On Very Famous Literary Trolls

Last week, Twitter couldn't stop talking about a Literary Hub listicle written by a Very Famous Literary Troll. The Very Famous Literary Troll is famous for more than being a Literary Troll, of course — he's a bestseller who's been lauded in just about every bookish publication — but whenever the Very Famous Literary Troll has a new book out, he comes forth and issues a Very Serious Proclamation, usually having to do with writing and the internet. And people get very angry about the Very Serious Proclamation.

It's all a little exhausting.

I don't have time for the Very Famous Literary Troll's books anymore. I think he's proven himself to be an inelastic thinker — one whose time has come and gone. His books have already aged poorly, and based on his writing, he seems to be aging poorly as well. And I think most of the uproar caused by the Very Famous Literary Troll serves as nothing but free promotion for his bad books. I decided a while ago that I would try my best to ignore all of his Very Serious Proclamations, and that turned out to be surprisingly easy. The uproar begins, people rage against him, he ignores the response, and then everyone forgets about the uproar and moves on to the next thing.

I'm not saying that people are bad or wrong for responding to the Very Famous Literary Troll's Very Serious Proclamations. I'm a straight white male and so the Very Famous Literary Troll doesn't threaten me at all; there are lots of people who don't have that kind of luxury. And "don't feed the trolls" was one of the dumbest and wrongest truisms to be born in the early days of the internet. I've read and learned from a bunch of thoughtful essays about privilege, race, class, and literature that have been written in response to a Very Serious Proclamation or two.

But before you immediately respond to the Very Famous Literary Troll the next time he has a book to promote, I hope you'll stop and consider a few questions.

  1. Am I just tossing a disposable zinger into the social media void? Because if so, aren't I just willingly volunteering to join the PR campaign for his latest book?
  2. If I'm a white or otherwise privileged author, could I use my time more effectively than responding to this? Perhaps I could amplify the voices of writers who don't enjoy the Very Famous Literary Troll's massive platform instead?
  3. Shouldn't I be writing, I dunno, anything else right now?

If you consider those questions and you still feel like you have to say the thing you want to say, feel free. I hope you add to the discourse and feel good about your contribution. I can't wait to read it.

But if you opt out of responding, I hope you'll make a note to yourself to think about your decision in a week's time. Set a calendar reminder to reflect on your choice in exactly one week. Odds are good that you won't even remember what outrageous statement the Very Serious Literary Troll made.

And here's something personal I wanted to add as an aside: I've proudly contributed to Literary Hub in the past. I think they're a very fine publication that has ably filled a huge void in literary coverage on the internet. But I was embarrassed for Literary Hub last week. The day after they published that piece by the Very Serious Literary Troll, they posted another article composed entirely of angry tweets responding to their previous article.

"Yesterday, we published a lot of great pieces that probably not that many people read because they were too busy talking about this one on Twitter," the Literary Hub article began in an unfortunately self-congratulatory tone. This is one of my least favorite forms of journalism: a media outlet causes an uproar with a controversial piece and then fluffs itself up by promoting the uproar that they themselves caused.

Please note that I'm not calling for a media boycott or arguing that Literary Hub shouldn't have published the Very Famous Literary Troll in the first place. I'm not arguing against anyone's free speech. But I am saying that the literary internet should aspire to something better than this level of masturbatory clickbait.

I've read plenty of quality pieces on Literary Hub and I'm sure I'll read more pieces of that high quality again. But in that post — the one celebrating the controversy that they courted by monetizing critical tweets without compensating the writers they angered — they failed to meet the high standards that their organization promotes.