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Category Archives: Fans

Should Authors Respond to Reviews of Their Books

Quite randomly, I stumbled onto a web of posts and tweets detailing an incident of an author commenting on a review of one of their books, being taken to task for it, and then spending what I see as way too much time further entangling themselves in the resulting kerfluffle.  I won’t name this author, because I’m not posting clickbait.  I read both sides of the argument, and while I sided mostly with the reviewer whose space was invaded, I do think some of the nuance on both sides that was over-shadowed by this author’s bad behavior offers valuable insight into both review and more general netiquette.

First, I want to establish some premises:

  1. Posting to the internet is a public act.  That’s true if your post is public rather than on a private blog or Twitter account, say.  But it ignores the complexities of human social interaction.  If I’m having a chat with my friends at IHOP (Insert your franchise pseudo-diner of choice), we’re in public.  So it’s a public act.  But not quite!  If some random patron three tables down were to start commenting on our nastily engaging discussion of who should fuck who in the latest, greatest reverse harem anime, we would probably consider that quite rude.  In fact, we have lots of terms for that sort of thing: butting in, nosy, etc.  I think a valid analogy could be made for the internet.  Sure my Tweet stream is public, but as a nobody with no claim to fame or blue checkmark, it’d be quite a shock for the POTUS to retweet some comment of mine about the economy or the failings of the folks in Washington.  The line can be a bit blurrier if I run a popular but niche politics blog, or if I have a regional news show on the local Fox affiliate.  But just because you can read what I wrote doesn’t mean I expect, much less desire, a response from you.
  2. My blog/website is my (semi-)private space.  Yours is yours.  I own the platform, I decide the rules.  You can write whatever you want on your blog.  Your right to write whatever you want on mine is much less clear-cut.
  3. You have institutional authority over your own work.  While most authors may not feel like they have much power in the publishing world, as the “creator”, they have enormous implied power in the world of fandom and discussion of their own specific work, or maybe even someone else’s, if they’re well-known friends of Author X, say.  If I criticize the War in Vietnam or Iraq, and a four-star general comes knocking on my door the next day, you better fucking believe I’m gonna be uncomfortable.  An author may not have a battalion of tanks at their disposal, but they sure as hell have presence, possibly very intimidating presence if they are well-known in the industry or for throwing their weight around in fandom.

Given these basic premises which I hope I have elaborated on specifically enough, I have some conclusions about what I would consider good standard netiquette.  I won’t say “proper” because I have no authority in this area, nor does anyone, really, to back up such a wording.  But a “reasonable standard of” at least I can make logical arguments for.

  1. Say what you want on your own platform.  And you can even respond to what other people have said, especially if you are not an asshole and don’t name names of people who are not egregious offenders of social norms or who haven’t made ad hominem attacks.
  2. Respect people’s bubbles.  We have a concept of how close to stand to someone we’re in a discussion with in real life, for example, that can be a good metaphor for on what platforms we choose to respond.  Especially as regards critique, since responding to negative comments about oneself is something we know from past experience can be fraught with dangerous possibilities.  I would posit that a person’s private blog is reasonably considered part of their personal space.  A column on a widely-read news site might be considered more public,but then  you have to weigh the consideration of news of your bad behavior being far more public and spreading much faster.You should not enter it without a reasonable expectation of a good reception.  If there is a power imbalance between you and the individual whose space you wish to enter, we have rules for that.  real-world analogies.  For example, before you enter someone’s house you knock or ring the doorbell.  A nice email to the specified public contact email address asking if they would mind if you weighed in is a fairly innocuous way to open communications, and can save face on both sides by avoiding exposing one or the other to the possible embarrassment of being refused or the stress of refusing a local celebrity with no clear bad intentions.
  3. Assume permission is required unless otherwise explicitly  stated.  This one gets its own bullet point, because I think it’s the easiest way to avoid the most trouble.  A public pool you might enter without announcing your presence.  Would you walk into a stranger’s house without knocking? One would hope not.
  4. Question your reasons for engaging.  Nobody likes to be  called sexist.  Or racist.  Or shitty at doing their research.  Or bad at writing.  But reactionary  defenses against what could be construed as such an assertion do not in my mind justify an author wading into a fan discussion.  Or a reader discussion, if one considers “fan” as having too much baggage.  An incorrect narrative fact is likely  to be swiftly corrected by other readers or fans.  Libel or slander is probably best dealt with legally.  A reviewer is not your editor.  You should probably not be quizzing them for advice on how to improve your writing, or story-telling, or world-building.  Thanking a reviewer for a nice review might be best undertaken as a link on your own blog.  They’ll see the pingback, and can choose to engage or not.  At best, one might pop in to provide a link to their own blog where they provide answers  to questions raised in the post in question or a general discussion of the book they may wish to share with those who read the review.  But again, such a link would probably be best following a question on whether any engagement by the author might be appreciated.

Overall, I think I’ve suggested a good protocol for an author tojoin in fan or reader discussions without causing consternation or full on flame wars, and at a cost barely more than a couple minutes to shoot an email.

 
 

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Who Are We Blogging For?

I just finished reading a fantastic post on how the Internet is affecting YA literature.  It was written by the wonderful Hannah Moskowitz over on her blog “Invincible Summer”—which I have only read about two posts on.  And that has clearly been my mistake. 😉

The gist of the post is that we writers, or at least those of us with a significant investment in the authosphere, have moved away from writing for readers, and fallen into the trap of writing for writers.  As someone whose first significant strides in writing came from the poet’s perspective, I can tell you that one of the greatest criticisms I have ever heard about the poetry community is that poetry is no longer written for everyone, but only for other poets, who have the knowledge, background, and exposure to appreciate the currently popular poems.

We do not want this happening to fiction.  We do not want to become a community of people writing only for each other, having lost track of the true purpose of our craft.  It’s all good and well to learn and discuss trends, and clichés, and how “proper” books should  be written.   But we can’t lose site of who we’re writing these books for.

I’m going to ask you now to follow the above link, so that I don’t have to repeat everything Hannah has already so elegantly articulated…

Okay, here goes.  I completely agree with Hannah that the YA writing community has moved in the direction she describes.  It has not completely lost itself, but it hasn’t stayed completely true to its mission either.  And the horrible, terrible, throw up a little in your mouth truth is…  The entire authosphere, the entire online writing community, is falling into this trap.  I see signs of it everywhere.  Writers blog for other writers, sink their valuable writing time into maintaining their status among online peers.

Part of this can be laid at the feet of the aspiring writers who have infiltrated and conquered the author community.  Everywhere, we are encouraged to start blogging, to build platforms, to make connections on Facebook and Twitter, and other blogs.  But we haven’t published anything.  What can we say to readers, who haven’t read us because we’ve given them nothing to read?

And so we build a community amongst ourselves, aimed towards our goals.  We share info, support each other, and work to build up everyone’s careers.  And it’s wonderful!  But it doesn’t really have much to do with our initial reason for joining this community:  to create things for other to enjoy.  Others who do not write, do not know the difference between submitting to an agent or submitting to a publisher, may not be fast friends with every aspiring and published writer on the web.  They do not go to every writing con they can afford, or buy six copies of a book because they want to support their best friend who wrote it.  When we take advice, and suggestions, and encouragement from those just like us, we can easily forget who we’re trying to please. 

Readers matter.  Readers have a voice.  Readers may even use that voice.  In fact, there are innumerable readers taking part in the authosphere as a whole.  But many have neither access to nor interest in the authorial, writerly community with it’s focus on mechanics and mutual support.  They want to hear about new books, win ARCs, make recommendations, and read reviews.  To those of us who are unpublished, these are not relevant to our main goal.  And so we listen more to each other, and less to the readers.  And that’s a dangerous road to take.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 30, 2010 in atsiko, Authors, Blogging, Books, Fans, Writing, YA Fiction

 

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First Fan Freakout

I’ve been following Ecstatic Days, Jeff VanderMeer’s blog for awhile, and a few days ago, I finally commented on this post. Jeff replied. Last night, I was lying in bed trying to get to sleep, and I suddenly thought “I just had a conversation with Jeff-fucking-Vandermeer. Oh my God, I love that guy.”

Now, you may be wondering why I’m making such a big deal of this fan squee moment. Well, for three reasons:

  1. I’ve never understood the concept of a fangirl/fanboy moment. Authors are awesome people, sure, I thought, but they’re just people. I respect them for writing great books, but I’d be more nervous from having nothing interesting to say to them than from some speechlessness over their literary awesomeness.
  2. I’ve commented and been responded to on several author blogs, none more or less awesome than Jeff VanderMeer.
  3. Beyond the first chapters excerpt I read to respond to the post in question, I’ve never actually read one of Jeff’s books. Not even a short story. He’s on my TBR list, sure, because I hear so many great things about his books. (And, from the excerpt, these compliments appear to be totally deserved.) And yet I freaked out, days after the fact.

But hey, I’m nothing special. Fanboy moments are the bane of convention-goers—both author and reader alike. Nothing is more embarrassing than meeting your idol and completely freezing up the first word they say to you. I mean, they’re a literary God! And you’re just some reader/writer who nobody knows or cares much about. (And this applies to you whether you’re a multi-published author or a twelve-year-old at their first con—with your parents… ughhh.) How else should you react to meeting them?

Fan Freakout Syndrome(FFS) is practically its own pandemic in most fields of endeavour. Movie stars, sports stars, even someone’s favorite scientist. Anyone you admire can trigger a debilitating attack of Holy SHIT! By just saying “Hello”.   As much as an author might appreciate gushing praise on a now-and-then basis, constantly running into people who make total fools of themselves in your presence can get rather tiring.

And it’s even worse than that, because the fan usually realizes halfway through what they’re doing. This realization is followed by the dreaded “awkward silence”, where the fan experiences a second freakout:

“Oh my god! I’m such a tool. A fool, a clown, a total dumbass. I’ve totally ruined this. What a fuck-up, I bet they despise me! *weeps on the inside* They must see this all the time. Shit, shit, shit!

If they’re lucky, they’ve not said this aloud. (But the writer, being such an astute judge of character, will see it all in the half-second it flashes across the humiliated fan’s visage.  Right?)

Now, since my freakout was not only private but internuts-mediated, I have retained some semblance of my dignity, even if I’ve plastered my semi-embarrassment all across the web–you know, because everybody reads this blog. Including Jeff, obviously.  (Right Jeff?  You read my blog, right?)

So, next time you embarrass yourself in front of your favorite author, remember, they now despise you. You make them cringe every time they see you. They would rather give their grandmother a foot massage than experience one more second in your presence. But don’t feel bad, you’re not alone.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on January 9, 2010 in atsiko, Authors, Fans

 

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