Readers Behaving Badly
And now for a word from our sponsors…. or Faye, as the case may be, our resident voice of reason 🙂
About a month ago I started doing the groundwork for a blog post about reader behavior. I messaged a few authors and asked if they had experienced any crazy behavior and if so what was it. I was actually really heartened by the information I got back. Several of the people I spoke to had no negative reader experiences whatsoever. One person did have a negative experience with a stalker, but I won’t elaborate on that. Not only do I firmly believe in confidentiality, but you guys wouldn’t be able to unlearn that information. You’re welcome. Really. Overwhelmingly the rest of the information I received was readers complaining in one way or another that the books simply did not fit the version of reality that the reader knew. What I wanted to write as the flip side of the coin of “Authors Behaving Badly” was turning out to look a whole lot like some close minded people who were simply unable to understand things they’d never seen or heard of. I wasn’t really sure what to do with that information so I sat on the blog post and did other stuff. As it turns out I had simply asked the wrong people.
Before I continue I’d like to share the story of how I came to be good friends with Barb, Whit, and a few other people. We all met on Charlaine Harris’ website and message boards. The Southern Vampire Mysteries, and other series of books, were beloved by us and pulled us together as a group to talk about them. Eventually, as a group we left Charlaine Harris’ website and message boards, to the extreme relief of the moderators, and we moved on to various other forums and mostly Facebook. We had, to say the very least, developed some very strong opinions about the characters in the Southern Vampire Mysteries series. We wanted very specific things for them. We did not get those things. To be very blunt and frank, we collectively lost our shit. About two weeks of my life, that I will never get back, were spent disparaging the ending of the series and the writing skills of Charlaine Harris. Maybe it was just a week. I don’t really know. We were too mad to note the passage of time and too busy posting our indignant reviews on Goodreads. One thing we did not do was write hate mail to Ms. Harris. Nor did we post on her Facebook page or tweet at her how much we hated her book. We didn’t do those things because they’re cruel and vindictive. No writer needs to be punished for writing a book disliked by readers who wanted a different story.
The latest gossip in the gay romance community is about hate mail directed at authors. This is what I was wanting to write about all along. There are two sides to every story and vicious hate mail is what authors are expected to silently put up with when it’s the readers behaving badly. I think that’s ridiculous. It is presumptuous and hypocritical of readers to get upset with authors who can’t handle negative reviews with grace if we ourselves are unable to handle an author’s artistic choices with the same grace. It is our choice to pick up a book and read it. An author does not always have the choice to avoid social media or opening their email. Maintaining an online presence has become part of the job in modern publishing. Part of your job should never be opening an email that wishes upon you death or disability that would render you unable to ever write another book. It is not acceptable for readers to send mail like that. It is not acceptable for anyone to send mail like that and I strongly encourage anyone who receives such mail to save it and possibly show it to law enforcement. At the very least you can establish a pattern of intimidation from clearly unbalanced individuals.
I can understand the passion. Really, I do. So many characters have become real to me over the years, but it’s important to always remember they are not real. They are the creations of an author. An author who is a person with real emotions. A person with full autonomy and artistic freedom who is allowed to write whatever they see fit, regardless of what readers think. All attempts to coerce, shame, guilt, or intimidate an author into writing a storyline that is not of their choosing are absolutely as horrible as authors who attempt to silence legitimate critics. Please note, I do not think writing in an all caps email that someone should die is in any way a form of legitimate criticism. I want every reader to always be honest, but please follow Wheaton’s Law. Don’t be a dick.