NOTE: This is the first in what will be a random, occasional series on author boards, author websites and the extras that authors do and don't do for their readers.
JAX: How into your authors do you get? Do you just enjoy the books, and that's enough for you? Do you look up everything they've ever written, and see if perhaps their websites offer little extra tidbits? And are you more likely to follow an author if they have extras on their sites?
I do all of the above. Some books just don't inspire me to track down everything. But others...they draw me in. The characters become friends, and I love to get every last detail I can about them. It's fun to go to an author's site and see what sweet treats they leave for their readers. Snippets, and slices of life that wouldn't quite fit in a novel, but are so great to read anyway. It's not something I expect every author to do, writing takes time and these freebies are special gifts to be treasured.
Another thing I love to see is a thriving discussion group on an author's board. One where you can discuss what were your favorite parts of the book, what didn't quite tickle your fancy, and what you outright didn't like. Now, I publish little things here and there - nothing nearly as complicated as a novel - so I have a very tiny understanding of how nerve-wracking it is to get bad feedback. It kicks up every childish instinct to stamp my foot and take my toys and go home. So I do understand that authors don't exactly want to run a message board that is filled with criticism of their work.
Unfortunately, I'm seeing and hearing of more and more boards where it is unacceptable to express anything but utter adoration and support for the author in question. Plot holes, timeline issues, changing a character's history mid-series...don't point it out! That's mean spirited. Don't like a character? A particular scene strike you as improbable or offensive? Zip it, or you'll be labelled a troublemaker. Or banned. *blink* Really? Now when someone comes on the board with an attitude and is obviously being mean by pointing these things out, that's one thing. But I've seen people post perfectly reasonable objections, or even just ask for clarification, stating that they still like a book and admire the author, but some detail or another had caught their attention. Then be verbally pummeled by the masses. The only ones the mods take to task are those who didn't like something. Now, I take pains to be tactful on the boards, so I haven't been banned, and the only warning I've ever gotten was from a mod who vehemently disagrees with me, and seems to dislike that I'll look up and quote passages to support my views. (I'm kind of a brat that way.) But I've seen some articulate, elegantly written posts be deleted because there isn't some element of ass-kissing to them.
I hate to say it, but this can affect how I see a series, especially if it's one I already see as struggling. And it will make me think twice about picking up anything else written by that author. Some may see this as unfair, but let's look at the situation: The mods run a board in an author's name, and as such are an author's representatives. They need to be aware of that when they stand by or take part in belittling a reader, even if the reader expresses a view they dislike, that the author's reputation suffers.
I'm a member of several boards that are very even handed. The mods don't just keep the members in line, they keep an eye on each other, especially when one mod is a little more involved or passionate about a topic. Other boards seem to let mods run wild: edited, deleting and handing out warnings to any who dare to disagree with them. I do understand that as an author's work becomes more popular, it is harder to keep in touch on a board. I am grateful for the extra time any author will spend to address questions and comments. I know that moderating a board is an act of love for an author's work, and as a mod, I do feel protective of the author and her work. But there is a big difference between defending against "your work sucks" and shutting down someone who says "this didn't make sense to me." Being firm with the former is warranted. Being rude to the latter means making yourself and the author look bad.
BEA: I love author boards, even more than author websites. Why? Because author discussion boards allow me to discuss the characters, story lines, books and genres that I love. Before joining my first one almost 6 years ago, I had no one in my real life to discuss my fantasy, sci fi or romance books with. The majority of my family and friends looked down on them (and still do).
Both author websites and author boards will have freebies and extras for visitors and members. Some authors opt to do it on one or the other while some opt for both, others for neither (no online freebies or extras) and there are still some authors who don't have an online presence. I will read an author regardless of their online presence but what they say and do online, just like in other media, will and does affect my perception of them. I love the extras and freebies that are sometimes available, I love the boards that I hang out on, but they don't make or break an author for me. As long as I like the books, AND the author doesn't piss me off, I'll keep buying and/or reading.
So, what pisses me off? Mostly, it's attitude. If the author gets overly snarky, is frequently rude, or starts acting as if they are a deity's gift to the world, I start withdrawing. I may still read but I'm less likely to talk up the books. Now, I don't boycott or threaten the author (you know, like those charming readers who go "You need to write X or I'll stop reading your books!"). I just stop talking up the books or author or maybe stop reading their books. Generally, I keep buying and reading as long as I enjoy the books. Will an author's board affect my reading habits and enjoyment? For better or worse, yes.
I belong to some of same boards as Jax, both the good ones and the not so good ones, okay, the ugly ones. Now, one of those I joined because I'd heard such awful things about the board. I just couldn't believe it could be as atrocious as I'd heard. It wasn't.
It was worse. The rules were 10 miles long and had subsections which had subsections. It seemed as if you needed permission just to breathe. There was even an area of the board that was exclusively for happy, positive comments on the authors works. Say what? Mild, VERY mild constructive criticism was tolerated but barely. This same board has had to shut down and re-open on several occasions because matters got so out of hand. Frankly, the mods and admins struck me as tyrants, and they were speaking on the author's behalf! Quite literally; according to the board rules and FAQ's, we were to treat their statements as the authors own.
After reading some of the mod statements and wandering about the board on different occasions, I decided that we were not meant for each other. I don't want to be treated like I'm an idiot nor be told what to think. Right or wrong, it left a bad taste in my mouth and I had less respect for the author. (I've since stopped reading that author's books, in part due to the board and in part due to my dissatisfaction with the books)
Another board I went to also had rules similar to the board I just talked about. I joined that one because I liked, though I didn't love, the books and a friend suggested I join. Sadly, I found it be even worse than the first. Jax later joined that same board and it's the one she mentions up above in her area.What really caused me to leave was a post I read. I don't recall which book it was or the particular character that the poster was referring to, but apparently s/he referred to a character by a nickname that was not board sanctioned BECAUSE ALL OF A SUDDEN THE POST WAS INTERRUPTED BY A MOD READING THE POSTER THE RIOT ACT FOR USING THEIR OWN NICKNAME FOR A CHARACTER FROM THE AUTHOR'S BOOK. And yes, the mod typed it just like that, bold red caps and all, smack in the middle of the post. I didn't, and still don't, know why the mod didn't simply edit the post and then PM the member. For that matter, I don't understand the whole nickname issue. But as soon as I read that, I knew that was the wrong board for me. Again, it gave me a bad impression of the author as well as the board. That she would allow such rude, tyrannical behavior leaves me less than impressed.
Now, I've had some good experiences on various author boards - made friends (like Jax), discovered new-to-me authors, even traveled to another country and across my own country to meet other board members and the authors. I've gotten previews of new books, snippets of info, etc before non-board members, etc. All of which are great, and lots of fun. I've joined author boards that I have no quarrel with; I don't visit daily or even weekly, but I go when I can and I enjoy myself when I'm there.
But authors and board administrators, please remember that your board is both an opportunity to enhance your reputation and attract new readers, and an opportunity to anger and annoy your readers and members and earn a bad reputation, whether or not you deserve it.
**An FYI Note: Jax and I are both mods on discussion boards as well as members so we are very well aware of what's involved in running a board. Jax and I both mod at Kelley Armstrong's board (that's where we met); I mod at Patricia Briggs's board, and Jax is a mod at a board that I admin. Possibly, this results in our standards being higher than they might otherwise be.**