Okay, so this week I had a lot of feelings. Maybe it was because I turned 30 (that milestone of birthdays). Maybe it was the stress at work (hello, mountains and hours of data analysis!). Maybe it was things I read online (isn’t that everyone?).
One of those things I read online was an article articulating all the things I have been observing online for years, but to an extreme degree. You see, a writer friend sent me this article by Jesse Singal. You should definitely give it a read. And as a result, this blog post happened. There is so much fear in the YA writing community that people can’t express any kind of dialogue regarding diversity or the witch-hunting mentality at work for fear of losing their fans or careers. If they do, swarms of angry internet users descend on them.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t call out problematic things when we see them (and I’ll come back to that in a bit). But I am saying that this bullying behavior is dangerous and toxic. It is a suppression of ideas when books should be making us think, making us question things. It is censoring the spread of ideas and information and killing the opportunity for open discussion and growth. And it doesn’t solve the problem; it only serves to foster hurt feelings and bitterness.
Is that really healthy? No.
But how do we interact with authors in productive, healthy ways?
First, let’s start with things to remember about authors:
- Authors are people, too. They have just as many feelings as everyone else. They really exist, and the things people say about them and their work really do affect them.
- Most of the time, they’re doing their best. Yes, sometimes they don’t succeed. But that is an opportunity for growth, just like every other mistake or less-than-perfect attempt out there. They grow and learn with every book they write. If they’re given the chance.
- Authors are not the books they write. Their characters do not necessarily represent their personal views of the world, and their stories may not have the meaning you think they do (though half a book is the reader’s experience, so that does matter, and hopefully the author has taken that into consideration during edits).
- Authors, and their books, are not perfect. They do everything they can to make it shine and polish it up, but there is always going to be something that someone will hate or disagree with. And that’s okay. We seem to be stuck in a climate where disagreement is obscene, and it is leading to an atmosphere that stifles creative and personal growth as well as diversity.
Now, there are a few different situations in which a reader may want to interact with an author. Let’s start with the simplest scenario.
You read a book. You fall in love with it. And you just can’t keep it to yourself.
Should you contact the author? YES!
It is incredibly encouraging to authors to hear positive feedback on their writing! This is a good time to let an author know you’ve enjoyed it, and it will put a smile on their face, guaranteed. Spread the positivity!
You read a book. You hate everything about it. You didn’t click with it, the story was derivative, and you frankly could have written something better yourself.
Should you contact the author? NO!
Why? Because they are people. Sure, leave your review as you see fit (as long as it’s about the book and not the author… don’t make it personal), but don’t tag an author or otherwise direct their attention to this negative review. They don’t need to see it. It doesn’t encourage them, it can hinder their creativity, and it can do a whole lot more harm than good.
And finally, the idea that brought me to this post in the first place…
You read a book. It has problematic elements that are pretty insensitive and offensive.
Should you contact the author? MAYBE.
Let me explain.
If you feel you can discuss the matter with a calm, level head and have an open discussion, then by all means, contact the author. But if you can’t, leave it to someone else. Write your review, do NOT tag the author, and move on.
And if you do contact the author, here are some tips:
- Contact them privately. Do not make a public post to shame or call them out. Oftentimes, the problem you see may be unintentional, and the author is more than happy to hear the feedback and fix the problem, or to correct it in their future writing if the book has already been published and can no longer be changed.
- Remember you could be wrong… and accept it if you are. I have seen people shaming and tearing apart books and their authors when they think it has crossed lines of culture and history when in reality it had nothing to do with the problems these hunters are shouting about.
- Be kind and tactful. Instead of yelling at the author or shaming them, which can automatically put a person on the defensive and make them less receptive to what you have to say, use phrases like, “I liked your story, but I think [this particular element] may be offensive to some people. Would you be willing to talk about it?” Be honest, but don’t let that make you rude or hurtful.
- Offer to be a beta reader or sensitivity reader. Obviously, if you are not in the demographic for which the problematic element is problematic, do not offer to sensitivity read. But you can still suggest that sensitivity readers will strengthen the book. Either way, continue to remember to be kind.
- Don’t make it personal. This is about the story, not the person. An author is not their book.
But what if the author is not receptive to your feedback? What if they’re downright mean or argumentative?
- Do not engage. Thank them for their time, then stop responding. Some authors just will not be open to a discussion, and it’s better to walk away than to try to argue with a fool.
- Leave your review of the book. Don’t make it personal, just like I mentioned already. Keep it focused on the book. Call out the problematic elements or what you didn’t like. But keep it professional.
- Don’t start a mob. There is so much mob mentality on so many of these topics online, particularly Twitter and Tumblr. It’s so easy to get caught up in it, but it’s not productive and only hurts more feelings. Again, keep it professional. Even if the author looks like a fool, make sure people can’t mistake you for one, as well.
If you remember nothing else…
…just remember that authors are people with feelings and failings, just like you and everyone else. Treat them that way, the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes. And keep in mind…
Someone else’s behavior never gives you permission to be cruel.
Now, I want to hear from you. Are you an author? A reader? What are your thoughts? Tell me below, and let’s talk about talking.
Until then, happy writing and happy reading!