I didn’t expect to write this and I honestly wish I didn’t have to. This morning, I woke up to an explosion of chatter on my feed that was being directed to an article from the Guardian. Author Kathleen Hale wrote a piece that chronicled her journey of… stalking a book blogger who gave her a negative review. I’m sitting here, scratching my head, wondering how Hale decided it was okay to stalk a reviewer and then publish an article about it.

Here are the facts presented in the article:

  • Hale wrote a young adult book, No One Else Can Have You, that was published earlier this year. She read the reviews coming in, both good and bad.
  • She then got a tweet from Blythe Harris, the blogger in question, about a story idea for Hale’s book — she’d been soliciting ideas from twitter to connect with her readers.

“Cool, Blythe, thanks!” I replied. In an attempt to connect with readers, I’d been asking Twitter for ideas – “The weirdest thing you can think of!” – promising to try to incorporate them in the sequel.

  • That initial connection got Hale to check out Harris’ Twitter profile, which led to her blog and Goodreads page. She found and read Harris’ review of her book, which was negative. At this point, Hale says, she was ridiculed by Harris on Twitter, who went on to attack those tweeting good reviews about Hale’s book while also referencing Harris’ negative review.
  • Then bloggers came out in support of Harris, arguing:

1) Reviews are for readers, not authors.

2) When authors engage with reviewers, it’s abusive behaviour.

3) Mean-spirited or even inaccurate reviews are fair game so long as they focus on the book.

  • Hale admits in the piece that she became obsessed with Harris.

A few nights later I called my friend Sarah, to talk while I got drunk and sort of watched TV. Opening a new internet window, I absent-mindedly returned to stalking Blythe Harris.

  • When Hale’s book came out, she was asked by a Goodreads book club for an interview and who she wanted to interview her. She asked for Harris. The book club forwarded Harris’ address to Hale so she could send the blogger a signed copy for a giveaway. At this point, Hale found out that “Blythe Harris” was a fake name, used to conceal the blogger’s identity.
  • Hale went to the blogger’s address to confront her.

I’ve seen catfishing described as just “the deception of identity online,” but that’s too broad. Many people use pseudonyms and fake personal information in the book blogging community, in order to separate their blogging from their real life. It’s a common and helpful practice — some have been harassed online because of a negative review. Catfishing, however, is using deception to lure someone into a relationship, or to get money, which Harris hadn’t done. Nor did she engage Hale, regarding her review.

I’m not sure at what point it became okay for an author to go to a reviewer’s home after getting a negative review.

What’s even more shocking is how this article was written. It feels like a lifetime movie; a play by play on how an author went from being obsessed with this reviewer online, to getting her address. An address that was given to Hale under the impression that she’d be sending book.  And going to that address! Hale wants us to sympathize with her: she’s a little strange (but in a creative way), but she consults experts (including Nev Schulman of Catfish and  a professor at Harvard Medical School), and includes insights from comedian Sarah Silverman about hecklers.

In the months before my first novel came out, I was a charmless lunatic – the type that other lunatics cross the street to avoid. I fidgeted and talked to myself, rewriting passages of a book that had already gone to print. I remember when my editor handed me the final copy: I held the book in my hands for a millisecond before grabbing a pen and scribbling edits in the margins.

Under no circumstance is it okay to go to a reviewer’s house.

I review books here on WWAC as well as on my personal blog. I hope that neither Goodreads nor the publishers I interact with, and receive books from, would hand out my address to just anyone.

Some bloggers can be mean, attacking authors rather than the book itself, and it’s inevitable that human beings will be unkind. But I will never condone poor behaviour, and have criticized both book bloggers and authors before. Bad behaviour cannot be a reason for authors to behave as Hale did.

Writing is a wonderful experience. Some people won’t like what you write. Some won’t be so nice about it. I’m so very disappointed with Hale, the Guardian, and those who made Harris’ information easily accessible. I am now sincerely terrified of what could happen when I write a negative review about the wrong author. That fear hurts the ecosystem of the book reading experience.

I’d planned on reading Hale’s book, but now I’m too creeped out. I’m also disappointed with the authors supporting Hale, because they’ve missed the point. Authors, would you like a reader to come to your home because of your book?  As YA author, Abby McDonald put it on Twitter, what if Hale was a male author? Would you still offer your support?

Abby McDonald

Hale, could have handled this differently. She could have listened to her editors and not engaged in the first place. She could have let it go. She could have communicated with Harris privately online.

She should have never gone to Harris’s home.

The book industry and authors alike now have a lot to think about. This is one hot mess.