Part Three – Surprised by the tone?
#3. Have you been surprised by the vitriol/kindness of the people who contact you via the internet? If so has that affected your view of the “audience”?
Finally I got the answers I pretty much expected. Honestly this question is the beating heart of this entire series for me. Mostly because I have been SHOCKED by the things I have seen people direct at writers on their blogs. Occasionally a writer would post something vague, but pointed, that was obviously about some awful email they had received from a reader and in some cases from people who hadn’t even actually read their books. This is the main reason that I was so certain that most of the writers would rather NOT have to deal with “the public” on the internet.
Most, but not all, of the writers expressed some surprise at the vitriol but also at the kindness people sent their way. It’s interesting to me that as extreme as the disregard and/or cruelty exhibited it sounds like it is matched by kindness. That did my heart good. I think by now it’s pretty obvious that I fall into the camp of people who think it’s a pretty awesome gift that we have a way to communicate directly to these writers that we enjoy and respect. But it obviously opens them up to an awful lot of rudeness, unsolicited advice and abuse. Jim C. Hines said, “The vitriol can be tiring, but it hasn’t been terribly surprising.” More than one person mentioned having their feelings hurt by extremely cruel commentary on Goodreads or various blogs. Again, this isn’t about bad reviews, it’s about extreme comments that are OFTEN personal.
Now it is 2012 and the phenomenon of people using the anonymity of the internet to indulge in behavior they would never commit if they had to do it face to face, with their name on it and their friends and family witnessing it is not new. At the same time most of us don’t do anything that attracts the attention of the public. Often when a writer publishes, and if all goes really well, their book starts to gain popularity they will find themselves in an unexpected internet spotlight. One of the trends that has become clear to me from what I have witnessed myself and from what I have heard from a few writers is that the commentary can be truly extreme. Seanan McGuire said some people, “…are surprisingly cruel to someone they’ve never known.”
God help you if you are anything other than a white man, because then it goes from extreme to damn near criminal. Yes these people who write books end up getting seriously disturbing threats. Threats to their safety, to the safety of their homes, to their pets…their freakin’ pets! Honestly all that considered I am completely amazed that ANYONE continues to interact with the general public online.
But this brings us to the flip side. Every writer that responded spent way more time telling me about the kindness and support they received from people. While it’s obviously a mixed bag everyone mentioned how kind and generous MOST of their readers were. Ilona Andrews (writing team Ilona and Andrew Gordon) said, “…the mean incidents tend to stand out more, simply because they hurt your feelings, but I think the majority of people are kind and reasonable.”
As for the second part of the question almost every writer mentioned that they were more cautious with what they shared online as a result of not only the negative commentary but also sometimes because of the work involved with trying to straighten out confusion because people didn’t understand a joke or an off-hand comment made by the writer. Ilona Andrews said, “If I compliment an item that can be easily purchased on the internet, I have to specify that I do not want it sent to me.” Some mentioned having to set boundaries with friends who are readers about unsolicited comments whether in person or via email. Even so they were all still pretty grateful for the good conversations and supportive feedback they get from people in general. So in the end I guess it’s more good than bad, even though the bad can be really, really bad.
Last I wanted to know if all this access was a good thing or not and what it might mean to the industry in general.
To be continued on July 9, 2012…