If you spend any amount of time on social media, someone (or several people) will eventually target you for a verbal attack. This attack can take on various forms, from the blatant ad hominem attack, to more subtle attacks couched as criticism of your work or ideas.
Sometimes the criticism is genuine, and the point is valid, but the approach is less than friendly.
What should you do when you’re attacked? Start by listening to Mark Twain:
Remember Why You’re Here
There was a reason you got involved in social media, remember? It probably had something to do with building a platform and generating interest in your work. Whatever the specific reason, I doubt you created a Twitter or Facebook account to engage in vitriolic debates.
As a writer, you are your brand. Your work is your product.
There is a difference between these two things. I understand we’re talking about art here, but many of the same marketing principals apply to selling books as they do to selling widgets. A customer is more likely to return to a brand that they trust to buy additional products. You may have a wonderful talent for writing, but if people despise you, you’re going to lose sales. There’s a difference between being controversial and being an idiot.
Before you hit the “Tweet” or “Update Status” button, ask yourself this question: “Is what I’m about to say to the world representative of my brand?” If the answer to that question is no, think long and hard before you click the button. Because as soon as you post your update it’s permanent. End of story. You can’t delete things from the internet. Ever. By the time you click “delete”, you have to assume someone will have already seen and shared it. Your message now has a life of its own. And it will come back to haunt you.
Take a Deep Breath … And Do Nothing
Understand the medium and the nature of these “attacks” before you do anything. I’m going to use Twitter as an example, but this applies to any social network you participate in.
Twitter is about now, not five minutes ago. If you let the negative comments go without responding to them, they’ll be nothing more than a flash in the pan. If you choose to get involved, however, you’ll breathe life into something that would have otherwise died quickly.
For Facebook and other social networks where messages have a longer life, it’s even more important that you refrain from getting involved. You’re under no obligation to respond just because someone commented on your post.
We can’t control how we feel, but we can control how we behave.
If you refrain from responding, the vast majority of your followers won’t even notice the comment was made. If you respond to the attack or negative comment in any way, you dramatically increase the chance the situation will spiral out of control. People will choose sides and you will have sparked an all out social network war. You are your brand. Is this how you want your brand to be perceived?
No more than a couple of weeks ago I slipped. I failed to take my own advice, and I quickly regretted it. I made the mistake of assuming one of my grammar rules applied to both American and British English. I was wrong. A knowledgeable follower from the UK pointed this out to me. Instead of accepting the wisdom and publicly correcting my mistake (in that moment…I’ve since corrected it), I allowed my pride to blind me to the fact I was actually wrong. I dug in and tried to defend an untenable position. And people called me on it.
Oh boy, did they ever call me on it.
Those of you who know me and who have been following me for a while know that this is unlike me. But … like the rest of you, I’m human. It was a perfect storm of events and I didn’t take that deep breath.
The bottom line is this: if you refrain from engaging, you’ll suffer in private for a short time. If, however, you involve yourself in the negativity, you’ll suffer publicly for a lot longer.
Before I close, there is one more situation I’d like to address that isn’t necessarily confined to social networking. I’m talking about authors who respond to negative book reviews.
This is a lose/lose situation. You’re not going to argue someone into liking your book. Embrace this right now: they didn’t get it “wrong”. Their opinion is not “wrong”. It’s their opinion. Nothing more. They can’t be “wrong” about how they felt about your book. If you argue with them, or respond with a well-formed argument that addresses every negative point in the review, people aren’t going to “see your logic” and come to your defense. Instead, they’re going to point a finger at you and say “wow, he/she really has some thin skin.”
You’re an author. You’re a public figure now. You asked for this. You put yourself out there in a medium that by its very nature opens you up to judgement. This is the price of entry. Embrace harsh criticism now, because it only gets worse. The more popular you get, and the more successful your work becomes, the more vitriolic the assaults will become.
Just remember: behave yourself on social media.
Not only will you be the victim of vitriolic assaults, but some people…other writers…will attempt a form of “blackmail” to get you to write a review of their books! I wrote an article here
that describes the lessons I learned after publishing Necromancer Awakening
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Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening.
Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing/gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun.
Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do.
He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenage son, and mischievous beagle.