Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Author Behavior And Its Effect On Readers

Elizabeth Black writes erotica, erotic romance, dark fiction, and horror. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four cats.

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Have you ever quit reading an author because of the way that author acted on social media?

This question was posed on Facebook by several authors. I saw it on author Rachel Thompson's timeline, and I wanted to know if my readers and other authors had ever done it. I had read about allegations of child sexual abuse against Marion Zimmer Bradley and I was already familiar with charges of homophobia against Orson Scott Card. As I saw on Facebook and elsewhere, the news turned off many readers as well as writers. After all, writers are readers, too.

I asked the same question on m Facebook timeline and I received some fascinating answers.

In many cases, yes, an author's behavior may affect a person's desire to get to know their works. Diana Perrine noted that it's "sometimes it is hard to separate the Art from the Artist. Actors, Musicians, Authors, Painters and Poets. If I like the art, but if I find the artist to be particularly loathsome, I may not patronize him/her." Tess MacKall found certain criminal acts a deal-breaker. "If an author has committed a crime---and I'm not talking about income tax evasion or getting caught with a prostitute---but a real crime such as sexual abuse, murder, rape, etc., I'm never going to read anything by that author again." She said. "And I don't care how talented the author is. I will not put money in the pockets of a person like that." Darren Madigan brought up the career damage misbehavior can cause for an author or celebrity: "If you're really offended by some kind of behavior, then it will doubtless make you not want to have anything to do with the person associated with the behavior….  which is why celebrities lose endorsement deals when they get caught misbehaving. " He said. "It's normal and natural for people to feel alienated from everything they associate with a person when that person behaves in a way that offends them."

Some authors named specific writers. Karen Pokras Toz pointed out a fellow author had forwarded to her an interview by Nicholas Sparks where he puts down women authors. She said "Buh-bye." I've never read Sparks either, and now I definitely won't touch his books since I feel insulted. Jeanne Evans has never read, and will never read, anything by L. Ron Hubbard.

Not everyone agrees with these assessments, however, and these disagreements make some authors controversial. Still, It is helpful to separate the artist from his or her work. Devon Marshall said, "For me it's a case of don't confuse the house with the inhabitant. What an author (or an actor, director, or any creative person) does is create a fiction, whether within a novel or a role or a painting, or whatever. What they do with their creative fiction is not always who they are in reality. Liking a person's work doesn't obligate me to like that person in reality. And vice versa, I can like a person but dislike their work! It should also be borne in mind that what we read about people on social media (be they celebrities or not) may not always be either the whole story or even the truth."

Raye Roeske has had personal experience with poorly-acting or speaking authors. She said, "It's mostly been authors/artists/whatever who have personally been dickish to me or one of my loved ones." More personal experience from a reader: "I had an author follow me on twitter, then not long after they chatted/commented on tweets, even gave me a snippet of their book and once I said I'd bought the book they un followed me (keeping up their follower vs followed numbers) it irritated me so unfollowed them." Xenia Smith said. "They then commented on the fact I'd unfollowed them. Not really the way to keep new readers.
"

This distaste isn't isolated to authors. Dave Gammon said he was "very turned off a specific director that shall remain anonymous. This individual seems to relish in correcting other people who are simply stating their opinions and impressions and retaliating with his own opinions as abstract as they are as facts. I think its a sign of emotional insecurity to have to railroad someone else's opinion because it differs from their own. I think this individual has definitely tarnished my enthusiasm of seeing anymore of their films."

James Gummer was enjoying one particular author's works, but was turned off later. "I bought all of his books and listened regularly to his podcast," he said. "He acts and talks like he wants to interact with people. But he never responded to any of my emails or tweets when I had questions I wanted to ask." Authors really do need to keep up with their readers. It may be hard, but it's necessary. One key to success is friendly interaction.

One of the worst examples of author behavior I've ever seen was described by John Hancock, who pointed out a possible explanation for some of this behavior. He said: "I think the thing is that SOME authors are very solitary, lacking in social skills, so when they enter social media, they either think they can control or retaliate against fans or readers whose reviews they don't appreciate, or they simply come off as obnoxious jerks.
" He described a rather horrific personal experience: "I once wrote a negative review, in which I pointed out the misogynistic parts of the book I found repulsive (threats of cutting off a woman's breasts, and making her eat them, for example). The author, and a group of his friends hounded me and down voted all my reviews (even those for products unrelated to books) and bragged about targeting me. Eventually I told him enough, I'd remove the review if they'd stop harassing me. Simply not worth it. The sad thing is, everyone once in a while, due to his robo social media campaign, I get requests to follow him on Facebook or twitter. I would never read another book from this person. I wouldn't anyways, due to his repugnant attitudes towards women, but also because he's a bully to bad reviewers. God only knows how many bad reviews he forced to retract, like mine."

Some aren't affected by an author's actions or statements. "I feel missing a good book or movie because of that would just mean I can't keep my thoughts separated and distinct in my head," John Paradiso said. The opposite side would be readers who have picked up an author's books because of their pleasant social media personas. I doubt I would have read Trent Zelazny, Douglas Clegg, KD Grace, or Tom Piccirilli if I hadn't been exposed to them on Facebook. I'd never heard of them before social media, and due to my exposure to them and liking them as people, I discovered their works. John Ross Barnes said much the same thing: "I have bought quite a few books by authors I have discovered to be nice people on social media, and will continue to do so."

Some authors were exposed to new writers via different formats. Christine Morgan said, "I've picked up books I might not have otherwise just because the author seemed cool on a talk show or at a con or something, yes. And I've avoided books for the reverse reason." I recall about several decades ago hearing a show on NPR in which Donald Westlake discussed his new book "The Ax". Westlake was such a delight and the book sounded like such great fun that I soon after went to a bookstore and bought it. I later devoured his Dortmunder books with great delight. Some aren't greatly influenced by what they read online or hear elsewhere. Jenifer Baldwin Stubbs may "try an author because of social media...either I saw something I liked or someone I like recommends, but I don't let news, reviews or public behaviour really influence my reading or watching.
"

Author radio interviews, book reviews, and author profiles in newspapers and magazines are designed to sell books, but they bring the author into your living room in a very comfortable and easy-going way. You feel as if you're right there with the author. If the book sounds good, you're more likely to buy it if you get a feel for the author.


And finally, Shar Azade made the best point of all: "A lot of the authors I like are dead. So if they suddenly got active on social media ... I'd be a little weirded out, yes."

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Here's where to find me on the web:

Elizabeth Black - Facebook

Elizabeth Black - Twitter

Elizabeth Black - Amazon Author Page

21 comments:

  1. This is a very interesting post that opens a huge can of worms. Do we read the texts or do we read 'authors'.

    I'm pretty sure many, many people have stopped reading me because I'm opinionated and cantankerous bitch on social media. I've tried not to be, and I just can't stop.

    Meanwhile, there are writers whose work I love, but who I absolutely abhor as human beings. Usually, I can look past their eccentricities. But not always.

    I'll never consume anything by Frank Miller again, all because of a blog post he wrote on the Occupy movement. It wasn't his opinion that did it for me. It was his shockingly simplistic reasoning. Suddenly, I realized that there WAS no satire in his work. I'd been imagining it there. I always assumed his uber macho characters, with their blind dogmatism were partially tongue in cheek critiques. The post made me realize he was dead serious about them.

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  2. Thanks for the great comments, Remittance Girl. It's quite a quandary to find yourself in, regardless of whether it's about authors, directors, actors, or musicians. For instance, I still enjoy Roman Polanski's works, but his personal history of child sexual abuse makes me feel dirty after watching one of his movies now. In the same vein, I outgrew Woody Allen. I loved his books and plays when I was in high school and college but not anymore. I have no desire to see his stuff now, and if I did his personal behavior was a complete turn off to the point I'll never watch his movies or read anything he's written ever again.

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    1. Interesting to bring up Woody Allen. Yeah, he squicks me baaaaaad.

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  3. It is a tricky one, because for one thing a lot of people who produce great or memorable art can be... hard to live with. (Though activists, no matter how magnificent their achievements in social progress, are often much, much worse). I think if I like, or had previously liked, the work of someone who turns out to be particularly loathsome (rapist, murderer etc) I might stop paying money for his/her work because I wouldn't want to line his/her pockets. But if the work was really good I would hunt it down in charity shops, so that someone else gets the benefit of my pennies.

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  4. Interesting point, zak, about seeking out works in charity shops so the money goes into good hands. I hadn't thought of that. I used to work as a women's rights activist and I know exactly what you mean by loathsome personal behavior coming from people who should know better.

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  5. Thanks for quoting me in the article and the heads up. It made for a VERY interesting discussion on my FB page (to be honest, I think it started because I shared a story on Polanski and my thoughts on him, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse).

    When it comes to authors behaving badly, as an author myself who has received one-star reviews many times over the course of my three books, I have been in that place. I choose not to engage (other than to thank them for reading and reviewing, if that). I would never harangue a reviewer for expressing their opinion, no matter how vehemently I disagree or how 'wrong' I think they are.

    But many authors feel otherwise and while I disagree with them going after reviewers or bloggers (nobody is watching until you screw up -- then everyone is!), they're adults and they know the ramifications.

    I guess it all comes down to free speech. People are free to be assholes as much as they are free to be professionals and act with dignity and grace. Ultimately, being an adult is knowing the difference.

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  6. Thank you, Rachel. I thought the discussion of this issue on your Facebook timeline was very informative. I also don't engage one-star reviews. I figure people are entitled to their opinions. Yes, there are assholes but I (and I'm sure many others) choose to rise above that. I hear on you Roman Polanski, whom I mentioned here in comments. Thanks again for letting me refer to you in this article and for commenting here.

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  7. Oy Vey it is in the air this month! I love the part of separating the art from the artist and how very hard this is to do. I agree with many of what was said too. When I found out about MZB I was so shocked and horrified and yet I love her books. They brought me so much solace and peace during a horrific time. I used them for teaching new baby witches in fact (at least to get them in the zone). But before she had died the allegations were launched and I ended up getting rid of a large chunk of books from her and only keeping a handful of my favorites. OSC killed me. His views destroyed my son at a very delicate age of 12 who at the time just had come out.. well lets just say the it was fodder for more than a few therapy sessions.

    Many of us who consume creative works are also creative ourselves. It is not limited to authors but in this day and age it is much easier to get a book on the market as a self or indie author than get your movie on the big screen or your art hanging in a museum. I understand the creative mind being both a writer and designer. I think and see things visually, I have a hard time living life without color. So I have empathy but at the same time I also have a very strong stance on how once you put that piece out there it is gone from your control. You cannot control how someone reacts to it and if you try it usually ends up disastrous.

    I will not recount my recent issues with an author, at least specifically but it was not the first time. Four authors over the last 12 months have behaved irrationally/badly/psychotically (yes I stand by that last one) towards reviews. Over the last three years of reviewing on a website I have had authors camp on my blog arguing with commenters and me about my take on his book (gave it a 3.5 stars gods forbid) and have been asked to take down a review (another 3.5 star) during a tour because I had broken down the book into what I did and did not like. I never attacked the author but they could not see that. Again separating the art and the artist. This statement totally nails it!

    The latest one has gone above and beyond because not only did they attack me but a large majority of the people who were sharing my review. Because this author decided that I had created a smear campaign and did not realize when you have not only a popular blog but also are a Triberr member and a pretty savvy social media user she was not being smeared but people were sharing, reading and commenting. I have had nothing but positive support in the last two weeks of this person's public temper tantrums and slurs but it still really took a toll on me.

    I have to ask the question of why would you shoot yourself in the foot? Even though you are sitting in your living room, this is your office, your public sees and hears and views all of your behaviors and yes, Baby Author, your ass. At the end of the day, or as I finally woke up to no more notes from others on sock puppet commenting etc I was sad. I realized from now on I will be forced to research their behavior online. This takes the wind out of my sails. I wish we had a BBB for authors //chuckling// but we do not. I do know that this final experience has caused not just me but to many other people to be effected and I am choosing to see it as a half full or over the top brimming type of effect. As in this article and others which have sparked positive discussions on something which could cause serious damage to the industry and how we as authors respond and interact with our readers.

    Sorry for rambling so much, this is such a near and dear subject for me. Maybe not dear but definitely near.... like a bad case of hives. Thanks Elizabeth!

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  8. Thanks for the great comment, Kriss. I think one thing that may be tripping up authors as well as other people now that we haven't seen decades earlier is that online it's easy to forget you're sitting in front of your computer dressed in your jammies in your home not facing the people you're dissing. People say things online they would never say to people in person. It's no excuse, but it does happen. The ranting one star reviews strike me as part of that pattern. So do the ugly reactions from writers to reviews that they don't like, even if those reviews are fair. Sometimes I think the Internet brings out the worst in people as well as the best. Everyone has a voice. That's a good thing. That's also a bad thing. ☺ How you react to it is what matters.

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    1. Very try. People forget there is no filter here and it is near to impossible to project and successfully express themselves to a point of understanding. We make up emoticons and use LOL to soften the blow or we say something in jest which is taken completely out of context simply because someone has to read everything and not hear it and we do not want to take the time. There are exceptions to the normal pouting and whining online (and I am not being derogatory here) that are ramped up to outright libel and hateful trolling. which is an actual thing called the online disinhibition effect. A group which regularly talks about cyber psychology has a great article. The Online Disinhibition Effect and it is even on Wikipedia //eyeroll//. But in my not so humble opinion we have to be even more aware of what we are doing here than in the office only because it is still not ingrained in us as a culture.

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  9. The expression I have always heard and acted upon was to not confuse the magic with the magician. Magicians are flawed but magic is still magic

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  10. Intriguing and thought-provoking post, Elizabeth!

    Fiction is not reality. As both authors and readers, we know that. However, we sometimes forget that the world of social media isn't any more real than the books we write. An author can present herself (using the female pronoun for simplicity) as very different than she truly is. Assertions of crimes committed may or may not be true. Likewise masks of blamelessness.

    In the digital world, it's relatively easy to construct a fiction that has all the hallmarks of truth. The notion that one is innocent until proven guilty is totally ignored here.

    So I make my judgments based on personal experience and don't give too much weight to the reports of others. Furthermore, I remind myself that every individual is entitled to his or her own political and moral positions, even if I find them repugnant.

    Still, your post is a sharp reminder: behave well when you're out in the cybersphere. Anything you say and do can and will be used against you.

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  11. Thanks, Kathleen. Yes, definitely don't confuse the magic with the magician. Good sentiment there.

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  12. Thanks, Lisabet. I think the best thing is to do exactly what you say – don’t forget when you're on the Internet your words are up there permanently. So behave yourself lest your words come back and bite you on the ass.

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  14. I deleted the original comment because I couldn't edit and discovered the need to.

    I'm totally out of the sf/fan community loop, so I hadn't seen that about Bradly (i.e., I'm sitting here feeling a bit dazed and numb with shock).

    But as for the original question, I wanted to say "only if it's something horrifyingly evil" but then I remembered why I stopped reading Mercedes Lackey and why I won't read Gableon (okay, I wasn't going to read 900 page plus books anyway).

    Many, many, many moons ago, Lackey penned an essay directed at her fans which basically called anyone who believed in magic a bit of a twit. (I don't recall her exact words, but I think it was "delusional" -- possibly a very good person, but still delusional). I get what she was really saying; people (fans) were making her life exceedingly difficult over her Diana Tregarde series (I mean really difficult; some people bought *way* too much into her fictional world). But I happen to be a witch and I do most certainly believe in magic. I also know how to separate reality from fiction and fantasy magic from real-life magic. Hmm. That probably sounded odd. But at any rate, I felt insulted to have one of my favorite authors call people like me delusional, even if deep down, I know what she really meant, and suddenly her words had lost all their shiny for me.

    There are other ways to phrase things and when you're a writer, I expect you to be able to figure those other ways out, especially in an essay where (presumably) you have gone through and edited and read and re-read what you're trying to say to get it "just right."

    Gabledon just put her foot in her mouth about fanfiction (which I have written, although none in her world.) Then she was flustered when people (mostly her fans) became upset. It was a knee-jerk reaction, something I'm also guilty of, which she regretted later. It changed the way I saw her as a human, but humans are entitled to be human. (And honestly, in my "old age" I don't have the patience to chew through a 900+ page book, so I wasn't actually going to read hers anyway. She hasn't lost a single sale from me by putting her foot in it, but it did prove a valuable lesson in thinking before you speak, especially in the Internet age).

    But the big stuff. The rapists and child molesters? The loudly, bigoted, LGBTI-bashing a**hats? No. Not touching their words. I *do* realize that sometimes all we get is one side of the story (I've been telling myself that since I read the post about MZB, because I don't want it to be true. Don't misunderstand, I have absolutely no reason to doubt her daughter, I'm still just in a bit of shock here).

    When someone does something truly horrific, I find myself looking at their work and seeing the person; I find myself reading their words differently. I think that's why it's such a blow when it's someone I've looked up the way I looked up to Bradly. I can be irritated at Misty Lackey for ill-chosen words and not find her books so shiny anymore, but it was 20 years ago, and what the heck, we live and learn, right? So she got knocked off a pedestal I'd put her on and became human. Big deal. I would still accord her all courtesy if I ran into her at a convention.

    But Bradly.... what she did to her daughter is monstrous. Twenty years from now, I'm still going to find it monstrous. If she were still alive, I would avoid her at a convention and fight tooth and nail to keep her out of any convention I happened to be on the planning committee for. (And yes, I still attended Dragon*Con even though it was plagued by the specter of that one founder-guy whose name I don't remember, but that was because they were doing everything they legally could to kick him out, but legally, they could only do so much. If they'd swept his bad acts toward children under the rug, I would have felt differently, but they didn't. They were fighting hard to get him out of there).

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  15. Thank you, H. B. Pattskyn, for a very eloquent comment. I'd read of problems in the SF/Fan community for some time now, but it seems to me all large communities will have problems because we are human. I'm sorry you are so disillusioned now with Lackey and Gableon. We become so attached to our favorite writers. It's as if we've invited them in to be part of our family only to find they have views we don't agree with or act in an abhorrent manner. I've put writers on pedestals before (not saying you do that, just observing my own behavior), and I've been disappointed in people often enough.

    Yes, writers are expected to know to be careful with words since they use words to make a living and express themselves. Part of the problem is that sentiments don't necessarily translate well in print. Bickering on social media alone proves that. You can't match a face, expression, and voice with the words, so sometimes misunderstandings occur. Also, it can become obvious when a writer is saying, doing, or writing something very offensive, and you end up disappointed in that person. Abuse, rape, misogyny, homophoboia, etc., are also deal-breakers for me as they are with many other readers. Once again, thank you for a great comment.

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  16. Fascinating topic, Elizabeth! Lisabet Sarai, you are a born diplomat and a voice of reason. H.B. Pattskyn, It's clear why you would feel put off by Mercedes Lackey's comment about "magic." On that topic, I'm often reminded of a statement I saw somewhere: "There is a naivete of belief, and a naivete of disbelief." Do I believe everyone who tries to acquire a cult following by claiming to have supernatural power? Absolutely not -- some of those are definitely delusional. Do I agree with extreme skeptics who can't believe in anything that hasn't been proven in a lab? No, I think they are too narrow-minded to see what's in front of them. Now I'm tempted to see what I can find of Lackey's comments on-line to try to figure out exactly what "magic" means to her. :)

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  17. "Still, It is helpful to separate the artist from his or her work."

    Um. Yes and no. What you write is who you are. Facts may be altered wildly, the story that results from 'what if' might have nothing to do with the incident that inspired it, but the person's philosophy seeps through. I read MZ Bradley, but her stuff always had a sort of sour edge; finding out that Anne Perry had, as a teenager, conspired to help a friend in murdering her own mother certainly put me off buying her books but it did explain her amnesiac character who discovers he was a horrible person in his past.

    As for not reading an author because that person isn't available to fans online... I'm sorry. Writers need time to write. An exchange of emails can take a couple of thousand words that could have been put into another story. Writing isn't acting. Writers need to not be talking to readers if the readers want more stories.



    I have a cozy-mystery writer friend who had some right-wing bimbo attack her because a character in the book OPENED A FOOD BANK. It was too "liberal."

    If somebody chooses not to read my work because I am pro-marriage equality, pro-environmental protection, anti-GMO, anti-racism... well, that's okay. It's not my ambition to be part of the "one percent," I want the pie shared out more equally. Writing gay romance, I don't expect to get kudos from right wingers.

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  18. Thanks Jean Roberta for your comment. I agree with you that there are extremes everywhere – true believers and skeptics included. Now I'm curious about Lackey. I've never read her before.

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  19. Thanks for commenting, Lee. It doesn't matter to me if a writer is online or not. I'm aware of some writers who aren't into social media. I agree with you. It's so easy to lose yourself in social media. It's a great form of procrastination. ;) Thanks for your comment.

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