This is a story about a friend. And I know that when someone says, “This didn’t happen to me; it happened to a friend of mine,” they usually mean, “It happened to me.” But seriously. Honestly: This did not happen to me. It happened to a friend of mine.
Like me, my friend is an author. One day, someone bought one of his books and there was a problem with it. Let’s say… Let’s say that a bunch of random pages were printed upside-down.
So, this person — we’ll call him/her “Pat” — reached out to my friend through the power of social media and said, “Hey, I bought this book of yours and it’s defective. What are you going to do about that?”
My friend, of course, is utterly powerless in this situation. There’s nothing he can (or, indeed, should) do. So he wrote back, “Hey, I’m really sorry that happened. That’s terrible. I’m sure it’s a printing error. If you return the book to where you got it, I’m sure they’ll replace it. Or you could contact the publisher and I’m sure they’ll take care of it.” (This is all in public, BTW, because it’s social media and everyone deserves to know everything about everyone, right?)
Now, if you are reading the BLog, you are most likely a rational, compassionate, intelligent person. ‘Cause my readers roll like that. And you’re thinking, “Yeah, Barry’s friend did the right thing.”
Sadly, you are not the majority in this world.
Because, you see, someone else, someone not impacted by this situation at all decided to poke his/her nose in, commenting, in essence, “What a horrible answer! This author is an asshole — he’s refusing to help this person!”
(We’ll call this new person…Dick.)
Suddenly, my pal went from offering the best advice he had to being a total tool. Never mind that it isn’t an author’s responsibility to replace a defective book. Never mind that Pat never should have asked the author for help in the first place. (Duh — when you have a bad product, you take it back to the store!) Never mind that the author took the time to spell out a couple of very reasonable, very easy, options for remediation.
Oh, no. Because he didn’t instantly jump in and say, “I’ll fix this personally!” he’s suddenly an asshole.
And — again — this is social media. In public. All it takes is one or two idiots to pile on and suddenly you as an author have a reputation for being difficult. Uncaring. Unfriendly to your readers.
Maybe that sounds like no big deal, but trust me — authors can be defined by just such things.
My friend — recognizing that he was now in trouble — immediately contacted Pat in private (which, admittedly, he should have done in the first place…but who knew Dick would jump in?). He no longer had any personal copies of the book in question, but he told Pat that he would buy one with his own money and send it to Pat at his own expense.
Pat never said “thanks” to my friend. Just posted online to thank Dick for the comment that “forced” my friend to “do the right thing.”
This story nauseates me. It enrages and outrages me. The sense of entitlement people have — when combined with the ease of communication lubricated by the grease that is social media — has made stories like this possible.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Big deal — the author is out maybe ten, fifteen bucks for the book and a couple more for postage. And in return, he gets a happy customer.”
It’s not about the money. It’s about the public shaming. It’s about beating up someone who has nothing to do with the reason why you’re angry. It’s about not even essaying the tiniest bit of gratitude when someone goes out of their way to help you.
Re-read that last paragraph. Pretty much a textbook definition of bullying, as far as I’m concerned.
Readers are not an author’s customers. Readers are our readers. Readers are customers of bookstores (real and virtual) and other retail venues. Unless you bought the book directly from the author, you are not the author’s customer and all you are entitled to is the story we wrote. If there’s a problem with the delivery system, you take it up with the folks who run the delivery system.
If you buy a shirt and it’s missing a button, do you call up Versace or do you take it back to the store?
If you buy a videogame and the disc is scratched, do you bitch at Electronic Arts or do you get your ass back to GameStop for a refund?
Just because social media allows you to reach out to an author, doesn’t mean you necessarily should.
Most authors I know love to give away books and love to interact with their readers, whether in person or online.
But stories like this make us want to shut down our Twitter feeds, delete our Facebook profiles, and get rid of the contact info on our websites.
Personally, I try to be as available as I can. I know that other authors are more immediately responsive and interactive. But not all human beings are wired up the same. I have no idea, for example, where people like John Green or Maureen Johnson find the energy and the willpower to tweet, blog, and Tumble 25 hours a day.
999 times out of a thousand, when I hear from a reader, it is — no lie — the best part of my day. Hands down. The single best part of my day.
But there’s that one time in a thousand, where the experience is so soul-draining or (sometimes) offensive or (sometimes) frightening that it makes me question being so available.
I didn’t write this particular post for any specific reason. I didn’t write it to make anyone feel bad (although if Pat or Dick are reading, I hope they feel the slow, long burn of shame for their behavior.) And I didn’t write it to make anyone say, “Poor authors!” Because all in all, being an author rocks, even when you get the occasional doucherocket knocking on your door.
I guess I wrote it because that’s what I do: I write. And my friend is just about the nicest guy in the world and someone decided to pants him. And I wasn’t there when it happened, so I couldn’t kick that person’s ass, so I’m doing what I can, which is just saying, “Hey, man, you were wronged. And I know it. And I want everyone to know it.”
Thanks for listening.