Saturday, July 30, 2016

Why I Left Facebook Groups

Photo credit: Kevin Dooley via Flickr CC 2.0
(originally published Sept. 22, 2015)

Social media has resulted in a sea-change for how the world communicates. But as everyone knows, it has its downsides. When I published my first novel in 2010, I was grateful for the many groups on Facebook that gathered indie authors to share their experience and talk about the writing life. Now, I can’t deal with groups. The reason behind this was reinforced recently in a blog post that appeared on Indies Unlimited, a great resource for self-published authors. They’re no longer taking paid adverts from indie authors. Why? Because thin-skinned authors can get really hostile about friendly advice.

The Era of the Troll

Alas, many a good thing has been ruined by mob mentality. The “sock puppet review” hysteria in 2012 that gripped the denizens of readers and authors alike led to widespread deletion of reviews on Amazon. Many fake reviews were removed, but a lot of authors lost perfectly honest write-ups that could’ve boosted sales. Also in 2012, the same lynch mob raised their pitchforks to LendInk in the name of ebook piracy, causing the site to be taken down (at least temporarily)—all in the spirit of rampant misinformation and people not doing their due diligence in figuring out what the hell was actually going on. Then bitter tears were cried over bad reviews on Goodreads. Granted, it smarts to get a one-star review, and some of those reviews are really nasty. The Guardian even published an article about an author who stalked a reviewer who gave her book a bad review. Yes, that’s incredibly creepy. But do we all need to light the torches for every perceived slight? Can’t we at least do our research first to make sure the monster in question is real? Or, at least maybe smurf-sized rather than Cthulhu-sized?

Aside from these incidents, which drew a lot of attention, there are daily battles that plague the self-publishing groups on social media and sites like Indies Unlimited—namely, the battles with trolls.
There were some Facebook groups I truly enjoyed, but as they grew, so did the problems. Half the posts were authors disregarding the no promotion policy or launching provocations simply to start a comment war. The other half of the posts were frustrated scoldings by beleaguered moderators. Because politely stated rules of the community were not enough, the banners at the top of the group’s page bore increasingly huge fonts: No self-promo here! We’re here to foster insightful conversations about writing and publishing, dammit! Be respectful, or else!

No matter how intimidating the banner was, it didn’t help. Attacks on the moderators got personal. In one group, the mods were trying to decide whether to shut it down because members had found their personal phone info and called them at home. Threats have been issued in some cases. As Gamergate has shown us, the internet can be a dangerous place, and it isn’t always taken as seriously as it should be. Indeed, the Supreme Court overturned a conviction of a man who posted violent threats against his estranged wife. The women who are still targeted by trolls in Gamergate report death threats all the time—and though this is an extreme example, there are many well-meaning people who volunteer their time curating groups who grow weary of the endless negativity and personal attacks.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr CC 2.0
I began checking in with the groups less. When I did return, I felt as though I had grown out of them. Relevant posts that didn’t break the rules were generally from beginners seeking advice. I’d chime in from time to time, but usually there were already a dozen comments saying something similar. I felt weighed down by the whole experience, and it taught me a lesson in time management. A lot of people I admired in those groups were gone, too. Because they were focusing on their novels. Like I should be. I tend to find deeper discussions on Google+ now; it eventually became my preferred venue for the world of publishing—so far, my stories have landed in an anthology, a literary journal, and I connected with a fantastic cover artist due to my G+ newsfeed.

Some moderators on Facebook pruned down their groups to eliminate the dross, including inactive members. Their newsfeeds became a wasteland, soon to be filled with self-promos with cheesy cover art and typos peppering the first page, if you bothered to click through to where the ebook was being sold. While the bad reputation of self-published authors is vastly overstated in some circles, you can see where it comes from.
There are legions of us who work really, really hard to produce quality work. We do tons of research to ensure the accuracy of the details in our novels. We apologize profusely for typos and fix them. We take helpful advice from our peers. We’re following our vision—and while no book will appeal to everyone, we do our best to be professional.

It’s difficult being an artist because you bear your soul to the world in the form of your work. But if you can’t take constructive criticism—from your editor, from beta readers, or reviewers, you may want to ask your heart if this is really what you should be doing. We all have the dream of our books taking off as best-sellers, landing movie deals, and being able to write full-time from the beautiful house we’ve chosen as our writer’s haven—be it deep in the woods or on a tropical island—but only a small percentage of writers achieve that. That’s not to say don’t pursue your dreams, but truly ask yourself how you feel being in the limelight—in good times and in bad. I may be delusional in saying I wish all “netizens” would follow the Golden Rule, but I do. Battling trolls should be left to hobbits and wizards.