In the school market, the content of the books we sell is paramount- especially in Young Adult Fiction, where the topics don’t always fall in line with the values of the particular community. For this reason, many of our school boards have a review process in place to evaluate the suitability of materials being considered for purchase in a school.
Recently, a reviewer lodged a complaint about one of the submitted books because the story is loosely based on a political scandal that took place in our city, and the resemblance of the main character to the political person involved offended the reader to the point that it’s been deemed unsuitable for purchase by any school in that board. The author has previously published middle-grade novels, and is a journalist/editor as well, but isn’t what we’d call a recognizable name, or someone who will likely be reviewed by professional journals. What especially bothered me about this (other than feeling like the positive messages in the book were overlooked) is that I suspect that had the author been one of those big names, I don’t think that it would have been as offensive to the reader.
Whether you are a bookseller/educator/librarian or reader, there are certain authors whose books we purchase sight unseen. A new book by Mr/Ms Superstar is a no brainer, and we seldom stop to ask what it’s about. One such superstar author has frequently taken on headline-making subjects, and the books are generally well-executed. The author is frequently applauded for having a finger on the pulse, and appears on multiple awards lists on an almost annual basis. Whether or not this superstar author would ever write about this particular subject is besides the point, but this got me thinking about whether or not these authors are a bit like the Emperor from the popular Andersen fairy tale.
In the fairy tale, two weavers promise the Emperor a suit of clothes that will be invisible to anyone who is unfit for their position, stupid or incompetent. When the Emperor parades around naked in front of his subjects, everybody is afraid to tell him that there is new suit, and instead praise the non-existent suit of clothes. All except for the one child who has the courage to call him out.
Publishing is a business, and just like any business, it has to make money. If a publisher is fortunate enough to have a John Green or a James Patterson in their stable, of course they want to ensure that the author is well-treated and happy, (again, just like any business does with their clients) but perhaps it’s gone too far to the point of publishers, reviewers & readers alike being held hostage by these emperor status authors, making them unwilling or unable to criticize something for fear of seeming stupid or incompetent or of being criticized by the author’s fans on Social Media- especially when the same book by a lesser known or less popular author would be torn to shreds.
I’m not suggesting that all of these authors are like the emperor and not deserving of their superstar status, but my question is whether or not we allow them more slack because of that reputation, and if in doing so, we’re doing the author, the book, and the readers a great injustice.