Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Authors are not the Enemy

By Andrew E. Kaufman

There’s no question that author BSP (blatant self-promotion) is alive and well these days, and there’s no question that it annoys readers. Quite honestly, it annoys me, as an author and as a reader.

I get that. Not only do I get it, I sympathize. But what I don’t understand, and what concerns me, is the increasing hostility some readers have toward authors, along with the notion that we’re the enemy.

We’re not.

I recently dropped out of a very popular online group for Kindle readers because the contempt seemed to be reaching epic proportions. It made me uncomfortable and felt unfair, if not insulting. When the group tried to organize a monthly post where authors could list their work—a sort of online book fair—there was a huge uproar. Many simply wouldn't have it. A very adamant and heated discussion ensued, during which, one member said she didn’t want it because it was a DISCUSSION group, not a MARKETING group. Then she compared us to door-to-door salesmen who drop by and force her to watch a presentation of their product.

For me, the comparison seemed deeply flawed and unfair. A door-to-door salesman is a stranger. The authors in the group were not. Most owned Kindles, most read books on them, and most participated regularly in the discussions. Besides, nobody was "forcing” her to see anything. Hence the reason it was placed in a separate thread and offered only once a month. If she didn’t want to read it, she had the option of simply ignoring it.

What some people fail to realize is that authors do read. In fact, many of us do so in a voracious manner. We're also human beings with feelings—although, in reading comments posted in various online discussion groups, it would appear some are unaware of this. Here’s just a small sampling:

The only reason authors send friend requests on Goodreads, FB, or follow on Twitter is so you'll buy their book. The only reason they're nice is so you'll give them good reviews.

Authors shouldn't comment on reviews because it makes readers feel like they can't give an honest opinion if they know the author is lurking out there

I don't want authors contacting me. All they want to do is pimp their book.

I don't like authors taking over my threads. It keeps people from saying what they really want to say.

I don't want to talk to authors unless I initiate the conversation.

Authors shouldn't be allowed here. It's for readers who want to discuss books.

Authors send me friend requests all the time. I tell them to go f*#k themselves.

I liked this book until I saw what the author looked like. I'll never read another one of their books.

And it's not just the readers who perpetuate this attitude. Many websites, in their attempt to crack down on BSP, are enacting strict rules. And they should. But some, it seems, go a little too far. I recently got this email from Goodreads:

I am once again asking all authors (and regular members as well) to remove any signatures they use to advertise their books at the end of their posts. By "signatures" I mean links/urls at the end of your posts linking your books/website/blog that have no relation to the topic you're posting in. Any posts like this will be subject to deletion.

This is in an effort to keep the amount of author promotion to a minimum so that those members who aren't interested in reading the self-promotion aren't beaten over the head with it. Many members have expressed their displeasure with the promotion, and this is my way of cutting down on it without eliminating it.

Beaten over the head? With a signature line at the very bottom of the page that has a title or website? Even non-authors put website urls in their signature lines. It’s sort of become a standard practice, a way of telling people who we all are.

The point I'm trying to make here is this: We are not the enemy. We write books, ones that readers read, and last I checked, that isn't a crime. At the very least, we deserve respect.

We’ve worked long and hard to earn it.


  1. Great post, Drew. Maybe someday I won't be so shocked at the rudeness and ignorance of some people. I can't get over the Goodreads message you got. I see signatures all the time that I don't want to click on. You know what I do? I don't click on them! It doesn't seem to affect my day at all.
    Over the last year or so, I've had the opportunity to chat with a few authors and I have a great deal of respect for you all. Even if I don't necessarily like an authors work, I know how much of themselves they put into it. And I'm thrilled when an author takes the time to comment on something I've said or answer a question I might have. While I don't want to be "beaten over the head", I do appreciate it when an author lets me know if they have something new coming out. I would have missed out on several great books (including yours) had the author not told me about them.
    I could go on and on about this topic, but I'm going to hush now. :)

  2. There is a fine line between social networking and outright marketing. A few authors—and we know some of the same names—cross that line so often and so loudly, they seem desperate to me. Unfortunately, a few authors, who are loud, have created a Pavlov effect in readers for the rest of us.

  3. As a non-author, I am totally in favor of signatures displaying an author's website and title(s), and can choose to click on them or not. In today's economy, authors can no longer just write the books and leave the promotion to someone else, they need to promote their books so people know they're out there. Almost all of my 2,600 Facebook friends are authors, and most of them post about other things too, so when they tell me about their new book out or pass on a positive review or info on a book signing, I don't mind at all. If that was the only thing they ever did on Facebook (promoting their own books), it would get annoying after a while.

  4. Sometimes it feels like we're operating in a very tight box. Authors are expected to put themselves out there and be constantly available to readers, but we can only talk about OUR books in certain ways, at certain times, and in certain places. I've learned the subtleties and walk the line pretty well, but the hostility can be discouraging.

    On the other hand, just as the obnoxious authors are in the minority, so are the nasty readers. Neither represent the larger groups of readers or writers, both of which I belong to.

  5. Excellent point, LJ, about nasty readers (or any highly critical people) being in the minority! I don't think authors (or any other group) should jump when one or two whiners/complainers say so, as there are people like that everywhere, who just want to complain about things and get some attention at the same time. Best to let some of it just roll off your back, and don't let them have the attention they're seeking.

  6. Excellent post. I've just about given up joining discussions on a lot of the groups because it seems no matter what I do, it's against some rules (that sig line with links bugs me, since I link to my website & blog, NOT to buy links for books.)

    It's not like authors are forcing themselves on anyone--we've all got delete keys or the option not to read posts. Personally, I find it easier to get more information with a single click rather than having to stop and hunt for it.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  7. Nothing surprises me about readers. The other month I nearly got into a slanging match with one expletive deleted who thought we were all appalling for trying to get money for our writing and thought that the fact we were in print should be quite sufficient. I never realised before that we writers are such an exalted breed that we don't need to pay bills or buy food. We just exist on the fumes of our muse.

  8. Excellent post (thank you, L.J., for the link). As a writer and a voracious reader (a book every two days, at least) it does irritate me when fellow authors do nothing but promote their work (they take the "social" out of "networking"), but I don't mind at all when there are signature lines and periodic promotional updates. Our publishers rarely do it for us, after all.

  9. Authors are NEVER the enemy. I've seen how it pained George R. R. Martin to be verbally abused by readers who felt that he OWED them his next book, right away, dammit, even as HBO was producing the magnificent $100,000,000 production of the million-selling A Game of Thrones. I repeat, to be clear: Authors are NEVER the enemy.

  10. If I don't promote and advertise my books, no one is going to do it for me. Let people complain about 'being beaten over the head' with misleading ads during the Superbowl. Let someone take a hand, and stop showing me pictures of pickup trucks splashing through crystal-clear rivers. There are one or two individuals who haunt Kindleboards, waiting to pounce on anything or anyone they don't approve of. This has nothing to do with your work, and a great deal to do with their own political, or worse, religious agenda, which will never be fairly stated.

  11. Speaking as a long time Goodreads member, I've come to accept that many a person on the internet is incapable of ignoring anything that might potentially irritate them. I've participated in various discussions there about author behavior -- I've seen, shall we say, ambitious authors post persistently in the wrong thread or folder, send out 200 friend requests, and be obtrusive. I've also seen many authors behave with perfect decorum.

    I can't agree with Goodreads about the signature lines (although, because you can click on a name to go to an author's page and then to whatever websites and books are listed there, perhaps they really aren't all THAT vital), but, again, so many readers who do not understand the writer side of things (books grow under cabbages, you know) are very highly sensitive (and a bit entitled). Of course it is a perceptual thing -- we notice the annoyances and remember them, and they become the only examples because the ones that don't annoy us Don't Annoy Us and are not noticed. Squeaky wheel and all that. And those 30 GR members who complained repeatedly in GR Feedback got the grease they requested.

    If it's any comfort, in most of the groups to which I belong, there are folders for authors to post in and a lot of eagerness for authors to participate in Q & A on their books. I really enjoy the chance to chat with an author when it presents itself. I hope authors don't pick up a feeling that readers are the enemy, either.

  12. Reader weighing in...

    Drew, two sentences of yours really caught my eye:

    1) "Most (authors in the group) owned Kindles, most read books on them, and most participated regularly in the discussions."

    I think the key is that "most" you added. I'm in a number of groups that have author members, and I don't have a problem with those who are active participants. What I don't appreciate is a relentless stream of BSP from those who never post otherwise. Unfortunately, this happens quite a bit.

    2) "What some people fail to realize is that authors do read. In fact, many of us do so in a voracious manner."

    But how many of you post about what you're reading? Again, speaking only from my personal experience here, but I've noticed in groups I belong to that while the non-authors will post something like a monthly or weekly reads list, the authors post only about books by friends of theirs or books that are also published by their own publishers. And these are *always* glowing reviews. After a point, this seems very much like BSP once removed.

    As for the reader comments you posted, I do agree that authors shouldn't comment on reviews of their own books. Not every person is going to like every book, and if an author is unable to accept that, a list where readers are posting honest opinions of books is not where that person should be. That being said, the majority of those remarks are just flat-out uncalled for.

    Of course, I also feel that comment above from Silversongbird - "Nothing surprises me about readers" - was uncalled for. I'll bet none of the writers who are posting here would be too pleased if a reader had posted, "Nothing surprises me about authors." Drew wrote, in his post: "But what I don’t understand, and what concerns me, is the increasing hostility some readers have toward authors, along with the notion that we’re the enemy." Just wanted to point out that the reverse is true as well.

  13. I'm stuck back on the person who tells other people who send friend requests to go fck themselves because they happen to be writers. That's one mean-assed response to an offer of friendship.

    Oh, right--it's because whoever that is knows for certain that writers only want something. Funny, but it always seems like those most concerned with guarding against people who want something from them are actually those with the least to offer.

  14. People are hostile in general online and on forums. It's a trend. I've seen people ask a simple question and get verbally attacked for no reason. It's rediculous and not fun anymore but that's how it is.

  15. Good post. I've encountered similar hostility from people on these sites, even though I don't shamelessly promote. I think authors should have the right to say whatever they want. I am inundated with ads everywhere I go, Facebook, billboards, commercials, and I don't think signatures on the bottom on a post should be a problem. Do all people have to remove signatures, even non-authors? What about people who want to talk about their cats? should that be banned because it's off thread. This is the battle eBook writers will have to deal with. Marginalized by the public rather than the big 6.

  16. I'd have missed out on some really great books if an author hadn't been talking about his/her own book! As I recall, I decided to step out of my genre comfort zone and give While The Savage Sleeps a try because I picked up on a comment chain between a mutual FB friend and Drew about his book doing well. I didn't view it as BSP at all but more as outright and well-deserved excitement! Guess it's all a matter of perspective as to where that line is drawn. NOW - when an author posts about his/her book on a thread that has nothing to do with the book or promoting ... Uhm, hello? Surely they HAVE to know that isn't going to attract readers! (so is this where I put the ad for my newest release or maybe a link to my author website!) :) Kidding aside, I've actually stumbled across some great authors that way as well.

  17. Very nicely said, Drew. I think the comment "I liked this book until I saw what the author looked like. I'll never read another one of their books" would be one of those that would send me over the edge (I better get a thicker skin.) We have developed a social habit of US vs THEM, rudeness, and thoughtlessness. Perhaps it is because we are protected by our monitors and miles of cable. But, I would argue that good manners are all the more necessary the more we are disconnected from the core of the conversation.

    And I think we can all agree that those who are authors promoting their work are unaware of the market. The truth is, if we don't fully participate in the marketing of the book, we might as well stop writing for publication.

  18. Excellent comments, Drew. I believe you would agree with me that as writers we like to share our works and our thoughts on writing. It does not necessarily mean that we have expectations of everyone wanting to buy our books. After all we may “live” in the world of fiction, but we also live in the world of reality and know our works will not, and do not, appeal to everyone. And for many writers, it is not about making money. We do what we do because we love doing it. Obviously, some do not understand that. We live in a world of advertising and promotion and have for at least more than half a century. And sadly, we also now live in a world of Internet rudeness. The comments you listed, Drew, are good examples of that rudeness. As I believe in all areas of my life, those who are “supposed” to read my fiction and nonfiction, will. And if they find my work because I have listed the URL to my website in my signature, all the better.

  19. Whenever authors say they don't understand the hostility of readers, I wonder how hard they are trying to understand. In addition to Jan's comments above, let me give you an alternate example.

    If it was a writers forum, and a bunch of ebook packagers started participating, and everytime they posted, they added two or three lines to hawk their services, the writers would start to get annoyed. Why? Because they would view it as spam. Not linked to the topic. All about the poster, nothing about the list.

    Personally, I'm not offended by a link, but I use e-mail regularly in a work environment where the equivalent of business card contact info is attached to almost every e-mail so you can follow-up.

    But if you're an author who can't understand why a group of readers are hostile to the way you participate, or are suspicious of your motives, you're not trying very hard to imagine the other person's position.

  20. Props for raising a difficult topic, Drew. I've come across the rare author who does fly-bys in Forums, appearing only to tout a release or a recent accomplishment. But most of the authors I meet are some of the kindest, most gracious people I know--always wanting to support their fellow writers, and some are retiring to a fault. That's why I like my blog to be a platform to try and get the word out about books--I feel like the more of that the better. I really don't understand how it reached the point where Amazon seems to be biting off their noses to spite their face by disallowing embedded link, etc.

  21. Interesting opinions all around, and I thank you for giving them. It seems there's a common thread here: the line between social networking and social annoyance is a thin one. Some straddle it, some tear through it, and some stay clear of it. As with any new technological breakthrough, there's going to be a backlash and a period where people struggle to find their way, and that always takes time. I didn't mention this before because I was too busy ranting, but as some have said here, for the most part, readers are very kind and considerate. Unfortunately, the bad apples get noticed far more often due to their brash and vocal nature. I have to say, though, that I get far more positive comments than negative ones from my readers, and for that I'm extremely grateful.

  22. Thanks for showing me what's ahead, Drew! I just got my first mystery published and wish I still had time to read a bunch of books. Hey, if I didn't have to promote it all by myself, I would! It's too bad goodreads and amazon can't recognize the whiners and ignore them. Polite people who are OK with everything are rarely verbal, so the minority rules. It's a good thing mystery writers are so supportive of each other. We need someone to like us!

  23. I agree with Jan, above. Authors that only post "Promotion" are annoying. I love when an author will "engage" the public, and on my blog where I do book reviews, I have tracked traffic, both at the blog and on the authors web site/blog and sales, and they spike significantly after a review. They go even higher with a review AND an interview/guest post/discussion. But, that is my site, a review site. When I post a review it gets a link sent out to Twitter, Facebook etc..I also post links and "Blurbs" about the review to Goodreads/BookBloggers, anybody that gets to my site HAD to click on it, which means they wanted to read it or were interested in the author. On the other hand, Sites like Goodreads I often wonder if the members are even actually interested in books, reading, and the authors that write the works. As Raymond Chandler said, “The reading public is intellectually adolescent at best and it is obvious that what is called ''significant literature'' will only be sold to this public by exactly the same methods as are used to sell it toothpaste, cathartics and automobiles.” To and extent that is true. I have to wonder if those " Nasty Readers" are only there for the Book Give Aways or to boost their own ego somehow by being somehow "superior". That's one of the reasons that on Goodreads, about 90% of my friends are authors or others I know to be voracious readers with an interest in the creative process as well as being entertained. That said, I love, both on my blog, and the social sites when an Author interacts, and I want those blog links and author website links at the bottom of posts. I've also jumped in to the middle of threads and defended authors when a nasty reader goes "enfantile". But I have also deleted or stopped following authors that do nothing but promote. I thinkk the trick for authors is to pick and choose, and discover where and when to advertise and where and when to engage the audience.

  24. "books grow under cabbages, you know" -- mine are brought by storks.

    I actually broke off with a face-to-face friend, a PhD in Physics at JPL, because whenever he'd read ANYTHING of mine, fiction, poetry, Math, or science, he'd always harshly criticize it. For a few years I gave him the benefit of the doubt, as we suffered from Aspberger's, and could not read social cues, class markers, didn't believe me that Robert Sawyer was Canadian.

    But after the N-th time he berated me for writing a double-twist ending instead of a triple-twist, loudly asserted for the N-th time that he was the smartest person in the room (silly, as my wife and son were there, both smarter than he), insisted that "facebook will never make a dime of profit", and laughed at my physical suffering from smoke inhalation at a forest fire, literally jumped up and own clapping his hands at Sarah Palin on TV, and screamed at me, red-faced, for not understanding why he insulted my wife so badly at our wedding anniversary dinner, I decided: NO reader is worth an author putting up with this. Online is trickier, you don't even know who they really are...

  25. The fine line for the author is ever changing. I take the low-key approach, promoting only for events or upcoming releases. Mostly I offer advice, tips on writing, engage in conversations. Yet just when I think I've struck a good balance, BAM! up pops a reader who chews me out for some infraction I didn't know I committed! And it could be for simply offering advice on a thread in response to someone's direction question for me. Go figure.

    I constantly advise new authors to take it slow and learn the rules and etiquette on a forum before doing any promotion. But when you have to promote - do it! We need to put food on the table.

  26. Oh wow. I never knew there was such a backlash against authors who are trying to make a living.

    There goes any hope I had of trying to be noticed....

    Do those "nasty readers" have another idea as to how an author could be discovered? I'd be interested to hear it.

  27. Another reader giving her two cents....
    Sometimes I feel like an anomaly. My original intention in joining MySpace and Facebook was to draw together the authors I follow into one easily accessible pot. I do not have the time nor energy to check individual author websites or blogs to find out new book and tour information. A newsletter has been a better means of keeping me informed, but not every author produces one, hence, umbrella-ing them into one of the social network sites. And I realize at the approach of a new release the communication volume will probably amp up.
    What becomes annoying to someone like me who wants some of the BSP is the sheer volume. One post a day regarding your new book already seems like overkill and yet I have seen five, six, more Facebook status updates A DAY regarding a book. Double if the author uploads information separately to Twitter, and forwards to Facebook. Anywhere from simple 'buy my book', to 'it's number x on Amazon's bestsellers list' and advising us when it moves up or down, to downright begging. It may seem cute or funny when it's one author and you have met them face-to-face, hairpulling when it's multiple authors. And as Jan pointed out, not only can you have this communication coming from the author, but then there's a cadre of author friends who will also post 'buy my friend's book' statuses.
    Regarding friend requests, again, I differ from my real life friends. I don't mind receiving friend requests from authors, but just because I read ex. Jo Nesbo and you, author, read Jo Nesbo, does not mean I want to read the erotica books you write. I pretty much exclusively read crime fiction. And no, 'It's not crime fiction, but if I just knew about my book' is not a truth. I realize it's a pipe dream for me to hope that an author will try and see a fit before approaching me, but at least make it easier for me to see what you write when I click on your friend request. Especially on Facebook where you probably can't access my wall and I'm not specific to the umpteenth degree regarding my crime fiction choices. But on Goodreads where you can see my inventory and ratings? Trust me, if there's a bodice ripper in my inventory it is purely because I haven't caught all the import errors (i.e. SAVAGE MOON by Chris Simms appeared as SAVAGE MOON NOT BY CHRIS SIMMS when it imported).
    While I think the nastiness has been with us for awhile (I've wept over some of the Amazon 'reviews' posted on author friends books and the sheer personal attacks they often include) I think the ever expanding forums on the internet are not only allowing the authors to reach out and touch readers and potential readers quickly, but it also gives everyone more opportunity to vent, some anonymously, usually with the protection of distance and never meeting the person in real life. Don't forget, we've also heard of authors who have posted personal information about people who have given their books less than supernova reviews. Both sides need self-editing buttons.


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