One of the hard parts about making a living in the publishing industry is our complete dependence upon the goodwill of people we’ve never met in person. Most of the time our interactions with fans bring us joy. Other times are hard. Whether the words arrive as an email or a blog comment, my stomach sinks and I am afraid. The missive is from a person who is declaring that Howard or I have offended them and that they will no longer support us in any way. Most of the time the person is obviously trying to be polite despite the fact that they are upset. It would be easier if they were unreasonable and I could dismiss what they have to say.
My first reaction is always to try to make it better. I want to erase the offense, particularly if I feel it was in any way merited. My back brain churns into overtime composing and re-composing possible responses. The truth is that, at best, I can sometimes smooth a little of the anger or hurt. I can not change their mind. Sometimes all I can do is sit frustrated because as far as I can see the offense has to do with something in their head and nothing we did wrong. Even if wea are not at fault, it lingers in my mind. I’m left to wonder who else we have offended who did not take time to email or comment. In my mind’s eye I can see all of the fans packing up and quietly spending money somewhere else and leaving us without an income.
This is my fear and it is antithetical to being a daring blogger. Every time I post, or Howard posts, I know it is possible that someone will be offended. So I phrase myself carefully. I try to make sure that the posts are balanced and see all sides of whatever issue I am discussing. It has become second nature to me to see multiple sides of any issue. What is truly terrifying, and what I rarely do, is to take a stand. The minute I do, I know that I have alienated the people out there who disagree with me. I don’t want to alienate readers, in part because I like being able to afford things, but even more because I honestly don’t want to hurt anyone. Yet people can not grow if they are not challenged. I am truly grateful to the writers out there who are willing to blog their thoughts because through them I can begin to see the world in new ways. Some things are important and being conciliatory will not get them noticed or changed. I do myself, my readers, and the world no favors if I stay silent out of fear.
I was thinking about all of this when I read about Amy Sundberg’s Backbone Project. Amy intends to write three posts in which she will not be wishy-washy. I think she has offered a good challenge and I shall try. I will write three posts where I dare to address something I’ve been afraid to write. I will try to address it in such a way that readers are encouraged to participate in a conversation on the topic. Then when disagreements arrive, I will attempt to keep the comment conversation open rather than deliberately choosing responses (or non-responses) which discourage further comment.
My fears of creating an internet brouhaha are not unjustified. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve also read stories about how internet notoriety spilled over in life-destructive ways. Every day bloggers discover that things said online have real world consequences. Lena Chen recently wrote an interesting article in Salon magazine talking about the consequences of her fearless blogging and how she learned to be much more cautious about the things she wrote. She jumped into the deep end and made her way out. I’m starting from the other side, dabbling my toes in the water and contemplating swimming out to the dock. But I will swim. I j ust need to space out my daring posts. I expect this challenge to be somewhat anxiety inducing and I’ll have to carefully time the posts for days when I have the time to hover over comments. This post represents a beginning.