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ISWG Are Online Whisper Groups Bullying YA Authors Out of Publication? What's an Author to Do?

t's time for another installment of the Insecure Writer's Group hosted by the illustrious Alex J. Cavanaugh. To learn more about this supportive group click on the host's name.

I feel very strongly about what happened to this author, and I fear it could happen to the rest of us if we don't stick together. 

Recenty, SCMP reported that after signing a seven figure book deal for the Fantasy, BLOOD HEIR, Chinese author Amelie Wen Zhao was forced to pull it from publication due to allegations of racism.  

The premise of the highly anticipated Fantasy trilogy was a retelling of Anastasia, except Zhao's adaptation used blood magic. Critics felt the story had racist undertones because of the cover blurb's description of a "World where oppression is blind to skin color and good and evil exist in shades of gray."

Many criticisms came from a whispers online group, which, from my understanding are sort of the gate-keepers to approving YA novels.  I'm sure this is an oversimplification, but for the sake of brevity, I hope it gets the point across. The backlash began when one critic, LL McKinney, tweeted how the book perpetuated anti-black sentiment. She said it was not possible for oppression to be color blind. This, in turn, set the wheels of book-bashing in motion. 

Zhao, who immigrated from China at the age of 18, wrote a response letter, apologizing for any offense she may have caused, adding that the story was a representation of the indentured labor and human trafficking, prevalent in her country today. Further, the history of slavery in the U.S. was not something she intended to write about, but she recognized the subject was not viewed from her cultural context.  

The problem I had with this entire situation was two-fold. First, Zhao was bullied into pulling her book from publication, which IMHO, is a form of censorship. Secondly, even if McKinney's comments were true, the public had a right to read and interpret the story for themselves. They never had a chance to start a conversation about it. Since when does the opinions of the few dictate which books pass muster?  Free speech was and is the very foundation our country is built upon. If that's taken away, us authors may as well toss our pens and be done with it. 

This brings me to the reason I chose to include the above information in the ISWG today. I'm currently writing a YA historical Fantasy that includes controversial themes. In my narrative, I've strived to build a model main character who makes the right choices, and overcomes her obstacles in a healthy manner. After reading about Zhao's experience, I'm insecure about some of the issues raised in my novel. If I'm fortunate enough to become a published author, will my book be rejected by the elite few? Experts in the publishing industry have often told me to write the story I want to write and forget about everything else. But it takes years to accomplish this. I'm now afraid that any story with controversial themes will be pulled. What's an author to do? Any and all comments about this will be welcomed. Until next time, happy writing.    


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