Monday, June 23, 2014

Disengaging from Readers: Dealing with Trolls, Cyber-bullies, and Other Web Cranks

It is received wisdom that writers must actively participate in the online community by joining discussions, replying to comments made on blogs, posting their views on forums, and so on. These interactions, collectively referred to as "engagement," are presented as requirements for building an audience.

There are scads of articles for how to maximize "engagement" on the net, however, for the purposes of authors, most of these recommendations are completely misguided.

Before I get into why these internet pundits are wrong, let me clarify what that term "engagement" actually means for writers.

Engagement, as a marketing term, means getting someone to buy something or exhibit interest in your product in some tangible way. If you are a writer, engagement means getting someone to buy your book, or write a review. If you are a blogger, it means traffic to your blog. If you have launched an author website or Facebook page, it means having people visit, read your page(s), and make return visits.

In short, engagement boils down to numbers.

Keeping that definition in mind, how does it benefit you, as an author, to enter into an online fracas with a person whose sole purpose in life is to annoy people? In fact, some of these "trolls" are even willing to pay for the pleasure of harassing writers. Now, if you were riding on a bus and a complete stranger sat down and starting berating you, you would simply get off the bus. It would be useless to try to argue with them. When someone does that online, it is equally as pointless.

If you are a budding author here are a few simple rules to follow when embarking on "engagement:"

1) If someone makes an insulting comment on a public forum about your book, or anything else you've written, do not reply, even to defend yourself.

2) If someone writes a spiteful comment on your blog or Facebook page, delete it.

3) If someone writes an inappropriate review, personally attacks you, or uses your book for a negative ad campaign, make a complaint. Do not address the "reviewer" directly. (Some of these "reviewers" get paid for driving down the ranking of competing titles by posting negative reviews. Recently, on Amazon, I found 22 identical negative reviews for books on pain management, all of which were posted within a two-day period. I flagged every one of those reviews as inappropriate.)

4) DO NOT argue with people on blogs, or any other public site. Your remarks will come back to haunt you.

5) DO express your thoughts in interviews. Interviews do more to help build your profile than leaving a comment on a blog, and interviews have the added benefit of providing a buffer. (Suggestion: Book reviewers frequently post author interviews.)

6) DO reply graciously to people who give your books a thoughtful review, or who leave good comments, but only if the site is moderated, or if it is your own blog, website, or Facebook page.

Reward people who behave themselves. Ignore those who don't.


  1. That is excellent advice--thank you for sharing it! I would have to say I've seen another potential engagement issue as well: guilt by association. I've observed authors get ripped to shreds because, unbeknownst to them, friends or fans step up to defend them in an online situation. Because they weren't there to stop rein in their supporters, readers blame them for the escalating ugliness. These writers get tagged as 'authors behaving badly' or 'authors I will never read' as a result. I tell my friends and fans to ignore negative comments or reviews and to please not start something on my behalf.

    1. BBA is another myth created by the trolls to demonize and marginalize authors. If an author complains about abuse and personal attacks they get labeled a BBA, just another butt-hurt writer whining about poor reviews for a crappy book.

      It's an old argument. Example: 20k people are killed in car wrecks every year. Cars are bad. Let's make a label Badly Behaving Cars. That way any and all events involving cars are the fault of the cars because we've established cars behave badly. It sociopathic logic to demonize and marginalize authors with real concerns over stalker trolls trying to maliciously destroy reputations, careers and livelihood of authors and other small business people online.

  2. Yes, there really are people out there positioned to become the ruination of others, especially the ones who are gaining social momentum. As far as the trolls out there goes, more and more people seem to be getting the "memo" on their hidden agendas; This in turn only makes them look bad, providing as you stated people stop responding but start more reporting. I can see how this will help to squash those un-acceptable practices. Thanks for your awareness and wonderful tips.

  3. Yet another article by someone who has deemed themselves an expert on the subject by virtue of internet access and has never been the target of a stalker troll attack.

    1) This is a lie, a myth created by trolls so they can attack anyone and they just take the abuse. Never worked never will. Anyone naive enough to believe that has never has a run in with trolls. Parroting troll lies just supports and encourages them and their activities.

    2) If one only posts in "safe" areas you'll never get noticed as a writer. Deleting attack posts is just what the trolls expect you to do. They will time it to get maximum exposure before being deleted. The best advice is to Moderate all posts before they appear.

    3) Reporting attack reviews rarely works. I have three 1 star reviews clearly by a Fan of Anne Rice that basically are retaliation for a review I posted on one of her books. The three books in question are on Amazon UK, and as a result of only a single 1-star review on all three books I have zero sales on those books and after over a year Amazon still refuses to remove them. So reporting reviews unless you are a known TP author Amazon defends the troll attack reviews. The review I posted for the Rice book, a verified purchase, was removed within hours. Amazon is not the fledgling author's friend.

    4) So don't promote your books. Yeah that works.

    5) This is good advice.

    6)If an author says so much as "Thank You" on goodreads to a reviewers, that is grounds for GR to ban that author. Read Goodreads author's guidelines and those of other sites before you say a word. Neither Goodreads or Amazon will rarely take the side of anyone but their resident trolls and are not friends to Indie authors.

    Most websites and Facebook groups use the same solution to the troll problem that worked so well for AOL, MySpace and the VP of twitter who lost his job because of troll attacks. They all took the easy, sleazy way out. Ban the victims. That's Facebook's solution and that of many other sites. Ban the victims. I promise you all that will come back and bite them in the ass sooner or later they will be wondering why memberships and traffic takes a dive. Following the current sociopathic rationale of blaming the victims and banning them will result in the situation getting far worse and the Federal Government will step in and take over the internet unless the ISPs and websites start removing the trolls and not their victims.

  4. The ignoring thing doesn't always work. They keep returning to do their thing. Sometimes, it's better to show them their place.


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