City of Nethra

Official Site of Melanie Atkinson Books

Monday, September 15, 2014

Recommending Myself to Strangers

In the 1995 movie version of Pride and Prejudice, there's that pivotal scene- you know, the one where Mr. Darcy listens to Elizabeth play the piano next to Colonel Fitzwilliam and then approaches them. Elizabeth starts taunting him a bit, pointing out his poor behavior at the ball where she first met him. Granted, Darcy acted like a snob, which of course, is our first impression of him too, but in this scene at the piano, he attempts to defend himself. It goes like this:

Darcy: I fear I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers.

Elizabeth: Should we ask him why? Why a man of sense and education who has lived in the world should be ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?
Darcy: I am. . . I have not that talent which some possess of conversing easily with strangers.

Elizabeth: I do not play this instrument so well as I should wish to, but I have always supposed that to be my own fault because I would not take the trouble of practicing.

(Darcy gives a cute little smile here. Just thought I'd mention that part.)

Darcy: You're perfectly right. You've employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you could think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers.

(And if you want to just watch it, go HERE. And the poster of this video, Tobias Sing, is a much better pianist than Elizabeth so his other video's are worth watching too.)

Okay, so besides just outing the fact that I go all fan girl over Pride and Prejudice (and Jane Austen in general. I may or may not be the kind of woman who forces her ten year old son and four year old daughter to dress up as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth for Halloween. Yes, I'll foot the bill for their therapy someday.), there was a reason I just wrote out that scene. The first time I saw that movie as a teenager, that was the scene where I felt bad for Mr. Darcy, and really sort of related to him.
So, I definitely don't make ten thousand pounds a year or whatever today's equivalent would be, and there is nothing I have to be snobbish about (unless it's my really extensive Jane Austen movie and book collection), but the moment he sheepishly says, "I have not that talent with some possess of conversing easily with strangers" just hit home. I know exactly what that's like. I'm guessing a lot of people do.
I mean, yeah, sure Elizabeth makes a good point but I felt some sympathy for Darcy at the moment because I know what it's like to struggle with socializing.
Fast forward two hundred or so years later (has is been THAT long since the Regency era? It feels like just yesterday. . .) and now we have social media. The very fact that the words "social" and "media" are now coupled makes me want to close my eyes, plug my ears, and scream the words to Handel's "Slumber, Dear Maid," until I pass out. 
Wasn't media a place where you could disappear while being entertained? Sink into the darkness of a movie theater while other people fake-socialized on the screen? And books? Well, they're the best media. Reading quietly to oneself means sharing a world only with the characters in a story. Watching or reading the news while it processes privately in your head. . . 
but now, we're expected to socialize within media too? What's the world coming to?
Okay, I'm in jest, sort of, but to be honest, this is something I struggle with. I tend to be a fairly private person on the public front. Personally, one on one, I may babble your ear off if you seem nice. (I met my kids' former school Principal's wife at the gym a few weeks back. Poor lady had to flee the pool to get me to shut up. I'm still embarrassed about it.) Get me in a social gathering, and I seriously clam up. I've been known to hide in hallways during baby showers. Give me an audience or put me in an online forum or someplace I know may reach a lot of people, I may just have a panic attack. 
Hilarious that I'm a writer, right? Or, not so much, actually.
There are two reasons I'm writing about this issue today. The first is because I want to apologize if any of my readers have felt neglected. I'm not talking about blog posts, like this one. I'm not so full of myself to think that what I post really matters. I'm talking mainly about responding to comments here, reviews and engaging readers on Twitter (Confession: I still don't get Twitter.), Facebook, or on sites like Goodreads and Amazon. If I've come across snobbish or ungracious with my neglect, I am truly sorry. That has never been my intent. 
The second reason I'm writing about this goes a bit deeper. Before I managed to get over my fear of people enough to publish, I followed a lot of forums that dealt with reviewers, readers, and writers. There are a ton of controversies out there where a reviewer says something about a book a writer doesn't like and the writer or his/her agent/editor/friend/posse responds, tweets, or posts in defense or retaliation (however you look at it). Then, the world implodes.
In reading up on these situations, I saw quite a few reviewers and readers telling authors to not comment on anything. The reviewer is simply doing their job and the author should be grateful for the review. The author should gracefully accept the criticism/opinion and move on- and they shouldn't necessarily be messing with or frequenting a readers forum anyway when it's personal to them. Some comments seemed to suggest that, unless initiated, writers should be careful contacting readers for anything. I took this to include thanking them for any reviews. 
I hate controversy and I hate people being angry at me so after seeing this, I vowed to just let people review my books and make comments while I faded silently into the background.
Well, after an interesting conversation with some other writers on a forum, I'm realizing that hasn't served me well either. I've struggled to strike the right balance.
After a particularly awesome review that came when I needed it most, I felt it was important to let the reviewer know how much I appreciated it. Then I felt guilty for not having done that with everyone, especially because I truly AM grateful for every positive review. So after some thought, I've realized I've let my fear of social media and the occasional consequences that come from it scare me away from "recommending myself to strangers" or in better terms, engaging with readers. 
I'm going to change that. . . so when possible, I'm going to take Elizabeth Bennett's words to heart and try to socially engage. I want to thank my reviewers and readers more often because they truly deserve recognition for giving an unknown writer a chance.
Finally, I'm very curious about how reviewers and readers on average feel about contact with the writers of the books they read, whether they liked the book or not. I have a list of questions and if any reader or reviewer actually reads this post, I'd love them to share their thoughts on any of these.

1. Should a writer respond to reviews at all?
2. Should they respond to positive reviews only?
3. Should a writer initiate conversation about a review with a reviewer or reader on a public forum? What about through private communication?
4. Should a writer thank a reviewer for a negative review?
5. Should a writer ever defend him/herself or comment if a review is particularly negative?
6. Do readers and reviewers expect or wish to be personally thanked for each review? 
7. What is a reviewer/readers definition of proper writer etiquette when it comes to social media and working with their readers?


I hope to someday get a myriad of ideas and answers to these questions. . . they're important to me, especially since I'm still trying to find my footing in the writing world. But either way, I want it publicly stated that I'm grateful for my readers and reviewers and their positive words have often kept me writing when I just didn't want to anymore. For that alone, I owe them a lot!