Authors, Internet Drama, and Public Image

Written 12/02/2016

This is not my November status update. Everything regarding ongoing projects, where I’m at, and future directions shall be shoveled into another post somewhere. Maybe a ramble. Instead, I’ve decided to try to post constructive advice to other authors and at the least ensure I remember my feelings on the matter by writing this down. Fair warning; this will be a bit more ranty than rambly.

The post itself shall go on a bit about what the title above says. I do this in hopes that someone else out there will take it to heart and simply think about word choice and the consequence it plays as we talk in public forums; especially if you want to make the writer gig work out.

Here’s roughly what we’re looking at;

  1. Writing like a jerk can lose you income
  2. Leading a community means being held to a higher standard
  3. We are closer to our audiences, and that’s dangerous
  4. Indie communities are freakishly important

To be very, very clear – this entire post will sum up the following idea from multiple aspects.

(In real life, not the literary work)

When a person presents themselves poorly in a public forum as a writer of any sort – it impacts all of us. Especially in the indie circle. On a personal level, poor communication in the community has direct consequences upon a person’s sales, attractiveness, reviews, ability to work with other authors, etc.

To be clearer – most writers are aware phrasing matters and some still act oblivious.

Let’s get started on the main examples of where I see issues.

 

1. Writing like a jerk can lose you income

It’s already a pain in the rear to get sales for a lot of Indie Authors. Anyone talking to us about our works is a rush. To rephrase; it’s exciting. We want to talk to people about our books – at least I do. We want to hear what people thought of plot point A, clever line B and uncovered secret C. Reviews reveal information about our writing, comments mean someone actually paid attention enough to have an opinion.

It’s all about validation and assigning worth to the time we labored. When I get Emails (Maybe once a month, which I cherish and feel amazed by) it makes me giddy to know anyone cared enough about this long winded bit of nonsense from my head.

But the hurdle is in responding without coming off high-handed, depressed, condescending, or egomaniacal. Every single one of those types of personas might turn the current fan into a hater who now spreads vile rumors about my fornication with Satanic beings for sales. I don’t – that would be silly. They have terrible Return On Investment.

To bring in a ‘common knowledge’ example – new writers are often told not to respond to reviewers on Amazon or Goodreads, etc. The main reason is as above – poor phrasing when interacting in public makes the writer a loser every time – not the reviewer.

They (the reviewer) can post “Top Kek, lawl, 1/5, would not bang” or whatever – and if a new author responds with “Doug Smith is a hunk of man who gets me on my knees and you’re dumb” to the reviewer – only the author looks bad, not the reviewer. Often the reviewer won’t even notice a defensive statement (but other potential readers will). Then the community looks .000000005% worse and this effect snowballs.

On the subject of reviews, it’s generally not useful to respond to them ever. The only time I do is when someone cites a technical error with my file as a reason to lower the review. I can not let myself tell them they’re wrong in how a book makes them feel.

As an author – my job is to write the god darned book to it’s conclusion then let the community argue.

Writers need to keep their role in mind no matter how much they crave interaction, validation, or to explain their work. If enough readers comment implying they don’t understand an aspect of the work and think poorly of it – then the writer failed – not the reader.

If the writer must respond then they should aim to be as clear in their goals as possible and need to be aware of the consequences for poor communication; their actions impact a communities view and only the author comes out of it with mud.

I’m not saying the masses are right, I’m saying they have their opinion and responses for a reason. Those reasons are not always ‘Salty McHaterPants The 3rd is a giant turd’.

That was a soft point to start on. The next one is my pet peeve.

 

2. Leading a community means being held to a higher standard

Let’s start with a relevant example. Presidents (and I’m not going to touch how the system is set up, just their ‘position’ as leaders). We expect a certain level of performance from them because – in theory they’re in charge and represent us to the other masses out there.

The same is true for a smaller business. A manager is your team’s face to other teams. A store owner can sink a business faster than any employees can keep it afloat. This is true for any and all leadership.

Held to a higher standard on what exactly?

  • Responsibility
  • Success Measures
  • Professionalism
  • Level headedness
  • Being an Adult <– Read this one again

There are a metric ton of Facebook Groups – normally started by an author. Most that I’ve seen are by an author who really wants their own work to succeed. Understandable, right? I mean I get it. Talking to a community of like-minded people helps with motivation, methods for success, learning possible hurdles, and lets a person explain what works for them.

This part here is a bit personal – a few days ago I watched a ‘leader’ of a Facebook group start deleting posts that critique them in what are generally civil terms – I started to wonder about their sanity and worth as a human. I’ve seen this again, and again, and again. Royal Road, Gravity Tales, Reddit, The Facebook Group for LitRPG, someone in charge dislikes what is said, deletes it and more strife is caused.

Some groups are made by writers who haven’t really been successful. This puts them into positions of power. To be clear; they’re not really leaders. They’re simply people with the ability to quash others in a large group. That sort of stuff is abusive and damaging to the community.

Why? Because the community may not know any better. Facebook especially – allows people to apply to groups, for groups to grow, and try to share things on a topic they love. Yet we have a person who moderates this entire mess who functions as if this were still a small group.

It’s not. The internet means it’s international. The internet means an entire cross section of people are coming together. That means anything being done should take this into consideration – because a wrong step by that person in charge will impact everyone in the group – if they pay attention anyway.

Some are authors who are very successful in terms of sales but have poor attitudes. They abuse their power too, or do silly things like turn a generic group banner into a marketing board for their own book. That’s not leading. Really, at that point the group name should be changed to “Author X’s personal promotion gathering”.

Some are authors who have really good sales and pull a community together to give back. These people often do reviews, promote other people’s books, offer advice, share experiences and try to keep a community civil. The smarter ones don’t confuse civility with anything that critiques their posts – and shouldn’t need to because they’re speaking from a tested place of experience. A lot of successful people may not even get involved in public for whatever reasons. This post isn’t for them.

Clearly self-centered people in charge of groups make it harder for the everyone else to be taken seriously – and chase away people who might have legitimately good advice.

Here’s the final example – which I’m being vague on because naming names is counter-productive.

When two writers (or more) publically argue – it’s bad. When feedback gets censored it’s a loss of a learning opportunity and a demonstration of denial. When people censor feedback, there’s a loss of the chance to learn and improve. Once more – when this is done and the person with valid advice leaves that circle – everyone else in the group misses the assistance that could have been provided.

As writers delve into self-promotion and talking to others about methods – being unprofessional will lose opportunities for information – the first-hand type that is infinitely more useful than any blog post could ever be. When online and talking about writing, we can’t be an average Joe asking for help with plants growing in the yard. We have to remember we are presenting ourselves as people with a job – and that job is selling books we’ve written. Being a self-serving twit in public runs directly counter to the image of a professional – and someone worthy of respect in the field.

Work with people – not against people.

 

 

3. We are closer to our audiences, and that’s dangerous

While frothing at the mouth earlier – I spoke on this subject with other people. I think what it is, is that a lot of people aren’t aware how much their internet voice impacts their career as a writer. We work in a reputation based environment. Word of mouth is more important than any promotional ad on Bookbub (but hey, keep up the hustle, I sure as heck ain’t any good at that).

I spoke earlier about the responding to reviews aspect. This matters here – but since I’ve said it already I’ll move on to another angle.

It’s harder to separate out professional time and home attitude when it’s all on a screen. When we go to work, we’re being paid to be pretty cashiers, working cubicles, deal with managers, put together flowers – whatever. Tone and inflection are audible and people can tell that what we say has depths to it.

That’s not so true with writing. It damn well better be in the stories – but it’s even more so everywhere else. I often freak out when writing in chatrooms, facebook, and even my own website. It’s because when I talk – someone sees the person behind the story and may choose not to read the book. They may go to another facebook group and post;

Stephan’s books are cool, but he’s a twit. Don’t read his stuff, down with twits.

On a personal aside, I suspect people turn away from my books for a myriad of other reasons that have nothing to do with my blog posts (Poor Grant Legate, a misunderstood soul). But I’m okay if they don’t like the book. I accept not everyone will like it. What I can’t let myself do is go frothing into a public forum and bash anyone who disagrees – even a little.Which brings me to the second half of this point. If they don’t like it – I’ll know. Like many writers I’m obsessively clicking anything that mentions my name due to crippling insecurities. I’ll see that review “Buttface42” states my work is terrible.

I’ll see it and have to ignore it or learn to do better.

Some of these reviews or comments on Reddit, Facebook, or Goodreads, come off as attacking the author. Generally, this is the readers way of saying they liked aspects of the book but clearly we wrote it in a way they didn’t enjoy.

Their poor phrasing does not excuse us to knee-jerk and write a scathing self-defense post in return. 

As pointed out earlier, any attempt at defending our work to the reviewer or community is probably going to be a loss. The only time I’ve felt super comfortable even trying to defend my work was during a review with Ramon over at Geek Bytes Podcasts. He’s a strong member of the community for my main series (Continue Online) and I’ll speak more on communities in the next post. – and I’ll discuss why in the next post.

Back to this point.

The screen, the one we’re all looking at right now – it travels with us. Everyone should make sure not to loose their professionalism when talking about work or it’ll make the community turn against you – even if the readers don’t know any better, the other writers or nosey public will learn.Because we can see the readers responses and react right away without any sort of filter or screening, it’s incumbent upon us to be our own monitors.

 

4. Indie communities are freakishly important
This final point is what really needs to be said. It’s going to repeat a lot of the stuff above because I’m beating a dead horse. And once this is done I’ll probably just point people back to this post if there’s ever an issue.Let’s assume some people are confused by what I mean – after all, it’s not really important to finishing a book. Anyone can sit down, type out a few thousand words and make it a short story. It may not be neat or shoved into a trunk – but writing itself only takes time and willingness to keep rolling one’s face on the keyboard.

Promotion is an entirely different kettle of barbed wire (Or whatever goes in kettles. I don’t like tea, heathen that I am).

To be mentioned on peoples sites, blogs, be received by reviews, communicate on Facebook for ideas – all of it requires tactful phrasing and clearly written requests.

I get review requests that are occasionally seven pages long. With so much information it feels like I’m reading a sales script. My eyes glaze over – I ignore most of what’s said, and go to the actual book while cringing. The reasoning is simple – I’ve been inundated with text in a semi-professional communication. If this is how they write an Email, what kind of mess will the book be?

To apply this to Facebook communities. The following deliberately painful example is going to highlight a point.post is bad;

Hi guys, what can we do to promote? Maybe we can all get together and push out one book at a time on our websites? Here’s mine first. Please spread the word and we’ll do your book next.

I don’t know. I can barely promote my book. This sounds like homework, I quit. Next item on my endless feed please.

Not to mention this example – paraphrased badly from reality – is a self centered post unbecoming anyone in charge.

Hoewver, I respect wanting help and wanting to do well. That’s fine. Here’s a better example;

Hi guys, I’ve tried a few different methods to promote and they all useless. What have you all tried or seen as successful? I have a second book coming out and I’d like to get more people hyped by promoting the first one.

Or
Hi guys, is there anyone who can help get the word out on my book? I’m trying to create a buzz about it as I ramp up to…(book 2’s release, the second coming of Christ, whatever). I can do review swaps, point to groups, or offer you a funny cat photo.
The key – since we’re talking about the community aspect, is offering something clear in exchange that can be done right away. A list is a terrible idea. It relies upon trusting those in charge – and if those in charge can’t word things correctly…
Well, if they can’t be bothered to space out sentences right. Indent paragraphs, maybe break up some walls of text – I wouldn’t trust them. This isn’t something unique to me either. There’s a lack of confidence that the other people will return any favors put out there because the phrasing used is poor.
 
In Sum
Writers – if what you write in a book is carefully crafted to get an idea across clearly, what you write everywhere else better be damn well receive the same treatment.
So – for anyone that made it this far – I think I’ve written the touchiest ramble ever to cross my screen. I’ve done my best to make sure the word choice used isn’t attacking people; because that’s not the point. There are a few subjects I feel passionately about, and seeing writers as a whole (myself included when I have) act unprofessionally is a sore point that’ll get me ranting.
We have to hold ourselves accountable for the words spoken in public (the internet is public) – before the crowd ever get a chance to.
But what do I know? Maybe my entire attempt at posting this comes off as condescending and I’ve failed in meeting my own advice – that is not to be a jerk, to watch my phrasing, and keep in mind that I’m writing this to a community who is free to form terrible opinions about me then spread those rumors around the internet.
So here’s a final .gif to part on.
nd god help me – if you found any value in it, please consider reblogging, tweeting, facebook sharing, quoting parts – what have you. Feel free to share your thoughts below!

One response

  1. Pingback: Rambles: For Authors, Internet Drama and Public Image

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