Saturday, December 11, 2010

Discussion: Professionalism, Presence, and Their Influences on the Reading Experience

Back when I started reading YA in the early 2000s, authors were still unapproachable mythical figures to me. They were usually nothing more than a bio blurb and still photo on the back jacket flap of a book, plus maybe a website if he or she had it. All I knew about them was that, in my mind, they were celebrities, but they were celebrities with no trashy tabloids following their every moves, exposing all their secrets to the whole wide world. In those days, authors were pretty much equivalent to their books, and that was that.
Of course, that's hardly the case nowadays. Nearly every YA author now, especially debut authors, have blogs, Twitter accounts, and Facebooks on top of just the standard noninteractive author website. Author presence on the Internet is often incorporated into a publisher's marketing plan for books: if a debut author does not have a blog prior to their book being published, they are often encouraged by their publishers to start one. Even authors who have written dozens of award-winning books over several decades practically need to establish an online presence, else they will likely not capture the attention of the modern audience.

It is because of this shift in book publicity, more so than because I started blogging about books, that has caused my reading experience to change. Very rarely now can I read a book and have it stand on its own. When I read now, I almost always think about what I know about the author, either from my personal interactions with him or her, or the way he or she presents him/herself online. Nowadays I often get to know the author through Twitter or their blog posts before I read his or her book. This is totally different from my reading experiences even just a few years ago, when finding out more about an author came only after I had read his or her book.

This has both a positive and negative effect on a number of reading- and blogging-related things, but for this post I am going to stick only to the reading experience itself--that is, the act and enjoyment of reading the author's book. It's positive because an author's online presence may actually do as the publishers want and cause me to pick up a book. It may be that the author's tweets make me laugh, or I find their blog posts well-written or thought-provoking. Sometimes I'm surprised when I finally read their book and discover that it's so different from their online presence. This has been both a good or bad thing in the past.

It's negative when an author's online behavior causes me to rethink my support of them through reading, buying, or reviewing their books. There have been instances in the past when I've really enjoyed an author's book(s), only to discover in some not-so-obscure corner of the Internet that he or she has behaved in ways I find deplorable: immaturely ragging on people they disagree with almost to the point of online harassment, expressing their opinions in a narrow-minded or offensive manner, belittling the intelligences of their YA audience.

What do you do when you come across something like that? I can no longer not let it influence my decision to support that author's books...and it is my opinion that neither should I, as a consumer, be expected to separate the two. Publishers should know that with their push to incorporate authors' online presence into marketing and publicity, they run the risk of it having the opposite effect on readers. I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as good publicity vs. bad publicity: it's what you choose to do with the available opportunities for publicity that determines its effect on my reading decisions. If you choose to assert your right to mouth off, insult people, and express your controversial opinion on a sensitive subject--and I am not saying you don't have the right to do so--just keep in mind what the consequences regarding your public image and royalty statement may be.

Consider how this occurs in other forms of media and entertainment. Does hearing about Lindsay Lohan's messy and rehab-oriented behavior, or Nicholas Cage's debt and tax evasions, or Tiger Woods' adulterous behavior influence the way you approach their more professional performances? For me it unequivocally does. I can no longer rewatch The Parent Trap or Mean Girls (and both are movies I love, by the way, no shame) without thinking about how Lindsay has gone downhill since then. And I'm less inclined to watch any of Nicholas Cage's future movies because of the fact that I now know he is an extravagant spender with poor finance skills. I mean, dude, you're a multimillionaire. I don't know whether to be more impressed or embarrassed for you that you are able to blow through your seven-figure paychecks.

I'm not trying to say that, because of their authorly status, authors should only be considered their public persona. Of course you are human beings as well, individuals who are also entitled to your personal opinions. But anything that involves a public sphere such as the Internet requires self-policing. Even bloggers--all bloggers, regardless of site traffic or your blog's focus--cannot escape this fact. For example, I am not going to write ranty, ill-informed, and offensive posts about things that irritate the heck out of me. I try to limit my use of profanity online (okay, and in person too). I don't start prolonged arguments in comments that spiral into passive-aggressive personal attacks that have very little to do with the original point of dissention. In fact, I prefer not to make personal attacks online, period. (I'll save ranty moments for in-person conversations if they are necessary, thanks.)

This does not mean I'm Switzerland. Of course I have opinions and make them; you, dearest blog readers, of all people, would know that. But it's about presentation. It's about the way you make your point. And it's also about the willingness to be open to dialogue and dissenting viewpoints, but that's another topic for another post, don't worry I'm already working on that. I may even agree with your opinion, but if you choose to present your opinion in a close-minded, unintelligent, and vindictive manner--in other words, if you choose to be disrespectful when speaking your mind--then you lose my respect. And this has happened to me before, with both authors and bloggers, so it's not just a hypothetical situation.

Yes, the Internet allows for more anonymity, and people are always bolder with the safety of anonymity. Sometimes, this anonymity turns into bad, even terrifying, situations, such as with the influx of cyber-bullying that has caused too many people to commit suicide this year. But don't forget that things on the Internet are very rarely truly anonymous. There are always ways to track down who said what, if you have the time and resources. Things published on the Internet will stay there forever, even if you choose to delete them later. The Internet has given us more freedom, but freedom does come at a price, and if you're not careful, you may be paying dearly for it.

So...what do you guys think? Have you ever been influenced, either positively or negatively, by an author's online presence? Can you separate an author's behavior from your enjoyment of his or her book? Should you? Does this professional/respectful online presence apply to bloggers as well? Should it?


  1. You hit the nail on the head here.

    I have found myself really disappointed with a number of authors. I may have read their work and loved it, but when I've interacted with them or seen them interact online, I am extremely turned off. Surely it's unfair, but it's also true. An author who espouses really offensive beliefs about entire groups of people or entire belief systems is going to turn me off. I can't help it.

    On the flip side, I can be turned to an author through their genuineness online, their thoughtful commentaries on any number of things, or even their humor. Can it impact my reading experience? Absolutely. And again, is it fair? Maybe, maybe not.

    It goes the same for bloggers, too: a blogger who acts in a particular way online can be a huge turn off for me, and a blogger who is genuine can turn me on to their thoughts, even if they might not be particularly well written/insightful/original/what have you.

    I don't think it's fair to have to separate or not separate the person from the work. I think we all read with something different in mind, and we all take something different away.

    That said, there's the factor of reading more or less into something than necessary. Because I interact with x-author, perhaps I "get" why they did something in their story or I get a further back story into it. It helps me as a reader. But then I'm always torn when I try to review said book....can I talk about that? Should I talk about it?

    A really, really good post to read and think about this morning.

  2. I heart this post. I do think it is possible to read and enjoy a book by an author that I have been disappointed by, but it usually are books that I already loved before I learned something about them. For example, I can still love Mean Girls because that was a different Lindsey Lohan. But I am much less likely to watch a newer movie of hers. I do think it's all about professional, I'm not going to dislike every author I disagree with, because what a boring world that would be. BUT when an author behaves unprofessionally, that is different. It will affect my desire to read a book and to review it.

  3. I agree with Kelly--GREAT post. Just because the internet seems anonymous (and it can feel that way, even if you have your name on your website, blog, comment or post) doesn't mean it is. There are people out there looking at what you say and how you say it. You choose to put yourself out there then you need to be aware of how you want to be perceived. What's your goal with your post/comment/blog/whatever?

    Actually, I did have a bad experience with a debut author and haven't read her sophomore effort because of it. Petty? Perhaps. But her interaction with me and several other people on Twitter just really turned me off and I couldn't bring myself to buy her book or get it from the library.

    People--authors, publishers, and book bloggers alike--need to be aware of what they're doing when they're on the web. It's hard, especially when someone says or does something that makes you want to rant and rave. Personally, instead of ranting on the web, I say it out loud to my dogs. They listen, nod knowingly and move on. And what I say isn't out there on the internet forever and ever.

    Again, awesome post, Steph!
    The Book Swarm

  4. Kelly, you make a really great point about reading more or less into something! I think that what I'm talking about up there is different than saying that I believe an author's beliefs are the exact same ones that his or her characters express in the book. That, I think, is not something any reader can make a judgment on. Authors are *allowed* to write characters who have different belief systems than they do: it's part of what makes writing exciting and challenging. So yes, analyzing, for example, a character's liberal leanings does not necessarily mean that the author is him/herself a liberal. A good point to keep in mind when reading!

  5. this is very good for you, ybg :)

  6. Wonderfully well written post and well thought out, as usual!

    i have to say that I agree with everything you had to say.

    I know as a blogger, initially that is something that I struggled with. And I also struggled with my own professionalism.

    It's hard to separate an author from their work, it may be unfair, but it's so very true. I'm just glad to know I'm not the only one that feels this way.

    Thanks so much for this great post Steph!

  7. Steph, mostly my mind thinking about what you're saying, too, of course. I guess it's less on the whether the writer's beliefs are infused in their characters (something I actually don't think about) but more along the lines of intent and intention and the things that aren't said but are meant, if that makes sense. The lines between the lines.

    But I unfortunately DO read in some of the things say online into their work. It's completely unfair, but I can't help it. An author who, say, bashes conservative or liberal people in their online forum [whatever it may be], well, I can't help but judge their work on that.

    As a librarian, this is EXTREMELY difficult, too. I know my relationship with authors is different than that of my teens, and it's not fair for me to not purchase the works of an author because of how I feel they behave or act. It's not fair for me not to promote their work because of it either.

    It's a tough, tough line, too, balancing my professional life as a librarian and my personal life reading and reviewing. So, in some vein, I also understand where authors come from when they act a certain way online.

    Again..a thoughtful and discussion worthy topic you bring up. Something I know I'll be mulling over more than just today.

  8. I actually have had an issue with this recently. I heard, via the blogosphere, of a post that had caused some furore and had attracted the interest of an author who took it upon himself to berate the blogger in question repeatedly and to the point of what I would have termed bullying. It got to the point where he was citing the number of books he'd written etc and was generally very unpleasant. I'm currently reading an ongoing series by this author and love the books but his behaviour has really left a bitter taste in my mouth. However, I do intend to continue reading his books as the persona displayed in his online interactions doesn't seem to transfer to what he writes and I'm happy as long as it continues that way. For now. It has bothered me a lot, though and I am curious to see how it affects my view of the next book in his series.

    That being said, on a personal level I've had only great experiences re. author interaction (and blogger interaction for that matter).

  9. As an author who blogs, tweets and has a facebook page, this was an extremely useful and interesting post to read and I'm going to share it with other writers and bloggers. I think there's a fine line to tread between being inoffensive but bland, and opinionated but possibly offensive; just as there are always questions about how much self promotion is too much, how much of your private life do you share? And then there's the question of how much time to spend blogging/tweeting, when you should be writing..but that's a whole other question...

  10. As a reader, it's impossible for me to enjoy the work of an artist or writer or actor who is homophobic or racist or egotistical or anything I wouldn't like to see in my friends.

    As a writer who has a pretty much static web page, a Facebook page people can "like" and who tweets only occasionally, mostly about book news, I have to say this is exactly why I have only those things. I don't have time to try to "sell" myself, and I don't want to, either. I hope people enjoy my books and am gratified when they do, but I want that to be about my books, not me.

    Also, I'm kinda shy. :)

  11. Some fascinating points here. I try really hard not to let my personal interaction with an author influence my review of their book, although it's harder to stop it influencing my feelings about their book.

    However, there are two authors whose books will never be featured on my blog in the future, simply because I have found aspects of their online / public presence so offensive. Not in terms of any interaction with me personally, but in terms of their interactions with others.

    I have had a couple of situations where I've received books for review written by authors I've had particular contact with on the net, and I have to admit that I'd planned not to review the books if I didn't like them. As it turned out, this wasn't an issue at all in either case. It made me realise that since I'd only ever communicated with them through email and twitter, what I like about each of these authors' online presence is reflected in their novels too - in their humour, perceptiveness and the way they express themselves.

  12. Great long posts, and I do agree with all of it.

    Hm how to make this short...I do let things get to me, if like an author goes berserk over a review and then I will think no way I will read her books...but then I also have a short memory and forgets in the end

  13. Superb blog post, I have book marked this internet site so ideally I’ll see much more on this subject in the foreseeable future!

  14. this is a great line: "This does not mean I'm Switzerland."

    Also, makes me wonder, do you think a reclusive author like J.D. Salinger would catch on today, presumably lacking a twitter account?

  15. Steph, you bring up some really good points to think about. Personally, the interactions that I have had with authors via social sites have all been positive. In fact, I have broadened my reading comfort zone by requesting or purchasing books by authors I might not have read otherwise.

    However, I have also caught some of the "feuds" that have cropped up between bloggers/reviewers and authors. As a third party non-participant, I have considered not purchasing or reviewing books in the future by authors who act unprofessionally.

    In the end, I tend to see the author and their work as two separate entities. As long as the author isn't derogatory in real life, I feel that they can act human on Twitter or Facebook. (Ex. complain about bad hair day or proclaim their hate/love for all things Beiber) It's when there is blogger/reviewer interaction that I want to see everyone acting like grown-ups.

  16. I have kind of a different take on this whole issue, which is basically summed up as, why would I want to support the endeavors of someone whose behavior I find morally reprehensible? If a politician is crooked, I don't vote for them, if a store has bad service, I don't shop there, and if someone behaves like an ogre online, I don't read their work.

  17. What a wonderful post! I agree with a lot of this. To give an example for me would be Jackson Pearce. I stumbled on her blog, seen a few of her videos, and was like I need to read this author's book because she has such a great personality. I ended up loving her books!

    I have in the past read a few blog posts or seen stuff that an author tweeted, etc and my love for them for that moment went downhill. After I'm done being kind of thrown off, I remind myself that even though writing is a personal thing - an author and their book are completely separate.

  18. Fantastic post. As I've started going to more book signings and following authors on FB and TW I completely agree with the positive and negative you mentioned.
    I once told an established author that after meeting her I enjoyed her books more. She acted like I was ridiculous to have said something like that and perhaps I shouldnt have said it to her face, but I was intending it as a compliment and I think it worried her instead.

  19. I agree, Steph. This is a great post and it hits the nail on the head when it comes to author behavior online.

    On one hand, its been positive in that its actually gotten me to read some books I normally wouldn't have. It also kept me loving paranormal YA reads, which I'm pretty sure I would have gotten tired of eventually. So many of the authors are just so nice, though, and when you realize they have a genuine book its a real plus.

    However, I can think of a few instances that made me go the opposite route. Major instances.

    The smaller one involves Michael Grant. I had his first book in my TBR forever, then I saw him ragging on a reviewer online - a reviewer who is very in depth and clear about her feelings and is someone I respect - and I had to read the book and see if all of his soapboxing came to anything. It was interesting, and I concluded that his attitude was consistent. Personally, I refuse to buy his books now because his sense of entitlement is barbarous.

    Another incident involved Orson Scott Card. I discovered through his website that he hates gay people. Hates them. He's a member of the LDS church, but I've met a lot of authors that are very modern with their views or don't bring them into their professional lives. He rags and jokes about gay people negatively in a lot of his online articles and stuff, AND in that and other things he acts like his is the only right answer and everyone else can go die. So now I'm happy to say I've never read Enders Game and, until I get the urge to borrow it from the library, I don't think I ever will.

    For the most part, a presence can be good. Publishers should learn which authors are horrible with it and pull the plug at some point, though. Those that have that attitude will show it sooner or later, after all.

  20. I did a discussion post on this subject a while ago too, and yeah, it does influence the way I read a book.

    If I like the author, I'm more likely to like their book just because of its connection to the other.

    But then there's the flip side, where if the author acts like a jackass then I don't even want to read their books... and in some cases, if the author is lovely then I'll feel awful about not liking their books.

    Luckily, I can count on one hand the number of authors I've come across that have made me not want to read their books with their attitude, but it sucks because one of those authors is actually the author of one of my favourite book series... and then I realised I did not like how she presented herself online, she seemed rude and ridiculously arrogant. The book of hers that I've read since realising that, I didn't enjoy it as much... and I'm not sure if my opinion of the author played a part in that or if it was just the book itself.

  21. Awesome post, Steph!

    I agree that the way I read has definitely changed. The first thing I do when I see a book cover I like is Google the author, check out their Twitter, see if they have an active blog. This stuff is all important!

    As someone who works in PR, I can definitely see the positives AND the negatives, like you said. My biggest pet peeve is an author who has all of these social media sites, but doesn't use them, or uses them only to push their book during their launch month. Not a good idea at all. It's all about brand and relationship-building,which takes place over time.

    Again, really thought-provoking post!

  22. I sometimes get more irritated by readers (usually teens) who respond ignorantly and usually very very ill-informed on topics that writers discuss that really don't have to do with their books. One, it makes me thankful that my parents allowed me to make my own decisions about everything and come to my own conclusions and not spoon feed me, because a lot of teens I see communicating with authors are discussing things they notably have no knowledge on. Though it irritates me when they they then take these ignorant thoughts and then not read the author or then try to spam them with their friends and 'lol' or are just plain annoying and keep spreading inaccurate information.

    I have no problems with authors stating their feelings/thoughts on things because they aren't on a pedestal, just like teachers should not be put on a pedestal. Everyone is human, everyone gets to make their own decisions, just because they have a profession that makes them SEEM like they should be above things, doesn't mean that is true. It really takes a lot before I won't read someone's work beacuse of something they have said. Unless their name is Coulter and then I just run far far away.

  23. I completely am with John on Orson Scott Card.

    The way an author presents themselves and espouses certain opinions absolutely affects the way I read their books. For some authors, if I really like them online, I am more forgiving of potential dealbreakers in the book. However, if they are jerks, then I am less forgiving.

    If I do review an author's work and they have what I consider to be reprehensible opinions, then I will disclose that perhaps I am biased because of that. I actually did this very recently when I reviewed Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card. I'm not going to pretend to my blog readers that bias doesn't color my reading. I did link to some of Card's anti-gay rants to back up my opinion of not liking him as a person and being unable to separate him from his work. Some may see that as a low blow, but I see it as it's out on the internet he's signed his name to those things. All I did was link to them.

  24. Have you seen this? I would never read an author who willingly made public fun of her fans, especially one who took the time to send her a real letter.

  25. Wonderful, thought-provoking post. You are so good at getting discussions started!

    The way I read has definitely changed in the past few years. Sometimes, I find and grow to love an author on Twitter before I read a single thing she's written. It's a great way to give potential readers a taste of your style & personality.

    On the other hand, you do seem some authors acting rude or flippant with their fans, which is a complete turn-off when I'm trying to decide which books to read next. The online presence is a total double-edged sword.


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