No Comment

by Pari

Recently, I spoke with a friend of mine who has been a journalist for decades. Due to health issues, she made the jump from print to blogging part time for a news website. Even though the site ended up laying off all of its part-time staff, my friend thanked me for commenting on her past articles because she received a financial bonus each time someone did.

A lot of things bothered me about that conversation. Am I the only person on earth who thinks that the "NEWS" should be news and NOT entertainment? Why should there be a reward system based on comments? Even worse, why is commenting used as a criterion for judging that blog's quality?

Is frequency of public response synonymous with worth?

The contemporary feedback phenomenon fascinates me. I am convinced that today's writers are becoming more dangerously cognizant and dependent on automatic/quick public input than our predecessors ever were.

Why?

Communication is easy, that's why. It's a slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am kind of world. Instead of taking the time to write a letter, address the envelope and mail it, people can knock out a quick fan email or damning criticism within seconds.

Everything — except, maybe, the submission process to agents and editors — is fast today.

This new reality has created strange expectations.

It isn't just news outlets that gauge the quality of blog posts based on the comments they evoke. We bloggers do it all the time to ourselves! We know that the vast majority of our readers don't bother to comment– for whatever reason — but we torture ourselves when our posts get minimal response. I don't know about you, but I try to comment on friends' blogs as often as possible. However, if I'm required to register on a site to comment  . . . forget it! No way. That knee-jerk rule of mine has nothing to do with content; I just get annoyed at having to jump through hoops.

It's the same with our books and short stories. Nowadays, if our prose doesn't yield fan emails, online reviews at booksellers, or discussion on fan sites/listservs — we wonder what's wrong with our writing.

(Let's leave the discussion about sales figures as an accurate read of worth to another post, please.)

Bottom line: I doubt that Poe or Christie considered direct reader input nearly as much as we do.

And I think it's because we all know how very easy it is to take that little step of offering feedback. When we don't get it, we can't help but wonder why.

Do these expectations affect our work?

Do we seek out particularly incendiary topics in order to prove to ourselves that someone out there cares? Do we censor our stories and novels because people Twitter negatively about prefaces or books with serial killers or talking cats?

I don't know.

I do think that the paradigm has shifted. We writers need to be aware of what we're really responding to and the messages we're feeding ourselves, as a result of that feedback, about our own worth in our chosen field.

What say you?

33 thoughts on “No Comment

  1. B.G. Ritts

    I suspect the ‘bonus for comments’ was a way to gauge how many people were reading.

    I don’t normally comment unless there’s a new/different point to make, an interesting (to me, at least) incident to relate or I had a eureka/oh wow moment while reading.

    It’s not that I don’t care to comment, but seeing online output from people like Kaye Barkey, Jane Haddam and Andi Shechter, I marvel at how well their thoughts flow from mind through fingers, turning up as words on this massive electron jungle. I struggle with getting it to sound right, spending a great deal of time in the process.

    As to expectations, I think we’ve gotten into the mind set that everyone is online all the time, can see every word written at once, and will let us know what they think immediately. The days of the Pony Express are long gone. Of course, the chance to consider your words is too. The biggest problem with instant communication is the opportunity to say something you wouldn’t if you had to write a letter and post it. *Now, not only the recipient, but the whole world can know that you’re an ass.

    *This comment has absolutely, positively (etc., etc., etc.) no connection to the three persons named above.

    Reply
  2. Stephen D. Rogers

    Feedback is both instant and often public in a format (online) that will make it available indefinitely.

    Whatever you may think of Poe or Christie, if you mention your opinion in a comment somewhere (versus in a letter to someone), it’s out there with the potential of being linked to you forever.

    Reply
  3. Dana King

    I don’t pick blog topics based on whether I think it will get comments, but I will confess to checking whether any comments came in. Part of it has to do with looking for validation, or possibly learning something from a commenter, but often the receipt of a comment is a way of being reassured I’m not just committing random acts of keyboard masturbation, that someone else is appreciating what I wrote.

    For other than blog posts, I don’t worry about it. I write the best manuscript I can–incorporating constructive input, of course–and hope for the best.

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  4. Mark Terry

    I was briefly involved as managing editor for online content for a big publication and the discussion we had along those lines was a way to increase comments and drive traffic via blogs is to write about controversial subjects–in a controversial way. Want an example of someone who’s good at it? Rush Limbaugh.

    I don’t agree with his politics at all and I think he is, mainly, a jerk, but he’s absolutely nailed the way to generate traffic.

    Reply
  5. pari

    B.G.,You might well be right about the purpose of that reward/comment system. But we both know that even the number of hits to a site may or may not indicate more than the number of hits . . .

    I don’t know what to think.

    As to the reasons to comment or not comment — I know that sometimes the subject (or past comments) intimidates me, that I feel incompetent or bereft of an opinion.

    I still wonder though whether this is affecting our decisions vis a vis what we write in our stories and novels.

    Reply
  6. pari

    So, um, Stephen,Is that a good thing? To have comments linked with you forever?

    I know as a writer that I wish some of the online reviews about my books were either more or less accessible ;-), that some would stay forever and others would be eaten in a binary frenzy.

    Reply
  7. pari

    Dana,Thank you for addressing both issues that I bring up.

    Like you, I do look for comments on the blog as a form of affirmation. I know that I stopped writing the Agents/Editors column for Mystery Writers of America after 2 1/2 years because I didn’t get enough input and since it was a volunteer gig, I needed that.

    As to our fiction, I suspect yours will be the most prevalent remark. I also suspect if any of us ARE using that public response in the way I mention, we’d be too shy to admit it . . .

    Reply
  8. pari

    Mark,Thanks for this inside view.

    I agree that Rush is a master at his craft — the craft of being controversial — and that he attracts a lot of attention as a result.

    But I wonder if that model is valid for the kind of blogs most of us write — if it really would result in more than getting attention — or as a measure of success in fiction.

    I don’t know.

    Reply
  9. B.G. Ritts

    Stephen’s ‘forever’ has another caution attached to it. Many bloggers are circumspect in posting about their personal lives. The problem, unless you just don’t post anything personal, is that after a couple of years’ posts, a person reading from the beginning can put together details you would never intend for the public to know. The same can hold true for a series of comments.

    Reply
  10. kit

    I’ve been a *lurker* on this site for quite a while and often wanted to comment….but never had an account, until yesterday.I’ve also read author’s blogs, not just authors from here but others as well.

    What keeps me coming back to certain ones is if they are open, by that I mean they teach me something or have something to say or some point to make.Not to bring up bad history, but the first example that came to mind….was Tess Gerritson….I admire her work, I read her blogs as much as possible…and then some issues arose and she stopped blogging for a while, to settle the furor down…so badly at that time I wanted to say….YOU DIDN’T DO A DARN THING WRONG!!!! (stronger, actually) dont’ throw out the good you’re doing…altho, I could see the reasoning, at the time.I’ve come here to learn…in my opinion, you have a valid point, but it goes both ways….see as a commenter, we have to watch what we say, even though a subject may excite us. Because, how I come off sounding may later affect any work I present. aaaaaarrrrrrggghhhhhh, it gives me a headache.Finally, I throw up my hands, and say to myself…it’s all about the writing….never forget that…and anyone that doesn’t “get” that, probably doesn’t get what you have to say in the first place.

    Reply
  11. pari

    Kit,You are so right on!

    In our fiction/nonfiction work, we do need to be more mindful of the precedents we’ve established in the public eye. It’s odd that the Internet has become such a factor, but it is — in the same way that young people are now finding when they apply for jobs and a potential employer says, “Why did you post that picture of yourself smoking a doobie on MySpace?”

    Of course, the employer wouldn’t actually say that; the potential employee wouldn’t ever get that far . . .

    Reply
  12. J.T. Ellison

    Pari, and excellent subject, which we’ve discussed at length. I find that the blog posts that I pour my heart and soul into fall flat, and the ones that I don’t think are great get tons of comments. I’ve stopped trying to figure that out, and write what I think people will enjoy and find instructive.

    What I love about Murderati is the camaraderie. We can always count on our brethren to say something, even if the readers don’t.

    Reply
  13. Tammy Cravit

    I think our society faces a communications challenge today. The ease of communication, combined with the fact that communication comes in smaller bites now — Tweets on Twitter, comments on blogs, 160-character text messages on cell phones — means that the volume of communication is rising sharply, but the communication that takes place happens, for the most part, on a much more superficial level. And in a way, it’s not communication at all. I was at a gas station the other night and saw a group of teen girls walking down the sidewalk; all four of them were busy typing text messages on their cell phones and not interacting at all with one another.

    I think the phenomenon you’re commenting on, Pari, is just another manifestation of that same problem. The availability of ubiquitous, instant communication mechanisms is causing us to communicate much more often, but with much less depth of emotion and intimacy.

    Reply
  14. Gerald So

    Awareness of my potential audience is second nature by now. I’ve never been one to rant, confess, or otherwise gush in writing. The act of writing helps me focus all that appropriately

    I appreciate comments, but I don’t write anything expressly to get a reaction. I write because I’m moved, and if I’m moved, others will be, too.

    The fact that comments are archived forever (or until some server crashes) doesn’t influence my commenting. All a comment means is that I felt that way and had to say something at that moment. It’s wrong to hold people to their comments forever, but then, the commenter had the chance to decide what to say/write at the time.

    Technology only increases the speed at which we write. It shouldn’t and really doesn’t speed up our decisions what to write and send out.

    Reply
  15. kit

    I can’t be everywhere so I do take shortcuts, in that I am on social networking sites.one of my *friends* is a newshound, regularly posting articles that catch his eye.Two articles he recently posted come to mind ..one is on the explosion of facebook…and how we can invent our personas on it, if we choose to do that….how facebook, and other social networking sites are taking over our lives.How we can digitally, design ourselves.Another article is a blurb from a paper or conference given by a neuroscientist suggesting that children’s brains are now becoming re-wired due to internet useage…and listed three specific things that were affected…shortened attention span,encouraged instant gratification, and heightened self-centeredness.Personally, I’ve always believed in balance…to be aware of what’s going on around you.Yes, this is happening and to deny it…would be to wear blinders, yet…it takes away from the very thing a writer sets out to do, in my opinion.I have to believe the writer’s voice and intention will come through, otherwise…why bother?

    Reply
  16. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari

    Interesting topic, and very valid for everyone who blogs and everyone who comments on blogs. In the days of instant email, people have grown accustomed to instant replies and can start to take it very personally if you don’t get back to them instantly. Also, we tend to get a lot of emails from people who, at one point, would have just picked up the phone. And I hate getting texts from friends, telling me truncated news that really have been better delivered in spoken word format.

    But I digress.

    I confess that I do try to respond to every comment and I agree with JT that some of the more personal and heartfelt blogs I’ve done seem to generate little interest (ooh, what nasty little psychological tricks can I play on myself with *that* one) while ones that seem a lot more general have brought forth lots of comments. Who can tell what catches the mood of the moment?

    And BG, I am always INCREDIBLY aware of how much personal information I’m putting out there, from the point of view of my own personal security, but having been on the receiving end of death-threat letters will do that to you … ;-]

    Reply
  17. Fran

    I don’t always comment on every blog I read, but I know that I check my own blog comments and stats pretty regularly.

    Part of it, I think, is to see whether or not we’re wasting our time doing something. But it’s a nice boost to the ego when something you do is well-received, isn’t it?

    Newspapers, print and online, are undergoing such a transition now, Pari, it’s possible that your friend’s situation is temporary as everyone figures out what’s going on. News has become entertainment, and that’s disturbing. However, I’m not seeing a huge push on anyone’s part — including mine — to change it, and I’m not sure why that is. Quality doesn’t seem to be key anymore, popularity does.

    And that’s a whole ‘nother rant.

    There’s a whole electronic world out there, and I feel like a dinosaur at times. I don’t hang out on Second Life, but a lot of folks do, and make their livings there. I don’t spend as much time on Facebook and MySpace as a lot of folks do, but I’m into my fifth decade and those sites aren’t aimed at me.

    It’s a changing world, my friends. But it’d kind of exciting, too.

    Reply
  18. Jude Hardin

    I think comments help us feel like we’re not operating in a vacuum.

    I invite everyone to visit my blog tomorrow for a very special author interview.

    And please leave a comment! 🙂

    Reply
  19. Jake Nantz

    I’m such a loser. I was so afraid that I was basically talking to myself (lack of comments aside from a few interested and/or loyal friends) that I got a Feedjit just to make sure people were finding the blog. Now I feel fine. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE it when people comment (that’s why I ask questions), but as long as I know I’m not just talking to myself, I’m okay. Mainly I rationalize it as, “I’ve published (soon) one short story. What do I really have to offer that other published writers haven’t already said better and with more chops to back it up?” So I just ask the questions that occur to me, and hopefully it will start a good readers-and-writers discussion that day/week.

    I do try to comment whenever I see a post that resonates with me, but I tend to spend more time reading than commenting. I visit pretty much every blog on my blog roll every few days or so, but I don’t always comment because they don’t always “speak” to me.

    And Zoe, who on earth is stupid enough to threaten a woman with as much trigger time as you? Pity that fool when he/she comes barking up your tree….

    Reply
  20. pari

    Hey all,I’m just checking in to thank everyone who has written so far.

    This post wasn’t really about blog comments per se but about how, as Zoe points out, instant communication begets instant expectations about instant responses and how THAT might affect us as writers.

    But I love the topics that have come up so far.

    I’m only checking in every once in a while because I’m 20 pages from finishing a huge edit and just want to get the darn thing DONE!!!!!

    Reply
  21. Zoë Sharp

    Pari, good luck with the edit! It may be exhausting now, but think of the exhilaration when it’s done.

    Or relief.

    Or just more exhaustion.

    (It’s a kind of multiple choice thing, really.)

    And Jake – why do you think I got into self-defence in the first place …?

    Reply
  22. Catherine

    Sometimes I read this blog and don’t comment because I can’t think of an intelligent response. Sadly sometimes I’ve commented in this state of mind and rue quietly the instant nature of communications.There are other times when I express exactly what I would like, however my success rate is a little too scattered for my liking.

    A lot of times someone’s post will swirl around in my mind for a while and eventually coalesce.Coalesce into something I could share, but it’s a day later. So I know it’s had an impact on me, but it seems strange to post a day or two later.

    I think that people commenting and not commenting have a slew of varying factors.For myself apathy is not one.Time is. It’s not that what someone has written hasn’t touched me, it’s that it does take time to formulate something quasi intelligent as a comment.Sometimes if it’s something that you can feel is carefully crafted and very heartfelt by the author, it seems dismissive to write, yeah what you said…although that might be what you’re thinking, total recognition and alignment with what they’ve written…just not able in the moment to reply adequately.

    Reply
  23. pari

    Zoe,I just finished and sent it to my agent. This is the book that I’ve been working on, rewriting, working on some more and rewriting again and again.

    This is it. For better or worse, I think this book is truly done!!!!!!

    Now I can pay attention to some of these wonderful comments!

    Reply
  24. pari

    Thanks to everyone who responded. Sorry that the day got away from me like this. Usually, I’m a little better about commenting as the comments come in.

    And YES! I do feel a lot lighter right now. JT, honey, I’m so happy for you!!!

    Reply
  25. Tom

    Congrats, J.T.!

    Congratulations, Pari!

    But are you really sure people hate stories with talking cats? ‘Cause if you’re right, I’m in deep yoghurt . . .

    Reply
  26. crimeficreader

    Pari,

    The way the news is delivered these days is terrible and it’s lost its objectivity. In the UK, the government has successfully managed to spin into the media – so much so that these days the tide is turning and people are now starting to disbelieve everything they hear/read. But after speaking to a couple of my Canadian friends, I am reading more international websites for news. Why? Because while our PM has been strutting his stuff claiming to the saviour of the world economy, taking actions that others follow, Canada’s top dogs on Finance went to a G6 meeting and declared that Canada was in a better position with its economy as they had good interest rates, less unemployment, their banks had not got into the sub-prime market to the extent of other countries and their banking regulatory model was indeed a model for others to follow.

    So I read more of what’s reported elsewhere.

    I live in Wales and last year when the “credit crunch” was first mentioned in the press, our national rag “reported” on the Welsh housing market. Not all factual because the assertion/opinion was made that Wales would be in a better position to face the downturn in the housing market than other places in the UK. If not qualified to have an opinion, then why make it? Recently the same rag reported that the Welsh housing market is currently the worst in the UK.

    As for Twitter, I have carefully avoided it thus far. But today, I had hits to my blog from Twitter and I have no idea what these people were looking for. That spooked me!

    Lastly, I’ve been very much enjoying a few of the posts on here recently, including this one. I’m an often-reader-rare-commenter.

    All best!

    Reply
  27. crimeficreader

    And now for a public apology to Zoe. You noted instantaneous communication and expectation above and you once apologised to me for being late in email replies. I think you have now discovered that I can be worse. A lot worse. So my apols for my tardy reply and expect it by Sunday. Hope all is well with you!

    Reply

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