The other day while cruising social media I ran across a post from a writer I was unfamiliar with. This writer posted an image of a page from a well-known and quite successful author’s work, with a specific paragraph highlighted. The poster commented how terrible the writing in the paragraph was, then in a follow-up post said that if the author saw the post, he should know that “you’re a terrible writer and we hate you.” A number of the poster’s friends piled on about how awful the writing in the paragraph was, and how they hated the author for being a SJW, blah, blah, blah, you get the picture. I didn’t see a damn thing wrong with the paragraph myself. I didn’t jump to the author’s defense, though. For one thing, the author is perfectly capable of defending himself if he wishes, and I learned a long time ago that Internet trolls are gasoline just praying someone will throw a match at them. They desperately want you to engage, and it’s rarely a good idea to do so. It’s just a waste of your time and emotional energy.
I made a social post about this situation myself. Here’s what I said:
Saw a post today from an edgelord taking a potshot at an established writer. I've been in this game for forty years, and I've seen dozens of wannabees who think they can make a rep by trying to knock down a pro. It never works. They just look like insecure assholes.
I didn’t name names because, as I said above, no need to give the edgelord the attention he was seeking, and why drag the author the edgelord was attacking into the situation unnecessarily? As I said in my post, I really have seen this type of edgelord before (although we didn’t call them that in the old days – usually just dickheads or douchebags or something similar). My first reaction on reading the edgelord’s post was “Not this guy again.” Not because I recognized the poster, but because one edgelord-dickhead-douchebag is pretty much the same as another. They’re usually males in their late teens to mid-thirties trying to establish a rep for themselves by attacking someone farther along in their writing career and who’s well known. They’re like a young gunslinger in a Western who wants to go up against a legendary shootist and make an instant reputation for themselves by gunning them down. I suspect a lot of these would-be gunslingers don’t write much, and instead like playing at being a writer on social media for whatever attention they can get. If they’re serious about making a career as a writer, being a would-be gunslinger is a terrible way to do it. No one thinks they’re funny or cute (except others who get off on mocking people), and unless they’re absolute geniuses, no agents or editors will want to work with them, and no readers will want to read their stuff. Mockers put out a too cool for school attitude and attempt to project a rebel persona, and all they do is try to tear everything and everyone else down in order to make themselves look big. It. Never. Works.
Plus, it’s just bad marketing. People buy products from other people (or companies) they like. Why would anyone want to spend their money on an edgelord-dickhead-douchebag? (Or someone who’s playing that role in public.) I bet the edgelord’s friends who chimed in with mockery of their own have never read a word the edgelord’s writing and never will. They sure as shit won’t spend money on it. Plus, mockers turn on other mockers all the time. You never know when it’ll become your turn to be a target.
Some other writers who saw the edgelord’s original post commented that it was a shame that people should be able to freely criticize another author’s work on social media without any negative reaction, and I got the same comment from a follower in a DM. But the edgelord’s post wasn’t criticism. It was simple, vitriolic mockery directed at someone more accomplished in the hope of gaining attention. None of the edgelord’s friends posted any criticism in reply, only more mockery. Saying “This shit sucks and you suck too!” isn’t criticism. It’s a childish attack. Criticism is more thoughtful, and it’s about the work. It's supposed to provide insight, help people reassess their opinion of the work and hopefully view it in a new way. Regardless of the specific opinion offered on a work of art, criticism in and of itself is positive because it adds to the overall conversation about what makes art good, what makes it meaningful, how does it contribute to the artform itself as well as to society. You don’t have to write a 100-page thesis, though. Even a simple statement like, “This writer used some interesting metaphors in their story, but there were so many, one after the other, that I sometimes lost track of what exactly was happening” is effective criticism (and it’s short enough to post on Twitter!).
One of my professors in grad school said, “Good criticism isn’t supposed to be correct. There’s no such thing as right or wrong when it comes to opinions on art. Good criticism is meant to be provocative.” The professor didn’t mean provoke a reaction, as the edgelord was trying to do. He meant provoke thought, provoke ideas, provoke questions, provoke you to offer your own criticism of the work in order to expand the conversation and keep it going. “Your writing sucks, you suck, and we hate you” doesn’t do any of these things.
And everyone is free to make any comment about writing (or anything else) they want on social media. What they aren’t free from, however, is other people seeing their comment and responding to it. If you put something out on Main Street you need to be prepared for whatever reaction might come your way. You aren’t having a discussion with a friend about a book in a restaurant booth. You’re posting a message where potentially anyone in the world can see it. So you either make peace with hurling your opinions around right and left and letting people respond however they will, or you think about what you’re going to post and whether it’s a good idea to do so at all. You want to chat in private with a few friends about a work of art? Do so via DM’s, email, Zoom, text, phone, or – gasp! – getting together in real life. There is no such thing as privacy on the Internet.
But regardless, writers rarely offer any negative criticism about other writers’ work in public (and often not even in private). Not because they’re cowards, but because they don’t want to put other writers in an awkward position. It’s why we never ask someone if they’ve read our latest story or book. Odds are they haven’t (and we likely haven’t read theirs). We’re all so damn busy writing our own stuff to read much, and we know so many other writers that we can’t keep up with all their work even if we did nothing but read 24/7. We know what it feels like to get a bad and sometimes downright scathing review. Why would we want to make someone else feel like that? And it’s difficult to build a professional network with other writers if you say negative things about their work. Why would they want to have any relationship with someone who’s trashed their latest opus on social media? By doing so, you’re damaging that writer’s reputation, especially if you’re a fellow writer. Plus, as a writer, you risk looking like you’re badmouthing the competition, whether from jealousy or to purposefully harm their business for your benefit. Plus, what if some of your readers like your stuff and the stuff your competitor writes? You risk alienating those readers. And other writers may start to wonder what you think about their work, and what you say about it to others when they’re not around. If you post a lot of negative criticism, you’ll start seeming negative in general to people, and you’ll end up driving away readers and making agents and editors wonder if working with you is a good idea.
Basically, the old adage “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” applies.
On the other hand . . .
All writers started out as voracious readers, and we still love to talk about books – the things we liked, the things we didn’t, the things that amazed, confused, or angered us. We want the freedom to have such discussions with other readers. Plus, you can make a good case that such discussions are important for the overall health of an artform, that they encourage artists to clarify their thoughts and feelings about different subject matter and techniques. Such discussions help artists grow. So it comes down to a simple question: Which matters more to you: tending to the business concerns of your writing career or being free to talk about things you dislike in the works you read? Do whichever matters to you, but be prepared for the cost either way. You can also try to strike a balance between the two that works for you, and – as I’m sure you’re not surprised – I have a few thoughts about how you might do this.
· Talk about the writing you love and why you love it. Primarily talk about what worked for you in a piece of writing, and then maybe mention one or two things that didn’t. If the positive outweighs the negative, most writers and readers will view your discussion as primarily positive.
· Punch up, not down (or sideways). Stephen King doesn’t give a shit about what you think of his work, and the odds of him ever seeing your review on social media are, not to put too fine a point on it, extremely fucking low. Say whatever you want about the work of famous writers. Don’t talk negatively about the work of your peers or of newer writers, though.
· Criticize the work of dead authors. As much as Stephen King doesn’t care what you think of his books, Mary Shelley cares even less. Once a writer is dead, there’s no one for your opinions to hurt. Of course, you might piss off some rabid Mary Shelley fans, but that’s a risk you’ll have to take.
· Criticize writing in other genres. If you’re a baker criticizing another baker a couple blocks over, you might look like a self-serving jerk to some of your customers. But if you criticize the grocer down the street, you might find your customers agreeing with you. Yes, you run the risk of the writer whose work you criticize running across your post, but you won’t be a writer in their genre, and that will (hopefully) cushion some of the blow.
· Criticize other types of art. Talk about movies, TV series, documentaries, reality shows, comics, music . . . anything other than writing. However, a field like horror is kind of like one gigantic mutant family, and horror filmmakers and artists are still horror folk, so you’ll have to decide how close other types of art in your genre are to the writing in that genre.
· Let readers (who are not also writers) criticize writing. Readers are perfectly capable of criticizing writing on their own. They don’t need writers’ help. Sure, writers offer a practitioner’s viewpoint on writing, which is valuable, but the art of writing will not wither and fade because you didn’t post your thoughts about why the new bestselling novel you tried to read to read and put down wasn’t so great.
· Talk about books without naming the author or the title. Talk about the book in as much detail as you can without identifying it. Yes, this will hamstring you when it comes to criticizing, but if you focus on technique and artistry in general, you should still be able to get the important parts of your message across.
· Find some privacy. As I said earlier, don’t post your negative takes on the Internet. Talk with trusted friends in private, maybe over drinks in the bar during a convention – just make sure you know who’s nearby and might hear what you say. If you’re going to write your thoughts – in emails, texts, whatever – only do so when you 100% trust the other person. You don’t want them screenshotting your comments and posting them for the world to see.
If you really want to post your thoughts about others’ writing– positive and negative – on social media, go for it. But if you want to do so without any repercussions, sorry, that’s not an option. The world will respond to what we put into it however it will – if it responds at all.
But whatever you do, don’t be an edgelord-dickhead-douchebag about it.
DEPARTMENT OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION
Ebook editions of We Will Rise on Sale for 99 Cents
The Kindle and Nook editors of my ghost apocalypse novel We Will Rise have been on sale for 99 cents for the last couple weeks. Why? Damned if I know. Nobody tells us writers anything. I don’t know how long this sale will go on. I’m writing this at 11:27 pm EST on 11/18/2022, and if you’re interested in snagging a copy for that sweet-sweet price, do so quick before the cost goes back up.
Praise for We Will Rise:
This was visceral stuff and a highly entertaining fast-paced read which was a bleak exploration of the human psyche. – Tony Jones, Ink Heist
We Will Rise is a tense, emotional, scary ride and one of Waggoner’s best. – Zach Rosenberg, Horror DNA
Cover Reveal for A Hunter Called Night
My next novel for Flame Tree press, A Hunter Called Night, is available for preorder, and I finally got to see the cover – and now you do too! Ain’t it a beaut? The book will be out on May 9, 2023. Here’s a synopsis:
A sinister being called Night and her panther-like Harriers stalk their quarry, a man known only as Arron. Arron seeks refuge within an office building, a place Night cannot go, for it’s part of the civilized world, and she’s a creature of the Wild. To flush Arron out, she creates Blight, a reality-warping field that slowly transforms the building and its occupants in horrible and deadly ways. But unknown to Night, while she waits for the Blight to do its work, a group of survivors from a previous attempt to capture Arron are coming for her. The hunter is now the hunted.
Kindle: Link still to come.
Barnes and Noble Paperback: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-hunter-called-night-tim-waggoner/1142487192?ean=9781787586314
Barnes and Noble Hardcover: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-hunter-called-night-tim-waggoner/1142487192?ean=9781787586345
NOOK: Link still to come.
Book and Author Society Interview/Q&A
Last Monday, I was honored to do a video interview for the Book and Author Society. They’ve posted a recording on YouTube, and you can check it out here:
The Keenedom Rises
Twitter may die any day now, so Brian Keene started an old-style message board as a place for horror folk to gather when and if it does. Basically, he’s created a refugee camp for displaced horror Twitterites. I have a topic there, so come check it out and party like it’s 1996!
Keenedom Message Board: https://thekeenedom.freeforums.net/
Social Media Links
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YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/timwaggonerswritinginthedark