You may well be reading this online, on a group forum. Your forum may be wonderful and friendly. (Almost certainly if I posted it there.) But how about other groups you’re thinking of joining for advice, questions, and for promoting your book or book services? How will you fare? I share here a cautionary tale along with 12 tips for happy surfing as a group member.
When I joined a professional group on Facebook, which shall remain nameless for my genuine concern for my safety, I thought I was joining a group for book professionals from all over the world. The group described itself as “supportive and friendly.” I vaguely knew the moderator, and was actually recommended to join by a fairly high-profile figure in indie book publishing through a high-end editing association I am lucky enough to be affiliated with.
Firstly, I was disappointed by the vast array of bad advice and disinformation being shared. On top of which, anyone with half an opinion that wasn’t LOVING IT or HATING IT became a social pariah, instantly, ragged on in a completely assumptive voice by a circle of nasties. I noticed at that point, the normal person usually just walked away, defeated. I watched for a while. I decided there might be some good people there worth engaging, despite this band of bullies.
Because this group had spawned some interesting discussions despite all this, I thought I’d ask an open-ended question, to see what people thought. I wanted to find the good guys and make some friends. It was an industry-driven question, one I thought was quite debatable. I also added a disclaimer that I was not HATING anything I was asking about, and genuinely had no thoughts about doing the group down. (I have since re-read my post, and I still cannot find any reason why this happened.)
Within two hours, where the discussion started intelligently, it was as if the more time the discussion went on, the more energy the haters were drawing. Like The Evil Dead movies, the horrors started emerging, one by one, as defensive, uninformed individuals picking off the LOVING IT people one by one. It was almost instant. We went from a healthy debate to Zombieland.
A discussion that started as a professional discussion delved into such comments about me as a person, who none of them had ever met or spoken to, starting with, “you have to ask yourself what kind of person she is.” I also got told it was clear why “I have no friends.”
Many of these zombies did ask themselves (and didn’t ask me of course) “what sort of person I am,” and the results flooded in, kids. I was branded “a nasty piece of work” and had my credentials branded “no good.” Amazingly, the people questioning my professional credentials had no qualifications, and were actually less experienced than almost anyone on the group to comment on this particular subject.
I was finally told I was NOT WANTED in the group by one particular crone from the back end of beyond with a ridiculously amateur website and no clients (Oh, how I would love to name the catty old witch, but I cannot). She accused me of “blanket insulting the entire group.” Quite a judgement by someone who never met me. Despite several others attempting to suggest there was not an insult in sight, she continued. I couldn’t figure out why she was so angry about a measly post on a measly group that was meant to be FUN.
By the end of the battle, these saddos were posting (incorrect) personal details about me on new posts, and laughing at me like schoolgirls. These were so-called “professionals” in their sixties, maybe grandmothers, maybe wives. Some religious. Upstanding. OK, then. That fills me with hope for Humanity. Not.
So what happened? I dared answer back. I cannot draw any other conclusion. The people who had real careers, and real lives, who acted like true professionals, were open to discussion, and were polite and entertaining. The rest? They felt threatened and undermined by the discussion, joining in to destroy it, like kids who come across intricate sandcastles they cannot possibly create themselves. It embarrassed them that they couldn’t keep up. So they stomped on me. I stomped back. The crone said that I had “no good intentions whatsoever.” At this point, I burst into tears. They carried on. The moderator did all he could to delete the worst messages as the floodgates opened and the vampires tore at me with a vengeance. I was their “meat,” and boy, was I going to sate them until I was dust.
I left the group, reported it to Facebook, and have yet again cut down my friends lists. Online groups aren’t doing me so many favors. Maybe I just can’t deal with being so black and white with my opinions. Maybe I’m just not so adept at online barfing. This is the second time this year I have been terrorized online, and last time the guy got my home number from god knows where and starting calling repeatedly. We’d argued about a clause pertaining to copyright. He felt we had to discuss it on Christmas Day. I felt I had to call the cops.
Another point is, I would never be socializing with these people in real life. They’d hate my middle-class European opinions, socialist politic, tattoos, and probably even hate my accent. They are a good twenty-five years my senior. I’d be judged at ten paces, and we’d have not a thing in common. Therefore, why did I care so much what these losers thought of me? But I did.
In a world of Internet outrage, I can’t help thinking us book professionals need to batten down the hatches. For those authors, editors, writers, and designers who truly give their worlds to books and delivering great stories and services, joining these online discussions can be harmful, damaging, and frankly, a complete waste of your precious time when you should be writing, editing, or designing.
From now on, I’ll be sticking to leaving it up to others to parse stuff to the nth degree. I’ll just be watching.
Here are some tips to stay fresh and clean online while you promote your work:
- Some groups are going to be great for quick Q+As, advice, and meeting others. Seek these out, and dip in and out quickly, succinctly. If you smell vampires, get out of there fast.
- Exercise caution in any debate that requires more brainpower than Yes and No answers.
- Remember, you are only allowed to LOVE IT or HATE IT. (snark)
- The majority of people online are procrastinating on groups because they are not happy at work. They can be bitter and twisted. Proceed with caution when you start being judged. It’s projection, not personal. Stay out of oneupmanships.
- Report bad behavior and bullying immediately to the group moderator and block the person attacking you. If you started a post, delete the post to stop the tirade of idiocracy.
- It’s only online. These people wouldn’t dare say it to your face. Move on and try not to worry.
- Don’t overpost or overpromote a million times. Stay nimble, in and out. If your post is deleted, move on, don’t sweat it. If appropriate, apologize to the moderator via messaging for getting it wrong.
- Nobody will remember you in a week. In a year, you’re but a shadow. This is the Internet. Attention span of a flea.
- Make friends online on a one-to-one basis, and write to each other individually. This is one of the best uses of groups, and can be valuable for getting your work out there. Despite my bad experience above, I made friends with the moderator of the group.
- If it gets bad, dip out for a couple of weeks and go outside for some air and trees. See Rule 8.
- Be aware in “professional” groups people may be moving towards being professional, rather than actually professionals in that field, so the standards for advice may not be very high. Find the real people, and nurture those relationships within or out of the forums.
- You wouldn’t like these people in real life anyway. Don’t cry. Eat a donut.
Good luck out there, kids. It’s a minefield of idiots and vampires just waiting to do you down. But if you’re lucky, you can make a friend. Hell, I married Henry, and we met in an author group online!