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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

GUEST POST: Authors Behaving Badly by Stephen Deas

Friends, Readers, Bloggers, lend me your ears. I come to bury the Author who comments upon a review of her work, not to praise him. The good that men do is oft interred; the evil lives after them in the comments section. So let it be with Authors who comment upon a review of their work. The noble Blogger hath told you such Authors are arrogant. If it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath these Authors answered for it. Here, under leave of a blogger – for bloggers are honorable; so are they all, all honorable women and men – come I to speak in the Author-who-comments-upon-a-review-of-her/his-work's funeral.

Memo to self: 

Dear future me,

For a while, I imagined book-blogs as being something like pubs, with the host being something across between the landlady and the barman. Some blogs are more like clubs, with membership requirements where you have to pay your dues or establish your credentials in some way and not anyone can come in and have a voice. Yes, it's a little frustrating sometimes to find myself being talked about in a place like that. I can't think of an occasion when I've wanted to do anything more than correct a release date or say a simple thank-you but still, it's oddly unsettling to be discussed and yet excluded. Still, it's the prerogative of any web-master to run their site as they choose and few of us would let any old stranger walk into our private homes; although I suppose not many of us then post our conversations up on the public noticeboard beside the village green. Fortunately, many review sites have the courage to be entirely free and open, letting anyone wander in and say what they like all over the comments section. Unfortunately, sometimes authors do exactly that.

Steve, when will you learn? Would you walk into a strange pub in an unfamiliar town, listen to the landlady express her opinions to a crowd of local regulars and then tell her how wrong she was? And if you did, would you reasonably expect anything short of a verbal lynching? It's not your community. Be thankful you didn't get beaten up. You shouldn't have gone into the pub in the first place. Didn't you see the sign? You didn't? Why not? Because it wasn't there? Oh, come on! It's always there and you're supposed to know that! What sort of author are you? Your publisher's PR people may have told you in no uncertain terms that you need to get out there, that you need to to have a blog and a Facebook page and a Twitter feed and a social media presence and be active on community forums and, while you're at it, go visit every pub in the country, please, unless you're prepared to do what we really want and go door to door selling yourself; but they didn't mean this pub. You should know that.

(Perhaps Not As It Seems)

What do you mean, you weren't disagreeing with the landlady? You wrote the book and now you're done. It's not yours any more. Every reading of your words by every reader is unique and precious and not to be questioned, and expressing your own view undermines the validity of every other. Go away. No one wants to hear it. Your opinion isn't welcome here. Not expressing an opinion? Just asking for a clarification or a little exposition on some particular criticism? Just correcting an error? A typo? Just saying thanks? Just saying hello? No no no no NO! You simply don't get it. IT'S NOT YOUR PUB!!!

Your mere presence, in any shape or form, might unsettle people. It might frighten them. It might intimidate them into silence, into holding back from giving voice to their opinions; and that's not their problem, it's yours, do you get that? Yours because of whatever modicum of success you've achieved. So shut up, Steve, and stay away, because it's not your place. You don't belong. And if you're that darn ignorant or misinformed or foolish – or perhaps foolhardy – enough to turn up anyway and say something, don't you dare complain about how you get treated. It wasn't your lawn. Who do you think you are, some oppressed minority? You can't be bullied. Quite the opposite; in fact some people are afraid of you and the terrible power they imagine you wield.

Yes, yes, I laugh about that now but, future me, who knows? And if the hostility at your mere existence in a space that's not yours conjures uneasy echoes of the litany of apartness, of us-and-them, of get-off-my-lawn, of oppression and silencing that scars human history, you just need to choke on that because it's Not The Same. Oh, the mob hostility might look like it, might even be uncomfortably familiar, but when you walk into that pub, you do so as one of the elite. No matter who you are or where you come from, old or young, woman or man, black or brown or white or sky-blue pink with yellow spots, no matter whether your fans are legion or whether it's just your nan, you don't enter that space as an ordinary human being, you enter as one of the privileged ones. So shut. the fuck. up!

To hell with pubs, Steve. Authors just shouldn't go into them.

Fortunately, internet sites aren't like that. With an internet site, you don't walk in and have everyone turn and stare at you as soon as you're through the door. Author, reader, whoever you are, you have the luxury of standing invisible at the bar, soaking up the ambience, hearing what everyone has to say before you open your mouth; and until you do, no one even knows you're there. You have time to think and reflect, to consider that you're entering someone else's space with its own invisible rules and to choose your words appropriately, with polite caution and respect, and to remember that you're really no more special than anyone else. So, er, do that, Steve. Please, for the love of everything you hold dear, actually do that. And if you're lucky enough to have a vocal base of fans at some point, bear in mind that you'll be held responsible for what they say. And bear in mind that it's possible that your presence will be resented, no matter what you do. It's possible that no one will tell you that. If it happens, you have to live with it. Just try to remember the basic rule.

Steve, don't be a dick 

And look, if you've been a dick and you know you've been a dick, apologize for being a dick and don't be a dick again. And if you show up in someone else's on-line space and act like a dick, don't whine when you get flayed, because being a dick on the internet has an infection vector that makes smallpox cry at its own inadequacy; but at the same time, please try to cling to the hope that, even if you flounder and make mistakes because you don't know the invisible rules, someone will have to decency to guide you instead of yell at you. When you find that person, listen to them.

**********The End**********

AUTHOR NOTE: When I agreed to write this piece, I did so because of a number of pieces published on the internet that seemed to suggest that authors should simply not ever comment on reviews of their work or comments on their work. While I agree that doing so is frequently unwise, very frequently done badly and obnoxiously, and should be approached with great caution, I find the notion that I just shouldn't ever speak about what someone else says about me deeply uncomfortable and reminiscent of far too many – to my mind, at least – vastly more significant issues. What tipped me over the edge, though, was following the ensuing debate at the same time as reading a particular [trigger warning] online review. Really? The last few words of the first paragraph, and people could say something like about something I wrote and I'm required to stay silent?

I wanted a neutral space to place this. Since agreeing to write it, shit happened on Twitter and that neutrality isn't there any more for this site. My views are my own, not those of the Fantasy Book Critic site and the converse is equally true. I have seen accusations of bullying made online by Fantasy Book Critic. I don't agree with them and I'm glad the site has retracted them, otherwise, frankly, I'd have been pretty uncomfortable being here.

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Stephen Deas has worked as a systems designer and project manager for a number of technology-based aerospace companies and has reviewed books for the British SF Association's magazine Vactor. He has seven books out currently.

NOTE: Author-Author picture courtesy of Kate Evangelista. AW & EEW signs courtesy of GavReads blog. Author picture courtesy of the author.


Blodeuedd said...

Lol, I love the pub comparison :)

I do not mind if an author stop by as long as said author is friendly. I am just happy too let them see a review where I am all WOW.

The ones were I am not WOW, but it still is good, well there there might be a discussion in the comments that should not be seen.

And if I really disliked the book or thought it was meh...honestly I would be uncomfortable then. I trashed your baby...sorry! But if you are nice about it then yes comment. If you run in and tell me I am a poopyhead and this is the ways I should like it. Them we are not cool anymore

Anonymous said...

So much love for this post, because it sums up so many opinions, and opinions of opinions, in an awesome and humourous way. Especially the bit about the signs! Well said, all of it!

The Reader said...

@ Blodeuedd

That would be the behaviour for most sane folks & we at FBC always like when people (be they author or readers) comment on the posts.

Most authors I've interacted with seem to be reasonable enough except for a couple of folks who were rather testy in their emails.


The Reader said...

@ Ria,

Stephen was very kind to grant us this post & I thought he hit every nail on the head with it.



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