YA Mafias & Other Things You Don’t Need to Worry About

Holly Black recently posted on the subject of the so-called YA Mafia, which apparently is a “cabal of writers who give one other blurbs, do events with one another, and like each other’s books.” Also if you cross them they can ruin your career.

In her post Holly said such a cabal does not exist. I suspect she’s right. Certainly none of the YA writers I know are involved in such a group. However, there are many YA authors I don’t know. Could be a few of them plot darkly together. Who knows?

Thing is plotting ain’t doing. As Holly points out, YA authors do not have that power. I have recommended twenty or more of my writer friends to my agent so far she’s taken on one. You see? I have her twisted around my little finger! Oh. Wait. And if I told her not to take on so-and-so as a client I shudder to think what she’d say. Probably that I’d lost my mind. Rightly so.

Here’s what I think is going on with the upset over the idea of a YA mafia. As Phoebe North says in an eloquent comment in response to Holly’s post there has been some nastiness online from authors to reviewers and sometimes vice versa:

I’ve seen countless blog posts that purport to be talking up positivity, but also include veiled threats (one post said that an author would ask her agent not to sign a writer who has negatively reviewed her friends books, even if they were fair reviews). I’ve seen authors post comments on negative goodreads reviews (and I don’t think I’ve ever seen this go well). I saw someone who had been book blogging for three years–and had hundreds of followers and who genuinely loved book blogging–shut down her blog because an agent said that she’d never sign a book blogger as an author. And this woman wasn’t . . . snarkbaiting, I promise. She wrote great, thoughtful, and generally kind reviews.

What it boils down to, right now, is a lot of reviewers feel threatened. It’s uncomfortable, because they’re readers, too, and they love books, even if they don’t like particular books. But all of this feels silencing, even for reviewers who never want to be authors. There’s this air of intangible hostility around the whole scene. It feels like many authors generally don’t like reviewers or bloggers generally.

That sucks. I hate any kind of silencing. And I hate that there are reviewers and bloggers who think all authors hate them. Not true!

But here’s why I don’t think you should be worried:

  1. I guarantee you that the vast majority of agents or editors seeing their author making veiled threats would be having words with them of the DO NOT DO THAT variety.

    Some authors do go nuts in the face of bad reviews.1 This is why I have long been on the record as advising them to kick their pillow around, or run around the block, or do anything that will keep them from expressing their insanity online.2 Making threats of the YOU WILL NEVER WORK IN THIS TOWN AGAIN ilk is definitely in the nutso category. When you see writers do that best to look away and hope it’s temporary. If it’s a continued pattern of behaviour? Don’t buy their books! Authors hate that.

  2. Most of the people making these threats online do not have that power. Very few authors do. Allegedly back in the day Enid Blyton used to threaten her publisher to stop them publishing her enemies. She was her publisher’s biggest seller. Hell, at the time she was one of the biggest selling children’s writers in the universe. Allegedly they did what she said. And more shame on them if true.

    These days, maybe Stephenie Meyer has that clout. But I’ve never seen her online making those threats. Nor are we likely to see her do so—from all accounts she’s lovely. People who threaten to destroy people’s careers are not lovely. They’re nasty and likely delusional.

  3. There are many reputable agents out there who would happily take on a blogger as a client. Jennifer Laughran represents the wonderful book blogger Gwenda Bond. I’m sure there are gazillions of other examples. What one agent says does not hold for all agents. I know agents who won’t represent books where children are killed. Another who can’t stand vampires.3 That’s why there are loads of different agents.
  4. The blogosphere is not as big as you think it is.

    Here’s the thing—and I suspect many of you are going to have trouble believing me—many YA agents and authors and booksellers and librarians and readers do not live their lives online. They’re too busy or oblivious or full of hate for computers to have that kind of active engagement. Yup, I know people who hate going online. I have friends who if you google them you find nothing. Shocking, but true.

    What happens in the blogosphere may seem like the biggest deal in the world but it is a tiny, tiny blip that the vast majority of people interested in YA are unaware of. Indeed many people who are active in your blogosphere also regularly miss the scandal de jour.

Phoebe North continues:

I guess I really wish book bloggers and reviewers and authors could all sit down and share beer or coffee and remind each other that there are people behind the text on the screen.

I think she’s dead on. There’s even a name for what she’s talking about: online disinhibition effect: people being astonishingly rude and cruel online in ways they wouldn’t be offline.

But I can also report that offline me and many other authors regularly share a bevarage with bloggers and reviewers and readers and librarians and booksellers and all sorts of other folks who care as passionately about YA as we do. Why some of my best friends are bloggers and reviewers.

All hope is not lost! Truly.

NOTE: Nope, this is not me returning to regular blogging. Yup, still dealing with RSI. But am getting loads of writing done and am doing well. Also I have been very fortunate to not be directly affected by any of the disasters in Australia or New Zealand though thanks for asking. And if you’ve got any spare money now’s a good time to donate it to the Red Cross in New Zealand and/or Australia.

  1. Including me. []
  2. Letting a reviewer know that they’ve made a factual errors is fine. Though even then I often think it’s better to let it go. I have seen such attempts turn into full on flame wars. Not pretty. []
  3. Well, okay, many agents. []


  1. Lenore on #

    I have to admit that the “YA mafia” rumor had me running scared. But… I am a book blogger (not a snarky one) and I just recently signed with an agent. So I can definitly back up your assertion that not all agents refuse to take on book bloggers. Mine actually reps several.

  2. marrije on #

    Justine!! Good to see you!! (that is all. sorry for the sqeeing)

  3. tricia sullivan on #

    Though what I want to say is unrelated to this (very wise) post, I can’t stop myself. I miss your blog hugely and curse the circumstances that have kept you offline. But I’m thrilled that you’re getting work done and I LOVED LIAR. What an incredible, subtle, powerful book. It gave me weird dreams.

    Best of luck to you with everything.

  4. janflora on #

    This is the first I have heard of this YA Mafia (well, from MJ’s tweet 1st), but I have to say I find it hilarious. The thought of YA writers, agents, bloggers, etc. controlling the publishing world. Having street fights over books…Can you see Tony Soprano taking over #yalitchat? LOL:)
    The thought of these peers bickering over reviews and snarking about each other is sad, though. Really, can’t we all just get along?

  5. Robert Diethild on #

    As a web publisher, I’ve found that what writers need more than anything is encouragement. Seeing writers flourish as the result of any sort of inspiration is always enlightening and refreshing. In short: You don’t have to be an angel to carry the news. It does, however, take one to appreciate it. Trying to find an agent without having direction and purpose is like acting as your own attorney. It expedites your case but doesn’t necessarily get you off; if you catch my meaning.

  6. Lauren McLaughlin on #

    Great post, Justine. But if there isn’t a YA mafia, shouldn’t there be? I think you’d make a great don (donna?)

    a.k.a. Joey Knuckles

  7. Diana Peterfreund on #

    I find it hilarious that now authors are being accused of having a “takedown mafia” when just a few weeks ago, it was proved that it’s the book bloggers who have the real power (in the Bitch Magazine fiasco, where a single blog review was widely disseminated in order to trash a particular novel and eventually have it removed from a list of recommendations!). LizB of Tea Cozy even talked about “the power of a blog review” in her discussion of the Bitch Magazine issue.

    As I said in Holly’s blog, in no other sphere is it expected and encouraged that business owners who are being spoken about in the press NOT respond to criticism, misinformation, and full on personal attacks. But that’s apparently how it is with writing. In fact, most journalists will, prior to publication, contact the subject of their article and offer them the chance to comment. But, much like printing retractions or corrections of false information, this is not something that many bloggers (who consider themselves “members of the press”) think they have the responsibility to do.

  8. Cory on #

    I’d say this is pretty good advice. I know there was a huge blowout here concerning this topic –>


    I think the main thing to do is to remember that being online shouldn’t make you act any different than if you were meeting that person at a convention. And remember, you’re reviewing a book, not an author. Ad hominem attacks aren’t needed to make your point.

  9. Emily on #

    I’m wondering what “Cleolinda-style snarkbaiting” is. As a reader of Cleo’s blog, I find her reviews to be thoughtful, funny, and realistic with regard to the quality of the writing. There are some YA novels out there that, while popular, aren’t very well written. I don’t get the feeling that there’s anything attacking in her reviews, just honest.

  10. Ann Larimer on #

    “Cleolinda-style snarkbaiting?” Wait, what? Cleolinda’s obvious hatred of her subject material is…nonexistent.

  11. Aelfen on #

    What I find concerning, is the commenters at Holly Black’s blog about this, who claim they’ve seen YA authors post that they wouldn’t blurb people who reviewed them poorly, and would tell their editor not to accept any mss from such people. They don’t cite sources, however, and it sounds suspiciously like comments made during a #QueryChat Twitter discussion that had very little to do with YA authors in particular. Which started discussion in the blogosphere (I hate that word) especially over here: http://www.staciakane.net/2011/01/24/being-published-changes-everything/

    In other words, it’s the game of Whisper Down the Lane, and people at the other end of the line are getting it confused and starting yet another tempest in a teacup.

  12. Mike on #

    Hi Justine,

    Thanks for clearing up YA Mafia. I saw a reference to that the other day, but thought it was just a joke.

    I’m beginning to sympathize with you about RSI. I’ve been working on a book (non-fiction, very small, localized market) for while now, and my arms and wrists are bothering me. Darn, just as I’m nearing the end, and my self-impose deadline.

    Wearing wrist braces, so I’ll stop now.

  13. Phoebe on #



    Thank you so much for this empathetic, awesome post, Justine. And I say that not just because you quoted me here. 😉 I really think this kind of reaching out–with kindness and empathy for the perspective of the “other side” (though I venture to say we’re really all on the same side!) is what’s needed to mend bad feelings. Bloggers and reviewers are listening, and knowing that there are authors unafraid to say that they support us and our efforts really means the world, especially right now.

    (I just have to tell you that yours was the first author blog I have came across and I’ve always admired your intelligent, opinionated, but still empathetic style. You’ve been a big inspiration, and I just finally read Liar about three weeks ago and it killed me. If we ever run into each other, I hope you don’t mind if I buy you a drink! Now please, go nurse those arms!)

  14. Gwyzard on #

    Yeah, about that whole “Cleolinda-style snarkbaiting” thing…

    Who has she ever “baited”, snarkily or otherwise? I’ve been reading her blog, reviews, parodies, etc for seven years now. She’s been incredibly kind, funny, and positive, even when she has a real issue with something.

    The most “negative” I’ve probably ever heard her say was probably her beefs with the anti-feminist bent of Twilight. She makes fun of Bella Swan for not having much of a backbone & kind of not knowing who she is without a man. To many people, that seems pretty legit, and Cleo does so in a very articulate and well-thought-out kind of way. She has facilitated discussion and analysis whereas too many fandoms seem to have an “echo chamber” kind of quality… just “ZOMG THIS IS SO WONDERFUL AND PERFECT” ad infinitum, aside from the trolls. By contrast, Cleo’s readers have a grand old time analyzing and laughing over things and sharing thoughts, and not taking any of it too terribly seriously.

    This is not to say I agree with every opinion/point that Cleolinda makes, but it’s the WAY she does it that her readers enjoy so much. This whole YA Mafia thing sounds to me like a bunch of whiney wanna-be writers who just wish they had half the talent, dedication, natural gift of eloquence that shines through in Cleo’s writing, and MOSTLY, half the *attention* she gets just through being her snazzy self.

    I’ll quit ranting now… I barely ever even comment on her journal, but this just made me go “WAIT, WHAT??” Glad to have gotten it off my chest. 🙂

  15. femmefatale on #

    As much as I like you, Justine (and Holly) I kind of you guys would have this opinon.

  16. Julia Rios on #

    I typed in “ju” and then clicked by mistake on the wrong suggested autocomplete while going to check my e-mail just now. I rolled my eyes as the page loaded (no, really, it was very melodramatic), and then did a double take–new content? Really? I don’t think I have been so pleased with the results of a silly mistake like that in quite some time.

    I’ve been one of those too busy to check internet stuff a lot lately, so I’ve missed this entire Cabal of Villainous YA Authors kerfuffle. It sounds downright silly. But it’s nice to see your response, both because you’re sensible and interesting, and because it’s always nice to see that you’re doing well. Looking forward to seeing some of the things you’ve been busily writing in your web silence.

  17. Brenna on #

    Thank you for your insightful and careful thoughts. I appreciate someone stepping up and quelling a little of the fear I’ve seen online about such issues.

  18. Justine on #

    In response to those defending Cleolinda: That was Phoebe North’s comment, not mine. I’m going to remove that reference because it’s obviously a distractor.

    I have never read Cleolinda (or indeed until yesterday heard of her—I’m very out of touch with things online) but whether Cleolinda writes them or not as a general principle there’s nothing wrong with a well-written snarky review. I have enjoyed mightily many such takedowns. Yes, I have even enjoyed snarky reviews of my own books. I do not believe it’s a reviewers job to be nice about every book they review.

  19. Pam on #

    I am glad you and Holly wrote these posts. I know it has been hard on a lot of reviewers lately, and I temporarily shut my blog down. I did stop writing but honestly I am not very good at it. However the hateful posts made by the authors that I did read, the ones who said things like “we see your Goodreads page” and other creepy stuff did make me think about how I review and it reminded me that just because I am unoffendable (made that up) it doesn’t mean that other people are. I was told at a conference recently by a publicist that I have a responsibility to be nice, I agree I do and I am working on how I write negatively but I also have a responsibility to my readers. Some people (heaven only knows why) give a crap about what I say about a book and I would never want to use that to make them spend dollars on something they may not like, when they come to me for recommendations because we have the same reading style. It’s not a very lovely time to be a book blogger. We are considered the bastard children of publishing and no matter how professional we are in our private lives, and no matter how that leans into our blogs we will always be the free place to market some stuff, the cute baby sister of real reviewers. I shall stop waxing poetic in your comments now and say what I should have just said in the first place. Thank you!

  20. Justine on #

    Pam: Most publicists want all reviewers—old media or new— to be nice. I know of old media reviewers who have been told the same thing. Do what they do: ignore it. Your responsibility is to yourself & your readers. If you don’t like a book say so.

  21. Jordyn on #

    BAH. I don’t even know how to write this comment. I’ve resisted commenting on any of the “YA mafia” or posts about bloggers/aspiring authors so far because when I asked during a #querychat on Twitter (which *may* have been where this all started, I don’t know) if an aspiring author should include their book blog in a query letter, I was told by an agent that she wouldn’t work with an author who had publicly stated a dislike for one of her client’s books. I was told by an author (NOT YA) that I shouldn’t be reviewing if I’m trying to become published. Essentially, that I must choose between being a reader (at least publicly) and a writer.

    I’m about 98% sure that I’m the blogger Pheobe was referencing in her comment on Holly’s post. After three years of book blogging and reviewing (something I absolutely LOVED, by the way), not because I was afraid I’d never get published, but because there was such a negative reaction among some people that I worried I was burning my bridges in publishing before I even had a career. If I ever did get published, I figured, I wouldn’t want my relationships with others in publishing – editors, authors, etc – to be hurt because I didn’t like somebody’s book.

    To be honest, I don’t completely understand the whole “YA mafia” thing, but I definitely understand the fear some aspiring authors might have that saying the wrong thing online is going to get them “blacklisted” in publishing. Thank you so much for this rational, common-sense post. Know that it means a lot to those of us who are passionate about books and are working at becoming authors. Apologies for the super-long comment.

  22. Phoebe on #

    Apologies, I was working all day and didn’t get a chance to check back for comments here amidst the clamor in other corners of the blog-o-sphere. Regarding the Cleolinda comment: I’ve already apologized to Cleolinda herself about that. It was an off-the-cuff comment made that, ironically, didn’t consider very hard the person behind the name. By snark bait I did not mean that I don’t think Cleolinda’s critiques are well-thought-out, detailed, or correct, though I can see how it could have been read that way. More, I meant that I’ve heard them referred to as encouraging snark among readers of these reviews. Pretty much what Gwyzard says here: “By contrast, Cleo’s readers have a grand old time analyzing and laughing over things and sharing thoughts, and not taking any of it too terribly seriously.”

    I’m actually a huge fan of hers and several other snarky reviewers. I’m okay with snark, but sometimes there’s a contrast presented among authors between uber polite reviewers who phrase stuff as “this just wasn’t for me” (as was the case with Jordyn’s blog) and those who engage in more snarky, humorous reviewing. Anyway, I appreciate that Justine took that part of the comment down, because it was ill-phrased and I hate to think that anyone was hurt by it.

    What I find concerning, is the commenters at Holly Black’s blog about this, who claim they’ve seen YA authors post that they wouldn’t blurb people who reviewed them poorly

    For what it’s worth, there was a blog post by Becca Fitzpatrick that said exactly this, and was the focus of much reviewer angst and upset (which I’m not sure she intended). It’s since been taken down.

  23. angharad on #

    Honestly Phoebe, if someone wrote a negative review of my book, I’d probably still write a blurb if I liked their book. There’s nothing wrong with a negative review. But if someone said, or stood by while their readers wrote, stuff like they were gonna hunt me down and kill me, then no, I wouldn’t blurb them. I honestly can’t understand why anyone would think I should. If I knew my editor was considering one of their manuscripts, I’d forward the comment to her because I genuinely believe that my editor doesn’t want to work with people like that. After that, it’s up to my editor, not me.

    There are grey areas, sure. But the reviewer that we are talking about without talking about was well out of anything I would call grey.

    I do disagree, a bit, with Justine. I think you could call the YA field a bit cabal-y or cliquish. Or you could say it’s a fairly small community where information gets passed around. Why people think that because you are friends with someone you suddenly lose all personal integrity, I don’t know. Still, I think that if you offend Diana Peterfreund, there’s a really good chance you are offending Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black, too, whether they like each other or not because those are highly respected writers for a reason. I don’t believe that Westerfeld and the other YA authors responded in the Bitch Media issue the way they did because they felt their friend’s feelings were hurt. They were defending their profession and the readers they write for.

    What I think you have to ask is whether or not these people are easily offended. Show me the thoughtful, but negative, even highly negative, review that to which an author has responded with death threats, and I’ll agree that’s an author with a problem. Show me the hordes of authors that jump on her bandwagon and I’ll agree the publishing field has a problem.

  24. Phoebe on #

    Honestly, angharad, in my interactions with YA authors today, I’m finding that they’re a lot less monolithic and varied in their opinions on these things than I’d previously assumed, from Justine’s post here, to John Green’s discussions of his previous reviewing activities for Booklist, to the passionate debate I had with Diana Peterfreund. There seems to be no one right stance, even among highly respected authors, when it comes to this. Smart, wildly varied people that they are, it seems like they’ve had very different experiences and hold very differing opinions on it.

    Anyway, I never said that authors made death threats. Never even implied it. I think insinuations that someone might not have a successful career because of book blogging discussed in the same post/venue that a negative review is discussed could be seen as subtly threatening to one’s livelihood, and that’s what troubled me, and many other bloggers. However, if you’re bringing up death threats because of The Sparkle Project (and a lot of people seem to want to talk about it while talking around it), I can say that I believe Ceilidh-ann has good intentions in discussing feminism in YA, and that, in my conversations with her about this today, she seems horrified that those good intentions haven’t always panned out so well. But I also know that she’s been sitting on all of this and wants to write about it herself, and I only know her in passing, and so I don’t feel comfortable speaking for her beyond that. As for myself, and most other bloggers I know, well, we haven’t made any death threats. So, I don’t know, if your beef isn’t with most book bloggers, but only one, perhaps you should take it up with the person in question.

  25. Amber on #

    Glad to see two new posts from you!! I shall miss your regular posts still but will take what I can get.
    As for what people think, well, I wish they would use their brains. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that most of the time the person threatening does not actually have the power to accomplish what they say they can.
    I will also try to go back to writing (for fun!). You’ve just inspired me to do just that – I’d been lax in 2010, and I really miss the writing I did in 2009.

  26. DragonRose on #

    Yay!!! Another JL blog post-good day-just got better! Thanks for summing up the whole kerfluffle, I was unaware of it until I looked at MJ’s twitter a little bit ago. Also, I just re-read Liar-still awesome 🙂

  27. angharad on #

    Phoebe, what I really think is that I was talking to much and I apologize. I didn’t even get across what I meant to say.

    I didn’t mean that you’d suggested authors were making death threats. What I meant to say is that I think what you are calling “threats” are perfectly reasonable business practices. If I see someone being horrible, I won’t want to work with them. I would expect most people to agree with that, but I also expect us to have lots and lots of ideas about where to draw the line on “horrible,” and “not worth working with.” And HB and JL are right to point out that any one individual’s opinion isn’t likely to be worth a hill of beans. The more people you offend, the more it might affect your career, but I think you’d have to be behaving REALLY badly to get a significant number of editors/agents to notice.

    Some comments (not yours) have said that a reader can say absolutely anything she wants about a book and that if someone holds what she has written against her, that is somehow unethical. I can’t see that. I agree that you can say anything you want, but I don’t agree that it is wrong for me to be offended, whether you are talking about my book or someone else’s.

    It’s where we draw the line that I think is important . . . and tricky. So, I’ve got one example in front of me, C-A’s, and I think she was offensive. I don’t have any other examples. . . I guess I don’t read the right kind of blogs . . . so I can’t say if I think there are authors behaving equally badly.

    I do hope that I am making more sense this time. I’ve enjoyed your comments.

  28. Shveta Thakrar on #


    Thank you, Justine. I miss you. 🙂

  29. Phoebe on #

    Hey angharad, it’s cool. I see how the intention has been to give career advice, but when it’s both unsolicited and given in response to a negative review, I think it undermines that advice, you know?

    Sorry to keep hogging Justine’s space. Mostly I wanted to comment back and tell you that there was a post on this on The Sparkle Project where she addresses some of her criticisms. One thing I try to remember is that a lot of book bloggers are really young, and it’s easy to stumble into mistakes at that age even when your intentions are good. Not that it excuses all behavior, in any case. But it happens, you know? Anyway, best to you.

  30. T on #

    Ms Peterfreund,

    “As I said in Holly’s blog, in no other sphere is it expected and encouraged that business owners who are being spoken about in the press NOT respond to criticism, misinformation, and full on personal attacks”

    respectfully aww, come on. Customers are entitled to their opinions, I can not think of many cases where business owners have tried to stop sucessfully (or without it backfiring) people from expressing publicly negative experinces of their products, whether in blogs or cosnsumer sites. That would go over really well.

    If you want to accuse bloggers or not being up to journalist ethics, maybe you are right. Depending on blogger, and specific media. But no hotels, airlines, phone providers, camera makers, auto repair shops do not usually sue or threaten bloggers, or “reviewers” when they complain of a negative experience with their product.

    I realize criticisms on a book one wrote probably feels a lot more personal. Respectfully again, authors need to think of those who loved it and ignore those who did not love it. And not take it as a business attack.

    There is an assymetry, for an author theirbook is their one book for the year (years, semester, whatever), it is the one. For an agent or publisher ditto, sort of. For the person who reads it is just another book they read, and they are mentally comparing it and grading it related to the dozens of other books they will read that year/semester/whatever. Some books got to fall below the average after all.

  31. Theresa Milstein on #

    I haven’t come across too much negativity in the writing blogosphere, so I wasn’t aware there was a writing mafia debate until I read Beth Revis’s blog. But there are some people who, when they don’t like a book, plaster it on their blog, Goodreads, and probably Twitter and Facebook too. I feel bad for the authors when I see those reviews.

  32. Rebecca Leach on #

    I’m a bit late to this party, but I would like to take the opportunity now to point out that I’ve been hanging around YA authors at conferences, bookstore events, work, and random other places for six years now. I am an amateur, never-been-published writer of teen novels, and nearly every published author I’ve met in this time has been nothing but lovely and supportive. Without some of these people, I would not be where I am today, and that is not even a slight exaggeration. Besides being intelligent, inspiring, and amazing writers, all of these people have helped me in both small and large ways. From wishing me good luck when signing my book to encouraging me to apply for publishing internships and graduate school, these people, who barely know me (if they know me at all), have never been anything but wonderful human beings.

    Which makes me wonder where the hell this YA Mafia idea came from. Who knows. But from my experience, I can tell you the exact opposite is true.

  33. Rebecca Leach on #

    And I should add that while I haven’t met many agents, I have met editors (I’m a publishing intern), and they are also some of the nicest, coolest, most hard-working people you’ll ever meet. So are those few agents I have met. While it’s true that you should behave in a professional and courteous manner when interacting with these people—as you would with, you know, anyone—I guarantee you that none of them are out to get anyone.

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