A few years ago, it seemed like you couldn’t swing a deceased feline without hitting an author in the grip of a meltdown. Even if the conflict was minor, once it became public, the internet’s retribution often turned malignant. Virtual mobs would descend upon the author’s blog, clotting the comment section with hostility. Their fiction was systematically targeted for one-star reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. By committing acts which alienated readers, writing colleagues or the reviewing community, authors could decimate their platform and threaten their career within a matter of hours.
Small wonder, then, that many authors staged a quiet retreat from social media.
Some writers disappeared altogether. They preferred isolation to making a catastrophic mistake. Others abandoned all attempt at two-way conversation, effectively becoming broadcasters to their readers.
Still others looked for the magic formula which would allow them to maintain two-way, author-reader interaction. As consensus grew about what constituted best practices, they adopted them with a fervor that I might go so far as to term rigid. This included rules such as:
- One should never respond out of reactivity. (Or post while drunk, high, etc.)
- Stick with politically correct material.
- Treat your reader with the model touted by commerce: the customer is always right.
- Avoid engaging reviewers. Period.
With the exception of the Avoid Reactivity/Drunk-posting rule, I’d argue that there are problems with all these approaches.
It’s one thing to thoughtfully decide that you don’t enjoy social media or that, as Seth Godin says, it’s an overrated way to get attention for your books. It’s quite another to abandon it out of fear, if only because you’ll risk taking that sense of personal smallness into your fiction.
The one-way broadcasters may think they are safe, but they risk offending readers who’ve been trained to expect a conversation, and who see anything less as a hard sell.
Those who stick with politically safe material risk building a brand known for its bland.
If the customer is always right, to whom will you grant that status? “Reader” is a self-identifying descriptor and can be claimed by anyone who chooses, from the super fan who’s signed up for your street team and devoured your fiction (hi, Mom!) to the individual who skimmed a few blog posts and proclaimed you were derivative. Will you be equally devoted to both?
As for the decision to leave reviewers to their own devices, that’s nice in theory, but what if they won’t leave you alone? What if readers show up with negative reviews and post them on your blog or Facebook page? (The precipitating case of this post because Nora Roberts recently created a policy banning this practice, prompting mixed reactions on WU’s Facebook page.* For the record, I think her decision is brilliant.)
Further, if those rules are iron-clad, what explains the outliers?
I’m not saying you should try this at home—at least not without careful consideration—but some authors are rewarded when they talk about controversial subjects, mock commenters, or ban reviewers. How exactly does that work? [Read more…]