Can an Author Be Too Accessible?

Like most other authors, I love hearing from my readers. Nearly all of the folks who take the time to write are doing so to say how much they've enjoyed one or more of my books -- and what's not to like about that? With only the rarest of exceptions (a few of whom were clearly off their meds) the disgruntled feel no need to share that I dinged their pet peeve meter or that my work just didn't do it for them, for whatever reason. (Happens to the best of us. Don't believe me? Check out Amazon reviews on the last three books you've loved. I guarantee you, someone, somewhere hated them. Especially if they've been sufficiently popular to warrant notice.)

If readers want to communicate with me, they don't have to work very hard to do it. My e-mail address is printed in my books, or they can click a link off of my website. (I did recently close my P.O. box because nearly all of my fan communications have been online for several years, but non-connected readers are still welcome to write in care of the publisher.) And I try very hard to respond to everything, with the exception of the occasional incomprehensible or potentially dangerous-sounding rant-o-gram.

Over the years, however, I've seen some authors smacked hard when they've become too much a fixture on reader message boards or responded to stinging website or Amazon reviews. Some of these authors have been villified, their careers badly damaged because they've dared to offer an unpopular opinion or defend/explain their book too stridently. (WAAAYYY too stridently, in some cases!)

Some lessons I've taken from this:

1. A writer's posts can be far too ubiquitous online, so much so that familiarity breeds contempt - especially from Internet "trolls," who live to knock what they perceive as public figures down a peg or three.

2. Treat negative reviews or comments like farts in church. Ignore them, and very soon, the stink will disipate. Call attention to them, and you're likely to create a far longer-lasting stench.

3. You can't talk haters out of hating, because it's what they live for.

4. The truly crazy will use any engagement as an excuse to escalate, and the time it takes to deal with it could be put to better use. Say, writing another book for all the readers (from whom, by and large, you'll never hear) eager to purchase your next offering. Why would you want to ignore the latter group, your bread and butter, to mess with a lost cause anyway?

5. Yes, authors have opinions like everybody else, but be careful about alienating a significant percentage of your base by posting highly-charged and controversial rants online. I don't know about you, but I have trouble watching a movie featuring certain actors who behave like idiots in real life, whereas if they kept it to themselves, I'd probably enjoy their work.

As a reader or writer, what do you think? Can authors be too accessible, or do you feel that the networking benefits of putting themselves out there more than make up for the risks?


Lark said…
Good observations! I have to admit there are authors I don't read because they've turned me off with their behavior or causes. And once I'm done, I'm done. On the other hand, a couple of classy authors have won my readership by handling tricky situations well.

You're right, those Amazon reviewers can be viscous. A recent fave of mine got at least a dozen 1 star reviews by people who were ticked off it wasn't offered on Kindle. They hadn't even read the book!
Mylène said…
I think connecting with readers is worth the time we spend on the internet--and follow every guideline you've written down, Colleen. Not so much out of fear of repercussions; more out of a longstanding impulse toward privacy. There are some things I am happy to share--and others I am not. I have time for some forms of communication; for others, none at all. I just keep my fingers crossed readers will understand.
Jeanna Thornton said…
Another great post, Colleen! Wow, this is a subject I hope to connect with...soon. I think *words* should be *tasted* before written or spoken...
I'm pretty sure most of us would be better off if when we pushed "send" on the e-mail or "publish your comment" on a blog, etc., our words would hang around for a few hours in some sort of antechamber where we could call them back after we'd had time to simmer down or think about the potential impact.

Or check the "To" box on that message to make sure you sent it to the person that you meant to! Ouch.
Terri Tiffany said…
I just wanted to stop by and tell you thank you for commenting on my blog today! And congrats on your book with being nominated for the Rita award. I haven't yet joined RWA but hope too soon. I see they will be in my town this summer for the conference:) Enjoy it!
Thanks, Terri! Hope you can come to the conference.

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