Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Author Interaction With Readers: To Comment Or Not To Comment

I need one of those flowers. Did anyone else play that game with the petals? He loves me . . . He loves me not . . . He loves me . . . He loves me not. Is that from the Little Mermaid? (I tried to Google. Still can’t confirm where that’s from) I need one of those flowers so I can pick the petals. To comment . . . Not to comment . . .

I’ve seen a lot of blog posts lately about what authors should and shouldn’t do when responding to readers. I troll the internet looking for advice, and usually I find answers from wiser people than myself. But in this one case, I just end up confused.

Some things are easier to understand than others. I think it’s pretty obvious that yelling at reviewers is bad. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and when we're placing our work into the public domain we have to expect honest feedback. Sassing readers is probably not a good idea either, unless that’s your brand, and then if we’re being really honest here, I want to ask how the heck that works for you. Not only that, but on a personal note, I don’t particularly want to sass people online. I’d rather laugh and engage in pleasant conversation because I get enough sass in real life. I can’t unfollow people in real life, although I advocate that becoming an option.

There are obvious things (like throwing fits), but then there’s the in-between. I don't think I’m alone. More of you must be out there. We’re not going viral with our tirades, but we are trying to figure out when it’s appropriate to comment and when it’s not. I don’t want to alienate readers, so I wish I had more guidelines. When should authors comment? And when should we disappear into the background?

Personally, I respond to all e-mails and @ mentions on Twitter. I figure if you’re talking to me directly, then you’re probably okay with me responding back. I like meeting new people and talking books. I love following conversations on Twitter about authors and novels. It’s the way I’ve been picking the books I read lately. So if I can engage that way on Twitter, I want to.

But it’s not that simple . . .

What about the hot button issues like reviews, good or bad? In general, I feel like a blog is a blogger’s domain. I don’t like to invade where I’m not invited. I do comment if you have me as a guest for an interview or post. But I don’t generally post on reviews, because I don’t want to scare readers away. I want them to be able to speak honestly without thinking the author is eavesdropping.

I’d love to hear your advice. I’m just trying to muddy my way through the rules. It gets confusing when all the rules conflict. We can’t be everywhere online, but I like to think I’m assessable. If we could figure out a secret code between readers and authors it would make it a lot easier for me to follow. @ mention me on Twitter if you want to talk. Although, I know a lot of authors can’t always answer all their @ mentions because they get too many. So maybe that’s not an alternative. I wish I knew the answers. I’m a rule follower for the most part. When the rules get confusing, I start questioning.

I like to write stories about rebels, but in real life, I like to know expectations. I know we can’t pacify everyone and that sometimes we will offend people in one way or another. But this seems like a silly thing to offend someone over. If you don’t want me to comment on your blog, I won’t. If you don’t mind, I’d like to. Maybe it’s as simple as a blogger writing above their comments. “All Commenters Welcome!” on reviews or posts or whatever else. Then I wouldn’t feel like I was invading anyone’s space.

So what do you think? If an author pops into a conversation, do you find that intrusive? Do you like when authors speak (or more likely type) to you? Do you think that authors should only respond if you contact them directly?

Kinley Baker
@kinleybaker

15 comments:

  1. Hmm... In think in general I appreciate when an author takes time to interact and get to know readers. And obviously authors are people too and entitled to express their opinions and allow others to get to know them. I think that it's enjoyable when an author contributes to a conversation as any other person might; I guess I don't appreciate if authors participate only as a means to promote their own work, just as I wouldn't enjoy chatting with anyone else who does the same--talk endlessly about his/her own brilliance, etc. Not sure if that's what you meant ;)

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    1. Thanks for responding! I agree. It's kind of like... I really dislike when people call me. Because it's always someone with their own agenda. I actually had someone call me and then get offended when I didn't want to answer their survey. That's totally intruding on my domain. But I think a lot of authors just want to interact. We want people to read our books. But when I talk to you on Twitter, it's not because I want you to spend money. It's because I love books. And we have that in common.

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  2. I usually leave a thank you for reviews on the blog and I've never had anyone upset with me. The only feedback I've ever gotten was thank you for coming by and commenting on my blog...

    So I think you just do whatever is comfortable to you. Genuine gratefulness is usually appreciated! :)

    Great blog Kinley!

    Lisa :)

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    1. Sometimes I fear my gratefulness isn't always obvious. I do appreciate anyone who takes the hours required to read my books. There are a lot of fantastic options out there, and I know this. But even though I write, communicating has always been more challenging. Consider me shy ;-)

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  3. I think thanking people for a review or commenting on a blog post is fine, Kinley. A negative review? No, I'd stay away from commenting because it seems some people love the conflict and drama that ensues.

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    1. I agree, Gerri. What is with the drama? I think that's a separate blog post. Lol. We're supposed to be writing romance about strong heroines and stronger societal changes. At least, I try. But then we jump on anyone who makes a mistake. If we're going to mock for entertainment value, the fact we're trying to advocate anything gets lost.

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  4. Lynn Rush RT'd you on twitter so I followed the link and here I am. Interesting topic!

    Speaking as a book reviewer, I think it would be dandy if an author did a drive-by thank you. However, this one time, I wrote a 500 word review and the author left a 3300 word comment rebutting me point by point. I was flabbergasted.

    I'm not sure about leaving a link in your comment thread. Is that okay or not? (See? I don't know the rules either.) But anyway, here it is, in case you want to see the train wreck for yourself. http://bit.ly/yVkyJR

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    1. Thanks for visiting the site today, Margaret! I hope you enjoyed your first visit :-)

      I totally understand where you're coming from. I don't want to argue with anyone over a review. That's the same as arguing with someone over their opinion. They usually won't change what they think. And they have the right to their opinion.

      Sorry you had to go through that. I know a lot of authors who would just be thankful that you read their book :-)

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  5. I respond to emails and mentions on Twitter and posts on Facebook. I try to thank the ones I get through email though. Like you said, I appreciate that people read my books. It's hard to know what to do, especially with all the talk about it. lol So many people expressing different opinions.

    I agree with you as well on the communicating part. It's tough sometimes, and I'm a bit shy too. :-P

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    1. "The ones I get through email" meaning the reviewers who notify me of reviews through email. lol

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    2. We're in the same boat. Lol. Sometimes I just look around in confusion and log offline. I never know what's right on some issues. And this has been discussed a lot with very different opinions.

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  6. Hi Kinley,

    Saw a link to this on Facebook and thought, since I've recently posted on this subject--and have posted on it repeatedly in the past, too--that I'd share my answers to your questions (but do keep in mind this is simply my opinion. Too often people seem to think that posting an opinion is tantamount to declaring a rule, and it's not).

    Like you, I respond to @ replies on Twitter. I can't always respond to all of them for one reason or another but I generally do. I respond to emails (though I am shockingly, shamefully behind). I sometimes respond to blog comments--when I don't it's because I don't really have a reply beyond "Thanks!" or "Yeah!" or whatever, or a lot of time has passed, or I have many similar comments so would just be replying the same thing to each of them. And if someone @s me on Twitter with a link to a review, I always RT it. That, to me, is my way of saying thanks in an unobtrusive, nonintrusive way. They point it out to me, I point it out to others. I have acknowledged it and showed my appreciation without directly invading their space. I quote them on my blog for the same reason: to give them credit for the hard work they do in reviewing, to thank them, and to drive traffic to their site. That's me sending my readers there, though, it's not me poking my nose into *their* readership, if that makes sense.

    Anyway. Here's the thing about replying to reviews, in my experience: You never know how it will be taken. And there is a class of people out there who see ANY response from an author, no matter how friendly or well-intentioned, as intrusion or rudeness or whatever else. For every reviewer who loves having a writer pop in to say "Thanks!" there's at least one who hates it.

    To me this is reason enough not to do it. I have on occasion in the past, and it honestly has not worked out well unless I know for a fact it's welcome. Frex, a regular reader informed me she was starting a review blog, and her first reviews were of my books. I posted a thanks because I knew for a fact she'd appreciate it, and I RTd her review a few times with specific "Check her out!" commentary because she was new, and I like seeing my readers meet each other. :-)

    But aside from the occasional situation like that? There are just too many variables. There are too many readers out there who feel that comments are intrusive. Even if the reviewer is glad you've posted, their readers might not be.

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  7. (Sorry, I'm too wordy.)

    There's another reason, though, too, and it's that I believe reviews are written for readers and not authors. I think when an author shows up to comment it makes the review all about them, and about the reader communicating with them, rather than readers talking to readers. No matter what the intent may be, I think it sets up a false implication that reviews are written for and directed at authors and not readers, and that all reader opinions somehow belong to or should be shared with the author. It seems innocuous but it's a slippery slope, I think, because from there it can go to the "Reviewers should keep in mind that authors are hardworking people" thing, which can lead to the "If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything" thing, which can lead to the "You have no right to review if you've never written a book," thing, and it just gets worse from there. And it can affect authors, too, and lead to books being seen not as art but simply as products which should be focus-grouped and surveyed and so on.

    It may seem silly to look at it that way, but again. If nothing else the fact that some readers may not like it is enough for me to think I shouldn't do it, then. I can't control reactions to my work but I can at least attempt to make my behavior as correct as possible. I've seen people refusing to buy my books because something I said somewhere offended them, and I can tell you it's frustrating (especially when you don't know what you could have said, or when they're referencing a misunderstanding or someone else's incorrect interpretation of what you said) and just plain hurtful. It *hurts.* I'm not saying people don't have the right to make their decisions based on whatever they want, but personally I'd rather not be hurt.

    So I stay away, because I just don't like those odds.

    Thanks for letting me comment. Great post. :-)

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Stacia! I totally understand. And I agree that reviews are for readers. It's safest to stay away from them because there's always the risk of being misunderstood or offending someone. I want reviewers to know that I appreciate their time and effort though. So it's hard not to at least nod thanks.

      Good things to think about!

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    2. Hi Kinley!

      The above was actually the second half of my comment, eek! I guess I really WAS too wordy. But that's why it seems to start abruptly; there was a whole beginning to it and everything that seems to have disappeared!

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