Keeping a Professional Distance From Your Readers?

8 years ago | M.C.A. Hogarth (Member)

Zoe Winters wrote this interesting post about protecting the reader by keeping a distance from them. I thought it was an interesting conversation starter... what do you think? Does your perception of the author mess with your experience of their work? And how do you feel about how you present yourself to your readers? :)

(hat-tip to ubersoft, who tweeted the link yesterday!)

Read responses...


  1. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    I think it depends. Maybe it's because I'm friends with some of the writers on WFG, I like their comments on their stories because it shows they want to engage with their audience. I check out blogs some of the time, and when I do it's usually given me a sense of who a person is -- and I usually like who they are because I like their story.

    Weird "fact" is that if I see comments from particular readers on a new story, I can tell if I will like that story based on their comments on stories I've previously read. Our tastes align enough that I find them a reliable source for quality fiction -- so in that same vein, I don't mind reading about the opinions of writers when I already like their fiction, because it's related to the way their minds work.

    I've read articles and comments by Stephen King, and enough of his books, that I think I know a bit about who he "is" as a person, without ever having met him. I don't feel like that's "too much information," he shared it the same way he shared his stories and so I have a fuller picture.

    I learned in school how often authors' real lives are reflected in their work -- so knowing about their personal stake kind of makes the work more alive.

    However, there are online writers where the way they treat commenters or particular topics has made me not want to read their fiction -- and when I do try to read their fiction I see where their negative thought processes and personality are being communicated a lot more clearly. Stories are in a way a reflection of a person's mind, so knowing about their mind kind of strengthens the world of the story. They might be exaggerations or ideals or things that repel that writer, but the seeds are still born in their heads.

    For example, I don't like swearing or misogyny or abuse -- but there's a character in NMAI that embodies all three. My antagonist viciously murders him, and I abhor murder -- but nevertheless, all that stuff I don't like happens in my story. In some ways, the violence towards the abusive character is an expression of how much I am repulsed by that attitude -- and then the good guy faces off against the antagonist to deal with the fact that violence isn't great either. Some people might read the violent parts and think, without the context, that I approve of violence -- whereas the whole novel hopefully gives a better picture, and my blog certainly should -- because I establish elsewhere that I'm a spiritual person who's studied theology and that's why my stories grapple with good and evil. Out of that context, it might not make as much sense.

    I hope this post makes sense, for that matter.

  2. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Makes sense to me, Gavin.

    'Stories are in a way a reflection of a person's mind.' -> this worries me, though.

    I really can't say I agree with Zoe Winters on much that she says. Is it ironic if I then say I'm less interested in reading her work after reading that blog post? My primary issue with her points is that she sort of leaps over a lot of ground to make her points. Readers may get turned off of a work because the author's opinions offend them, the author will share their opinions because they're compelled to write and that compulsion will manifest in opinionated writing?

    No. There's a whole lot of middle ground between being turned off of H.P. Lovecraft's work because he was a virulent racist and discussing stuff with your readers in the comments of your story.

    I do have a few rules I maintain in the author-reader discourse. Only one is really about protecting the reader, and it's a no brainer; no spoilers. The rest are to protect me. I've had some awfully entitled readers start IMing me and demanding I help with their writing, offering no thanks and getting offended if I take longer than 5 minutes to respond to a message... leading me to curtail a lot of that discussion. I also sort of shy away from offering personal details. A lot of it can be found fairly easily (anyone who donates is going to find out my real name, for example, and my reddit account has a fair few life stories & details in it) but I won't volunteer it, and I'll get legitimately offended if someone pries.

  3. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    I told MCA yesteday on Twitter that I had kind of mixed feelings about Zoe's post, and I do. I sort of agree and sort of disagree, and the reasons why I agree and disagree are almost the same. :-/

    Another self publisher on another forum pointed out that Zoe is likely writing from experience here. When she started out she was a pretty in-your-face persona and if she disagreed with something you posted on your own site she would be pretty blunt about it in the comments because she was fighting for an idea and model she wasn't willing to give any ground on. She's calmed down a bit since then and has seen how that attitude has turned off a lot of people. But... it also got a lot of people interested in her to begin with.

    It's like that over in Webcomics land, too. There are successful personalities who have reputations for being, well, to be blunt... jackasses. And they earned that reputation earlier in their careers, and don't necessarily deserve it any longer, but they were such paragons of jackassery back in the day that they can't quite shake that stench. But back in the day it *did* get them noticed, and while ultimately it was their talent that made them successful the hijinks did get them noticed, both positively and negatively.

    I try not to talk too much about my private life online, and it has kept me at arms length from many of my readers. I think I've lost out on readers that way because I come across as distant for that.

    But the other side of the coin is that I am pretty blunt when it comes to topics I care about (usually computer related excesses, or privacy laws, copyright and patent controversies, etc.) and I post about them... which has, in turn, caused some sites to accuse me of being anti-capitalist, communist, etc. And I've lost out on readers that way, too.

    I hope MCA will forgive me for using her as an example, but it really seems she's struck the right balance here. She's built up a community around her work, and she's accessible to that community, but she's also very diplomatic around that community. She's the anti-me. :D

    I don't think what Zoe is talking about on her blog will work on the web because I think the kind of community you need to create to succeed demands more accessibility than "just fan letters." That said, I do think some of her observations and criticisms are spot on, and that the web makes it too easy to go much too far.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  4. M.C.A. Hogarth (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    You are kind, uber. :)

    I will say I think about it a lot, how I present myself online. But to be honest, it's no different from how much I think about how I presented myself at, say, my day jobs. Or even when I go to functions with my daughter. When you go out to interact with people who aren't your close friends, you clean up, make sure you're dressed nicely and your socks match and your hair isn't sticking out all over the place, and when you arrive you use your best manners and you make an effort to be kind and thoughtful and interested in other people, while sharing as much of yourself as is polite without being awkward.

    Your friends, now... you can show up on their doorsteps in pajamas at 3 AM with a bottle of bourbon crying and then spend three hours ranting about all the crud that's gone wrong lately. But you wouldn't do that at your job. Or at least, ideally you wouldn't...


    Uh, anyway. I can see what Winters is saying. And it's certainly a more urgent question these days when it's so much easier to find out stuff about your favorite artists. I have stopped buying things from people who are offensive, and I've discovered that they were offensive through their blogs.

  5. SgL (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    In some ways I agree. For example, I try to avoid reading too much about an author's life if it's irrelevant to the work. That's only because in some cases their behavior online can spoil my enjoyment of their work.

    I try to minimize some of the personal stuff going back-and-forth only because I don't want to become predictable. If I am too accessible I feel I increase greatly my readers'ability to predict what I'm going to do. I feel that my stories are actually better if people have little insight into how I think. Part of maintaining suspense means maintaining some mystery about yourself.

    Then again this might just be a personality quirk or a culturally learned behavior. I always like surprises including surprising other people.

  6. Senna Black (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Hm, this is an interesting one. I have to say, when I don't know anything about the author (i.e. not even the flyeaf bio - gender, upbringing, broad shape of life, number of cats owned), I find it really hard to engage with the story. It's like a piece of the puzzle is missing. However, I definitely agree that knowing TOO much about a person's views and RL behaviour can be a big turn-off. I definitely view what I know about the author as being part of how I read the story and so I see the value of some professional distance; or at least, carefully controlling what readers see of you as a person.

    That said, for various work-related reasons I have to be extremely careful what I say online anyway, so all anyone could really learn from my various twitters/tumblrs/facebooks is that I really like costume dramas and musicals. *G*

  7. M.C.A. Hogarth (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    I'm surprised how many people -want- to know more about the author, or they feel something is missing!

  8. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 8 years ago

    Look at how big the paparazzi effect is. How much people want to know every little thing about the lives of celebrities, the reality shows where you get a look at all the bones of their life. People expect that sort of interaction.

    On the opposite end, I've become really good internet friends with an author I've been reading for a while, to the point where I'm now a sounding board she uses for some of her stories. (once again, I find myself a better editor than author. Sigh)

    And while I enjoy that, sometimes I feel spoiled getting, well, spoilers. In this instance, its not a bad thing, it's just one, but, I've gotten chatty with my readers at a comic I write, and I really have to work to avoid giving things away I shouldn't.


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