Blogging the Blogosphere
Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of muttering about the blogosphere. It seems everyone, everywhere is discussing the online writing community.
I’m not immune. I realized the other day that it’s been almost exactly a year since I became a consistent presence online, and I can’t help thinking how much has changed in that time. A year ago, authors, bloggers, and readers were exclaiming over the number of new writing-related blogs, and yet it seems like they just keep coming, along with more and more authors hoping to use the power of the internet to market their books.
And this is (mostly) a good thing!
I love being able to tap so many different voices, opinions, and perspectives with the touch of a button, and I treasure the real friendships (many of you probably reading this now!) that I’ve made online.
And yet. And yet…
I can’t help wondering where we are with it all. I’ll admit that I’ve been having a bit of an internet identity crisis lately. I love connecting with my online friends, but I still feel hurt when someone ignores me. I enjoy talking about reading and writing with others who are passionate on the subject, but I am largely constrained in terms of what I can and cannot say without fear of pissing someone off, inadvertently offending someone, or being politically incorrect, however unintentionally.
My interactions with those of you online are important to me. They are no less valuable or authentic to me than the interactions I have with people in real life every day.
But we always come back to that, “And yet.”
Because the internet does afford one with a certain level of anonymity. And if not anonymity (for those of us who are fairly transparent), then at least distance. It can make people mean, gossipy, cliquey, exclusionary, and often, downright rude. It can blur the lines of integrity and professionalism. We’re all crammed into this fishbowl that is the reading and writing blogosphere, and in that situation, it’s impossible NOT to be faced with a lot of tough questions.
How DO we balance relationships between bloggers and authors while maintaining the integrity of both? How far is too far in online book promotion? Is it okay to offer swag for contests (I’ve done it plenty)? Is it okay to offer swag (or contest entries) for a review on Amazon or Borders or Barnes and Noble? And before you answer that one, let’s be honest; would ANYONE leave a negative review if they were hoping to win a contest sponsored or run by the author? Do bloggers like it when authors comment on their reviews of our books, or does it make them uncomfortable? Is it okay to gossip (and let’s just call talking about other people behind their back what it is, okay?) about authors and bloggers behind their backs, especially where it can have lasting implications for the person’s career? And if you’re on the receiving end of this kind of “information”, is it okay to take it at face value? To form opinions about people you don’t really know based on what you heard from someone who heard from someone who heard from someone? Is it okay to ask an author for swag? For an ARC? Is it okay to ask an author to read your work, even if you don’t know them very well?
And before you get your panties in a twist, I want to say something; I have been the biggest advocate of creating relationships between authors and bloggers. Ask any author who knows me, and they will tell you that a year ago, in ANY locked discussion about bloggers and authors, I was the most vocal advocate of building strong relationships between them.
So what’s changed? Well, it’s all changed. What was once subtle promotion mixed in with meaningful interaction is now 24/7 promotion. What were once authentic friendships based on a shared love of great books is now often a professional leg-up disguised as “real” friendship. What was once a generous, caring community of book lovers can now seem more like a high school cafeteria, and for realz, you guys, I didn’t like high school all that much the first time around. I’d just as soon pass on reliving it.
On a more personal note, I’m guilty of being naive. I’ve believed that people who said they were my friend were really my friend. I’ve let people in too close, let my guard down when I shouldn’t. It’s been a sadness to realize that there are people out there who will use you and toss you aside after they’ve gotten all they can, though you’d think I would have learned this long before the blogosphere came into play. Still, it’s changed me. I’m more careful now. There’s too much at stake. My livelihood and my ability to support (by myself, because that’s how I’m doing it, guys) my children depend, at least in part, on it. And then there’s the darker part of it all, which for me is how it affects my psyche to be treated poorly on such a grand (and public) scale. To know that people are out there – people you once TRUSTED – talking smack about you far and wide.
But even with all of this, even with all the sadness and surprise and tough lessons learned, Im trying to hang onto what I know. What I still believe.
And those things are everything they’ve always been. Everything I’ve known since I was a child.
Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Speak when spoken to. Ignoring someone is rude.
Don’t use people. It’s demoralizing and demeaning for you both.
Be honest about who you are.
Don’t talk about people behind their back (we all need friends we can be totally open and honest with, but it’s a lot more insidious when that circle of “friends” widens to people we don’t really know that well).
When you hear something about someone else, remember that you’re hearing it through the lens of one person’s perspective, and try to give the person on the other end the benefit of the doubt.
If you have a problem with someone, don’t nurse a grudge. It’s poisonous for both of you and unproductive besides. Be a grown up and either talk to the person or let it go.
Help people where you can. Especially when they’re good people.
Don’t forget where you came from.
I’m the first to admit that I was sometimes in the minority in defending the interaction between authors and bloggers when legitimate concerns were brought up, and it’s never easy for me to admit that I was wrong.
But I’m almost there. I’m almost ready to say, “I was wrong.”
And I’m not alone. The reason I’m posting this now is because over the past two weeks, I’ve spoken to nearly ten people (authors and bloggers alike) who have the same issues and concerns with the blogosphere. These are off-the-cuff conversations, not conversations initiated by me for the purposes of this post.
This conversation is being had – publicly and privately – all over the internet. Which means it’s a nearly universal problem/concern/question. That’s really sad, because for every person who has caused me pain or disenchantment on the internet, there are ten who have enriched my life immeasurably, and I can’t help thinking something will be lost if we can’t find a way to harness the ability for readers and bloggers to interact while also preserving some sense of equilibrium, common sense, and decency.
What do you think? What’s right about the blogosphere as it is now? What’s wrong?
And what can we do to get back on track?
P.S. I have a particular hatred for people who post their opinions behind the mask of Anonymous, so I’ve turned off Anonymous comments on this post. I think if we’re going to have an honest and open discussion about something like this, we should start by being honest and open about who we were, don’t you?