning from reader-blogger to industry-blogger is going to depend on the individuals, but the incentives for cooptation are enormous.

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