I love taking part in the Booktube SFF Awards each year – I encourage you to join in if you’re a fan of SFF! – but I was a little concerned this year after the shortlist for the debut category was revealed:
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
- The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
- Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
It’s not the shortlist that concerned me; I’m thrilled that three own voices debuts from woc authors have made the shortlist, with a brilliant mix of African-inspired fantasy, Asian-inspired fantasy and First Nations-inspired fantasy.
What I was concerned about was the amount of people who’ve yet to read Children of Blood and Bone (and it’s one I still need to get to, too!) who said they didn’t really want to read it because the author is “trash”. And that’s what I have something of a problem with.
So in case you missed it, back in November 2018 Tomi Adeyemi made a mistake and did something she shouldn’t have. She accused writer Nora Roberts of plagiarising the title of her book, and did so publicly on Twitter after which many of Adeyemi’s fans were then incredibly rude to Roberts:
First of all, this was a very shitty thing for Adeyemi to do. Firstly, her debut has hardly struggled, it’s been doing remarkably well, so even if this were plagiarism it’s not taking anything away from her own success. If she had a genuine concern about this, she should have spoken to her agent or her publisher about it rather than go to social media to complain with zero evidence of her claim.
What bothers me more, however, is Adeyemi’s blatant misunderstanding, whether by choice or ignorance, of how the publishing industry works. Authors don’t always have the final say on what their book is called, and publishing is a business. I’ve worked in publishing since 2014 and it’s definitely one of the friendliest businesses out there, pretty much everyone’s proud of what they’re putting out into the world, but it is a business and businesses need to make money to survive.
So, when a book does particularly well, it’s quite natural to see similar books on the market. Let’s take a look at Gone Girl, for example.
Gone Girl was a humongous success, and since its publication a bunch of other ‘girl’ books have found their way onto the thriller market:
This is how marketing works. Are these publishers trying to ride on the coattails of Gone Girl‘s success? Of course they are! Because they know the audience that enjoyed Gone Girl are the same audience that are going to enjoy these kinds of books, that’s just how publishing works. Books being similar, considering how many books there are in the world and how many books are published in a single year, is not unusual.
It does also bother me that Adeyemi seems to be claiming that “of blood and bone” is a phrase that she invented? A lot of books have those words in their title, they’re not copyrighted, original words and she doesn’t have sole use of them. That’s kind of ridiculous. It’s also kind of hypocritical from an author who, judging from reviews I’ve seen, has borrowed heavily from the plot of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Now as I mentioned I haven’t read the book yet so don’t take my word for that at all, but I have seen a few reviews that have mentioned entire scenes they’ve noticed that follow episodes from Avatar closely.
I don’t really have a problem with this as long as the scenes are written well; I feel as though BAME authors are often criticised far too much for writing trope-heavy books when in reality they have every right to write trope-heavy books because poc have been written out of those tropes for so long. So I don’t have a problem with that as much as the hypocrisy of an author who’s been heavily influenced by other source material accusing another author of “shamelessly profiting” off her own work.
I mean… didn’t Adeyemi essentially promote her book as the perfect read for people who wanted Zutara to be canon in Avatar? Don’t be a hypocrite!
We also need to take into account that these two books were published in the same year. Now while Adeyemi’s book was published near the beginning of 2018 and Roberts’ book was published near the end, it’s very unlikely that Roberts and her publisher changed the title of her book at the last minute to “shamelessly profit” off Adeyemi’s success.
Why? Firstly, as I mentioned above, I work in publishing, and while title changes can and do sometimes happen, in my experience a book’s title is usually its title from at least a year before it’s published. The publisher needs to get working on its design and marketing campaign etc., so the last thing you want is a title that chops and changes every five minutes.
Secondly, while this is Adeyemi’s debut, Roberts is an already established author who I believe has been writing for at least as long as Adeyemi’s been alive. She already has an established fanbase, so she has no need to “shamelessly profit” off Adeyemi’s success. I’m not saying for certain that it didn’t happen, but in her statement Roberts claimed that she titled her book long before she’d even heard of Adeyemi and her work – in fact she hadn’t heard of Adeyemi until this blew up and she started being attacked by Adeyemi’s fans.
A lot of said fans responded with not believing that Roberts hadn’t heard of Adeyemi’s book considering how well it’s done, and I did wonder about that myself at first, but not everyone, not even everyone who works in the industry, knows about every book that comes out. In fact Roberts was probably busy with her own work at the time, and frankly I’m more inclined to believe her than a debut author who’s thrown a public tantrum on Twitter with no evidence.
… But that still doesn’t mean Adeyemi deserves to be called “trash” and dismissed.
Firstly, Adeyemi did speak to Roberts and apologise and she did issue a kind of public apology on Twitter.
Admittedly it’s not the best public apology, and I think Adeyemi did a fairly poor job of discouraging her fans from going after Roberts the way that they did. She’s not responsible for their behaviour, no, but it was wrong of her to sit back and let that all happen, and it was wrong of her to make the accusation, and make it in the way she did, in the first place.
But that’s kind of what mistakes are, aren’t they? We all make mistakes and we all learn from them, and we all deserve to be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. The problem with mistakes today, and mistakes such as these, is if we make a mistake on social media it’s remembered forever, and whatever else we might do will pale in comparison to that one mistake everyone always brings up.
Social media is great in a lot of ways, but in some ways I feel as though we’ve become very black and white in our judgements. Someone is either all good or all bad, and that’s not how being a human being works. We all make mistakes.
Obviously there are exceptions. Orson Scott Card, for example, is an author I will never support, especially not with my money, because I know he puts his money towards homophobic causes and that’s something I have zero interest in supporting. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, just keep your nose out of other people’s business and let them be themselves. Their lifestyle isn’t harming anyone in any way.
Admittedly that’s less of a ‘mistake’ and more just ‘being a homophobe’, but you get my point.
I also think it’s shocking how quickly the music industry seemed to forgive Chris Brown after the way he assaulted Rihanna. That baffles me.
Adeyemi, however, simply jumped to a conclusion and didn’t take the time to think before she made an accusation on a public social media forum. That doesn’t make it okay but, again, we all make mistakes and this is certainly one that Adeyemi will learn from.
If she were to do something similar in future then I’d be less inclined to support her work, but I don’t think it’s fair for everyone to denounce her as “trash” after this one mistake when there are so many other things going on in the world. Donald Trump is trash, Adeyemi is someone who made a mistake that she’ll hopefully learn from and doesn’t deserve the social media backlash in much the same way that Nora Roberts didn’t deserve to be attacked by Adeyemi’s fans.