Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Question About Questions

Hello, all! I’m Jane, your part-time Whore, here to fill in for Allison while she rests up. And how convenient for me that my first post gets to be me asking you questions, because I don’t have to worry about whether this post will totally suck. ;)

Or maybe I do. Yeah, I think I will anyway.

At any rate, my question for readers is tangential to Jeffe’s question on Sunday about authors interfering in reviews. It’s really a question about questions. We live in a remarkable age when we have immediate access to the people who write the books we read. But it seems as though the more opportunities for communication there are, the less communicating is actually happening.

One of my favorite authors, Lynn Flewelling, hosted a writing workshop at sea a few years ago. A chance to meet one of my favorite authors, talk about writing, and go on a cruise to the Caribbean? It was a total no-brainer. And one of the best vacations I’ve ever had.

Since then, those of us who cruised together have followed and friended one another across the social media-sphere, and Lynn has been absolutely lovely, chatting and engaging with those of us who attended, and sharing her daily life in 140-word bits, even seeking us out and hanging with us when we happen to attend the same conferences. It feels like we’re friends.

And there are other authors I’ve spoken to on Twitter whom I’ve never met, but who’ve answered me back, which is always a treat. When I was a kid, I dreamed about being able to talk to writers, even fantasized about attending and hosting writer salons. (I know. I’m a dork.)

But something has changed recently in this still-somewhat-new world where readers have immediate access to authors. As with the recent Goodreads brouhaha, there are readers who don’t want to hear from authors at all. Any kind of response by an author (even “thanks for the review”) is met with hostility and mistrust. I’ve heard some bloggers say that if an author comments on a blog post, it shuts down communication because people know the author is reading.

(Wait…don’t leave! I really do have a question!)

Why should the act of communicating shut down communication? (That’s not my question. I’m getting to it.)

Writers are always admonished for getting upset about rejections and bad reviews. “You have to have a thick skin if you’re going to put your words out there in the world for others to read.” Yes. Yes, we do. And readers’ words posted publicly are words, too. An author definitely shouldn’t abuse a reviewer or reader for their opinion or hound them with all the reasons they’re “wrong.” But wouldn’t it be great if you could, I don’t know, just ask an author a question about a book and get an answer without bringing about the Zombie Apocalypse?

Yes, that was my question. I know, I buried the lead. (Or is it lede?) No! Or Yes. Dammit. I hate those kind of answers.

When I come across comments in reviews or on blog posts where readers have questions about my books, I wish I could just pop in and say, “Yes, that character will show up in another book,” or “No, that isn’t the end of that series.” But I know I can’t answer even the most innocuous of questions because of the perception of author intrusion. And that makes me sad, because I love being able to talk to my favorite authors about their characters—and frankly, I love to talk about my characters—and I hate to see this medium that allows us to connect in a way that was never possible before devolving into a battleground where words are only used for spite.

I had a dilemma today about a reader question. Someone tweeted about a bad first impression she’d gotten from one of my books. I debated whether I should respond or not. I didn’t want to be That Author, and I’m not going to argue with readers about how they feel about my books. Every reader is entitled to her opinion and reaction.

But in the end, I decided to reply since I’d been specifically mentioned in the tweet. She may ultimately hate the book and decide her first impression was right, and I can’t do anything about that. But I can do something about the next book. And I want to know how people feel about my writing. I want to have those conversations. Not to rebut every word of a review, but to be accessible to readers. When I was growing up, if I wondered why the writer of a book I’d read went a particular direction, I was pretty much stuck just wondering. (I’m still wondering what happened at the end of most of Phyllis A. Whitney’s books.) But I also don’t want to intrude on the reader’s experience.

So in case you’ve forgotten what the heck I was talking about, like I’m about to, my question is this: Do you want to have conversations with the writers of the books you read? And if so, what kind? If you @ them on Twitter or tag them on Facebook, do you want a response or are you just letting other readers know what you think?


  1. If I @ an author or tag them on Facebook and don't want them to respond/say something I'm a dick!

    There, I said it.

    How others feel about authors responding on a review is up to them (I myself love it, unless the author tells me I'm not allowed to have certain feelings about the book), but if someone @ or tags an author they better not get angry when an author responds, because when you knock on someone's door you shouldn't be upset if that person answers the door.

    End of rant...

    Authors: feel free to have discussions with me when I @ and/or tag you

    1. "because when you knock on someone's door you shouldn't be upset if that person answers the door."

      perfect analogy, Sullivan!

    2. Just to clarify, the reader I responded to yesterday didn't take exception to my responding. It was just my fear that she might because it wasn't clear that it was a tweet to me even though I was mentioned; it was part of a larger discussion. With the charged atmosphere around both the specific topic and author/reader interactions going on right now, I didn't want to step into a minefield.

  2. And being how I am, I can't help but add an Errors and Omissions to my post. ;) "140-word" should of course be "140-character."

  3. Sometimes people make way too much out of everything! I don't see any problem with an author commenting on my review. If I didn't want the author to SEE my review, I wouldn't have made it in the first place.

  4. I would love it it an author stop by to answer questions I raised in a review or that our readers left. If I was a reader and an author answered a question I had about the book, that would make me want to read more.

    If an author has a problem with my review I prefer they email me directly. Not in public. I would be glad to clarify anything I said and listen to what the author had to say.One of my (now) favorite authors sent me her first book. I got 4 chapters in and had to put it down. I told her privately and she that's okay and asked if I would try her second book, which was completely different and I was blown away by it :)

    If you tag an author on FB or twitter that is like saying "Hey! I want you to know what I think of your book" Then you damn well better not get upset with a response. Things are best discussed privately. But if an author gets bent out of shape there is the risk of the reviewer being an ass and calling them out publicly.

    If I have a great review I tag and author. I want to let them know how happy their book made me. If it is a bad review I don't tag the author on social media because that is rude. If they want to go looking for reviews then they might run across mine.

  5. I love author interaction and think it is fun (and incredibly nice) when authors leave comments on my review posts. If I fall in love with a book I will let the author know when the review goes up, but in a private email so they have the choice to check it out or not without others knowing they are aware of it.