Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Loose Lips Sink Ships. Judging the Author Behind their Book Is Now the Norm

Over the past year or so, I’ve begun to wonder how important it really is for author behavior on-line. In this day and age of digital from everyone using social medias from Facebook to Twitter and blogs, including forums, more now than ever before an author has a heavier public presence, and I’m not talking about their latest book they’re promoting. As readers, and in most cases reviewers, we try to adhere to one sacred rule- judge the work and not the person writing it. I’m here to tell you this rule is becoming obsolete, mainly because the way authors react to reviews. In some cases this also includes their past and the steps they took to get published (which is documented on-line if they had a presence before they were published). 

For the longest time, authors were exempt from their personal behavior and treated separately from actors and singers. When a celebrity like an actor or singer screws up in some ways or does something shocking or disturbing in public, it may inhibit their work and the roles the take on in movies, television or on stage. A few celebrities come to mind that I no longer respect or can watch without thinking of their personal dramas such as Lindsey Lohan, Tom Cruise, Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson. I have enjoyed all these actors’ work in the past but their ridiculous antics in public makes it hard for me to want to watch them in their professions. I once loved the music of R. Kelly and Chris Brown. Once I heard R. Kelly hds sexual relationships with  underaged girls, including some questionable sex acts he did with them, I couldn’t listen to his music anymore, even though I think he’s very talented. The same goes with Chris Brown. Knowing this man abuses women and would physically attack a woman such as Rhianna has left me sickened. Why would I support a person like that? The same goes for Michael Jackson. He’s one of my all time favorite singers, but in some ways I still cringe when I listen to his music, because in the back of my mind I ask myself, was he really a pedophile?

Celebrities are always on display in public because they have taken on that role willingly. When it comes to authors, they’re not on the same level as actors or singers, or rather I should say they once weren’t treated like that. But now with more authors vocal on-line and more involved in making their book presentable for television and movies, they’re becoming as important as the actors who play their characters they have invented. Should authors be treated as celebrities, and if they react badly, aka bad behavior like tantrums over poor reviews, should they be accountable for their actions and should we hold it against them by not buying their books?

The reader is a consumer. They are the ticket buyer for movies, the one who purchases the cable package for television, as well as the one who will pay for a CD or a digital download of a song. They are the ones who keep these celebrities working and help bulk up the celebrity’s bank account. The same goes for the author. Because of the internet and how often an author is on-line, more readers and fans can get a taste of what an author is like from their personality or their views on things. In some instances this will help increase readership for the author, which means more book sales. But in some instances it can backfire on the author if they're too opinionated.

The past behavior of authors who may have had an on-line presence years prior before they get published has come into discussion a great deal. Case in point is Young Adult superstar author, Cassandra Clare. More than ten years ago she was simply a woman who enjoyed writing Harry Potter fan fiction. She was so good at it that she become a superstar in that fandom and along the way she did and said some things that hurt and angered people. She even has a fandom wank dedicated to her. There’s also so much proof on the internet about her questionable, and what some may think, are deplorable and unethical actions. Recently a woman who had some unfortunate interactions with Clare twelve years ago wrote about her experience on her Tumblr in light of some recent discussion on-line regarding bullying. Reading these posts about Clare, which has been well documented, put a very bad taste in my mouth. I’ve heard about some of these situations before (as stated on the Tumblr), and because of that I refuse to read Clare and will never purchase her work. Is it wrong of me because I’m making a judgment call on the person and not on the work, especially if the author’s documented words and actions are almost a decade old and before she was published?

There are a few authors I won’t support or buy because of the way they act on-line or from what I’ve heard about them from others. The entertainment industry is a very small place and people talk. I’ve been involved in the television and movie industry for over a decade and could tell you so many rumors about celebrities, most of which are true because it comes from multiple sources. These same rules have now been applied to the publishing industry. Ever hear the phrase, “loose lips sinks ships”? So is the case about some authors who run off at the mouth on-line or are rude during face to face reader interactions. Their loose lips, especially those who flap their gums over a negative review of their books, are making them sink. Each year I hear of some author or another at some conference acting rude and horrible to another lesser known author, aspiring writers or readers.

I’ve witnessed far too many authors attacking readers, mainly those who give poor reviews of their work. The majority of this is on Amazon and on Goodreads, with a few interactions on some blogs. Did you know there is now a message board on Goodreads dedicated to authors behaving badly? It’s now come down to readers documenting bad author behavior. In some instances this will hit the author where it hurts- lack of sales. But for the most part, when an author reaches a certain height of stardom, it doesn’t affect them at all. Remember Anne Rice’s epic flounce on Amazon over a bad review for one of her books or Emily Giffin’s ho-hum reaction to her husband calling an Amazon reviewer a psycho for leaving a less than praising review of his wife’s work? Both these authors aren’t hurting in any shape or form with their lack of sales. The mega fans will accept the author’s crazy antics and let it go, especially if an author apologies. For the most part these authors don’t apologize and it’s business as usual.

I hate to say this, but it’s becoming harder to just judge the work and not the person writing it. I’ve had a few uncomfortable interactions with some authors over the years. The author who put me down at a conference this year because they told me I’m not a real author (rather, I’m kind of like an author and they rolled their eyes in an insulting manner.), or the author who had their fans attack me because I dared to confront them on behalf of a reviewer the author attacked based on a poor review are ones I will never, ever read, purchase their books or promote. I might be only one person, but I can promise you more than one reader may have had a bad interaction with one of these authors sometime in the past and possibly in the future at some point. Then it begins to pile on and grows. One becomes two and so forth, and as word of mouth can create buzz and help with book sales, I still do believe it can kill sales and an author's reputation also.

I admit it, I’m a very vocal person. I sometimes don’t use a filter when I should. I’ve gone from being just a reader to being just a reviewer and a blogger to being an author. I must act and speak accordingly when I’m on-line because others can judge my words. Already some have judged me. Some won’t purchase my books because they’ve known my on-line years before I became published. I started being more vocal on-line since 2006. Since then I’ve had a blog where I express my opinion, and then a few years ago I found Twitter and I tend to loosen up my lips in many ways, especially when I get on a tangent about something. Sometimes I say things I shouldn’t and because of that I may offend people, possible readers who won’t buy my books. Thinking before you speak is just as important in face to face interactions as it is when you type something online for the entire world could see.

Gone are the days when an author was an enigma and we only had their words to judge them. Now authors feel they must be front and center beside their book because their personality is a big marketing tool when trying to sell their book. In some instances the same goes for the celebrities, those actors and singers we all admire. Authors are my idols, my ultimate celebrities, not because of their personalities but because of the worlds and characters they create. It’s getting much harder to keep the two separate, and when I go on-line I worry about what uncomfortable or shocking thing a favorite author of mine might say that may make me turn my back on them.

I wish for the days of the past where authors were mysteries and only their books mattered. I want to fall in love with their words, their work that should be remembered for years to come, and not for their moment of insanity where they said something untoward or uncomfortable that could change my opinion about them.



Brie said...

The reason why authors weren't treated and judged the same way as celebrities is because for a long time the only contact we had with them was through their books. That’s obviously changed and the level of scrutiny has increased thanks to social media.

But social media is a double-edged sword – it brings readers and authors closer together, but it also gets in the way of the reading experience. Enjoying --or hating-- a book is easier when all you have is the book, but when you know the author, or things about the author, it gets more complicated. What happens when you like an author’s personality and are friendly with them, but the book sucks? What happens when the book is fantastic but the author ends up being an ass? Readers put a lot of pressure on authors: we complain when they don’t respond to us on twitter or to our emails, we want them to always behave the best way possible, we want honest interaction and not just endless promo. But when the interactions go wrong it ends up affecting the books we love.

I know that authors should act professional, but that’s not always going to be the case. Some are idiots, some don’t know how to use social media and some take obvious advantage of their readers. The only solution is to either accept it, or maybe put some distance and not follow them so closely.

mepamelia said...

So funny you should post this. I've been thinking about this a lot this week ever since reading an exchange on Dear Author wherein a commenter (reader) told another commenter (author) that due to the author's rather snarky and fairly insulting comments she would never consider purchasing that author's books. I had to refrain from seconding that claim as a knee-jerk response and gave it some thought and realized that, yes, an author's "bad" behavior online will in fact keep me from purchasing their books. The reason? I like to get lost in a book just as I like to get lost in a film. When Tom Cruise jumped on that couch his celebrity overtook his talent and consequently all I can think of when I watch him in films is that he's a narcissistic religious-nut who divorced Nicole Kidman. When authors assert themselves online in an unpleasant or overbearing or insulting way I can't focus on reading their stories because I get sidetracked thinking about the person behind the words.
Now, I hate to espouse this kind of thinking because I mostly read women authors and I really hate that women are always admonished to "be nice", but the fact of the matter is, if I am unable to get lost in a book due to an author's personality, then I don't want to read it.

KB/KT Grant said...

Brie: Exactly. You can't have both. Some authors are MIA on-line for this reason, but most are established already so they don't have to be so sociable on the web.

Mepamelia: It's all about the role one wants to play and so many do not think before they act.