A Deep Dive Into The Book Community’s Toxic Cancel Culture

The rabbit hole of book and author cancellations at the hand of YA Twitter is a deep one– and it’s a symptom of a larger cultural problem in the book community that we would be remiss to ignore.

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Twitter is notorious for its toxicity, mostly in the context of politics. But as it turns out, the site has a similarly brutal reputation in the world of books, specifically in the world of YA publishing. The rabbit hole of book and author cancellations at the hand of YA Twitter is a deep one– and it’s a symptom of a larger cultural problem in the book community that we would be remiss to ignore.

I’ll start with the history of cancel culture in the book community before moving on to why I believe this is the most toxic trend on the bookternet right now.

The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions: The History of Book Community Cancel Culture

Let’s start by going through a sort of history of cancel culture in the book community, most notoriously on YA Twitter. I’ve only been on Book Twitter since 2021, and I started my blog in 2020, but I want to contextualize this cultural phenomenon within a larger timeframe.

In doing research for this post, the first year I really started to see articles about book cancellations and scandals popping up is 2016— but I think we should start by going back further than that. What was going on in the world of YA before this trend started, and how does it relate to the emergence of cancel culture?

2014-2015: The YA Publishing World Begins to Open Its Eyes to Diversity and Social Justice Issues

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YA as a category has existed for decades, but it really rose to prominence in the 2000s and early 2010s with franchises like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and what I like to call the Age of John Green. With the newfound cultural prominence of YA, it began to draw criticism for its lack of diversity.

In the early days of YA, the vast majority of popular books featured white protagonists and had little in the way of representation for minority groups, leading to a push for YA literature that more accurately reflected the diverse reader base it was marketed to. There were also concerns about the disproportionately white demographics of publishing itself.

In 2014, the We Need Diverse Books nonprofit grew out of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag on Twitter with the goal to advocate for more diversity in children’s literature.

The #OwnVoices hashtag began in 2015, a way to denote books whose authors are writing from their own experiences to incorporate diverse representation. For example, a book with an autistic character written by an autistic author would be #OwnVoices, a book with a gay character written by a gay author would be #OwnVoices, etc. This was intended to help readers and publishers find books with accurate representation for marginalized groups.

2015 was also the year that Kirkus Reviews reportedly began noting the races of characters in the books they reviewed, and the year that The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas’s novel about the Black Lives Matter movement and the problem of police brutality against black Americans, was published, becoming one of the first major YA books to feature social justice activism.

This sort of consciousness shift in the publishing world seemed on the surface to be a win for diversity and giving every young person the opportunity to see themselves and their cultures represented in literature– and it was. The number of diverse YA books being published skyrocketed from 2013 to 2016, and in 2022, at the time of this article, the book community continues to champion diverse literature. Although there are still concerns about equity in publishing, we have clearly made progress since the early 2010s, and that is great. I do not at all intend to imply in this post that this movement was a negative thing. It has greatly improved the diversity in publishing and I believe greater consciousness about diversity is extremely necessary.

However, I believe that some of the applications of this movement for more diversity have had some unintended side effects, and the kind of hyper-focus on identity that was unwittingly created may have helped set the stage for the rise of cancel culture.

YA Twitter’s Notoriety Begins: A Timeline of Early Cancellations

With the newfound focus on diversity and positive representation, authors found themselves under greater scrutiny to accurately and inoffensively write about minority groups. It was around 2016 that cancel culture began to become more prevalent in the book community, and most of the incidents revolved around the purported mishandling of representation.

2016:

When We Was Fierce by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo is delayed publication for incorporating a pseudo-AAVE invented dialect for its cast of black characters, which readers deemed offensive

2017:

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest is met with a huge wave of backlash for “racism.” The fantasy novel features a protagonist who is raised in a sheltered environment and must overcome the bigotry she has been taught when she attends a university and is exposed to different people.

The publication of The Continent by Keira Drake, another fantasy novel, is delayed for accusations of racial insensitivity for alleged parallels between fantasy races described unfavorably and real life groups of people. One such complaint was that the name of the “savage” fantasy race, called the “Topi”, was too similar to that of the Hopi Native American tribe. It was also accused of having a “white savior narrative”

American Heart by Laura Moriarty is accused of Islamophobia. The novel is set in a dystopian future United States in which Muslim Americans are rounded up into internment camps. Its protagonist is a white teenager who must overcome her own Islamophobia to help a Muslim woman escape– and therein lies the problem according to the critics: another “white savior narrative.” The online backlash to American Heart was such that Kirkus Reviews, which had originally published a starred review written by a Muslim woman for the book, issued a public apology, revised the review to atone for the wrongthink, and removed the star.

2019:

Blood Heir by Amelie Wen Zhao is cancelled on Twitter, causing Zhao to delay its publication and issue an apology. The novel is yet another fantasy book, and yet again it was accused of racism. Zhao, a Chinese immigrant, intended to draw attention to the problem of human trafficking with a plot line involving slavery, but readers interpreted it as analogous to American chattel slavery and especially took issue with the line “oppression is blind to skin color.” (Don’t we love when Americans interpret everything through the lens of America only)

A Place for Wolves by Kosoko Jackson is cancelled for insensitive portrayal of the Kosovo war.

The State of Book Community Cancel Culture Now

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If anything, things have gotten more volatile in the past few years. The scrutiny with regard to representation has continued, and the YA world’s increasing politicization has also intensified the climate.

For the sake of brevity, and because I wrote a separate post about the more recent attitude and author cancellations, I’ll just briefly describe the past two years in terms of major incidents.

In 2020, J.K. Rowling of course officially became Public Enemy No. 1 of the book community for her allegedly “anti-trans” sentiment. Impressively, she still hasn’t capitulated, and the outrage has reached rather extraordinary heights (Apparently now we’re equating Harry Potter tattoos to swastikas and praising authors for writing about Rowling dying in a fire– I’m not even kidding; someone has actually published a book in which J.K. Rowling is written into the story and dies in a fire)

The J.K. Rowling situation has migrated from the realm of book community drama into the realm of actual politics that normal people care about, so let’s quickly move back to the esoteric land of the YA/general sphere again.

The climate that began around 2016 in the book community seems to have continued through 2022. It’s become commonplace to witness people sharing lists of problematic authors and books that you simply must avoid and also make sure to dissuade others from reading. There are Instagram accounts and YouTube channels dedicated to “calling out” (their words) “problematic” people and recounting drama. When I was on bookstagram, it seemed that every day a new infographic would circulate about how problematic a certain author, book, influencer, or other figure in the community was.

(I’ve written more extensively about the rise in people calling things “problematic” in the book community in this post)

I’ve seen various threads and posts and whatnot about authors like Jay Kristoff, T.J. Klune, Casey McQuiston, Francina Simone, Sarah J. Maas, V.E. Schwaab, Lauren Hough, and plenty of others, for offenses of varying severity. Not all of the criticism of authors is due to the content of their books; some of these people were called out for rude behavior online. And it’s important to concede that in some instances criticism of an author is warranted, especially if there is proof of clear wrongdoing, harassment, or racism on their part.

However, the sins of the authors that have been called out vary dramatically, and oftentimes the reaction is disproportionate to the crime. I also believe in separating the art from the artist, and I don’t think that it is wrong to read books by an author even if they have been revealed as doing something wrong. The current obsession with purifying authors and only reading books from people you personally like has become a bit counterproductive. And it’s not great to shame other people for reading books by “problematic” authors.

One example of a major recent cancellation of a non-author on bookstagram: in August 2021, the book subscription box OwlCrate was met with a wave of backlash when they announced that they would start selling their Harry Potter mug collection again. The problem, of course, is because Harry Potter mugs –> Harry Potter –> J.K. Rowling –> How Dare You, Bigot. After being mobbed with angry comments about how harmful and violent and transphobic and disappointing this was, OwlCrate issued an apology and redacted the mug collection again.

I also witnessed a bookstagrammer get mobbed, called a racist and even receive death threats for posting that she was pro-life.

(These are some of the reasons I left bookstagram)

So cancel culture is alive and well on the bookish Internet. But why is that?

Why Is Cancel Culture So Prevalent in the Book Community

The Book Community’s Obsession With Identity Politics

It seems that there are several main factors contributing to this toxic climate on the bookish Internet. First is the community’s strong interest in social justice and the unfortunate side effect of hyper-fixation on identity and political correctness. I’m not one to say political correctness, or, as it’s now more colloquially termed, depending on who you’re talking to, “wokeness”, is necessarily negative, and obviously we don’t want books to be racist or offensive.

But the book community’s bigotry-detector, perhaps, has become slightly hypersensitive.

The Politically Progressive Homogeneity of the YA Book Community

A related factor is the relative political homogeneity of the YA book community (and of YA books themselves, for that matter) The majority of the people who write about books on the Internet, particularly YA books, seem to be women aged 15-35 who are politically progressive.

There is nothing wrong with this, but because everyone is surrounded in places like book Twitter and bookstagram by people with similar opinions, they begin to believe that theirs are the only acceptable ones. It also can lead to people being dog-piled for holding opinions outside of the progressive canon (e.g. pro-life, pro-Trump, and pro-Israel are each opinions I have seen used as evidence of an author or influencer’s impurity)

Again, important caveat: you don’t have to agree with people who have more “conservative” politics and it’s really important to stand up for what you believe. I think it’s important to say when you think someone is wrong, but there’s a difference between disagreeing with a person and calling for them to be cancelled and for no one to read their books or support them ever.

There’s An Element of Status-Seeking and Competition

Overall, I think the main driving factor behind cancel culture seems to be a sort of competition as to who is the most “woke”

Calling out a “problematic” author or book gives you social status online, it makes you virtuous, it shows how much you care about advancing social justice and holding people accountable. And whoever finds the most “problematic” things in a book is the most devoted to the cause.

The BBC actually has a podcast episode on this sort of pattern called “The Purity Spiral”, where they actually talk about YA Twitter:

“In its extremes, a purity spiral is how we tumble towards The Crucible, or Mao’s Red Guard, or Stalin’s show trials– yet, as you’re about to hear, they’re just as present in the world of online knitting, or in Young Adult fiction.

In essence, a purity spiral is a phenomenon that occurs in isolated cultural groups, characterized by members of the group participating in a cycle of “moral outbidding”: attempting to prove their moral stature or devotion to an ideology, eventually turning inwards and purging their ranks of those presumed to be ideologically impure. It fits the Book Twitter situation perfectly, especially in cases of people like Kosoko Jackson, who participated in online pile-ons of other authors before they eventually turned on him.

What’s So Wrong With Cancel Culture in the Book Community?

Some would say that cancel culture isn’t really that big of a problem. Maybe it’s just holding people accountable and showing authors what behavior is socially unacceptable. However…

“Holding People Accountable” Is Moot When Standards Are Constantly Shifting

Supporters of cancel culture often refer to it as “call-out culture” and describe it as simply a means of “holding people accountable” for their “problematic views.”

But the question is: holding people accountable for what? The definition of what is or is not acceptable changes frequently when you’re going based off mob rule. People have been canceled in the book community for everything from harassing reviewers to being pro-life.

The victims of cancel culture range from people who have actually done harmful things (often unrelated to their books) to people who just happen to have an opinion unapproved by the majority of the chronically online reading obsessed public. It’s unreasonable to treat them the same way.

Also, the apologies of cancelled people never seem to be accepted, no matter how gratuitously they grovel about how they will “do the work” and are “deeply sorry for the harm they have caused.” I’ve never seen an apology lead to anything but gloating condescension– or even further criticism.

Cancel Culture is a Threat to Freedom of Speech

Another argument I see often is the “freedom of speech, not freedom from the consequences of that speech” or “freedom of speech only means that the government can’t censor or punish you for your speech, but other people can!” These people are correct: the Constitution has no power against cancel culture. But that doesn’t make cancel culture a good thing. Just because something is LEGAL doesn’t mean it’s POSITIVE. I hate when people conflate legality with absolute righteousness.

Saying something isn’t illegal is no argument as to whether or not it’s morally right or objectively beneficial. A lot of negative things aren’t illegal. And for that matter, no one is attempting to make cancel culture illegal, that would be totalitarian, ineffective, and stupid so this argument is pretty irrelevant.

(However, now that I think about it, some of the accusations lobbied at people on the bookternet could potentially constitute libel/slander, but that’s beside the point)

I also disagree with the “freedom of speech, not freedom from consequences” argument because it misses the point of free speech rights in general. Yes, the freedom of speech protected by the first amendment of the US Constitution is the prevents the government from prosecuting you for your speech, but consider the idea behind freedom of speech: it’s intended to preserve the right to speak against people in positions of power who would take the opportunity to censor your speech. Why do we have free speech as a principle? To protect unpopular opinions. When such opinions are being silenced by a mob of loud Twitter users, it’s the same end result as if the government was censoring it. Yeah, Twitter can’t put you in jail for your speech, but they can prevent you from speaking. Or writing.

And because we’re talking about books: Twitter has proven to have the capability to delay publication for books and to ruin authors’ reputations before their work has even been released.

The volatility and unpredictability of the online book world has rather disturbing potential for the censorship of authors. I know I would not want to be a YA writer right now. No matter how careful you are to tread lightly, there’s always some way your work could be construed as problematic.

On social media, there is a huge amount of power held by certain people who see it as their responsibility to punish others for what they consider unacceptable views or problematic writing. Cancel culture has caused people to lose their jobs, receive death threats and suffer social alienation as a result of their speech. In the book community, people have lost business opportunities, etc.

I think, when there is so much power in the hands of– for lack of a better word– “the mob”, it does become a free speech issue.

The reason freedom of speech is protected is to prevent a society in which one entity controls political/social discourse. With cancel culture, it’s not the government who’s trying to control said discourse: it’s other people. But that doesn’t make it any less of a threat to free society.

Cancel Culture is Glorified Bullying

Putting aside all the lofty free speech idealism: cancel culture is also just mean.

Do you remember middle school friendship drama? Because I sure do, and the whole cancel culture stuff makes me feel like I’m 13 again, pacing around my room in anticipation on FaceTime while my friend “spills the tea” about the latest stupid, petty he-said she-said nonsense.

The “tea”, reaction videos, screenshots and subtweets and name-calling is like being stuck on a loop in the most toxic, catty circles of tween girls, but they NEVER grow out of it.

It doesn’t at all feel like it’s about “social justice” or “holding people accountable” anymore.

Yes, I’m sure you may think going in someone’s DMs and telling them to kill themselves is an action of commendable heroism, but the rest of us realize you’re just a person capitalizing off the current political climate to go on a power trip and bully someone into obscurity in exchange for social capital.

In Conclusion: Book Community Cancel Culture is Toxic

I think cancel culture is one of the worst things about the”bookternet,” because of the ideological echo chamber and socially-enforced dogma of maligned social justice it perpetuates, and for its incompatibility with freedom of speech online. We should prioritize the rights of authors to write without fear of blown-up misinterpretation of their words or the enforcement of ideological purity. And while legitimate criticism is important, especially if an author is proven to have done something such as harassment, it’s important to distinguish those cases from situations in which allegations have been exaggerated via Twitter or are dubiously serious, such as a controversial joke in a novel.

And we shouldn’t forget the dangers of censorship.

To quote Oscar Wilde:

“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”

Sources

Reason Magazine | “Teen Fiction Twitter Is Eating Its Young”

Lithub | “Lamba Literary cuts Lauren Hough from award shortlist because of ‘Twitter disputes'”

New York Post | “Author canceled after defending literary classics, ‘attacking’ educator”

The Guardian | “Torn apart: the vicious war over YA books”

The Guardian | “Publisher delays YA novel amid row over invented black ‘street dialect'”

Slate | “The Decade in Young Adult Fiction”

Slate | “Wolves: a YA sensitivity reader watched his own community kill his debut novel before it was ever released”

Vulture | “The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter”

Vulture | “The Latest YA Twitter Pile On Forces a Rising Star to Self-Cancel”

Wikipedia | We Need Diverse Books

The Bibliocentrist | “Book Twitter is a Cancel Culture Nightmare”

YA Drama Llama | “The Continent Controversy”

Kirkus Reviews’ public apology for their starred review of American Heart

Vulture | “What the Job of a Sensitivity Reader Is Really Like”

Bustle | “There Are More Diverse Books Than Ever — But Too Few Are Being Written By People Of Color”

Book Riot | “Is YA Leading Diversity in Publishing?”

NPR | “Kirkus Changes Review After ‘American Heart’ Draws Outrage As ‘White Savior Narrative'”

The Orangutan Librarian | “Calling Out Call-Out Culture”

BBC | “The Purity Spiral”

I think this post has gotten long enough now.

What do you think about cancel culture in the book community? Do you agree or disagree with my points?

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44 comments on “A Deep Dive Into The Book Community’s Toxic Cancel Culture”

  1. One of the things I find most interesting about the ability of Book Twitter to influence whether books are delayed or cancelled entirely is that it’s actually so isolated. If I talk about any of the books or authors you have mentioned with someone who is not involved in the online book community, they have absolutely no idea whatsoever what I am talking about. They have never heard that Maas went on a birthright trip or that people care or that they should care, for instance, and largely they don’t care. And even though Rowling’s controversy has gone much more mainstream, there are definitely lots and lots of people, even fans, who have NO IDEA she is controversial because they don’t follow this stuff online. (Also, I walked past the HP store in NYC several times last year, and based on the lines, I have to say she’s definitely not cancelled.) It’s just fascinating that publishers seem to care so much about Book Twitter’s opinion when my guess is, if the books were published anyway, no one would really care and they would sell reasonably well.

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    1. Right. I was going to mention that in the post too (that outside of the internet it’s very irrelevant) but it was already a very long post. What’s really jarring is how extreme the online community is compared to regular people who read for fun. Perhaps I’ll write another post on that. But that fact almost makes it worse that it actually affects publishing

      I follow the book world and the politics world probably more than most people so I’m hyper aware of everything that goes on with J.K. Rowling, and I think it’s definitely true that a lot of people don’t know/don’t care about all the Stuff with her but lately she’s been cancelled by mainstream sources too, like the New York Times ran an ad recently about “imagining HP without its creator”, she was also not invited to some 20th anniversary of the HP movies thing, and she’s also started being championed by right wing outlets as part of the cUlTUrE wAr so I think the controversy has definitely gone more mainstream at least in 2022. I also know someone in real life who doesn’t like to read but who didn’t want to use HP for a reference in a school project because of JKR transphobia controversy.

      But yeah in general I doubt most people in real life are bothered enough by anything regarding JKR to stop reading Harry Potter. Especially if they don’t care about politics. So it’s always really weird to then go on twitter and see people censoring her name and putting “trigger warning: Harry Potter” everywhere

      And definitely– Goodreads ratings and Twitter controversies don’t even seem to have much of an impact on sales. But what’s concerning to me is that people are withdrawing books due to harassment online for really minor/out of context accusations

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      1. I have noticed she’s been mentioned more in mainstream publications recently, but definitely for the first several months, anyone I mentioned to just . . . had never even heard that she was supposed to be controversial at all. And, yeah, the people I know in real life who had heard something about it really didn’t care.

        I also notice that The Ickabog and The Christmas Pig were both bestsellers. And people are still buying tickets to the theme park. And I’ve basically seen people admit they still buy her merchandise and stuff; they just don’t talk about her online. Like someone on Twitter said her baby had some Hufflepuff onesies or something and she just didn’t post pictures of the baby, but she was still buying the onesies and dressing her kid in them. So there’s basically a vocal segment of people who really think anyone wearing a HP t-shirt is a Nazi, and then apparently there are a lot of people who are still going around wearing HP t-shirts and just not admitting to it on Book Twitter.

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      2. I think most of it is just virtue signalling and then a loud minority that truly think that supporting HP in any way is unforgivable. That’s kind of interesting because the friends who I carefully broached the subject with were aware of the controversy with Rowling– but they both are also online a lot, on tiktok and twitter respectively, and one of them follows my twitter, so she probably sees it there too. Hating J.K. Rowling seems to be a very popular opinion online, but it’s also selection bias, and a whole bunch of people probably either don’t know what happened, or don’t care, or don’t want to be yelled at for saying something, etc. It’s really interesting how social media and regular media too can distort what seems like the normative opinion

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      3. the other thing is, yes Rowling is never going to be ruined, she’s a billionaire, and I think that’s part of the reason why the outrage has been so bad. And probably why she hasn’t apologized as she knows they can’t really damage her livelihood

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  2. I think you bring up a lot of good points on here. I personally don’t bring up a certain author ever online because of the vitriol that seems to be cast at anyone who dares to mention this person’s name or their book series. (I mean, I grew up with it and adored it, so it’s kind of hard to just completely ignore the fact that it was a huge part of my life.) So yes, in a way cancel culture is cancelling freedom of speech, or rather one’s comfort level in being able to speak freely. I think cancel culture often conflates a person’s appreciation for the book with an appreciation of the author ESPECIALLY if a book came out before the author became “problematic.” HOWEVER, individuals do and should still have the freedom to “vote with their wallets,” so to speak.

    Another problem with book cancel culture, imo, is that these influencers have a platform to hopefully share the correct information. However, a lot of times I don’t see sources to back their knowledge spreading, which honestly would be nice to have to allow their followers to do some independent source verification. All this to say that I wouldn’t be surprised (because humans are humans) that people just jump on the follow train because they want to appear righteous or don’t want to get bullied for not agreeing with the loud majority/minority/whatever, rather than taking the time to make sure correct information was shared with them. I think we’ve had this conversation before, though…ha.

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    1. Ah yeah. I used to be very scared to bring up certain things as well, although eventually I decided I wanted to be able to say whatever I thought on my blog, and I have had some people get mad at me on twitter for it, but I don’t really care because I would rather be able to be honest. I have been surprised actually that I have had that happen only once or twice

      Yes I agree that appreciating a book is different from agreeing with the author, and I likewise concede that refusing to buy from a certain person is perfectly reasonable, I think I talked about that in my separating the art from the artist post so maybe you had commented on that one before

      Absolutely, I think I talked about the lack of sources and etc. for claims in my post about the overuse of problematic– and there are also videos I’ve seen where booktubers straight up accuse authors of sexual assault or other serious things with no evidence (which is why I brought up the potential of some things being considered slander) and there is definitely pressure to jump on the train of disapproval of an author or person without doing research first

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      1. With your last comment, I do agree with you. I personally, though, feel more comfortable speaking freely when it won’t be recorded in perpetuity on the internet…mainly for job-related reasons (I mean this generally, not about cancelled authors specifically). I have no problem talking about these things in person, but I’m more cautious online, especially because even employers get in on the cancel culture thing sometimes, which is a whole separate thing. This is in addition to my book twitter being my “safe space” with content that won’t make me angry haha. BUT I’m aware that’s a me thing and not everyone feels that way. Anyway, I’ve gone off on a little tangent, sorry!

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      2. Yeah that kind of thing makes me nervous as well, but I feel like I preach free speech on here too much to turn around and censor myself, although I always revise my posts extensively to make sure I can defend everything I say and that nothing I write could be misinterpreted or taken out of context. And that def makes sense to not bring up controversial stuff especially if you don’t want to make your online presence stressful!

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  3. To add to your points on why cancel culture is so prevalent in the book community, I think there’s been an increasing consciousness over the past few decades about the power of consumers, both from consumers and from companies.

    Many people vote with their wallets, choosing not to purchase from companies they find morally objectionable for whatever reason. There are lots of historical examples, like the 1977 Nestlé boycott, boycotts against South African products to protest apartheid. Recently, many people have chosen not to purchase goods from Russian companies to protest against their invasion of Ukraine. These issues are a lot bigger in their scope than one book or series and they’re not framed as cancel culture so they’re not super equivalent, but I think it’s interesting to consider how this discussion fits into this longer history.

    When a publisher chooses to pull a book that’s been jumped on as problematic, they probably aren’t meaning to censor the author. They probably believed that releasing the book as is would damage their bottom line in some way and pulling the book was better for their business. (And perhaps there were also people in publishing that were sympathetic to people’s complaints). I think we see this in YA more often because, as you mentioned, the YA book community tends to be pretty politically progressive, so they are more likely to *not* purchase a book because of problematic content. And the publishers know this.

    I’d be very curious how much this actually impacts book sales and how much the impact of cancel culture can be quantified. Like with J.K. Rowling, there are still a lot of people who buy her books, Harry Potter merch, etc. but her newer projects don’t seem to be doing that well. Fantastic Beasts didn’t get that much attention. But I don’t know how much the controversy played a role. Could be other things like a bad plot, Wizarding World over-saturation, bad timing, etc. but my gut tells me that her cancellation also played a role.

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    1. That’s a really interesting angle that I didn’t really think about! And yes, I don’t think the motivation of publishers when they pull the book is always because they disapprove of the content themselves and are trying to censor it, but they are giving into the pressure of other people who do want to censor it for whatever reason, which is probably driven by reputation protectionism. but what’s really interesting is that these controversies don’t usually make it into the mainstream; only the J.K. Rowling issue has really started to leak into mainstream politics because she’s a household name and because she weighed in on one of the most volatile topics there are right now. What’s also interesting is as you said that since it’s almost all progressives here on the book internet that kind of affects what publishers may decide. It’s also interesting to note that conservatives try to cancel books all the time too but they don’t have as large of a presence in YA publishing or the online community. I actually have a draft post about this

      Fantastic Beasts has been a bit rough, but I also don’t remember it being all that popular back in 2018 either which is when I watched one of them in theaters, maybe it was the first one? I left my Harry Potter phase a few years ago lol. I think there have definitely been effects from that particular controversy in the mainstream wayyy more than any other book community incident, because now she’s become a person of interest in the “culture war” that’s going on in america right now between the right and left. But I also don’t think the average person who doesn’t care much about books, politics or LGBT+ issues is going to be worrying much about JK Rowling, or if they do have an opinion, it might not affect their decisions that much. But at the same time, the tide of people including most of the HP actors denouncing Rowling, or saying that it is transphobic to read Harry Potter, or advocating to erase Rowling from the series, as the New York Times did, has become more mainstream, and at the same time, the opposite tide of people defending her especially from mainstream right wing people has also been increasing. So I think more people are going to form an opinion about it even if they are not heavily into the online book world but whether they will act on that opinion is hard to say

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      1. It seems like among the online book community the majority of people no longer support Rowling and purport to say they would not buy anything from her but it’s also hard to tell whether all of them are being truthful about whether they aren’t going to consume harry potter content at all anymore or are just saying that

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      2. Maybe it’s because fewer conservative voices in YA or paying to attention to YA leads to fewer conservatives trying to cancel on YA Twitter? Or maybe voices are ‘canceling’ from a different angle (eg. trying to get books removed from school libraries or curriculums)

        I don’t remember Fantastic Beasts being that popular in 2018 either. I think the first movie came out before the controversy? In any case, Fantastic Beasts stuff was the only stuff discounted when I went on the Warner Brothers studio tour in 2019. Rowling’s probably also too big for a PR team to step in and be like “Are you sure you want to tweet that?” while a lot of smaller authors are probably on a much tighter social media leash.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. yes I think it’s for both of those reasons and there has been a large increase in people trying to remove books from school libraries, so it’s a different kind of “canceling”

        And yes I’d imagine that Rowling either doesn’t have a PR team or if she does have one she doesn’t listen to them lol. I’m kind of surprised that a celebrity like her is so unconcerned with the public reaction as most people who are canceled on the level she has been eventually cave and give an apology but I doubt she will ever do that

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I was curious awhile ago where Rowling’s money was coming from and how much she gets from the Wizarding World. A Forbes article from June 2020 said most of her money then was coming from the park and not book sales, which makes sense to me. Mostly Millenials love Rowling, and how many collector’s editions can they buy?

      Both The Christmas Pig and The Ickabog notably made it to the bestseller list, even though I saw no advertising for them. I think Fantastic Beasts isn’t doing well because the movies are just…bad.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. There might be a connection to cancel culture starting around the same time as free speech was be shut down on collage campuses.

    Now it seems like people are fed up with cancel culture and are pushing back. With Elon Musk buying Twitter, thing might be changing for the better.

    There are people in the book community that are quick to cancel someone. A blogger is accusing me of bad mouthing them in everyone of my blog posts. I never mention this blogger by name in anyone of my blog post yet they are spreading this lie around.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think so as well. I think it’s evidence of a shift in culture that appeared around halfway through the 2010s and has gotten worse now. And yes I’m so happy elon musk is buying twitter although the number of people now falling over themselves to explain why free speech is bad for society is a bit disturbing!

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  5. How are you always this eloquent, Emily?! Seriously, this post was so throughly researched, nuanced, and well-written that I can’t really add much except to say that I agree with you almost wholeheartedly! Although you’ve probably already gathered that from my endless comments on your other cancel culture posts 😂

    Some of the examples you name here are beyond ridiculous, and I really wish that sometimes, publishers and companies didn’t always back down so easily. I feel like people are so worried about appearing problematic themselves if they don’t take an extreme stance on potentially problematic issues that they often jump on the bandwagon and start pointing fingers even when they originally saw nothing wrong with a book. I mean, that American Heart scenario in particular is absolutely ludicrous 🙈

    Still, as much as I believe in free speech and that everybody should be allowed to read what they want to without judgment, I do feel a bit iffy about supporting authors financially who funnel their earnings into causes I absolutely do not support… I think I’ve mentioned this before, so I’m not going to boringly rehash old arguments, but that’s probably the one point I’m not completely with you – sometimes, I just can’t separate art from the artist when the artist is still alive and using their earnings and platform to promote questionable causes 😅 But I still believe that is my personal choice and that I shouldn’t force such decisions on other people!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much!
      “I feel like people are so worried about appearing problematic themselves if they don’t take an extreme stance on potentially problematic issues that they often jump on the bandwagon and start pointing fingers even when they originally saw nothing wrong with a book.”
      I 100% agree! I think that’s the reason why the cancel culture thing has gotten so extreme because no one wants to be the one who goes against the grain. And yes I also agree that “voting with your dollar” is fine I think we differ on the point of what would qualify as a situation where you can’t separate the art from the artist

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As always, I am so thankful that you take the time to write about these issues, Emily. It is both refreshing and thought-provoking.
    As someone who generally avoids twitter and is not active within the bookstagram community, I really appreciate learning bit about the issues that are so prevalent. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is such a brave and well researched post- I am so impressed! I definitely think things have really gone off the rails more and more recently in terms of cancel culture. And I absolutely believe in separating the art from the artist as well. Unfortunately I agree that the book community is very hypersensitive- so much so that it often becomes a bullying and unpleasant environment. And I 100% agree that there’s a difference between disagreeing with someone and calling for cancellation. And sadly I’ve seen people trying to build themselves up by tearing others down (really a daft plan, since it nearly always backfires). Also I think the goalposts are constantly changing and apologies are never accepted- because the mob only really wants to destroy people.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think it was very brave of you to post this! I also think you’re not alone in feeling that cancel culture sometimes goes too far–but a lot of people don’t want to take the risk to say as much. The issue is, I think, that cancel culture started out with an arguably sound idea. It’s basically asking for people to boycott a product that they think is harmful. Boycotts have a long, often laudable history and can effect real social change. Most people probably can think of some products, companies, or creators that they would not want to support financially for various reasons.

    The concern with cancel culture is that it grew into something beyond a boycott in many cases. Sometimes it does feel like mob rule, with people banding together to actively try to destroy individuals for wrongdoing–often without evidence or because of a misunderstanding. And, as you said, there is no forgiveness possible in cancel culture. No apology is ever accepted. The end goal is to utterly destroy a person’s career–forever. That goes far beyond wanting to “correct” someone or enact positive change. I do think that is bullying. It’s just bullying people think is “justified” because “the person deserved it.”

    And I would agree there is a lot of virtue signaling involved, and even expected. If a person or company does not weigh in on the issue of the day, they are called out for it. So there is pressure for everyone to join in the mob, or they incur the wrath of the mob, too.

    I have even seen some people creating and disseminating what are essentially personal blacklists, doing research into obscure authors most people probably don’t even care about, in an effort to find some past dirt on them. This seems both obsessive and like a waste of time. Most authors aren’t that big and don’t make that much money. If they did something 10 or 20 years ago, there’s a good chance they have changed! I don’t really see the point of trying to make everyone hate an individual who has very little influence in the world.

    I do think that we are now seeing a backlash in reaction to the extremes cancel culture has taken, but I think things will get uglier before they get better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Lol I have offended people by things I’ve said on the bookternet before around these sorts of things so at some point I just decided I might as well go all in with it and make this post.

      Yes I agree with all of that. It strikes me as really weird to see people putting together entire lists of “problematic authors” especially when some of the things they did wrong were stuff like using the word “crazy” in the book. Also yes people change a lot over the years and I don’t think it’s fair to assume that someone is going to be the same as they were years ago but cancel culture doesn’t really leave much room for growth, which is one of the reasons I don’t think it can really be called accountability culture anymore. I do think we will start seeing more backlash but I’m also kind of worried about the backlash in that at least in the US now we’re seeing a version of cancel culture begin to emerge from conservatives too

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      1. I definitely agree. I think if we were really trying to just hold people accountable, we would be happy when they apologized and showed signs of growth. But that doesn’t usually happen. I don’t see people enthusiastic that someone has learned something or joined the cause. Just a desire to destroy the person, no matter what they do or say.

        I do think the book bans we are seeing in the U.S. are a response to cancel culture, though it’s not something I’ve seen anyone else raise. To me, it seems obvious that some groups feel like they are being disempowered or losing control of the narrative, so they are trying to wrest it back. I don’t agree with book bans, but I do think there’s a relationship between them and what cancel culture has turned into.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “To me, it seems obvious that some groups feel like they are being disempowered or losing control of the narrative, so they are trying to wrest it back.” 100% yes, and I’m working on a post about book bans in general, I have mixed feelings on some of the incidents, because I do think there’s a difference between banning a book because you don’t like what it says and removing a book from a *school* library because it’s not age appropriate, but there has been censorious behavior from all sorts of people recently, and there’s also a ton of incidents that no one’s talking about whatsoever because they don’t like the banned book in question. And there’s definitely now like a counter cancel culture coming out from the right and it’s coming into books as well though it’s coming from outside the book community itself

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      3. I have seen people approaching book bans differently now that there are books people don’t like being banned. I forget where it was. It was something official like School Library Journal or something, but I saw a librarian trying to encourage people to move away from the traditional “Read Banned Books” messaging for Banned Books Week because she wanted to emphasize that books are not good just because they are banned. That is true. It’s just not something anyone has raised in the past when they agreed with the books being banned.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yeah, I make a point to read banned books because I talk about fReE sPeEcH way too much to not, but I usually don’t like them all, and in fact some of the worst and most misleading/inaccurate books I’ve ever read have been on the ALA list. The thing that bothers me specifically is that there are books that are being banned that don’t get mentioned by ALA, at all, instead they just get secretly removed from shelves in stores or hidden on Amazon, because they go against progressives, and yet those books don’t get called banned because they’re supposedly “dangerous” and “violent” and to me that’s much closer to real concerning censorship than overprotective parents getting mad over nudity in something like Maus

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      5. Yeah, I’ve seen people argue that getting books pulled from publication isn’t censorship because “it’s different to stop it from being published” versus “making it unavailable on shelves.” Or justified because, “these books are actually bad and they deserve to be banned.” I don’t see the difference. It’s a few people stopping people from reading a book they think is harmful.

        In a free society, I think you would just state what you think is harmful about the book and then trust people to make an informed decision. If it’s that harmful and bad, people will realize it, and it won’t sell.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow! Just wow! This is a great article. I don’t spend a whole lot of time on Twitter so I don’t know all about everything that happens there but I know it can be a very toxic environment sometimes. This article is fantastic! Thank you for writing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I definitely appreciate the points you make – but for me, there is no way I’m going to separate an author from their work. I can’t afford to – I can’t afford to spend my hard earned money supporting an author that’s racist – that would put me in slavery if they could. As a person of color – that would simply be CRAZY! I can’t imagine knowing an author is racist and saying to myself, let me buy all their books because the writing is just so wonderful. Let me fund this person so their microphone can be amplified and they can spend the money I supported them with – furthering racist causes. Nope. Not doing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Personally, I don’t shed a tear for JKR- she’s doing fine. And being a very outspoken opponent of trans rights would make her a controversial figure whether she had written any books or not.

    I am, however, worried about the effects this has on smaller, newer, or more marginalized authors. It’s had book deals canceled, forced people’s star ratings into the basement, and in one notable case forced a trans woman back into the closet and stopped her from writing again. Progressive authors are at greater risk here imo. If you’re too conservative for the progressives, you have your conservative audience left. If you’re already progressive but someone decided a paragraph in your book revealed racist sentiments you somehow managed to hide the rest of your life till this moment… who’s left? That was your whole audience.

    But I think that’s the appeal. I don’t see them going after conservative authors anymore. It doesn’t work, so they seek out more vulnerable targets.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a very good point. They definitely seem to go after the most progressive authors the hardest, almost acted like they’ve been betrayed or something. I guess if you brand yourself on appealing to the twitter audience and being a perfect progressive and then “screw up” in their eyes whether legitimately or out of context, the backlash is so much larger

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