Taking a Moment to Ask Myself “Why?”

Last month Mur Lafferty shared her confusion over a certain type of feedback she’d received from folks explaining in detail why they aren’t reading or listening to one of her works. I meant to comment, but my thoughts on the subject seemed fairly divergent from that of the other commenters and I held off. I’m currently re-reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, and parts of it brought Mur’s question back to mind. The two things collided, and here is the result. So while I’m not directly responding to Mur, without her post I may never have thought this through, and realized I once was “one of those people.”

This issue is up there with the people who tell me when they didn’t like a podcast or a story or a book. They’re entitled to their opinion, I certainly don’t begrudge them that, but I don’t understand why I need to know about it. Do they want me to edit? Never write something like that again? I don’t get it.

I think my major disconnect is I find myself making the assumption that these folks are offering this feedback not in the hopes that Mur will rewrite for them, but that it will in some way inform her future works. I can’t imagine if they’d written her off completely as not worthy of their time and attention that they’d email her at all. If I’m wrong about that, I don’t know what they want either.

Confessions of an Accidental Troll

Back in the late 90s1 I once set an author an email asking them why they insisted on doing something just to piss people off (it was a shared universe novel line, and I was far from alone in my concern). Part of the uproar centered around the fact that he was the only author at the time with the license to use certain critical characters, so there was a feeling that he was abusing this power.

Filled with “fan entitlement” of George-Lucas-killed-my-childhood proportions I tore into him. That email was not my finest hour.

The author send me a well thought out reply, which made me feel like an ass for the tone of my first email. He wanted fans to be able to enjoy his book, but he also had to tell his story his way. After some more friendly back and forth he asked for input in the form of research, letting me know that while he’d read and consider it he made no promises as to if it would change his story.

I can’t say for certain how much impact I had on the book overall, but he did say he found it helpful and made use of it. He even thanked me in the books acknowledgments.2

I really don’t know what I expected when I sent that email, and I don’t know what the author thought I expected, but his response seriously humbled me. In the end he wrote the book he wanted to write, gained a great deal of respect from me, and got some free research out of the bargain.

Never again would I send that type of email to anyone. But when I look back, the reason for sending it was that really I wanted to be able to enjoy his book, and from what I knew of it I wasn’t going to be able to. I like to think he saw that I acted like an ass because I cared strongly about something he also cared strongly about, and he was able to turn it around into something constructive.

Also, I no longer feel entitled to anything just because I’m a fan.3

I not saying anyone needs to react like he did, or that what he did was the best choice even. Instead I offer this as an example of this type of exchange, and an exploration of where my own opinions on the matter stem from.

  1. Yeah, we had email back in the dark ages. I used elm, and I liked it. Now get off my lawn! []
  2. If you’ve seen my name (mis-spelled Jason Penny) in the acknowledgments of a late 90s media tie in book, you know exactly what I’m talking about. []
  3. I still reserve the right to get angry at bad remakes. []

One Comment

  1. Mur says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. I still feel like I wasn’t making my point well enough. I guess it puts me in a situation of feeling backed into a corner and not knowing what to say. I feel uncomfortable. “Uh, sorry you didn’t like it.” And the comments are usually specific instead of broad – “all your female characters are wusses” is rude, but gives me something to think about. “I can’t believe you killed X in Y novel” is specific and doesn’t really make an impact on a future work.

    Essentially it’s an emotional issue – i just don’t know how to respond to feedback like that. I admire the author you mentioned – I need that kind of aplomb. :)

    Mur

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