I’ve been watching blog and message board posts fly in the past months with some bemusement. One of the things I love about the internet is the ability to interact with other people who love books, reading, writing–everything about the industry–as much as I do. Books have long been my passion. As long as I can remember. To find a community of people who can identify with that was heavenly, because there have always been few people in my immediate “real life” who share that passion. I’ve always been a bit of a lone duck, in my love for reading. Part of the reason my college fiance went by the wayside was because he thought I read too much and he hated that I read romance (two strikes against a guy who had other things working against him).

So I’ve delighted in being a part of different online book communities in the past years. Engaging in debates, not always agreeing, but always having my mind challenged and my horizons expanded. But lately, it seems like things have taken a turn for the…not as nice. Not everywhere, mind you, but the incidents of “authors vs readers” popping up on blogs and message boards seems to be happening with increasing frequency. The sheer ugliness of some of the comments is disheartening. And I’m talking on both sides of the fence and across the net, not pointing fingers at anyone.

New authors often ask their more experienced peers for promo advice. Blogs are often mentioned. And invariably, new authors say “but I don’t have anything interesting to write about.” And I’m starting to wonder if that’s not becoming more true. Should authors tip-toe around having an opinion and focus their blogs, their comments on message boards and others’ posts on the mundane, details of daily life, writing schedules, etc.? Skirting any debate or controversy or avoiding entering into a disagreement of opinion with anyone not their peer in the business, to avoid alienating their customer base? Arguements have even been made that authors shouldn’t be giving reviews of other authors’ books (and you don’t often see many authors who do, unless it’s a good review). What does that leave to discuss? Craft? Not many “readers” are interested in craft, I don’t think. I believe that new authors trying to enter blogland have a slippery slope to climb, to get their blog “noticed” by readers without alienating them.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat on my hands and avoided commenting in the past months on different blogs, even if I only want to comment to ask for clarification. For one thing, my online voice is very strong and it’s hard for me to sometimes get my point across without sounding like I’m going full barrells ahead. I know this so I choose not to engage at all, because I don’t want people to misinterpret or think I’m entering into a debate, when I’m not. And I sit on my hands even harder when I do have an opinion, but I know it’s not the popular one, or even if it is the popular one, lol, because I just don’t want to be drawn into a debate with no possible happy ending. Above all, I think of myself as a representative of my company and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my relationships there. And that includes keeping some things to myself, I think (and damn it’s hard sometimes!).

Lauren Dane wrote a post this week about her feelings on the matter. I thought it was interesting for several reasons. And I agree with the opinions expressed that the online community is a small percentage of the buying public. But is that completely true for e-book authors, especially? Won’t much of their buying public actually be found online?

But what really drove the feeling that things are taking an ugly turn home was the creation of a new blog. Snarking the Snarky. Someone out there obviously felt the need to be heard. Did they feel that they’d had enough? No more turning the other cheek? Or did they go too far? Should it be left to the readers like Karen Scott, Dear Author and Smart Bitches to be the ones who can, not necessarily snark, but just express an honest opinion?

So my question for authors is, do you feel as though you’re expected to sit on your hands these days? And readers, what is it exactly that you want from an author’s online presence? Do you expect they should sit on their hands, zip it and write the books. If you go to their blogs, what do you want to see? If you see them on a message board, what are you hoping their interactions will consist of?

I’m truly curious, has it come to this, that an industry professional has to be anonymous to have an opinion? If not, who comes to mind as someone who’s spoken out but managed not to step in it?

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