Recently, I read an article by Quill & Quire editor Stuart Woods, about a problem during the recent Canada Reads event and it got me thinking about how social media is both wonderful and terrible at the same time.
This year, the Canada Reads competition featured only non-fiction books. When her book was eliminated from the contest, author Marina Nemat went right online to defend her book, demanding an apology from panelist Anne-France Goldwater, who had characterized Nemat’s book PRISONER OF TEHRAN as untruthful and un-Canadian. It’s an author’s right to defend their work, however, Nemat’s comments on Facebook were quite demonstrative and started a wave of people weighing in. Whether or not Goldwater’s comments were uncalled for, Nemat dove into the quagmire before thinking. And she is by no means the first (or last) writer to do so.
Authors receive many reviews for their books, often good and bad, but the recent use of social media is making for instant, and sometimes harsh, reactions. Non-fiction authors are required to have what is known as a “platform” for their work, before their books are even published. (Non-fiction is typically harder to sell, unless the author is a celebrity or the topic is controversial, so having a ready-made audience before being published would hopefully sell more books.) A platform can consist of a blog or website, a Facebook page or Twitter feed, and often, all of the above. What makes this both good and bad is that the general public now has instant access to authors, and not only can they say whatever they like to the author, the author can respond. This is where things are getting tricky.
In the past, if an author received a negative review for their book, there was very little recourse to responding in public (unless they published a letter to the editor in a magazine or newspaper, etc.) It took time. But, like any negative interaction, this allowed the author to carefully form an opinion, craft exactly what they wanted to say, and more importantly–sleep on it!! So many things seem less harsh in the morning. And even if, in the light of day, the sentiment still hurt, there was time to think about the response. Remember, once something is out there in print (and this is even more important when talking about the internet), it is there forever. You can’t take it back. So, a once-careful response now becomes a few tossed off careless thoughts in the world of instant social media that can get someone into trouble.
This is true for “regular” people as well.
While interaction on Facebook and Twitter will hardly pass as conversation, it does count as dialog. This can be healthy or destructive. And in a world where authors want to sell their books, having the ability to interact so quickly in real time might be quite damaging to their mission. Being able to “talk” with an author about their book is a wonderful, wonderful thing, and it certainly makes the world a smaller place. But I wonder if we’re all just a little too close now?
What do you think? Are some authors going too far when responding to harsh critiques of their work online? Should they have a platform, but not use it?