EWF Presentation: On responding to reviews and social media etiquette

This past weekend I had the honour of presenting at the Emerging Writers’ Festival, down in Melbourne. As ever, it was an inspiring and entertaining weekend, and it continues on for the next week. All the details here.

The panel I was involved with was all about Post Publication; what to do and what to expect after you’ve got that elusive first publication. I spoke a bit about how to respond (or not) to criticism of your work and a little bit about social media etiquette. As ever when I present, I strayed a bit from the script. I learned long ago that I’m not much good at sticking to the presentation I write and I tend to get distracted and freestyle my way to the end. But I think I pretty much covered all the stuff I’d planned to talk about.

I thought it might be worthwhile to post my presentation here, as a recap for those at the festival and as something hopefully useful for everyone else. Bear in mind that this isn’t an actual article, but more a series of points as reference for verbal delivery, so it’ll be a bit choppy. I’ve tidied it up a bit into a more coherent (I hope) blog post. I hope you find it interesting.

EWF 2012 Presentation

I’m going to talk about making the right noises. Or, more importantly, not making the wrong noises.

So you’re published and you should be very proud of yourself for many reasons, not least of which being that you had the guts to put your work out there in the public eye.

Where it will be judged.

Where you will be judged.

So what are you going to do about that?

Nothing.

That, at least, is your default position.

If you think about saying something in response to someone’s critique of your work, stop and think. Double think. Do you want what you say to be out there forever, and forever gilding your career. Because it will be. Even if you delete it, it’s cached. And people will have shared it.

It’s a given these days that if you’re published in any form, it behoves you and your publisher if you have a social media presence.

Right now, you don’t have to have an online presence, but it benefits you enormously if you do. I would argue that before long a writer will have to have an online presence.

The reason we need that is primarily due to noise.

I’m loathe to use the often-touted term author platform, because I think that carries all kinds of unnecessary connotations, so I’m just going to refer to it from here on as “the presence”.

I’m a horror writer, among other things, so standing up here to talking a room full of people about The Presence amuses me.

There are various social areas of engagement: micro- and macro-arenas, if you like. This here, a room of people, is actually a micro-arena of social engagement.

You could conceivably interact with pretty much every one here over the course of a day or two, in small group conversations, the occasional one on one chat in a queue, perhaps an awkward, strangely polite few words beside each other at urinals or adjoining cubicles. It’s not intimate – well, the urinal thing might be, but overall, this event is not especially intimate, but it is micro.

This is where things have changed. This used to be the macro-arena. An event like this over several days or even weeks, used to be the biggest interaction a person could have. Not any more.

Now we have the internet.

Something like today, this event, has become a micro-arena because the mother of all macro-arenas now exists.

The thing about this relatively new super-macro-arena of social engagement is that it’s hectic. You want The Presence, your presence, to be there, because if you have your work out in the world, you need people to know about it and the internet is brilliant for that..

But getting noticed in that digital maelstrom is like trying to have a civilised chat at a heavy metal gig. And you need to make the right noise. Don’t be noticed for the wrong reasons.

There’s an old Chinese proverb – The empty vessel makes the most noise.

The usual example is a jar of beans. If there are only a few beans in it and you shake it around, it makes a huge racket.

Fill it to the brim with beans, shake it and it’s pretty much silent.

Of course, the point here is that you achieve through quality content – being a full jar – and you get noticed that way, rather than only having a few beans and shaking your jar as loudly as you can.

Sadly, the internet often favours those with few beans and a vigorous shaking arm.

We all have to play in that sandpit. And it can get pretty crappy in there.

While we’re busily filling our jar with beans and trying to make people notice it, all the other people out there will be judging us and our work.

And not everyone will like our stuff and through the unfiltered ease of the internet, they’ll tell us so.

I’m sure you’ve all seen someone immolate their career in a furnace of righteous outrage when they get a bad review, thereby getting noticed by making all the wrong noises. If you haven’t, you will now, because you’ll go looking for it. There’s plenty to choose from. (Edit: There’s a small one right here at The Word.)

And so, when you and your work are judged online:

DO NOTHING!

Here’s a freebie for you. Got a notebook? Write this down. The only response you should ever give to anyone who reviews your work, if you give any response at all, is this:

Thank you very much for taking the time to read and review my work.

That’s it. Nothing else.

If they called you a talentless hack whose work should be used in high school as an example of how not to write, you respond:

Thank you very much for taking the time to read and review my work.

That’s if you respond at all. You don’t have to. You can simply let everyone else do the talking. Of course, if they’re nice to you, you can thank them for that, though again, you don’t have to.

But you must never respond negatively. Never try to defend your work or get drawn into an argument with someone over their review.

It’s their opinion and they’re entitled to it, even if they’re clearly a brain dead slug who wouldn’t recognise quality literature if it rolled them in salt.

Never get caught up in shitfights about opinion.

Engage with social media, use The Presence to draw attention to your stuff, but don’t always and only talk about your work. If you’re constantly on the hard sell, people will quickly tire of your used car salesman persona and ignore you. Talk about all kinds of stuff, engage and interact, but never negatively, and occasionally mention your work among all that.

If you try to present yourself as something you’re not, if you act like a dick, regardless of how good your work might be, people won’t want to work with you or read you.

It’s just like real life. Act online like you would face to face and you’re off to a pretty good start. Unless you actually are a dick, of course. There’s no help for you then.

My philosophy when it comes to social media engagement is four simple points, and I’ll wrap this up with them:

• Be yourself;
• Don’t be a dick;
• Promote the good stuff;
• Ignore the crap and the negative.

Keep working on filling your jar with beans and doing your best to make sure people know about it, without constantly beating them over the cyber-head with it.

Everything else takes care of itself.

.

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11 thoughts on “EWF Presentation: On responding to reviews and social media etiquette

  1. Hi, Alan. I just wanted you to know I liked the article. I think you’re so right. People forget they’re essentially “in public” when using social media. Anyway, anyone whose work is out there is going to have some negative reviews. Get over it. Act human. Behave yourself. Angie.

  2. I just love: When “Authors” Attack. Thanks, Alan!

    Very informative piece,too, and words that should be heeded. I’ll leave it up to you whether to respond or not. 🙂

  3. As a reviewer, I have a simple response to anyone who protests too much; no more reviews. Since I write for a major newspaper, that can make a significant difference to sales. My mind flies to a young man who self-published a novel which I reviewed with kindness and honesty, pointing out that it held promise but suffered from errors of enthusiasm, such as lousy proofreading and no editing. It wasn’t, I thought, a particularly negative review. The young man wrote back to The West with a demand to have this out in a series of articles from him and me, and for me to defend my position in print after he’d been given a page or two to state his. The West, as you can imagine, was more amused than disturbed at the little prick’s reaction. When they forwarded the letter to me for my response, I edited it, correcting the grammar and doing some line edits for sense, and sent it back to him. I haven’t heard from him since. I will not review any of his books in future, if there are any, for fear of offending his sensitivity.

  4. What about cases where there is blatant misrepresentation of the work — are you still in the same school even then? Of course this happens much more often in non-fiction where there isn’t the same problem of responding to reviews (in that there are more ways to do it without putting your foot in your mouth) but still, just wondering if you’ve seen any examples of such things within genre fiction.

  5. Michael – I think in the case of facts there’s always a case for responding, unless the person is clearly just trolling. But there’s no point really in engaging over opinion. I’ve seen people completely misinterpret something and it might be worth a single mention to put forth a correction, but never engage in a conversation about it if the person is stubborn. After all, as writers it’s up to us to write so well that there’s no room for misinterpretation. 😉

  6. Disappointed I couldn’t come to hear this first hand, but I’ve been reading it here for a long time now. It still rings true, but it goes both ways. When I’m reviewing something I always try to point out something positive (Which can be tricky sometimes) and I don’t attack if I’ve got anything negative to say, I just say it.

    Having said that, I’m really just here because I’m working up to tearing someone a new one in a meeting and wanted to read your Unimagined review again to brighten my day. That was some champagne blogging.

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