Authors in the Combox: Yes or No?
Should professional authors leave comments on the blogs of amateurs/hobbyists?
(Yes, that's a big question. I'll be making it more specific in a short while.)
A few months ago, I would have been all for authors leaving comments. The blogosphere is free, after all (unless you live in China), and bloggers who enable comments surely welcome all sorts of feedback from anyone who reads their stuff.
I know I'm still pleased that Romance author Jo Beverley read my personal appreciation of her work several years ago, and left me a warm comment. (It's a post from my old MySpace blog: Where Beverley Meets Chesterton.)
Not that it was some huge achievement: I had messaged her with a link to that post a few days earlier! LOL! Still, it was as good as a personalised reply to a fan letter; and even though one of her later releases made me decide not to buy any more of her books, I'm glad I was able to make her happy in return for all the enjoyment I had received from previous novels.
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More recently, another writer whose name I must withhold (for reasons which will soon become obvious) took issue with a post I had written about some of his books. In it, I had shared the story of why he had graciously offered to send me some copies for free, rolled my eyes at the marketing pitch on the back covers, and shared an unimpressed third party's first reaction to some actual content . . . and he was not happy about that.
Oh, well. You win some, you lose some, right?
This time, I had done nothing to bring the post to the author's direct attention; some anonymous reader had sent him the link. I can see why he was upset at my tone, but he took it so badly that I felt sorry for the poor publicist in charge of his books. I wouldn't want any of my authors behaving that way.
Granted, my experiences with dealing with professional authors in my own combox have been very limited--which is why I'm also recalling vague "anecdotal evidence" from other people's blogs. And what I'm concluding is that it is inadvisable.
That is--to refine the broad brush strokes of my opening question--I think it's a matter of tact for a professional author to keep out of a combox discussion of his own books.
And now I'm going to get really opinionated . . .
By and large, blogs are a field for amateurs to express their opinions at no charge. To add a paid writer to the mix--especially if his livelihood essentially depends on whether or not the readers buy his books--kind of subverts that.
Obviously, the authors who have hissy fits only spoil the party for everyone else. It's one thing to have a bunch of readers arguing about the merits of a book--or even (Gasp!) criticizing the personal life of its writer. It would still be a completely impersonal discussion by disinterested readers, the most abrasive of whom may even be real fans. Add to this mix even one person who might take it personally, and you have, in modern idiom, a buzzkill.
For while we're on the subject of tact, it is true that readers will use different words to discuss a book with their peers and to discuss a book with its author. And I don't think it's fair to put them in a position where they might have to apologise for a misunderstanding, when the group they were writing to in the first place understood them well enough.
Yet even a writer being really friendly can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can nice to have him clear things up. The blogger and commenters may be arguing about what a certain symbol really means or what a character's real intentions are, and the author can set them at ease. On the other hand, as soon as he does, the speculative spirit of the thread just dies. Anyone who remembers what it was like to discuss books before authors were so accessible understands that much of the magic comes from the mystery.
Finally, I'd say it's also a matter of giving readers their turn to "talk." A writer gets his chance to "speak" during all the hours the readers put into finishing his book. To show up may be friendly . . . but it's also like the teacher wanting to hang around with his students during recess. That he may be their favourite teacher isn't the point; it's just not professional.
Okay, time for a deep breath . . . =)
Now I must add that writing this post was a little challenging for me, for two reasons:
a) a friend who reads this blog is also a professional writer--and one whose comments are always welcome here;
b) I'd obviously love feedback from both bloggers and authors, though the latter would probably never think so after what I've just written! =P
For everything above happens to be very new to me, too. I'm still hashing everything out for myself, and would be glad to get other opinions.