Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Blogger Side of Author-Blogger Interactions

At the beginning of this month, I wrote a long spiel about bad author behavior, author interactions with bloggers, and that stupid claim that somehow a book is equivalent to a baby. I stand by every word I wrote. However, in that same post, I promised a future post discussing bad blogger behavior, particularly as it pertains to interacting with authors. This is that post.

Bloggers, I love you, I really do. You are my people. You love books with an untarnished fervency, and all you want out of life is to be able to share that love with other like-minded people. Really, you're all just readers at heart, albeit readers with internet access and a free domain courtesy of Blogger or Wordpress, and as readers, you fangirl along with the rest of the book-loving population of the world.

But let's face it - you're not JUST readers. You're readers with a blog, a platform. Whereas other people just talk about their books, you're standing on the back of a dump truck with a megaphone. Sure, it may not seem like your words amount to much when surrounded by everyone else with their microphones and heavy-duty speakers, but that megaphone of yours still gives you power. 

The Marvel nerds among us are probably already starting to grumble. "Oh no, she's going to pull out that old Spider-man line about power and responsibility. Here it comes." I'm certainly not one to disappoint.

As a human being, you have a great many responsibilities, but your power as a blogger adds an extra heft to those responsibilities. Most of them are simple. Don't do illegal things. Don't plagiarize. Don't lie. Do your best and don't give half-hearted efforts. Check your sources. Don't be lazy in your research. Don't misrepresent the content of a book (over-exaggerating elements you don't like or making them up completely, for example.) However, in my opinion, the biggest and most important responsibility a blogger has is still a simple one.

Don't be a crappy human being.

I hear so many complaints (and do some complaining myself) about human interaction over the internet. People can be real jerks, often for no apparent reason. I can't do anything about the jerks, but I can take care of my end of things. I will be nice. I will be patient. I will be calm. If I refuse to be a jerk, then that makes one less jerk on the internet. 

You can do the same. In fact, as a blogger, I strongly believe that it is your responsibility to de-jerkify yourself. You are not one lone atom bumping into a handful of other atoms in this clump of mass we call the internet. Remember, you have power. You have reach. You are a a full-fledged chemical compound causing a chain reaction as you bounce from one end of the web to the other. The bigger of a jerk you are, the more drama you create, the more you'll create like changes in those around you. 

More than just not being a jerk, you can de-jerkify people around you by thinking ahead. For instance, instead of automatically @-ing an author or publisher on Twitter on that 2-star review of their book, think for a minute. How do you honestly expect them to react to the fact that you didn't like their work and pointedly hunted them down to tell them so? Or if you see another blogger with an awesome meme, think before whipping up a copycat meme. Imagine you worked hard on coming up with an original meme and some mooch came in and stole your thunder. Would you be pleased with that mooch? How much offense, anger, and hurt would you avoid by approaching the blogger beforehand to ask if they'd mind if you started their own meme?

If in doubt, think of the most sensitive, emotionally fragile person you know. Then imagine doing to them what you're about to do to that other person. Would your fragile cupcake of a friend be alright with it? What steps would you need to take to avoid any hurt feelings or outbursts on their end? Whatever those steps might be, do it.

"But Shelver," you complain, "that's ridiculous! I'm not going to tiptoe around some namby-pamby crybaby. I'm not doing anything wrong. If they're hurt, tough!"

Here's the thing about the internet. It's very difficult, sometimes, to read the true intention of a person through the words they write. There are no body cues, no facial expressions, no vocal intonations. Sarcasm and straight-talking read the same. It is very, very easy to have your words and intentions misconstrued. Err on the side of caution. Even if you were merely a citizen of the web with no social media clout, you should do so anyways so as not to be a crappy human being. But you are not merely a citizen of the web. You are a blogger with a megaphone, and you can wreck someone's day without even meaning to, because you have power. [See Dilbert above.]

On the other side of this de-jerkifying by example equation is the idea of perpetually standing down. I'm going to let you in on a little secret: not everyone is out to get you. In fact, I propose that very few people - if any - are deliberately trying to gun you down. 

This can apply to many different kinds of interactions on the web, but let's look at author-blogger relations specifically. In the past few months, it feels like there have been more author-blogger kerfuffles than ever. Some of that has to do with the fact that there are simply more bloggers and more authors than ever, so the number of total interactions is higher and the number of negative interactions rises accordingly.

Yay, common sense math!
I've already addressed the author side of things. Yes, authors need to take a chill pill and be less defensive, but bloggers, we are not blameless. Just as authors need to understand that bloggers are not out to get them, bloggers need to understand the reverse.

I've noticed a growing trend that makes me very uncomfortable. As readers, we bloggers fangirl (or fanboy) when authors talk to us. We feel special and honored when they tweet us or RT one of our posts. But as soon as an author interacts with us in any way other than to praise us, we scream like territorial paranoids. "GET OFF MY LAWN, YOU DANG ENTITLED HIPPIE AUTHOR! HELP, AUTHOR ATTACK! AUTHOR ATTACK!"

Stand the heck down, soldier.

Paranoid much?
Remember how a few paragraphs ago I was talking about not offending other people and being nice and using your brain? While reading, could you think of a few instances where you didn't use your brain, or maybe you weren't as nice as you could have been? Haven't you ever inexplicably offended someone because you just didn't think? Well, other people do that, too. Even authors. 

While being loyal is commendable, jumping into a disagreement or misunderstanding between two people is not wise, even if those two people are an author and a blogger. You want to defend your friend or the blogging community as a whole, whatever. That's fine. But too often I've seen other bloggers jump in to defend another blogger with the best of intentions... and I'm not always convinced that the blogger is in the right. We are not in a feud. We are on the same, book-loving team.

Seriously, I feel like this is what people are doing during
every author-blogger showdown before they even know details!
We've gotten stuck on this crazy cycle where authors and bloggers go back and forth and hurt each other (intentionally or unintentionally), and now we're at a point where each side is so freaking guarded that we can barely breathe without inciting a war. Some bloggers are mean, so authors feel like they're being bashed. Some authors abuse their power, so bloggers feel picked on. These abuses then spread to otherwise innocuous interactions until everyone is a flailing mess of hurt and indignation.

Yes, some authors do very mean things. They overstep their boundaries and try to throw their weight around where they're not welcome. But that doesn't mean that all authors do nor that they want to. If an author pops up to comment on your post, chill the heck out and read the dang comment before freaking out about your private space being infringed. (Because hey, it's not your private space. It's a blog. It's for public consumption. If you don't want comments, write a journal.) If an author mentions something on Twitter or elsewhere on the 'net and you JUST KNOW IT'S ABOUT YOU AND SOMETHING YOU SAID OMG, take a breath. Were you mentioned by name? Did the author give clear, defining characteristics that would point people in your direction? General allusions are allowed, you know. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it can't or shouldn't be done.

In all your reactions, read the other person's words more than once. Read it normally, read it with the worst possible intention, then read it with the nicest. Remember that you can't judge tone or intent with absolute certainty. Is there any other interpretation for what's being said other than deliberate malice? Odds are there is. When in doubt, ask. "Hey, what you said is hitting me this way. Is that really how you meant it?"

I'm not saying you won't make mistakes. You will. I will. But that's no excuse not to try. (Wo)Man up. Think ahead and de-jerkify when you can. Don't be a crappy human being. Stand down. Maybe together we can make our corner of the internet a little bit more chill.