Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

How not to respond to reviews, and why social media is bad for authors

It seems to me that "social media" has done more harm than good for writing. I mean, a lot of authors really capitalize on it, using their Twitter streams and Facebook pages to engage with fans and build a massive following. There are authors like John Scalzi and Charles Stross who build an intelligent and dedicated following on their blogs (honestly, I think Scalzi owes more to his blog than to his books for his preeminence in the sci-fi field), but it's important to note that they have been at it for a long time (Scalzi was blogging, and also writing professionally, before he was a published novelist), and they make their blog content interesting in itself, not just because you happen to be a fan of the author. Authors who just create Facebook pages and Twitter accounts because nowadays all the agents are saying you need a "platform" seem likely to do themselves a disservice.

As someone who tends to waste a lot more time online than I should, I cannot see how having to make online engagement part of a professional presentation would be a benefit. It's a time-sink and a minefield. I like to blog here on my tiny little LJ, but my posts are fairly low volume (I rarely post much except writing stuff and book reviews), and I'd quickly get tired of it if I were a published author having to deal with large numbers of both fans and critics and trolls. For Scalzi, it's a job. I don't want a job being an Online Author.

Those thousands of people who follow your Tweets and squee at you are an unthinking mob; it doesn't take much to turn them against you. What Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook have done more than anything else is turn "call-out culture" into a means to generate instant global dogpiles. Now I think those dogpiles are often deserved ‐ I don't have much sympathy for authors who put their foot in their mouth, then double down when called on it and find themselves getting the Internet dropped on their head — but really, if you're gonna play that game, then it's a job. Which is why, in fairness, I can't really blame the authors who never blog or post much except kittens and links to their fellow authors.

I admit I pay way too much attention to author wank, because it just fascinates me, the new world that book blogging and instant Twitter-storms has created. You can instantly get put on thousands of readers' shitlists for one bad response to a review. (Literally: Goodreads is full of bookshelves like "author-behaving-badly", "will-not-ever-read", "attacks-reviewers", etc.)

Today in why authors should sit on their hands when they don't like a review, Joanne Harris says:

My response to the review (on Twitter, because that’s where the link was posted) was an 140-character version of something I’ve already said in long form, which is this:

A review should be about the book you’ve actually read, not the one you wanted to read, or worse, the one you wanted to write. This particular review was mostly about a character that the reviewer had claimed as her own long before she read my book. My version offended her. My comment was a response to that.

Now, I don't think Joanne Harris behaved particularly awfully, and she made some reasonable points in defending herself against the swelling of indignation that immediately rose against her telling her that authors should STFU.

But — basically, she was upset because a reader did not like her portrayal of the Norse goddess Freya as a simpering airhead, rather than the Freya that existed in the reader's head and believed was more true to Norse mythology.

Fair point, an author can do whatever she wants and write any portrayal she likes of mythical figures, including doing so in a manner that purists might consider inaccurate/stupid/disrespectful.

But those purists are going to jump on you, and they're going to get pissed off, and they're going to criticize your choices. That's part of what reviewing is about. Yes, you may have decided to portray that character in that way as a deliberate choice, and readers are going to pick apart your choices. There is really no difference between Harris's response ("Freya is fictional, I can do what I want with her!") and the response of authors who get indignant because readers accuse them of writing sexist, racist, bigoted characters that they didn't intend to be statements of bigotry.

Maybe the reader is wrong. Maybe the reader is an idiot. Maybe the reader's viewpoint is one you just don't get. I personally think it's fine for authors to choose to engage with readers (as long as they are mindful of how badly that can backfire), but telling the reader they're wrong because they wished you'd written something different is dumb, dumb, dumb.

Then Harris doubled down and continued to lash out at the reviewer. Keep in mind, this was not for a trashing, snarky review; it was a 3-star review with some specific objections to how one character was represented.

I haven't gotten very many really bad reviews for my fan fiction novels (nor in critiques of my SF novel), but I've gotten a few. Only a tiny handful are what I would call "stupid" reviews, which is to say, not really addressing what I wrote, just grinding an axe, either against me personally or against a concept the reviewer hated on principal (like Harry Potter fan fiction starring an American witch). The rest had points I agreed with and points I didn't, and sometimes I have said (to myself) "WTF?"

But even against the "stupid" reviewers who've said, for example, that I shouldn't write fan fiction about an American witch because that's stupid, well, whatever dude. Of course being a fan fiction author I have a little more freedom to respond, and sometimes I have given the online eye-roll in response to someone who was clearly trolling me. But if I were a published author and someone wrote that Alexandra is an unlikable bitch and I should stop writing Alexandra Quick stories, would I Tweet a sniping retort about how the reviewer should stop reviewing books they clearly dislike based solely on the premise?

Probably not, because I'm smarter than that. Usually. But, uh, maybe if I was in a fighting mood. Which is why I view social media as a dangerously mixed bag, and probably something authors should avoid unless they really, really enjoy it, and don't mind facing down the Internet Hate Machine. Engaging with fans is fun until it's not, and it seems like all the really, really good writers stay away from the Internet and just write.
Tags: authors behaving badly, facebook, soapbox, writing

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