High-Stakes Testing Chat Tonight

Tonight (Thursday, December 8th) at 7PM EST in the US (4PM in California and 11AM on Friday morning in Sydney), I’m doing a chat about high-stakes testing and how schools teach writing. Are those five-paragraph essays going to turn you all into novelists? And how about those syllogisms on the SAT?

I’ll be joined by David Levithan, Robin Wasserman, and Lauren McLaughlin, whose book Scored inspired the panel.

Click here for details.

To prepare for this, Lauren and I took the essay section of the SAT, and had ourselves scored by a professional examiner. You can read our essays and see what grades we got here at the Huffington Post. (Note that we had exactly 25 minutes to write those essays! Just like you guys did/will!)

Click here for more about Scored, which is out now. It’s set in a dystopian world where every kid gets a Score when they turn 18, determining their prospects for the rest of their life.

Hope to see you all tonight! (Tomorrow morning for me.)

Think of the Parents

I spent yesterday morning listening to the indefatigable Maureen Johnson. She was on the radio with a Wall Street Journal writer best known for decrying the state of young adult lit. You know the drill: “YA is too dark, too depressing, and is bad for the kidz!”

I am not here to argue against fact-free trend pieces, however. Maureen and the internet have already done that and done it well. And, you know, haters gonna hate, and shoddy journalists gonna shod. There’s no way to stop that. Here’s the problem I would like to address instead:

When these issues arise, we writers, librarians, booksellers, teachers, and editors know that the media is overblown and out of touch. We know that the huge boom in YA is helping young readers, because we see it in our in-boxes, our libraries, our stores, and our twitter feeds every day.

Sure, some books aren’t right for some kids. But it’s not like that challenge has recently grown insurmountable. In fact, connecting the right book with the right reader has never been easier. There are more specialist teen librarians than ever before, teenage readers are relentlessly networked, and book reviews from all perspectives are more plentiful than at any other time in human history. (Thank you, the internet.)

But someone has to think of the parents. Especially those who randomly turn on the radio or read the WSJ and are exposed to this alarmism. They may not know how to check out all those amazing stories tweeted on #YASaves. They probably don’t follow comment threads on blogs like this one, where bookish teens prove hourly how smart, supportive, and savvy they are. Many parents don’t know what “DFTBA” means, and thus may not realize how awesome their kids are not forgetting to be.

And the other side in this debate sounds perfectly reasonable. “We just want a conversation! We just want parents to be aware!” And they couch everything in that scary questioning tone: “These books MAY be turning your kids into cutters.” Like when local news promos ask, “Are your cleaning fluids making you hate America? Story at eleven!”

Here’s my problem with this brand of “reasonableness”: Conversations have contexts, and awareness is always flavored by its catalyst. Let’s take two examples . . .

A parent goes into a teenager’s room and says, “I just heard from the wise people at the Wall Street Journal that the books you kids read these days are mostly dark and horrible and will make you cut yourself and take drugs. Let me check your books so I can make sure this is not true!”

Seriously. How do you think that conversation’s going to go?

Eyes will be rolled, tempers will rise, and more than likely this parent will be made to feel dreadfully foolish. (Teenagers are good at this last bit.) Frankly, being easily manipulated by alarmists in the media is not a good look for anyone.

But let’s say a parent goes into that same kid’s room and says . . .

“Hey, I just heard that young adult lit sales have grown by double digits every year for the last decade. You teens read so much that it’s the only profitable part of publishing! And now Hollywood wants to make everything you read into movies, and more adults than ever before are reading YA! And I heard that huge crowds show up at bookstores and rented venues when popular YA writers are in town! And that many YA writers have tens of thousands of followers on the Twitter machine, if not hundreds of thousands! And that every November countless teenagers support each other in WRITING THEIR OWN NOVELS! Holy crap, we didn’t do that in my benighted day of juvenile sloth. It’s just awesome how dedicated you and your peers are to reading. Can you please lend me some of these great books?”

My guess is that this conversation will go rather better. And, unlike the Wall Street Journal, this opening gambit is full of verifiable facts!

Make no mistake, we writers want parents to talk to their kids about books. But don’t do it because some newspaper uses fear to generate web hits. Do it because reading is awesome and your kids are awesome.

There’s a problem here, though. The parents who are reading this post (on a YA writer’s blog) probably don’t need this advice. They can see through the malarky without my help. They’ve already noticed that the only “science” referred to in the WSJ‘s articles was a study of 1970s anti-drug public service announcements. (Because nothing is more relevant to 21st-century young adult literature than 40-year-old TV ads.)

But how do we reach those other parents, the ones whose innocent minds might be corrupted by these fact-missing anxiety-mechants? Parents can’t be expected to protect themselves these days. A recent study of hair cream ads from the 1920s proved that the media’s coverage of YA has gotten 37% darker in the last year alone!

Now, I’m not advocating banning the Wall Street Journal. It has many fine articles in it I’m sure, some of which no doubt cite actual facts instead of the vague impressions of random people wandering YA sections. There are always exceptions, after all, even in newspapers named after the street that recently stole $700 billion of our money.

All I’m asking is that teenagers take an active role in discussing young adult lit with their parents.

Kids, you don’t want your parents’ first exposure to YA to be in the dingy recesses of a fear-mongering financial newspaper. It’s your job to help them understand how twitter hashtags work, what NaNoWriMo stands for, and how to do the nerdfighter hand signal. It’s your duty to introduce them gently to the lighter sides of fan fic, before they stumble across a cache of Snape dub-con Mpreg epic poetry. (Um, maybe just wait till your parents are older before tackling fan fic.)

In many cases, of course, your gentle persuasion may not be enough. Some parents are too easily influenced by frightening images of teenage culture gone awry. Darkness sells, after all. For these, a simple call to the Wall Street Journal will cancel your subscription, saving both money and heartache for your beloved parent. Be sure not to leave an empty space in their lives, however. Ease them over to something more wholesome, like, say, the School Library Journal. They’ll hardly notice the difference.

My main point is this: you understand young adult lit. You get how much it’s grown, how much it means to you. Make sure that your parents understand that too, and they’ll be ear-plugged against the profiteering panic-peddlers wailing like sirens on the rocky shoals of our culture.

Thank you for listening.

Forum Meet-Up Transcript

Yesterday at 2PM, me and a hundred-ish fans from the WesterForum hung out for about an hour and a half, and I answered many questions. For those of you who weren’t able to attend, I’ have compiled them into this blog post, typos and all! (So. Many. Typos.)


“What kind of juice do you like?”

There are many juices I love. Mango! Pear! (Especially pear cider.) Apple!

“So Scott there’s been a rivalry going on (on the forum obviously) , based on the question : If the crew of the Leviathan got in a fight with Special Circumstances who would win? What’s your opinion?”

I think in a close-quarters fight the Specials would win, because they’re too quick. But in a proper battle, the Leviathan could mess them up with strafing hawks or bat-poo without ever being in danger.


That info will be released at Leaky Con and Comic Con. THAT’S ONLY A FEW WEEKS. But I can’t tell you anything now, except maybe . . . you will SEE HIM.

“Did you use the same models on the cover of Goliath that you used on Leviathan and Behemoth?”

Yes. Same models, same photo shoot on the same day. Sometime I’ll show you guys the unaltered photos.

“At any point in Behemoth, does Dr. Barlow know that Deyrn is a girl? It has been a topic of great debate.”

Hah! Not saying now, but you WILL learn the answer to that in Goliath.

“Have you ever met someone in real life who reminds you of your characters?
Or vice versa.”

Hmm, not really. Although sometimes I see someone and say, ‘Whoa, he/she’s a total pretty!’

“Nice to meet you, btw. (and tell hi to Justine (Mrs. Larbaleister (sp?)) for me, please!)”

It’s Dr. Larbalestier, in fact.

“Can Justine cook?”

She’s a great cook of Thai food, and she wants me to add that she’s a good boxer too. (She’s been taking lessons.)

“What TV shows do you watch?”

Game of Thrones, Treme, just finished Vampire Diaries,

“This isn’t really a question, just a comment. I thought you’d like to know that I used to like history, and Leviathan made me love it again. I might even try writing something historical-ish myself. ”


“Is Lilit lesbian/bi? (Please say yes.)”

They didn’t really have those categories for women back then, but she would be if she was alive today. (Strange but true fact: Male homosexuality was illegal in England back then, but female homosexuality wasn’t because lawmakers REFUSED TO BELIEVE IT EXISTED.)

“In Uglies, there are many messages, some obvious, some not so much. What messages/lessons do you want readers to take away from Leviathan?”

Hmm. I think that the big theme is about how different sides of a conflict (war or just ideological/technological) see each other, and how that can change when people are forced to work together.

“What kind of music do you like? (Do you like Florence+and the machine?)”

I like minimalism and trip-hop, and I don’t know of this Florence person.

“What is your opinion on the Hunger Games? (Will you see the movie?)”

Want to see the movie. Liked the first book, but didn’t read the others.

“When will you go on tour?”


“Would you like to join my band of Ninjas?”

I have already infiltrated your band of ninjas!

“Do you like writing about diseases? Peeps was about parasites, Innoculata had to do with a virus and in So Yesterday the main characters dad is a Epidimiologist (I think).”

I love all kinds of biology, like beasties too. Studied philosophy of biology in college. (Yes, that’s a real thing.)

“Scott-la, in the Uglies series who was the most interesting character to create?”

Hmm, maybe Mr. Simpson Smith, because he talked funny and had a very different view of the world from everyone else.

“Is there a ball, wedding, or some other formal scene in Goliath?”


“Will we ever see Deryn in a dress in the final book?
I need some hope..

Fan Art Friday, Now Fortnightly

Yes, having missed fifty percent of the last few Fan Art Fridays, I hereby declare Fan Art Friday to be Fan Art Fortnightly. (It’s not easy being a lazy blogger, okay?)

This part 2 of the Non-Drawn Fan Art trilogy, guaranteed to have zero paintings or drawings, but with lashing of tattoos, cosplay, and photography. (Fan fic will be the concluding edition, in two weeks.)

First up we have tattoos, which are the most flattering/disturbing medium of fan art, because they’re, like, PERMANENT. This should go without saying, but I’ll say it: Do not get fan tattoos without serious consideration!

And yet, kind of awesome.

For all you Midnighters fans, here’s an awesome mindcaster tattoo on a fan I met in Florida. I have forgotten his name! (Sorry, dude. But I follow you on Twitter.)

And showing even more commitment, here’s an unknown rockstar in Russia who is obviously a huge fan of Keith’s!

Photo by Theodor Melmoth.

Note that this isn’t from Leviathan, and is Westerfeldian in no way. But as you all love Keith as much as I do, I thought you’d want to see it.

Finally, here are a couple of non-real facial tattoos. (Non-real being the way to go with facial tattoos, I’d say.) The first is from Rachel, and is a mix of Special Tally and the cover of my (very) adult book, Evolution’s Darling:

And here’s another (fake) Special tattoo, spotted on the Behemoth tour last October:

By the way, if you want to read an academic paper on tattoos and body modification in the Uglies series, click here.

And now for some cosplay! Here’s Saiyuki-15, playing multiple roles:

Yes, that’s some awesome costuming AND jewelry making.

Here’s an intense Dr. Barlow, from FlyingBicycle at Deviant Art.

And now some photography from Zvaella, featuring a page of Leviathan:

Our last piece of FAF is photography plus Photoshoppery, from Ponylov. It’s one of my creations that amuses me the most, Shay’s eye-clock from Pretties:

It appears to be showing five four o’clock, given the angel of the eye and the fact that Shay’s clock runs backwards.

So here’s a mind-bending question for you: Why does Shay’s eye-clock run backward? Yes, it’s partly because pretty fashion is always silly, but there’s also a perfectly reasonable answer. Bubble-headed Tally and Shay never figure out in the books, but I bet you guys can. First correct commenter gets a virtual fist-bump from me.

(UPDATE: Solved in comment 2. But many other good theories have been proposed.)

Okay, that’s it for today. Come back in a fortnight for the all fan-fic Fan Art Fortnightly! Sorry to take so long, but there’s a lot to organize.

In the meantime, those of you in the New York City area should remember that my Book Expo America events are coming up next week! Hope to see some of you there.

Book Week Events

Before I get to Fan Art Friday, there’s a bunch of STUFF I should mention.

1) My New York Public Library event for Book Expo America has been moved to a bigger venue. If you tried to book tickets and were denied due to overflow, you can try again. Here are the deets:

NY Book Week Science Fiction/Fantasy Evening
NYPL Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at 42nd and 5th
Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
6:00 – 7:45PM
Contact: Chris Shoemaker, [Christopher_Shoemaker@nypl.org], 212.340.0958
Authors: MC: Gavin Grant (Small Beer Press)
Music: Brian Slattery
Lev Grossman, John Scalzi, Catherynne M. Valente, Scott Westerfeld
Sponsored by: BEA, NYPL, KGB Fantastic Fiction Series, NYRSF Reading Series
Each author will be reading for about twenty minutes, accompanied by original improvisational music courtesy of the excellent Brian Slattery. Then: Q&A.

I’ll also be at the BookRageous Bash later that night, at 8:30. Google it!

2) For those of you attending actual BEA, I’ll be signing at 1PM on Wednesday, May 25. This is a ticketed signing, so check out this schedule of all the authors, which also explains how to get tickets.

3) And I have a panel on Wednesday night too!

Writing for Teens Today : Authors Speak
Join some of today’s hottest YA authors as they discuss writing for teens in today’s market. From developing authentic voices to keeping the reader hooked, from plot twists and turns to keeping the slang right, find out their tips and tricks to staying in style.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Mulberry Street Library
10 Jersey St.
New York, NY

Ally Condie – Matched
James Dashner – The Scorch Trials
Ellen Hopkins – Fallout
Maureen Johnson – The Last Little Blue Envelope
Lauren Kate – Torment
Scott Westerfeld – Behemoth

Bring your copy from home or buy a fresh edition on site and collect autographs! Fully accessible to wheelchairs. Ages 12-18. (Does this mean adults can’t come? I doubt it, but maybe we’re only signing for teens. Who knows?)

There are many other things going on around BEA, of course. Here’s a list of all the other events that are open to the public.

See you at BEA.

Goliath Word Cloud

Back in 2009 I blogged a word cloud of Leviathan as a NaNoWriMo tip.

Word clouds (made easy by the lovely and clever people at Wordle) are graphic representations of which words appear, and how often, in your novel, blog, or whatever. The words are sized, of course, in relation to how many times they pop up.

Word clouds great for spotting words that a writer uses too often, like my terrible habit of people frowning before they say something, or my once-rampant obsession with the word “effulgent.”

They’re also kind of fun for creating quasi-spoilery anticipation. And with that goal in mind, I offer you the Goliath word cloud five months before the book comes out!

Click here to see the full-size version. You know you want to.

Your sharp young eyes will no doubt note that I had to remove one word from the results. It was just too spoilerizing, and rather big as you can see. But the rest remains unaltered.

Of course, certain words that are missing (or quite small) can be just as spoilery as the ones that are there. So don’t look too close unless you want to suffer from S3krit Knowledge You Cannot Forgetz.

For my own purposes, I’m glad to see that “frowned” is very wee, and “effulgent” nowhere to be found. Sadly, “barking” is smaller than I thought it would be, and “perspicacious” totally missing! (But don’t worry, “Bovril” is happily medium sized.)

Best of all, the dreaded “just” is either not there or too tiny to see, so that’s another bad habit of mine expunged. Yay.

If you’re a writer, this old NaNoWriMo post of mine will give you a few more hints how to use word clouds in your own work.

See you on Fan Art Friday!

Leviathan Unshelved!

For the second time, the glorious library comic Unshelved has reviewed one of my novels! This time it is, of course, Leviathan. (Long-time readers of this blog may remember their review of Peeps back in 2006.) It is always an honor to be Unshelved, because all your librarian friends think you’re a rockstar when it happens.

Here’s one panel from the comic/review:

Click here to read the rest.

And this review has a bonus aspect, because the guest blogger who created it, Angela Melick, decided to do a SECOND cartoon!

Click here for the rest.

Double awesomeness! So thanks to both the Unshelved crew, Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes, and to Angela for their continuing support of my books and of libraries everywhere.

Three other things:

1) Don’t forget that Friday, it’ll be time for our monthly reveal of Goliath artwork, this month with added spoilerization.

2) Sydneysiders, don’t forget the Zombies Versus Unicorns debate this Thursday at Kinokuniya bookstore.

3) The rest of you, come hang out at the Westerforum meet-up on April 9/10.

See you Friday!

From Draft to Hardback

In my last post, I answered questions about my recently finished Goliath rewrites. But one answer got rather long and has become its own blog post.

Which would be this blog post here. So, take it away, Gaia:

Now that you’ve turned in the [second draft], what sort of sausage-maker does Goliath get churned through between now and September? What are the steps that take it from “writer submits finished product” to “ravenous fans purchase and devour”?

This is a process with a lot of steps, which is why it takes from now till September, and oftentimes more than a year to complete. Here’s a rough guide to everything that’s going on. (Note that I know more about authorly stuff than the rest. Publishing industry folks, feel free to correct me—though every house differs in the details.)


My editor reads this new draft, casting aside the fact that she read the first draft many times already, and is unlikely to be surprised by the plot twists or find the jokes terribly funny anymore. This is an editor superpower that I do not have.

She may request more rewrites (hopefully much less extensive), but if the draft seems to be basically sound she sends it to a copyeditor.

(Let’s get something straight: editor and copyeditor are VERY different positions. My editor is the person I’ve worked with at S&S for many years. She commissioned the series ages ago, and has been part of its creation from even before I wrote a word. Bu the copyeditor is someone who I might never meet in person, and who’s probably a freelancer. So the copyeditor is taking a fresh look at the work, unencumbered by previous knowledge and expectations and unbedazzled by my personal charms.)

The copyeditor reads the whole book and does these things:
1) Corrects grammar, punctuation, and spelling, of course.
2) Verifies spelling consistency with the first two books. For example, in 1914 “Zeppelin” was capitalized, but these days it’s not. We decided to go with modern usage. It’s the CE’s job to make sure I didn’t forget any of these series-level decisions.
3) Makes a timeline for the events of the book, which assures that characters don’t go to bed on Monday night and wake up on Thursday morning. (Or whatever.) I already have a timeline of my own (because I am a good author!), but the CE is making their timeline only using the evidence in the book. So this should reveal if I’ve made any mistakes.
4) Checks historical facts and stuff.
5) Does other things I’ve forgotten, because I am an ungrateful author.

My editor looks at these copyedits first, to shield my delicate eyes from umbrage. (For example, the copyeditor of Leviathan tried to change the spelling of “aeroplane” to “airplane,” which I would not have survived.) Then the copyedited manuscript is sent to me, and I go through them for about two weeks. In each case, I either accept the changes, defy them completely, or make a different change, solving the CE’s problem a different way. Defying a CE is called “stetting,” because you write “STET” next to it. “Stet” is Latin for “let it stand,” because we publishing types are a CLASSY PEOPLE.


This heavily marked up masterpiece goes to Production at S&S, where they lay out pages along with the art. (Note that Keith is still working on the art as I type. He should be done by the end of this month.) This creates “page proofs,” a version of the book that looks like it will when it’s done, with the same font and such, but is not bound. However, wrongness and typos will exist, so it goes to a “proofreader.”

The proofreader does these things:
1) Also corrects grammar, punctuation, spelling.
2) Gets rid of “widows” and “orphans.”
3) Makes sure that non-standard characters (like Alek’s mom’s family, the House of Croÿ) have made it from the manuscript to this stage intact.
4) Makes sure there aren’t weird-looking typographical artifacts, like the same word piled on top of itself for three lines in a row. In any novel, this stuff happens randomly, and if left unfixed it breaks the reader out of the story. The proofreader just breaks a line somewhere above the pile-up, by adding a premature hard return, and the problem usually goes away like magic.
5) Other magic stuff that I’ve forgotten.

I get a copy of these proofread proofs (as does my editor, who as you can tell is there beside me at every stage). I go through them to make sure nothing has gone wrong with the corrections, still wielding the magic power of STET. I also check the art at this point. Usually one or two pieces of art is missing, and about a dozen pieces need to be moved. This last part is ANNOYING.

Let’s say there’s a full-page piece of art, and I want the reader to see it while reading the text on page 100. But the designer put the art on page 99, so the art spoils the surprise in the text. Argh.

Okay, so I move the art to page 100. Problem solved!

But that means that page 99 is now empty, so the text in question slides forward onto page 99 to fill that space. Note that odd-numbered pages are always on the right-hand side of an open book, so the reader won’t see the art on page 100 until AFTER they’ve finished page 99 and turned the page. Now the art is TOO LATE!


Well, I could rewrite the book somewhere else to slide stuff around, but that would just mess up something somewhere else. So I make do. (Keith and I have partially solved this problem by avoiding art that is entirely text dependant, that is, which has to be seen by the reader at an EXACT point in the story.)

This mass of scribblings all goes back to Production, who change stuff graciously and without complaint.

Then the “second-pass page proofs” come to me, and I realize that the ONE WORD that I deleted on page 187 has shifted things so that a piece of art on page 345 is now on page 344, which is the WRONG PLACE!

So I fiddle and move and shift, trying to get it all to work, like a prisoner solving a Rubrik’s Cube by passing hand-written notes to the dude in the next cell who actually has the frickin’ cube, but is slightly color blind. Well, sort of.

But somewhere around the third-pass page proofs the book has finally been made perfect, or we all politely pretend that it is, and it goes to the printer to become . . .

Advanced Reader’s Copies

Advanced Reader’s Copies are a special, cheap-paper print run for publicity purposes. They are sent to buyers at major chains, indie bookstore owners, well-connected librarians, book clubs, reviewers, my agent, bloggers who beg really well, and me, roughly in that order. (This is mid-May, because Book Expo America is in late May, and cannot be missed.)

I usually crack open one of the ARCs that I’ve been given, using it as a set of fourth-pass pageproofs. Changes can still be made. (But I don’t read the text at this point, because I can’t seriously stand it by now.)


Then comes a great ordering process, where a mighty sales force goes out to talk to bookstores and chains. The buyers there listen to the pitch, read the book and judge its cover, then look at how many Leviathans and Behemoths sold (and how quickly, and where), and finally and pick a nice round number for how many they want on their shelves on week one, and how many in reserve (printed and held, but not shipped to them right away). Organizations like the Junior Library Guild (a book club for libraries, basically) order en masse for their members, while big library systems order for themselves, as do many individual libraries. (Scholastic Book Club also gets into the action, but a little later.)

All these numbers are crunched and mangled on a really vast and glorious spreadsheet that S&S actually sent me once (see “personal charms” above), and this combination of math and BookScanomancy determines the size of the first print run. (This is in the low six figures for the likes of me.) This number is then multiplied by three and announced to a credulous and trusting world as the Official First Printing of Goliath.

Places like the Science Fiction Book Club take a different route, and prepare to print their own copies, so they can offer their members cheaper prices. (Scholastic Book Club often does this, but they love the Leviathan series’ fancy-doodle paper, and so use S&S copies. Much appreciated.)

Around this time I also get page proofs from Australia, because Penguin Oz likes to Australianise the text, turning “flavor” to “flavour” and “Dr.” to “Dr”. But they print at the same time as S&S US because of the fancy-doodle paper thing. (I appreciate youse all!)

(Note that S&S UK doesn’t send me page proofs, because they keep my American spellings. So that’s one less thing to do. And none of the foreign editions are part of this process, because other languages have their own entirely separate publishing schedules. They have to translate the whole thing, after all.)


We are swiftly leaving my areas of expertise, but at some point in, like, August or whatever, giant presses in some state with lots of vowels in its name roll and make a bunch of books. Then they print covers and stick them on, and then there are boxes and palettes and stuff. They go to an S&S warehouse or to various distributors’ warehouses, or something, but I pay no attention because . . .

My good friends in S&S Publicity have started calling magazines and other media outlets asking if anyone wants to interview me, and then they start arranging the Goliath tour!

We have meetings about marketing strategies and blog tours and whatever, and it starts to get exciting again. For one thing, no one is making me look at PAGE PROOFS. And for another, I know that soon I will be basking in the warm glowing warmth of your fannish adulations. I buy a few tweedy philosophy professor jackets for events, and start trimming down to prepare for my two-month diet of hotel room-service cheese!

And all this time, usually, I’m writing my next book, which I finish the first draft of in the nick of time. But in this case, I won’t be doing that. Instead, I will be working on a bunch of Secret Projects, each one more secret than the last, which I hope that you will be enjoying in 2012.

If you want to know what those secret projects are, come to Comic Con in San Diego. And if you can’t do that, maybe the nice people at Comic Con will allow those who do make it to use the internet.

Or just stay tuned here in late July.


If you came to this blog for the Leviathan fan art, maybe you should skip this post. But if you have a few minutes to kill, you’ll see what goes on inside the heads of writers when they deal with media kerfuffles about their books.

But first a little background . . .

Last week (decades ago in internet time) an organization called BitchMedia made a list of 100 YA Novels for the Feminist Reader. There was great celebration on the YA interweebz, because the list included many fine novels. Moreover, certain writers of a certain vintage always liked Bitch Magazine when it was an edgy west coast zine in the late 1990s, and being listed by it provided validation to our aging souls.

But then bad things happened. A handful of commenters on the blog questioned three of the titles: Jackson Pearce’s Sisters Red, Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels, and Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl. A weekend later, BitchMedia decided to yank them. A few hours after that some of us authors on the list (Maureen Johnson, Justine Larbalestier, Diana Peterfreund, E. Lockhart, Ellen Klages, and possibly more) commented to express our disappointment and request that our own books be removed from the list.

If you go to that post now, you’ll find several hundred comments of varying degrees of relevance, vitriol, and snark. I have waded in a few places, but it’s a red hot mess over there. So to better address all the questions directed at me (or not to me) in one place, allow me to share with you this dialog, in which I mercilessly decimate a straw man.

In other words, here’s all the stuff that goes through us writers’ heads while we are reacting to examples of not-quite-censorship:

Q: Why are you so crazy angry about this?

A: I’m more disappointed than angry. Particularly saddening was these words from the staffers at BitchMedia about one of the challenged titles: “This book came as a recommendation to us from a few feminists, and while we knew that some of the content was difficult, we weren’t tuned into what you’ve just brought up. A couple of us at the office have decided to spend the rest of our weekend re-considering this choice by reading the book.”

Hmm, by “reading the book.” A good place to start, and yet . . .

Just put your mind in this staffer’s place. You go out into the YA world and ask for recommendations for a 100-long list of books. You don’t read them all, of course, because you are an un- or little-paid staffer at a blog, not the frickin’ Printz Committee. When your list is posted, suddenly someone is accusing three of these books of being morally bankrupt and evil. So you hunker down and read 1000 pages over two days, with these comments lingering uppermost in your mind. You may not have a firm grip on why your original sources recommended the book, because you haven’t asked them specifically to respond to the disparaging comments. And you don’t have time to think about the issues raised here in comparison to those raised in the other books on the list, because you also haven’t read all of those either. So you cave into the tiny group of protesters, because that seems easier, especially having just read the books with those commenters’ objections in mind.

In other words, this whole process unfolded in much the same way that school library challenges do. A small group of people complain, and then people who haven’t really read these books before hearing awful things about them (and who, more important, haven’t immersed themselves in the entire set of books involved, challenged and unchallenged) have to make a snap decision.

This is what has disappointed me and many others, because we’d thought better of BitchMedia.

Q: But this isn’t like a library challenge, because the books aren’t being physically removed from anywhere!

A: True, my analogy here (Maureen’s originally) compares these events to a library challenge. But in analogies, some things are the same and some are different. If every point of comparison were the same, it wouldn’t be an analogy, it would just be the same thing—a library challenge. That’s what “analogy” means.

And yet despite its differences to actual library challenges, we believe this is still an important case, because we felt this list was important. It provided visibility for books we thought were great to a potentially new readership outside the normal YA world. Erasing books from this list was a way of making them invisible to that audience. And the people who work ceaselessly to make the books they don’t like disappear should be fought, whether they’re physically removing the books, removing them from databases or awards, or simply making them harder to find. Letting those voices win pisses us authors off.

Q: But it’s BitchMedia’s list. Don’t they have the right to change it?

A: They do. And I have the right to point out how pathetically they did so. This is about holding them to a higher editorial standard than they displayed, not claiming any legal or constitutional right.

Q: So you aren’t fighting censorship?

A: The answer to that question is long and boring and semantic. But without a doubt we are calling out wishy-washy editorial practices that mimic many of the same processes as censorship. (By using analogies. We love them!)

Q: But you didn’t just point out BitchMedia’s editorial shortcomings, you demanded your book be taken off the list.

A: I didn’t demand, I asked, using the word “please” and everything.

Asking to be removed from the list is a communication strategy. To point out the obvious, everything going on here—the list, the comments, this post—is communication. Asking to be removed was a way of displaying my strong feeling that the list was made less legitimate by their editorial practices.

For example, if a list had a few books on it that were paid endorsements, and my books were placed on it as a way to make that list look more “real,” I would make a similar request. The manner in which a list is compiled (or edited) matters, and it matters rather more to me when my name is used on it.

Q: But no one PAID to have these books removed!

A: Please look up “analogy” in the dictionary.

Q: Whatever. If someone’s book was removed from a library’s shelves, you would ask for your books to be removed too?

A: No, that would be silly. Again, the library analogy is only useful in regards to how this happened, and to some of its effects. Not in every particular.

Q: But isn’t it ironic that your response to a book being removed from a list is to try to have your own book removed from that list?

A: Not really. The strategy is explained above.

Q: But isn’t it ironic that your enemies in this affair wanted to change this list by commenting on a blog, and you also tried to CHANGE THIS LIST BY COMMENTING ON THAT SAME BLOG!

A: No, that’s just how discourse works sometimes. But you and Alanis Morissette should totally get a room.

Q: So you think you’re so great that if Uglies was taken off the list, no one would take the list seriously?

A: Most people wouldn’t notice the absence of any one book, but the demand itself is a useful rhetorical strategy. In particular, I pointed out that the Uglies series has many of the same issues that Jackson Pearce’s Sisters Red was delisted for. But the BitchMedia staffers didn’t apply those criteria to Uglies, because they only applied those criteria to books mentioned in the first twenty or so comments to their original blog post. In other words, I was pointing out the craptasticness of their editorial process, in which the fastest and most vitriolic commenters are granted special powers over the books they dislike. (Just like in, you know, libraries.)

Q: So your request to delist Uglies is merely a symbolic gesture?

A: The list is itself symbolic. It wasn’t an award that came with money or superpowers, and it’s made of symbols (letters and punctuation marks). As I said, this is a set of communications, and asking to be taken off the list was a communication strategy. Symbolic is not a bad thing, it’s just what it is.

Q: But you haven’t been taken off the list. So your strategy failed!

A: Not if more people have been drawn to the discussion thanks to the rhetorical forcefulness of my (and others’) requests to be taken off the list. That was the actual point of the request, and it seems to have worked.

Q: But wait, you said that the folks at BitchMedia hadn’t read all the books in the list. So it wasn’t that illegitimate anyway, right?

A: They got recommendations from people who they believed to be experts in some way, and the results seemed pretty awesome to me and to many others. The folks who zipped through the challenged books over the weekend were staffers, who didn’t bother to get back to the people who recommended the books in the first place. In other words, a small ad hoc committee was convened and rushed a decision out in response to a tiny minority of complainers. This is the dynamic of small-town library challenges, and we expected better of BitchMedia.

Q: But didn’t asking to be taken off this list make you look over dramatic?

A: “Overdramatic” is one word, so I win this entire argument.

Look, this stuff happens all the time in YA lit. People come in and comment with varying degrees of expertise, odd and snarky assumptions about what it is to be a teen, and randomly assigned power (like politicians commenting on texts for teenagers written forty years after they were teens), and that annoys us.

Q: What I really meant was, you’re just stirring this up for money, right?

If you think that this controversy will materially increase my sales (or the sales of any of the other authors involved), you are confused about the relative scales of those things.

Q: You really think you’re awesome, don’t you, Scott?

A: I’ve had librarians scream when they see me. So yeah. Also I’ve read one of the books in question, unlike most people in the conversation.

But more important, I’ve had decades of experience as a teacher, textbook editor, and YA writer, in which I’ve seen various flavors of control over teen books exercised by parents, teachers, politicians, other teens, and concern trolls. I’ve corresponded with and met thousands of teenagers and talked about what and how they read, and have worked for twenty years in an industry in which lists of books are compiled, argued about, and in which they make a big difference. In other words, the authors in this fight are acting from long and deep sets of experiences, and we will be fighting this fight as part of our day jobs while many others moved on to the next Internet fisticuffs. Trivializing artists involved in a these kinds of fights as self-aggrandizing is one of the oldest tricks in the book, like saying “Oh, you’ll just sell more copies, so you must be LOVING THIS.” It is a way of avoiding the much more gnarly and unpleasant issues involved.

In other words, the possibility that I’m being a pompous git for asking that my books be removed from the list doesn’t make BitchMedia’s behavior any better, or the parallels between this event and library challenges any less unsettling.

Q: But if they put the challenged books back on the list, wouldn’t they just be caving again? This time to a bigger (and better connected) group of bullies?

A: I think they should go back to their original recommenders of these challenged books and have a real discussion, not one that takes place over a weekend with “a couple of us at the office.” And if they’ve added new criteria based on a few commenters who simply got there first, why not take down the whole list and look at everything from the beginning in light of the many, many comments and concerns up there now?

Q: Um, because they’re not the Printz Committee and don’t have time?

A: Well, then maybe they could simply ask the members of the Printz Committee why one of the books they delisted, Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels, was a Printz honoree. (SNAP!)

Q: But BitchMedia isn’t saying these are bad books, just that they are inappropriate for this list!

A: It’s not the exact adjective that matters here, but the process. Again, these books were singled out and subjected to an ad hoc first reading because of a few plaintive commenters. This is not the way to do things.

Seriously, even if those two office staffers had read everything in the list again that weekend, wouldn’t it still have the appearance of impropriety?

Q: This whole kerfuffle is really not that important. Why are you making such a big deal out of it?

A: If it’s not that important, why did you read this far? Why aren’t you off on some other blog fixing Egypt?

Q: But what if BitchMedia doesn’t want to ever do anything about YA lit again because you were mean to them?

A: If they cut and run because that seems too hard, they will not be missed.

But I suspect that they’ll think long and hard about how they approach YA in the future, and will do a better job. They’ve done countless cool things for the last fifteen years, and that’s why we authors got so riled up. We remonstrate because we love.

Also, check out Margo Lanagan’s excellent post on this matter.

Back in Sydney

The postings have been slim here. Justine and I have done our bisummeral relocation to Sydney, where the weather is rather better than it is in New York.

I haz proof:


Yes, this is the view from where I work. Neener-neener.

Check this out. It is TOTALLY FAKE, but cool.

JarredSpekter of Deviant Art.

And it comes with this awesome FAKE poster, also by Jarred:


I quite like the fake movie trailer/poster art form.

But yes, this is me just being lazy, posting random stuff. I GET TO BE LAZY. I’ve been traveling all over the world the last few months, after all. And I’ve spent the last week working on a s3krit project, which I can’t even tell you about. (Yes, so why tell you that I can’t tell you? I dunno. Just to sound cool, I guess.)

Oh, also! Those of you who are e-book readers (or who know one) here’s a cool new thing:


It’s the Uglies Quartet all together in e-book form! Check it out here. And here’s a list of the many reading devices supported.

Anyway, I will get back to more regular postings in the new year. In the meantime, happy holidays to everyone.