I love my job, but I’m a social creature. Hours of writing are tedious, even to those who love writing. Which is why I love being connected to my readership; I love notes on here, or Pinterest, or Goodreads. I love when my readers let me know how much they enjoyed reading something, or how much they look forward to a book, or if they like a picture of my cats. These comments remind me that my hours are worth the effort to someone, even if it’s just one person. That connection is so, so special.
And I know I’m not alone in that feeling. Many writers take to social media and actively reach out to their audiences, creating a unique experience that only the Internet can offer: a direct connection. This is, in its own right, one of the best tools to hand the often reclusive writer and the often shy reader. The walls of pomp and business are broken down, leaving only people and conversation in its stead.
With this world into the interpersonal artist has its roadblocks. Social media is oftentimes as treacherous as it is kind, especially to the open-minded writer and the honest reader. Many popular authors such as John Green and Cassandra Clare formed a good dynamic with their bases, only to be forced to guard themselves when their books' audiences grew. Rumors fly. Hate-mail rolls in. Arguments proceed. And with most authors manning their own social media, the line between what not to react to can become difficult.
And of course, there are indie authors. Small-timers and self-published folks, like myself. Oftentimes, the indie author's image is their starting point. So many blogs encourage having an online presence far before you begin pushing a book. As an indie author, this will probably be your first and best step, because your online base counts for a lot. This will also be the worst step, because your readers now make and break you, depending not only on your writing, but on your behavior.
Over the summer, the whole of the writing world laughed when indie-published Dylan Saccario had a meltdown over a single negative reviewer. He came under fire on Goodreads; his ratings and reputation were tarnished in the aftermath. Searching “indie author meltdown” pulls him up fast, amongst a number of others who have committed “social-media suicide.” Fits thrown at reviewers. Fights with other authors. Flame wars that burn with the fuel of a thousand careers. Without a publishing house to fall onto, or an agent to pull people back, many of these authors vanish into the ether. After all, rep is everything and the Internet is forever.
The idea to finish this blog post, which I started in June, was admittedly spurred from my own recent experiences with the Internet. My small-sized writing community suffered a few incidents of author fit-throwing and bad behavior. Doing well in a recent contest, my intentions when critiquing were called into question. I watched as several well-known writer friends had the same (and worse) thrown their way over simple ranks in a competition.
I sighed and fought the urge to get too annoyed. Coming from a five-year stint in fan fiction and four years as an active, semi-popular YouTuber, I have weathered familiar storms.
An unfortunate effort to share my work with a particular editing event had one member so angry she started a rampage because I was a “subscription whore”. The fight grew nasty enough that the bully began spreading rumors about me to viewers through PM.
Several 4chan members found me through an anti-bullying campaign video, its removal ironically ending the harassment and threats I had received for a week.
A young member of my fan fiction group once faked his own death for attention.
A young AMV editor I exchanged emails with was reported dead in 2010, having killed herself over bullying on the site.
You just cannot win.
But you can press forward.
The Internet is concentrated troll, and you cannot fight that part. Witnessing what I have over the years though, I have also experienced a great deal of kindness and support from people who are basic strangers to my real life. Awkward and lacking in verbal communication, but still meaningful.
The author's relationship with their readership is just another example of this awkwardness. Our culture bashes on the famous and creative like they are not people; the Internet expects them to participate like they are. Neither know how to handle this responsibility. We continue break barriers, even though we are no longer sure how to act. As I recently read from Amanda Palmer, “some people just suck.” But that doesn't mean everyone does, nor do they have to.
I personally love my connection with my readers and fellow authors. I thrive better, knowing they are out there somewhere. To that end, I hope the growing culture around viewer/creator connections will foster a more positive environment. A little kindness, after all, goes a long way.