Sunday, April 3, 2011

The guide to being an author in the age of the internet

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Yes – that is a lofty title to this particular post. Perhaps too lofty for me to accomplish alone. However, I’m going to take a whack at it in hopes that if I miss something someone will come to the plate and take their own swings.

Aside from the start of the major league baseball season, last week featured a terrible online moment for authors/writers/bloggers. You might have seen it. A blog featured a review for a self-published author that wasn’t entirely favorable. The author then decided to confront the reviewer in the comments section of the blog. Actually, the author commented more than once and was not only confrontational, but a bit classless. Word about the review and the author’s reaction spread over social media, as it has a tendency to do, and within hours there were over 300 comments posted. The author’s book also took a beating over at Amazon in the reviews section pulling 1 star reviews from people who were commenting on her online behavior and not on her writing.

We’ve talked about reviews here at DSD. Reviews are part of life. Good, bad, indifferent – authors have to deal with reviews and they are under an obligation to themselves to deal with them professionally. In the old days (yeah – I’m referring to less than ten years ago here), an author would get reviewed, tell all their friends and readers about the good ones and mourn the bad ones with a gallon of double fudge chocolate ice cream. If you didn’t subscribe to the trades, you never saw the review. Nowadays there is nowhere to hide. Social media spreads the word about good and bad – and let’s face it – it spreads the word about the bad much, much faster. Had the author from this week’s review meltdown kept quiet, the review would have basically gone unnoticed by the book reading universe. Her friends would never heard about it. Almost the entire pool of potential readers would never have seen it. The world would have moved on.

So here is my list of dos and don’ts for authors. Yes, some of these might seem totally obvious, but hey this week demonstrated that maybe for some they are not.

1. Keep your emotions and your conflict on the page – writers work hard at ratcheting up those things in their manuscript. Readers love emotion and conflict when it is central to your story, but they don’t belong as part of your public author persona.

2. Never put anything in writing online that you do not want to follow you for the rest of your career. A piece of paper can be burned but the internet is forever. Agents, editors, bloggers, booksellers and readers all can and do use Google. Trust me – you don’t want them finding this stuff.

3. Don’t create fake accounts on Amazon or on other review sites just to bump up the number of good reviews. Yes, people do this, and, yes, people get caught.

4. Always think twice before hitting send on any post be on Twitter, Facebook, a blog, e-mail or anywhere else. Refer to rule #2 for the reason.

5. Do not create a Facebook or Twitter account if you know you cannot control your emotions. This doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad promoter. This makes you self-aware.

6. Call your friends, family or favorite pizza place when you get a bad review. Never share that disappointment in public. It makes you look bad.

7. Never post on a blog where an author has created an unprofessional spectacle of themselves. You do not want your name associated with that kind of train wreck in any way, shape or form. With that in mind, you also don’t want to post Amazon reviews as a way of kicking an unprofessional author when they are down. Get out of the way of the train, watch it pass by and move on.

8. Posting a reviewer’s home address or phone number on Twitter (or anywhere else) and telling your fans to contact the reviewer to disagree with the review is never a good idea. (I wish this one had never happened, but a NY Times Best Seller did this. She has since heeded rule #5.)

9. Remember the Golden Rule. How you treat others online will determine how you are perceived. Does this mean you can’t disagree with people? Hell no! The best discussions I have on Facebook and Twitter are ones where there is heated disagreement. But it is the manner in which you argue and fight and even how you agree that is important.

10. When in doubt, turn off the internet and write. Hey – we’re writers. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing.

Well, that’s my list. What rules on your list did I fail to mention?


Paul D Brazill said...

11. Don't post drunk. (That's mainly to me, though). It used to be I'd wake up at 4 in the morning and see who I was texting when drunk. Now I go straight to Facebook!

David Cranmer said...

Many good points, Joelle.

Unknown said...

Good uncommon sense, Joelle

Dana King said...

You about covered it. All I could add would be to advise those who are prone to take bad reviews too personally not to read reviews You can't change them, and, based on this week's drama, the reviewer isn't going to change your opinion of your writing, so just skip them.

I do hope these episodes don;t go away completely. Some of what coursed through the webs last week was laugh out loud funny.

Jay Stringer said...

great list.

i sail close to the wind in terms of some of my twitter comments, but increasingly rule 4 saves my bacon.

Sandra Cormier said...

I've made the mistake of rushing to the defense of authors and agents who have been similarly attacked on the internet.

At first I was trying to reason with the individual, but soon realized it was pointless. The only result was the attacker turning on me.

I'll heed your advice from now on, and watch train wrecks from a safe distance.

Jon McGoran said...

Good advice, Joelle. I have to admit, I enjoyed that train wreck in a sick voyeuristic kind of way, but like all horrific catastrophes, it is better to be a spectator than a participant.

Sabrina E. Ogden said...

Great list! Now if I could just get, ______, to follow these rules it would make pimping for him on twitter so much more enjoyable. So, rule #1534... if your books don't sell on Kindle and Nook as fast as you would like them to, instead of yelling at the readers for being cheap, maybe you should just reconsider the lowering the price. Throwing insults at us on Twitter doesn't really make me want to buy your book. =)

I think you rock!

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Paul - ha! Yes - rule #11 - when drinking make sure your friends take your keys, your computer and your phone. Friends don't let friends drive or type drunk.

Dana - the train wreck did have some laugh out loud moments. My husband found a wonderful post from a woman who created a retelling of the horror with pictures of cats...truly unique.

Sandra - yes - the internet has the potential to turn into a mob without any warning. Those pitchforks and torches can easily turn on you.

Sabrina - I agree with that rule and am now going to have to watch more carefully on twitter to figure out who the source material for that rule is - BTW - you rock, too!

Dorte H said...

I am glad you included # 7. You could also call it ´don´t kick anyone who is already lying down´.

Sarah M. Anderson said...

I also want to thank you for #7. At first, people were trying to talk the author back from the brink, but then they began to kick her, and that's when it stopped being funny. Just because someone else is a jerk doesn't mean you have free rein to be one, too.