“I’ve always loved her books, but I’ll never buy another one.”
“I’ll never read anything he writes again as long as I live.”
What did the writers do that so fatally alienated their readers?
They posted personal opinions on Facebook.
If you’re not a writer, you probably don’t realize that many authors are perplexed by and even a little scared of social media. We talk a lot, on our closed listserves, about the danger of posting something online that readers won’t like. If we offer anything other than the written equivalent of a pretty bouquet, we can land ourselves in trouble.
In this connected age, the quality of our fiction seems to matter far less than what readers think of us personally. We are learning just how fickle some readers can be. Many aren’t shy about telling us that the world is full of writers and books; we are nothing special, and if we offend them, they can replace us and read somebody else’s work.
Writers frequently instruct each other on how to behave online. The list of verboten topics is endless.
Do not give any hint of your political leanings. Pretend you’ve never heard of politics!
Never, ever say anything about religion.
You’re vegan? Keep it to yourself, or the meat-eaters will think you’re looking down on them.
You think global warming is real and people are causing it? For pity’s sake, don’t say so! Do you know how many people believe global warming is a myth? Do you want to alienate all of them?
You think hunting for fun is barbaric? Shhh!
And the whole subject of gun control is toxic, of course.
Name almost any subject, and it’s off-limits for the writer who fears offending potential readers. For people who champion freedom of speech, we’re awfully quick to censor ourselves and our fellow writers. Social media is supposed to be a great advance, a terrific new way for authors to connect with readers, but sometimes I think it’s the worst thing that ever happened to us. It has made us afraid of our readers.
Readers no longer hesitate to tell writers directly that their books are disappointing, and the tone of these communications is usually angry. I once posted a blog in which I wondered why some readers are so confrontational with authors, and suggested that they should respect our right to compose our books however we choose. If they don’t like a writer’s work, nobody is forcing them to read it. That led to some private e-mails and a few posts on Facebook that made my jaw drop with their nastiness. Posts of the “Who the hell do you think you are?” variety. Those readers let me know that if they hate a book they will hold the writer personally responsible for their wasted money and time and will tell her in detail what’s wrong with her work and how she should have written it.
However, writing a disappointing book doesn’t seem to carry nearly as much risk as expressing a personal opinion in a public forum. Do all readers give up reading books they enjoy because of something the writer has posted online? I hope not. I, as a reader, am not in that category. I could name some writers who annoy me online, yet I will read their work if it appeals to me. I can say the same about a number of actors who make a habit of behaving badly. However abysmal their actions are – throwing telephones at hotel clerks, screaming at their young children, throwing tantrums on movie sets – I will go see their films if I think I’ll like them. I believe most creative people put the best of themselves into their work. I don’t care much about what’s left over.
In a guest column for an industry magazine, a publicity director for a publishing house adds more taboos, cautioning writers not to post about, or comment on posts about, any aspect of publishing. We should do what we’re supposed to do – write – and not concern ourselves with the business of publishing. He suggests that every writer create an online persona that will make a favorable impression.
The online persona is an especially devilish problem for a writer, because it involves what a writer does – writing. Being able to use our own voices feels liberating after hours in the minds of our characters. But we are reminded constantly of the need to hold back, to hide our real selves, so we won’t offend anybody and lose readers. Some writers have invented online personalities that bear little resemblance to the real people I know. I’m sure they would say that hiding their genuine selves when they’re online is part of their marketing strategy.
I’m not saying we should all be ranting and raving online and constantly foisting our personal opinions on others in an offensive way. I’m not sure where the line should be drawn between public and private. I guess all I’m saying is that it’s kind of sad that writers can’t be themselves without risking career suicide.
How do you feel about this? Do you think writers should always keep their opinions to themselves? Have you stopped reading an author’s work because you didn’t like something he or she posted online?
Do you believe I should not have written this blog?