When writers don’t play nice in real life, do readers care?

For the most part, writers are the nicest group of people you’ll ever meet. When I went to my first writer’s

conference back in 2006 as a newbie without a publishing contract, I was expecting to be dismissed by the “real” authors there. Instead, I found myself surrounded by the most welcoming, supportive professional community I’d ever met.

Of course. there are always exceptions. I’ve become more aware of those exceptions recently because of Facebook. People who are active on Facebook eventually reveal themselves, personality warts and all. For writers, sometimes too much revealing of self ignites blowback from readers.

Last week, a well-known author posted a Facebook rant about a political topic. Her comments were followed by vocal disappointment from some of her readers; all of the commenters expressed disappointment in the author. A few vowed never to buy her books again. Ouch.

We’ve even been taken to task occasionally here at TKZ. Whenever a blogger has made an ill considered, controversial or tactless remark, it’s “Katie, bar the door.” You guys always let us know when we’ve fumbled the courtesy ball. And for that, we thank you. 🙂

But it occurs to me that most people don’t want to buy “nice” books. Few people want to read about the Village of Nice, Happy People. We want conflict, emotion, and tension from our stories. But we don’t want that from our real-life writers.

I grew up surrounded by high-achieving, volatile personalities, so I guess I expect my artists to be a bit raw in person. But I’m wondering–have you ever encountered a writer who was rude or obnoxious in real life, and did that experience make you less likely to buy his or her book? 

I’ll leave you with Jack Nicholson from As Good As It Gets, in which he offends an ardent fan.

47 thoughts on “When writers don’t play nice in real life, do readers care?

  1. Rude or obnoxious is so everyday that I don’t really think in terms of just writers, though I’ve never had that experience with a writer.

    I’m not aware of the incident in question, but that’s curious. Even though writers write about fictional situations, a lot of themselves still bleeds through on the page so that you get a sense of what their beliefs are likely to be. So it would seem that being taken by surprise by a writers words or actions wouldn’t be that common.

    But I’ll be curious to see what other commenters have to say.

    • You’re so right about the everydayness of rudeness online, BK. It’s one of the reasons I don’t care for Facebook. People there seem to feel compelled to make proclamations about their beliefs, and others jump in with counter-views. It gets tiresome.

    • Yeah.. but there’s a whole game you can develop:
      Friend A Says “Political Opinion X”.
      How long until Friend B posts conspiracy theory about X? Then watch to see if you guessed right.

      It’s a bit like playing Pooh Sticks…. pointless but kinda fun.

  2. These days, ANY opinion posted online draws attention. The issue for anyone who has a career or professional tie-in to their online presence is the backlash of people with a counter view. Authors Barry Eisler & Joe Konrath have always been open with their views & they take the heat. Sometimes that means they gain followers or lose them, but neither has backed down.

    If you want to see an unexpected online debate in action, try searching twitter for comments on the surviving Boston bomber. At last count, his Twitter account had over 96,000 followers & counting. The online world loves stirring things up, no matter what side of the argument.

    Generally I have found the authors I’ve met were very generous folks. I’ve had far more good experiences than bad. And like you, Kathryn, I don’t mind if any artist, filmmaker, musician, author, etc is a little raw or colorful. I actually like that. But if they are obnoxious or malicious to others, I tend not to support that.

    • That’s sad that his Twitter account has attracted that kind of activity, Jordan. But I guess it’s a sign of this strange new social media world.

  3. As a general rule I don’t notice rude writers in person. My wife and I are veterans of DragonCon in Atlanta and most of the big US Fantasy authors make it so we’ve seen nice and not so nice celebs there. The most telling is seeing them in the elevators. Some are real particular about making sure the elevator is clear of everyone but themselves and their handlers, and some just get on like any other guest of the hotel. Howard Hessman rode down with us one morning in his PJ’s on his way to get some Starbucks. It was surreal to right next to the teacher I idolized on “Head of the Class” as a kid.

    But good writers get a lot of attention from me. While I’m really following the Charlene Harris Vampire books (my wife reads them like she’s popping illegal pills), Ms. Harris is one of the most courteous and warm people I’ve met. She made a point of staying at the signing an extra two hours to accomondate everyone in line when her hour was up. She made me ~want~ to buy her books.

    The sadest/ worst part about it all is that for an unknown writer, being listed on an Author Behaving Badly website is the fast track to sales. Most new writers languish in the purgatory that is being undiscovered, and especially among the self published crowd any attention is good attention. I can mention the name Foyt and many know her simply because of the debacle associated with her Save the Pearls novel. I am positive that she only saw a rabid spike in sales as more and more people turned out to see what it was all about. Of course, in her case, the scandal was tied to the work, rather than to her personally….

    • Reacting badly to negative reviews is another whole realm of potential hissyfits, Rob–thanks for bringing that up! But you’re right, it’s a slightly different category than personal affronts.

  4. I agree with Jordan, most of the writers I’ve met and conversed with have been great people. Even among the so-called A list.

    The rare exceptions stand out like a hangover eyeball. I recall seeing one author snap at the harried staff at a signing booth, before the public arrived and said author put on the plastic smile.

    Another time I was volunteering at a booth at the Times Fest and saw two A-minus authors palling around and knew there’d been a change in one of their signing times. I called out to let them know, and they came over as if being forced to smell a monkey cage. Didn’t smile. Didn’t say “Thank you” or even throw me a banana.

    I will never read any of their books, of course.

  5. It’s been posted here in TKZ a gajillion times that writing is a business and should be treated as such. I think that’s the model that applies to social media, as well. Anyone who is or dreams of becoming a public figure via fiction needs to be careful of the image projected on Facebook and Twitter, etc.

    I try always to default to honesty, and to stay away from emotional posts. I have faltered a few times, and have always regretted it. There is literally no margin in getting dragged into emotional political rants–in large measure because, in my experience, people who are firewalled to the left or the right of any issue are by definition dealing with flawed arguments. In one-on-one discussions, I tend to argue from the middle, but there’s no room for that in the average online political rant.

    Ultimately, then, I tell writers and other businessmen to project the image that makes people want to hang out with you, to do business with you. I find it instructive that I get angry emails from readers who think I’m an Eastern liberal anti-gun tree-hugger, and I get angry emails from readers who think I’m a right-wing nutjob. All in all, I think that means I’m doing my job just about right.

    John Gilstrap

    • John, I have friends and relatives all over the political map, and they all think I’m either far left or right of them, too! Ah, the loneliness of the man in the middle, lol.

  6. On Facebook and Google+ I have a diverse group of friends, so I stay away from anything politically or racially motivated. I think everyone has an opinion about controversial matters, but my view is I’m a voice in how many gazillion out there? Why waste my energy trying to back one side of an issue over another when I could be better utilizing my energies on bettering myself and others in more positive ways, with my writing.

    Today, there are so many people wanting to be right, and they offer nothing but waste on a social media site. Use more creative ways to prove a point. Put your conflict in a novel, a memoir, or some creative non-fiction. Why waste it on Facebook?

    If you do it in fiction, at least you can express it in a way the world won’t beat up on you too much for it, and you’re entertaining them to boot. Such as I tell young people about writing racist characters. The same can be done with fiction writing and expressing your political views. Heck, this was a well-known author? That means they have an audience already. They should be smarter about it.

  7. There are different levels of this. A controversial post or comment may lose a few readers, but it may also bring in a few. Who was it said “all publicity is god publicity?”

    On the other hand, there is being an asshole. Demeaning people in blogs or comments, becoming argumentative over a review, or just being an unpleasant person. That can never help.

  8. Demeaning people in person is the absolute worst, Dana! We all remember such slights I think, much more so than those committed online. I’ve never encountered a rude writer in person, but I was once accidentally copied on an email in which a writer was condescending about my application to a critique group. It took me years to get over it and realize she was actually a nice person. Now we’re friends.

  9. If a writer were rude to me, yeah, I wouldn’t buy her books. A political rant on Facebook or anywhere else online, though, probably wouldn’t dissuade me. In some cases, it might make me _more_ inclined to buy. Sort of an example: Hugh Howey. What he recently posted (on GoodReads? somewhere) drew a ton of negative feedback, and it was called political, misogynist, etc. But I read the whole post and I didn’t see anything misogynist in it at all. Ludicrous accusation. So I’d say I’m more likely to buy more Howey stuff in the future, just ’cause I feel bad for the guy taking flak for a piece that might have been poorly worded but certainly wasn’t anti-woman.

    Also, if you look back at some of the writers’ feuds – Poe, Twain vs. Cooper, etc. – I rather enjoy seeing writer on writer drama in real life.

  10. I’ve noticed this with movies more than books. Maybe actors are more vocal. While I agree that everyone has a right to speak out, when you become offensive in public, you carry that as a part of who the public thinks you are. I never watched The West Wing or Monk because the way the stars acted in public offended me. I don’t watch Sean Penn (except Fast Times at Ridgemont High} for the same reason. I find all of them offensive and I won’t support them.

    I know I’ve missed good works of fiction but that’s the price I pay for my beliefs.

    I think of authors the same way.

    • People are also more aware of actors than writers, which may be why actors get so much negative coverage. Even successful authors rarely turn up on the front page of the tabloids. Paparazzi could care less about us!

  11. All is fair in writer on writer, Vincent, but watch out for grudges at conferences–you’ll find the involved parties at opposite ends of the bar, pretending not to notice each other.

  12. I was mistaken for another writer one time at a book conference. At first I thought the fellow meant “ME.” Alas, no. However, this guy kept following me around and was positive I was this other guy trying to be incognito. Even when I explained that I wasn’t “him” this fellow wasn’t buying it. On the other hand, I was tempted to just go along with it.

  13. Oh yeah. In 1976 I was at a science-fiction con and politely asked a very well-known author for an autograph and he blew me off. I saw a picture of him recently and he looks like a blowfish. May his death be slow and painful.

    Since politics has come up: most readers don’t want to know what an author’s political views happen to be and don’t want to pay for the privilege of finding out or reading them for free on Facebook. Trust me on this. I think specifically of one very popular thriller author with a strong military fan base who wrote an anti-military novel. He wound up making an apologetic, mea culpa tour of military pxs in support of his next book.

  14. I offended some friends and lost some friends during the election. After that, I decided to not post anything political in my feed, but to take my discussions to political boards and groups. I have been in a battle-royal about abiogenic oil production (the earth continues to grow oil) for 2 days. It is pretty contentious. I love how I’ve been called a “sheeple” and the ever popular “u r a moran lol!”

    However, anyone who goes too far in what they post on my feed gets hidden or removed.

    As to pros, I don’t mind big egos and differing viewpoints (Tom Clancy and I will never ever ever agree on politics, but I love his books). The only bit of asshattery I will not tolerate from the talent is contempt for their fans and readers. I came out of comic book world and one whiff of “speshul snowflake” syndrome directed toward fans and the blowback would ignite and rage. And being mean to volunteers is just the stoopit. “Oops Sir, your one-on-one panel with Stephen King was moved to another ballroom. Didn’t you get the text? Damn, service in this building is so sketchy. Instead King signed autographs and hosted a fan forum flash fiction contest. Why yes, I won, why do you ask?”

    I love how John has managed to offend everyone. As he said, that means he is doing it just about right. Politically I manage to torque the extremes on both sides, sometimes with the same comment. How can I not love that?

    But, when you are putting it out under your own name in your own feed rather than taking it to the designated sandboxes, you are taking a risk. And in these days of instant communication, that risk can have negative consequences.

    Yet another lesson: Terri

    • I love your term “sandbox” for places we should go to indulge in socio-political discussions, Terri! I’m going to keep that one in mind next time I’m tempted to forward something I shouldn’t.

  15. I never post anything political or overtly religious or with bias of any kind. If you do, you’ll always offend someone. And courtesy goes a long way. How can anyone be rude to fellow writers or fans? Writers learn from each other, and fans are the reason we write.

  16. Facebook is tricky as sometimes you want to post as ‘you’ rather than ‘author you’ but whatever I say I try and keep fairly neutral so as to avoid the ‘flame wars’ that inevitably occur on Facebook. I think I might know the particular post that you refer to Kathryn and it didn’t change my view of the author or negatively affect whether I’d buy books written by that author. What will affect this is when I see/hear a successful author dis a younger, less successful author. This happened at a conference once and I vowed never to buy the successful author’s books ever again. I think you should be gracious and grateful for the success you get – almost all authors are – but the few that try and poop on those less fortunate than themselves…I have no time for them.

  17. Eons ago, I offended someone at a book signing (not an author but a regular on the conference circuit.) I didn’t even realize it at the time but it got back to me through others. Years later, I saw her in the bar after the Edgars and apologized. (what I said all those years ago was maybe the right answer but badly said.) We’re friends now. This is a very small community we toil in, almost a big family. And like all families, it has its share of brats, a-holes and drunken uncles. But mostly good kind folks. It pays to be nice. Karma, baby.

  18. Why should writers be any more likable or hateful than doctors, artists, or plumbers? Too much of a burden placed on one group of people, doncha think?

    • You’re right, there shouldn’t be, but it’s one of those “why does the sun rise in the east?” questions: that’s just how it is. Some people’s choices are influenced by such things.

    • True, one isn’t nearly as surprised to encounter the occasional rude plumber. But then, plumbers don’t usually invade our imaginations the way writers do! 🙂

  19. I like being nice. And I like convincing mean people to be nice to me, either via treating them nicely or using hypnotic suggestion. One way or the other you will be nice to me….or else.

  20. As far as the dissemination of my political views I have learned that I don’t like political argument. That may sound odd coming from a guy who spent several years doing conservative radio talk-shows. I lean pretty well into the right of things and don’t try to hide my own beliefs, but at the same time I don’t like to argue my points. You believe your way, me mine. But the moment you bring up something controversial people are ready to tear you apart and deny you a way to make a living. Look at what happened to prolific sci-fi writer and perenial nice guy Orson Scott Card, who never hid his religious beliefs. He honestly discussed his thoughts on a political hot-button topic and folks tried to force DC Comics to kick him out of his job.

    It is a volatile world out there. I don’t think authors or anyone should be forced to shape our beliefs to the those of whatever is popular on the current socio-political scene in order to sell books. If a writer wants to express their world-view in their writing that is totally up to them. If their readers like what they have to say, they will buy the books, if not…then not.

  21. I have nothing profound to add to this discussion. I’d simply like to take the opportunity to say how much I love this blog. I learn so much from the conversations that take place here, and you people are just so nice.

    I wish I could invite you all over for dinner and chat with you in person.

  22. Great post, Kathryn. It’s not unlike the feeling you get from seeing an actor in a movie which portrays him as a noble, kind-hearted individual, only to find that in real life, he’s really kind of awful.

    • It may be the fact that part of one’s persona is rooted in fiction that can make the actual reality all the more jarring, Beth. No one ever seems to be surprised when running into a rude accountant!

  23. I have to say I have enjoyed reading these replies. Facebook has gotten so dramatic that I rarely go on it. Of course I am not a published author but I have learned to use Facebook as a way to encourage, inspire and inform but not have a battle of wits and opinions. As for rude authors, a personal slight especially if I am embarrassed would deter me from buying or even reading that author. But a difference of opinion of FB not so much.

  24. The only example that comes to mind, in my case, is Orson Scott Card. I hate his homophobic, ignorant and plain obnoxious views, but I love his writing advice and his novels. The fact that he’s an asshole doesn’t bother me in respecting his talent with fiction.

  25. I’ve never met an author in person, but I have written to a few of them and you can tell a lot by their responses. I wrote to an author of a cozy mystery series that I really enjoy and when they wrote back, they shamed me for mentioning I’d borrowed them from the library. They insinuated that they were in serious danger of no longer being able to continue the series if “people” did not buy their books. This was at least 5 books ago.

  26. When the Agency Pricing model went into effect, many of the authors whose books I read disappeared from my ebook store of choice (ironicaly, the publishers’ collective desire to take on Amazon’s power in the ebook market drove me to the kindle store.) I was appalled by one author’s reaction to the frustration of her readers about this. She basically called us all babies. I was so disgusted by her vitriol toward her own fans that I stopped buying and reading her books. I no longer follow any authors; I’d rather stick with their work and not know about their personal beliefs and attitudes.

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