Some time ago I blogged about reviews and fan comments, and how I took the stance that 'the customer is always right' even when I know
they're wrong. It's a hangover from my days as a cook. I'm not sure how it works in America, but in Australia (in most good to top restaurants) there's no back-chatting the customer. To their face, anyway. Much bitching and moaning is done behind the scenes, but you never, ever say anything to the customer's face. If the customer is being particularly vile (and there are plenty of customers who seem to think that because the wait staff are waiting on them, they can be treated as trash), then you call in the manager and let he/she deal with the problem. Even then, confrontation rarely happens. The problem with confrontation, you see, is that the restaurant rarely wins. The other people in the restaurant are witnesses and, for good or for bad, will judge you on the incident--and while many will side with the restaurant, there will always be some who side with the customer. Plus, the customer will go on bad mouthing you to all and sundry regardless.
Writers may not be providing a service, but they are putting product out for public consumption. No writer in their right mind expects everyone to like--let alone love--their stuff, and bad reviews come as no surprise to any of us. It's par for the course, really. What isn't par for the course is personal attacks on the author--but in this day and age, with the internet and blogging being such big business, that seems to be happening more and more.
Take the recent incident with Mary Janice Davidson (she discusses this nasty little event on her blog). No author should have to put up with being called vile names like C***, and I admire MJD's courage for standing up for herself and speaking out as she did. But, by the same token, what did she gain by hitting back? For as many people who were cheering on her response, there would have been those who sat back and went whoa. It's a no win situation for an author to get involved in. Would MJD's response have changed the poster's vitriol in any way? No. Most likely, it would only serve to harden her opinion and will probably lead to her venting her particular brand of nastiness in a whole lot of other places.
The perfect example of this is what has happened over on Laurell K Hamilton's board. Anyone who been there knows there's a huge split in the fandom, and that it can get particularly nasty. And that nastiness was not helped when LKH's assistant came on line and had a very hateful little rant. I know it's natural to want to protect your employer, but really, when the people you're attacking are the ones buying the product that pays for your wage, aren't you basically biting the hand that feeds? And what did it gain? It certainly didn't help the situation--just inflamed it a whole lot more. The attacks on LKH did get personal and by no way can that ever be justified. But by the same token, she holds some responsibilty for this herself. If you don't want people to comment on your family and your sex life, then don't mention them in your blog--no matter how off-the-cuff that mention is. Authors should always remember that comments made in a blog become public domain property, and people will
use them--for good or
for evil. ;)
The problem with the net is the fact that it allows people to be anonymous, and gives them the opportunity to say things that they would never say face to face. But the net isn't going to go away and, unfortuately, neither will the phenomenon of people attacking others on various forums. I just don't think speaking out against this sort behaviour will gain anything. It's one thing to confront fan disatisfaction and answer their questions--that's a common sense thing to do, and most fans appreciate honesty and having their concerns answered (even if they're not the answers they may have wanted) In fact, ignoring concerns and disatisfaction can actually lead to a raising in hostilities, as LKH and her people have discovered. But confronting the sort of hateful rant that MJD faced? That's a no-win situation.
But maybe I am
the odd one out here in thinking that the customer is always right. That we, as authors, should bitch in private rather than public, because no matter what we say, we just won't win.
I don't know. You tell me.