On Bullying and Author Interaction

I watched my Twitter feed explode today as people debated – no, wait, I’m going to amend that before I even begin. People argued. They attacked, defended, made martyrs of themselves, and ultimately, nothing got accomplished except people got self-righteously hurt. What started it? The idea of authors interacting with fans (and vice versa) combined with bullying. 

I’m not going to comment on one of the blog posts that was a major contributing factor in the Twitter blow-up today. I have my opinions on it, but I don’t feel like opening up that can of worms here. What I am going to comment on is the touchy subject of authors interacting with their fans. 

Personally, I like it when that happens. I like talking with authors. I like them knowing what I think of the work they do, and I like to think that I’ve even made a couple of friends amongst the authorial crowd. I admit I get nervous if I write a negative review of what they did, but that’s the risk we all take when we review. These people are, well, people, and we’re sitting here and judging the art they create. And I know how I’d feel if situations were reversed. That doesn’t stop me from being honest in my reviews, though, and I trust that the authors I review have skin thick enough to take it. 

But imagining the shoe on the other foot, I also find it easy to understand why authors want to interact with their readers, their fans and detractors and everyone in between. And I think that some people don’t get that. It’s an easy trap to fall into when a person’s not right there in front of you, and many people don’t even do it consciously, but there’s an element of, “You’re only words on a screen,” to all of this. So it’s easy to sit back and pretend that what we as reviewers write doesn’t actually touch the people whose works we’re writing about. And keeping creators separate from their fandom reinforces that. 

The Internet has changed. Social media has grown, expanded, and pretty much turned the Internet into one gigantic chat room. We talk. We listen. We interact. And here’s the hard truth of it: telling people that you don’t want certain individuals to interact is elitism. Telling authors that they’re flat-out not allowed to comment on reviews is like saying that your voice is more important than theirs, that there are things you don’t want to hear. 

Hey, they probably didn’t want to hear you trash their book, either. 

Most authors don’t comment on reviews out of a matter of courtesy. Especially negative reviews. It’s easy to let tempers and accusations fly, for one person to try and insist that their opinions is the one that truly matters and that everyone else shouldn’t bother. We allow comments on our blogs from everyone else, but create a sort of no-authors zone, a place where the opinion of the person whose works we’re reviewing has no place. 

And to that matter, I disagree. 

Yes, it may create some friction when the opinion of a reviewer clashes with the opinions of the author. Intent versus interpretation, constructive criticism versus harsh criticism, and all of it so subjective that it’s practically the very stuff arguments are made of. 

But as to whether an author saying, “I intended it this way, so your interpretation is wrong,” is bullying? No. Not if that’s all that’s said. It may be rude, but that doesn’t make it bullying. Especially if it’s said only once. It may be a mistake on the author’s part, it may make the reviewer feel lousy, but that doesn’t make it bullying. Don’t believe me? Ask dictionary.com and see what they have to say about it. Notice how it says that the definition of a bully is someone who is quarrelsome and habitually acts out against perceived weaker opponents?

Offering a differing opinion does not a bully make. And if it does, then we as reviewers are the bigger bullies, as we constantly offer up opinions different than others, and we get kind of argumentative about it.

So if that behavior doesn’t make us bullies, why does it make authors bullies? If it’s okay for us to comment on a person’s work, why is it bad for them to comment on ours? So long as we’re both trying to be respectful of the other, actual dialogue can take place. But if reviewers step onto the soapbox they’ve precariously placed into the back of a high horse and argue that their blog is an author-free zone and any author who comments is being rude and their comments are uncalled for, then all we’re going to get is an even bigger divide between us and the people whose work we claim to love.

The way I figure it, reviewers are a lot like authors. We’re both putting ourselves on the line, writing down what we think and hoping that people don’t tear a strip off us for it. So why the dividing line? Why the author-free zones? If an author isn’t commenting out of respect, fine, but for reviewers and sites to deliberately exclude them? And then when they do pop their heads in and talk about something that goes against the reviewer’s opinion, to label them as bullies and unwelcome and worse? Seriously, people, we’re not so important that we get to be above the rules of politeness too.

To that end, I declare Bibliotropic a blog in which authors can comment if they feel they have something to say. I ask that you stay respectful. I ask that you don’t call me names or tell me I’m wrong (correct me if I make a mistake on a fact, but not an opinion). I ask that if you break these fairly simple rules and start getting abusive or spammy, don’t get all butthurt when I block you from further comments. If we can agree to this, we’ll get along just fine. Don’t give me a reason to regret saying this.

Interaction with authors is something that has enriched my reading and reviewing experiences. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And I figure that if authors are opening themselves up to commentary by me, then the same thing should apply in reverse. And if any authors don’t feel that they want that burden, that’s fine too. I can respect that. Some people just want to write in peace, and I can completely understand why. Fan interaction is a tough thing. But here, at least, I welcome your comments on my comments, and am not going to turn you away just for having an opinion on my opinion. I’m not going to call you a bully because you disagreed with me, and I’m going to do my level best to not play the martyr card if we disagree. What you say may well improve me as a reviewer, just as I hope sometimes that what I say may improve you as an author. Or at least give you an idea of what some people are saying about your works.

Now, before someone reminds me that some authors have been jerks in their comments to reviewers, believe me, I haven’t forgotten. I’ve been there when the barbs were flung and, erm, stuff hit the fan. I’ve seen authors be abusive to promoters and detractors alike. I’ve seen authors pitch fits because someone dared to tell them that their writing needed some polish. I’ve seen authors tell reviewers what to write in their reviews. I’ve seen authors tell us to stop reviewing entirely. I’ve seen authors have snits because people didn’t review their books. I’ve heard the insults. I’ve been on the receiving end. And that stuff doesn’t fly. That stuff is abusive, it is bullying, and I don’t stand for it.

This ramble’s gone on longer than I meant it to, so I’ll close by saying that I welcome comments on this. Think I’m being a jerk for passive-aggressively calling some people out? Think I’m cool for saying flat-out that I like author comments? Let me know. That’s part of the fun of this game.

20 comments on “On Bullying and Author Interaction

  1. Agreed.
    The SFF community is really throwing up a lot of examples of exclusion for a genre that, to me, was always one of the most open and welcoming of people of all types.
    Authors have as much right to engage as anyone else. The same “rules” should apply to everyone.

    • I don’t know why things seem to have gotten so fraught with controversy lately. I mean, yes, when more people get involved, there’ll be clashes and differences of opinion, and that’s to be expected, but lately I’ve been saying way more “us against them” arguments that suck half the fun out of the community element of SFF.

  2. I love it when authors comment on my blog, on reviews I’ve written of their books. That they even notice me, is pretty flattering. I’ve even gotten author comments when I’ve written a neutral or negative review, and usually the comment is “sorry this didn’t work for you, thanks for taking the time to read it”.

    ugggg. just like you said, it’s so easy to see an author, or another blogger, or really anyone we’ve never met as “words on the screen”. are we all allowed to have our own opinions? hell yes. and the cost for that is that others will have different opinions and shouldn’t be eviscerated for daring to think differently.

    On-screen communication is just the absolute worst when it comes to delicate topics. No connotation, no emotion, no facial expressions or body language. No way of getting anything out of it beyond words on a screen.

    • If an author comments on my blog, it makes my day! I’ve even had a couple of authors email me regarding more negative reviews I’ve posted, talking about why I felt that way, and they were pretty cool about the whole thing. I think, sadly, this is one of those cases of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. Most of us, I think, would be thrilled to have more author interaction. But many authors seem to take a, “not touching that” approach because they’re afraid of the situation blowing up. And this whole debacle isn’t going to chance that any time soon, which is a real shame.

  3. This is ridiculous! I’d love to have authors stop by on my blog and give me context that I’d have otherwise missed. I don’t want the actions of one or two militant reviewers create a culture where authors are afraid to interact with fans.

    In general, debate about opinions should always be kosher, and personal attacks should never be kosher. What’s so hard about that?

    • The context-giving is something that’s happened to me a time or two. Just in the same way that seeing another reviewer interpret a scene differently, seeing how the author interpreted the scene often gives some great perspective on things and can fill in some blanks in my understanding. It’s really cool to get that behind-the-scenes look sometimes.

      If someone’s going to drop by and say, “You read this scene wrong because I intended it this way, so your whole opinion is invalidated,” then that’s not cool. That’s the thing about books; they’re a two-way street. Intent and interpretation. Maybe the author’s intent didn’t come across as clearly to me as they wanted, for whatever reason. That’s fine. That’s where discussion becomes invaluable. But insults and attacks are just not cool, and I guess that’s sadly a lesson that some people missed. :/

  4. I love it when authors (or anyone) comments. It seems ridiculous to be so exclusionary. You know, after I put my own “Authors Welcome” post up today I was FLOODED with messages from authors… they all boiled down to, “authors are fans first.” So true. Why should they be excluded from a discussion based on how they spend their day?

    • I haven’t come across a single author who didn’t get into writing because they were fans of another person’s writing first. And the more I talk to authors, the more I see that they read about as much as reviewers do, which gives them ample reason and right to chime into a discussion. Making commenting an exclusive gig doesn’t do anything except start a load of needless drama.

  5. I arrived late to this particular party, so I don’t know the sites in question that started it all.

    That being said, I get positively giddy when an author comments on a review I’ve done. Sure, I might get a little awkward if they comment on a bad review, but that’s the way it goes. I think it’s one of the highest compliments that can be paid to a review when the creator of that work takes time out to involve themselves in the discussion.

    If an author says to a reviewer “you’re wrong” it’s rude, yes, but not bullying. And I agree that we’re in danger of carving out a culture of elitism amongst us if we start dictating who can and can’t be allowed to interact with our work.

    Everyone should be welcome, so long as they treat one another with respect.

    • Ha, yeah, my reaction usually boils down to something similar to Homer Simpson’s “I’m missing the chili cookoff” dance, with a stupid grin on my face. For so long I had the thought that authors were these godlike beings on a pedastal that I could only admire from afar, and while I don’t think that so much anymore (funny enough, these godlike beings are remarkably human), there’s still some holdover that makes me feel like a comment from an author is like being acknowledged by a celebrity.

      I think some people like playing the martyr card, though, and either deliberately or accidentally interpret hurt feelings as being bullied. IMO, things in this incident did escalate to bullying territory by the end, and both sides said some nasty stuff to each other that was fairly insulting, but even that doesn’t qualify as bullying. At least, not in my book.

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  7. So I think we generally have the same thoughts here, except maybe slightly different angles on it. I absolutely agree with you about the matter of accepting all commenters and then not authors – it seems to me a bit unfair towards authors (and readers!) to accept a certain type of relationship with authors when it’s convenient, and then expect authors to completely stay away when it’s not. But while I personally don’t agree with it and wouldn’t want that on my own blog, I do understand why other bloggers might decide otherwise. I may not like it, but it’s their choice and as long as they conduct themselves in a calm, polite manner, it’s… legitimate. And that’s where I got very frustrated watching the (indeed) argument unfold…

    • I agree that it’s their choice to have that as a rule on their blog, but if that’s the case, then it should be stated somewhere, not just left alone with the assumption that everybody else gets it. And to the best of my knowledge, very few people have that rule explicitly stated while a good number expect people to follow it anyway. That’s like not bothering to say that a university is alcohol-free, but then expelling students for drinking. If you have a rule, you have to say it, or else relinquish your rights to get hurt when people don’t know and infringe upon your wants. You can’t punish people for not knowing the rules that you never bothered to tell them about.

      You make an excellent point, and you bring up an issue that a lot of people have been overlooking. Which is why discussion is awesome and different viewpoints are essential.

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    • Agreed. On both counts. It seems unfair to blame someone for breaking rules that were only assumed and never fully expressed.

      I’ve heard the, “We shouldn’t have to do this,” stuff already. And no, we shouldn’t. This shouldn’t even be an issue, because we should all be able to be mature responsible and respectful adults about it. But the opinion divide is large enough that apparently there is a need, or at least a big calling for, and I think that one simple statement will save a lot of problems in the future, for both reviewers and authors.

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