All boycotts are not created equal

by Sunita

The DSP kerfuffle, which in part led to a decision at DA to stop reviewing their books, has resulted, among other things, in me being called an idiot. Fair enough. I call people idiots for doing things I think are stupid on occasion. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

But I do want to correct one point that has recurred across a number of blogs and comments written by supporters of DSP. At no time have I encouraged, asked, or even implied that other reviewers, much less readers, should follow our lead. When Sarah and I took this decision, we did it for reasons we’ve articulated more than once in the Thread That Will Not Die.

I research and write about collective action, which includes the study of boycotts, strikes, and social movements. I’ve studied some large, successful efforts, and and the world is full of other major and minor examples. Something as innocuous sounding as “boycott grapes” can help force changes in conditions for farm workers. The Komen Foundation backtracked. Rush Limbaugh kind of but not really apologized.

But in my research I’ve run across a lot of failed boycotts as well. The ideals were just as strongly held, people did their best, but they didn’t result in change. The causes are just as noble, the people are just as committed. But for a variety of reasons, they weren’t successful.

I don’t boycott companies very often. When I do, it’s not because I think my participation will bring about a change I desire (in technical terms, I have no expectation of being a pivotal participant). Rather, it’s usually because it’s the only thing left that I can think to do, and it makes it easier for me to live with myself. For example, theHusband and I boycotted the biggest grocery store chain in our metro area for eight years because they wouldn’t allow LGBT literature in their store. It was inconvenient, and it meant we didn’t have access to certain kinds of fresh food, as well as some products we really loved. We didn’t try to persuade anyone else to boycott, although we explained why we didn’t go there if asked. It was just something we did because it made us feel better. In that sense, it was a selfish act.

When authors whose work I’ve enjoyed express anger or resentment at DA’s DSP decision, I’m sorry for it, but it doesn’t surprise me. Authors make decisions about where to publish for their own strategic career reasons (or at least I hope they do). Their interests are often quite different from mine as a reviewer. When it comes to reviews, especially reviews at a widely read blog like Dear Author, any publicity is good publicity. Bad publicity sells books too. So even if we decided that we would harshly criticize books with zero content editing, books that are barely-disguised fan fiction but don’t give credit to their inspiration, or books that never should have been published, the mere act of reviewing them is going to bring them to the attention of readers who may go ahead and buy the book, just to see the problems for themselves. Or, reviews being the opinion pieces that they are, readers will decide that hey, that book sounds great! The reviewer doesn’t know what she’s talking about! And we’ve sold another book.

If DA’s review decision leads to changes in DSP’s policies, I would be thrilled. But if it doesn’t, and they continue to be a major player in m/m romance, I won’t be at all surprised.

My rationale for the boycott is pretty simple: I don’t want to help DSP sell bad books. In order to do that, I have to refrain from reviewing books that are bad, but also books that are really good. That makes me unhappy. But I knew that was the downside going in. And I completely understand why many readers will continue to buy DSP books, hoping for that unpolished diamond among the many lumps of coal. I’ll just find my diamonds elsewhere.

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