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.