A little story for you…
Once upon a time there was a little girl. We’ll call her Emma. Emma wanted to join Facebook, but she was a long way under the required age and her mum said no. Emma begged and begged, but her mum wouldn’t budge because, she said, people were not always what they seemed and Emma was not old enough to know who was nice and who was not. Emma wasn’t happy. Her friends had Facebook. What do mothers know?
Then she had a great idea. She took her iPod into her bedroom when Mum wasn't watching, downloaded the Facebook app and joined up anyway. She used a different name of course, so her mum wouldn’t find her in her list of ‘possible friends’. She wasn’t that silly.
Of course the whole idea of joining Facebook was so that she could talk to her friends. So she told her friend at school, swearing her to secrecy so that word of it wouldn’t get back to her mother. But the friend proved to be no friend at all. She didn't keep secrets. Within days, Emma’s whole class knew. Worse, they used it against her, making her do things for them - with the threat of telling her mum if she didn’t do it.
Fortunately, Emma’s teacher worked out what was going on. She advised Emma that the best solution was for her to tell her mum what she’d done. Emma was scared, but she did as her teacher said. Of course, she lost her iPod for a while as punishment for doing what she’d been told she shouldn’t, and she no longer had Facebook under any name. But she had a clear conscience, no one could force her to do anything any more and she had learned a couple of big lessons: 1.Mum does know best 2.People are not always what they seem.
The second of those lessons is one that a lot of writers would be better off to learn before they publish. In fact there are a few lessons that many writers seem not to have even thought about when they launch themselves as self-published authors. Let's look at some. The first bears repeating –
1. People are not always what they seem.
Don’t misunderstand me. There are some absolutely wonderful people out there on the internet. I’ve been privileged enough to ‘meet’ quite a few of them. But there are also some who are out to dupe the unwary, by pretending to be something they are not. Scammers and shysters. They might do it just for the sense of power it gives them, they might do it to forward their own cause at the expense of others. Either way, the new author needs to check and double check before jumping into any scheme that looks too good to be true (because it probably is). They also need to sit on their hands and be patient when they think someone is ‘out to get them’…see the next rule.
2. The laws of physics relating to action/reaction don’t necessarily apply on the internet.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about arguments that have blown up between writers and reviewers. Apparently some authors, irate at what they see as a personal attack have reacted to reviews and started a flame war that got out of control. Readers run to the defence of reviewers, authors run to the defence of authors and pretty soon it’s like a couple of gangs in the schoolyard throwing stones at each other. The author needs to remember a couple of things before reacting to any review. Firstly, everyone is entitled to their opinion. What seems like an attack may be a perfectly honest opinion given in good faith. Nobody can write a book that will please everyone. Secondly, if they have given a bad review in order to annoy the author or to promote another, the very thing they probably want him/her to do is to react. So writing a comment after a review is ‘feeding the trolls’ – never a good idea.
3. Nobody owes you anything.
As I’ve said, there are some incredibly nice people out there in cyberspace. They give their time generously to help authors – giving reviews, tweeting links, advertising books on their sites, buying books. Unfortunately their generosity is sometimes taken for granted. Authors ask for reviews and become annoyed when they’re turned down, or worse – react badly to anything but a five-star review. They put their book on a site and get annoyed when the site is taken down due to lack of time to maintain it. The truth is, the self-published author needs to work hard to get ahead and can’t expect others to constantly give them a leg up. Give and take is a wonderful thing. Arrogance will get you nowhere.
4. Mud sticks for eternity on the internet.
If I look on Google, I can find articles and snippets of information about my favourite entertainer from before the internet even existed. Once a piece of information is there, it is there for good. It is almost impossible to have something removed. So, just as youngsters are warned not to put photos of themselves on the internet that will embarrass them in twenty years, an author must learn not to do anything that will come back to haunt them in years to come. That big negative reaction to a review will never be forgotten. That rude remark about another author will be held against you forever. It’s about never letting down that professional front. It’s about not giving the trolls ammunition.
5. Separate you-the-writer from you-the-person.
The internet is like a huge window with the whole world looking in. In a way it’s great for an author to be able to interact with their readers so easily, but at the same time, some distance has to be kept for your own privacy and that of your family. While I love my family and would love to show them off, those people who are not what they seem make me wary of doing that. So I have a page on Facebook for me, mother of my children and a page for Katie W. Stewart, author of fantasy books. Even within my private page I have things that are shown only to some. It seems the safest way to go, hidden away from the trolls.