Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Social media: friend or foe?

Following Frankie’s excellent post about social media on February 15th, I was going to write about it last week, and then a certain South African runner got himself into trouble. I couldn’t let that opportunity pass by (no pun intended).

I have always had an ambivalent relationship with what we now call “social media”. Early on, I got on to blogging, but it was through my website, and probably only a handful of people ever bothered to read it. When blogging websites, like the one your on right now, came along, I was all in. I still am. I take part in three of them.

Then Facebook and Twitter arrived (among others) and things went off in different directions. Lost somewhere in there are bulletin boards which are still popular with a lot of folks. With all of those things going on, and new ones arriving nearly every day, an author could spend a good deal of his/her day keeping an iron in several fires, causing them not to have enough time to spend on their writing.

With publishers now telling all their authors that it’s up to them to make sure they have an active presence on social media, there’s a lot of pressure that needs to be faced. Barbara wrote about just that sometime in the past year.

No doubt, with corporate interests controlling most of what we see and hear, social media can be a real boon to those of us with little money and not much more profile. But it can come with a cost. Things can get out of hand in a big hurry.

First, I’d like to share this article with you: How cyber-bullies got inside Rebecca Marino’s head.

This is obviously an extreme case, but it can happen at any time. For those of us who are using Twitter and Facebook, etc. to help promote ourselves, we are also opening ourselves up to the same thing Rebecca Marino has had to deal with.

Think I’m being too alarmist? Consider this: how many authors have had their work savaged by online reviews on Amazon, GoodReads, et al by a person who has just taken a massive dislike to something. I know of one author who is trying to deal with just that. One fan has taken to trashing her books by writing reviews under different identities, driving down ratings and making a good book appear to be a piece of junk. That’s sort of frightening. It might be called stalking by review. The author has no idea who the person is or why they hate her so much, but at last count there were over 50 bad reviews that all have eery similarities.

I had a horrible review put on Amazon for one of my novels and I’m pretty certain I can trace it back to someone in New York City who had a big hate on for me because of something I posted (under my own name) on a music bulletin board, warning people to be careful if they were considering buying a particular instrument from this individual. Since it was the only review the book had on Amazon for several weeks, it was definitely damaging to sales.

Am I about to close my Facebook pages and disappear into a small room to like my wounds? Heavens no! Social media is about the only place I can promote myself without spending more money than I make from my writing.

All I’m saying is to be careful and be smart.


j welling said...

Thanks Rick. Great cautionary tale. I hadn't considered the nutjob factor. Completely blind to it, really.

Nom de guerre and nom de plume: never the two shall meet. Brilliant.

The real name? Well, that's a NASCAR driver so completely unsuitable for anything but _830000 Left Hand Turns: My Story (a novel)_. Some of us lead a charmed existence.

Charlotte Hinger said...

All this is part of our business, but when things go wrong it's scary. Rick, if you ever have an evil reviewer on Amazon again, let the Type M'ers know. The least we can to is stack good ones on top.

Rick Blechta said...

I've always maintained (as hard as it is to do in reality) that if you can't take it on the chin when you get a bad review, you shouldn't allow your work to be published. Bad reviews are part of the game.

Malicious reviews are another thing entirely, and everyone gets them. Multiple malicious reviews, especially if they're from the same source are intolerable, but again, you sort of have to take those on the chin, too, since there's little that can be done.

Maybe it should be part of a future post, but I feel that the anonymity of many of these reviewers allows them to say things that they otherwise wouldn't. These may be generally well-meaning people, certainly not “nutjobs” as Mssr. Welling refers to them in the response above. But something in a novel offends them and they decide to sound off about it in a very unbalanced way. Maybe that's what really sticks in my craw. They do their damage from the shadows.

One of the good friends I made since becoming a writer was the late John North who was the Toronto Star’s crime fiction reviewer for many years. He didn’t like my novels very much and spoke his mind in his reviews. He always apologized later, but told me he had a job to do, then would smile and tell me, “Next time write a better novel.”

Fortunately, he was the only Toronto reviewer who felt that way, and it smarted, but at least his reviews were balanced, never what I would call malicious – just blunt, much like the man himself. I miss him a lot.

j welling said...

Legitimate differences of opinion too demonstratively expressed under the guise of anonymity ? Yes. great point.

To clarify my original comment by way of apology:

"One fan has taken to trashing her books by writing reviews under different identities, driving down ratings and making a good book appear to be a piece of junk. " =>

The unbalanced and/or obsessed? I shortened this to the vernacular of "nutjob." I don't see this illustrated behavior in the same light as a legitimate dislike put forward too forcefully. I see this as cyber-stalking.

Different names for repeated negative reviews? Unpleasant. Unbalanced.

I've always liked M. Rushdie. ( I like _Midnight's Children_ best ) I suppose he is nearly the poster child for this topic.