Friday, March 18, 2016

How to Be a Writer in the E-Age: A Conversation about Bullies, Trolls, and Social Media Pressure

I started this blog to talk about my fiction, but this week there's a 99c Countdown deal on the nonfiction book I wrote with superstar author Catherine Ryan Hyde, HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE: A SELF-HELP GUIDE, and I wanted to spread the word.

Catherine has been my mentor and friend for two decades. We met when we were both unpublished novelists suffering through harsh critiques and endless rejections. But in the late 1990s, Catherine hit the jackpot with her mega-seller Pay it Forward (which became a film with Kevin Spacey and Holly Hunter, but the book is better :-) ) Her star continues to ascend. She has now published over 30 books, and recently received a million-reader award from Amazon. She has made the #1 spot on Amazon several times. You can find her at

I was honored that she wanted to write a book with me. It gave a great boost to my career. We began writing it before I had found my current publisher, and my career was at a low point after my first publisher went under and my magazine work dried up.

I did have a successful blog, but that hadn't yet started to pay off. Unfortunately, it gave me enough of an online presence that I made a good target for the sad little people who troll the Interwebz looking for ways to ruin somebody's day.

When Catherine and I first published HOW TO BE A WRITER, we had both recently been attacked by the nasty trolls who swarm an author's buy page with one-star "reviews"  that have nothing to do with the book and everything to do with the trolls' weird agendas. 

This interview is from 2012, but most of what we talk about is relevant today. My blog with Ruth Harris was just getting started, but everything I say about blogging still applies in 2016.

Catherine Ryan Hyde Interviews Anne R. Allen

Catherine: Unfortunately, the Internet can be a nasty and disagreeable place. You watched me learn that the hard way. And supported me during that time. Then you were subjected to a similar disaster. A blogger is so "out there" on the Interwebz, where everything you say can and will be taken out of context, misconstrued, then used against you. How did you cope? How did it change you? Any advice to others?

Anne: Yes, I had my first experience with Internet bullies when I wrote what I thought was a completely innocuous post encouraging the non-Internet savvy older reader to write Amazon reviews of their favorite books. Because it had been prompted by an elderly lady who thought a two star review was a rave, I aimed it at grandmothers. First I called it "Amazon Reviews for Grandmas" but decided that wasn't hooky enough. So I called it "Amazon Reviews: 12 Things Everybody and his Grandmother Needs to Know."

Turned out to be the best header ever for getting traffic (over 50K hits) but unfortunately it got the wrong kind. Well, some of the wrong kind. 90% of the response was positive, but the other 10%—totally psycho!

The negative stories went viral and spiraled away from reality like the old game of "telephone." I was telling book bloggers how to do their job! I was a self-published moron who had beaten up a little old lady for giving me a 2-star review!! I was making reviewers wear evening gowns!!! (BTW, I'm not self-published, and I've never met the lady—a friend of the friend who asked me to write the post. And when I compared Amazon to other online shopping sites and said, "You don't give a pair of jeans one star because it's not an evening gown," I was NOT issuing orders from the fashion police. These people should see how I dress.)

But I learned that truth never gets in the way of rageaholics. They trashed my Amazon buy page with bogus one star reviews (most have since been removed.) They voted up the 2-star review so it was the first thing people read. A barrage of hate mail told me I'd never be reviewed in this Internet again. I actually got death threats. Some Bozo found out where I lived, described my house, and told me he was watching me and he had a gun. And I've got to admit I'm still scared to query a book reviewer I don't know for fear it will be one who heard the poisonous stories and thinks I'm a little old lady-basher.

What did I learn? The Internet is like a big, dangerous city. Yes, it's sparkly and exciting, but don't expect everybody to be sane and/or sober. And sometimes you step in dog doo.

My advice: 

1) Keep in mind that self-righteous anger is a drug, and people who are high shouldn’t be treated like rational humans. 

 2) Reason and kindness are wasted on bullies: it's better to ignore the craziness like a pile of poo on a New York sidewalk. 

3) Realize it has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with people who are addicted to the high they get from rage. 

4) Call law enforcement if you're in serious danger, but otherwise, just rally your friends and ask for support. There's strength in numbers.

Catherine: This will border on shameless plug, but you and I have a book coming out just about now, the co-authored HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE: A SELF-HELP GUIDE. A popular blog is a great way to draw attention to a book release. This seems to me like an excellent example of how a successful blog can be a boon to authors. Care to count the ways "Writing about Writing. Mostly" has helped your career?

Anne: First, I should say that my blog is now called "Anne R. Allen's Blog…with Ruth Harris. I initially called it "Anne R. Allen's Blog: Writing about Writing. Mostly", but moved the tag down last August when the wonderful Ruth Harris joined the blog as a permanent every-fourth-Sunday guest.

This is lets me make an important point. As a blogging teacher, I always emphasize the importance of putting your name in your header. A reader wanting to find your blog is going to Google your name, not a cutsie title they probably don't remember or may never have heard. If you're an author trying to build platform, it's really important to remember your own name is your brand, and your social media presence should be all about establishing your brand.

As far as how my blog has helped me as an author: it got the attention of several agents and two publishers. Those publishers now publish six of my books. That has all happened in less than a year, so I'd say blogging has been very good to me. But I've been blogging for three years, so I don't want to tell people a blog will lead to instant publication. It certainly can help, though.

But I should point out a blog is NOT a place to sell books. That's important to remember. A blog is a place to make friends. It's your little home on the Internet where people can stop by and have a conversation. 

Don't listen to people who tell you that racking up huge numbers of followers and Tweeps is the way to publishing success. Social Media is social. A blog is a place where you can let people know who you are and get to know people in more depth than on Twitter or Facebook . Once people know you, yeah—maybe they're more likely to be interested in reading your books.

Will you explain to my readers the concept of "slow blogging," why it works for you (and many others) and how it makes you feel when you read advice insisting that one must blog every freaking day?

Anne: This is one of my most important messages to all authors out there: Don't listen to the "boot camp" types out there who say you have to blog 24/7! Anybody who tells you to forget pesky things like family, friends, job and sleep…and that silly little book you're working on—is a doofus.

The Slow Blog movement is like the "slow food" movement (the opposite of McBurgerish face-filling.) It teaches that tech is our servant, not the other way around. Mindless, endless blogging is not going to help your career. Once a week is fine. Once a month is fine. Only blog if you have something to say. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Think quality not quantity. My blogpost on the Slow Blog Manifesto is here.

Catherine: I find myself feeling close to the people (like you, for example, but others I've never met) who follow my blog and leave comments regularly. What about you? How many of your blog followers feel like friends? Any stories that stand out?

Anne: Oh, I love my blog followers! I wish I could have a big party and meet them all in person. They're such a diverse group—people I might not meet in real life. From a religious stay-at-home mom to a nihilist extreme martial arts fighter. A lot are much younger than I am, but on the Web, we're kind of all the same age. I don't want to mention names, because I might leave somebody out—and I feel close to so many. But I've got to say that they've got me reading their books—many in genres I wouldn't normally read. I think commenting on blogs gets readers as much as having a blog of your own—my commenters sure got my attention.

Catherine: I try to give this opportunity to each of my blogger interviewees. We tend to feel a bit guilty blowing our own horns on the Internet. So I wave The Wand of No Shame over your head. Will you brag on yourself a little, and tell my readers the honors and recognition you and your blog have received?

Anne: OK, this is me tooting my horn. Last month our blog was one of fifteen finalists for the Best Publishing Industry blog in the Association of American Publishers/Goodreads awards. That was awesome. I'm so grateful to everybody who voted for us. The blog was also a finalist in several other big blog contests.

Early on in my blogging career my blog was named "Blog of the Week" by a couple of marketers in Washington DC and the same week a Canadian food blogger announced my blog was the best place to learn the basics of blogging—that was nice.

But I think the most exciting honor I got was after I'd only been blogging for a few months: uberblogger Nathan Bransford—who was then an agent at Curtis Brown—chose me to be a guest poster on his blog. My feet hardly touched the ground for weeks.

Catherine: Now that your blog is so successful, you must get a lot of contact from authors and others who would like to benefit from your blog's big following and good reputation. So I'll ask a similar question to the one I ask book review bloggers, who are solicited by authors all the time: What is an example (or some examples) of the best and worst approaches you have received?

Anne: Oooh—This is an important subject. People are so clueless about approaching bloggers. Asking to guest post or interview on a top-rated blog is asking for a huge favor, but most people do not get this.

Our blog averages 15,000 hits a month on four posts. (Update: by 2015, the number of hits grew to over 100,000.) That means each post has to get 3500 hits—in an ever more saturated market. A guest needs to have a big following or offer something unique and cutting-edge to say. Otherwise, they're going to lower our ratings. That's why we don't take many guests. The bloggers who get on are either already bestselling novelists—like you and Lawrence Block and Elizabeth S. Craig/Riley Adams, or they're long–time followers who've made good and have an inspiring and unique success story to tell. Also, we like author-friendly, positive posts full of useful information, not "buy my book" ads or boot-camp stuff.

The most clueless queries are from people who should know better: editors or other service providers who want free advertising, or publicists who want free exposure for their client's book. They're usually high-handed and rude about it: dictating their rules to ME as if they're doing me a favor.

What these people are doing is like walking up to a stranger on the street and demanding a hand-out.

I wrote a blogpost recently on guest blogger etiquette, hoping to cut down on the clueless requests—nobody likes to have to reject people, even rude ones. But one of the comments—on that very post—consisted of a query letter from a college kid who pretty much broke every rule in the post. You can read my "How to Be a Good Blog Guest" post here.

Catherine: What real-life opportunities have been extended to you, and what experiences have you had in the non-virtual world, that you felt were a direct result of your blog?

Anne: When I started the blog, I pretty much thought my career as a fiction writer was over. My publisher had gone out of business and the comic mysteries I write were being dismissed as part of the "chick lit fad" that had been declared dead.

But because of the blog, I was approached by a number of publishers who liked my humor and voice. One wanted to re-publish my backlist, and another wanted to take a chance on my new ones. It's been an exhausting nine months, but now all six of the books are published—three only as ebooks, but they'll all be in paper by Christmas.

Even before I was approached by publishers, the blog gave me a chance to be myself in a way I was often afraid to do in real life. I grew up at a time when women weren't supposed to be smart, so I developed a habit of dumbing myself down to please people that has plagued me for a lifetime.

But I let my brain loose in the blog and discovered that being a "smarty-pants" could have positive results. It made me brave enough to do it in the real world. A number of acquaintances disappeared, but I also started meeting people who were more like the ones who comment on my blog: people whose lives encompass more than shopping and TV and kvetching about work. I started to feel an intellectual freedom I hadn't felt since I was an undergraduate at Bryn Mawr.

Catherine: Will you recommend a few other book-and-author related blogs that you think are worth visiting?

Anne: The number one blog every writer should check in on periodically is Victoria Strauss's Writer Beware. She's a tireless watchdog who tells writers about scams and unethical stuff we need to know about to protect ourselves. Other must-reads are Nathan Bransford's Blog, and Jane Friedman's. Also, all creative people can benefit from reading social media guru Kristen Lamb. Her blog is funny and informative and she's started a Facebook-type site for artists and writers called MyWANA that looks as if it will be fantastic for networking.

Catherine: Please write your own question, and answer it.

Anne: What is the most inspiring piece of advice you received when you were an aspiring writer?

A famous author named Catherine Ryan Hyde said, "If you have a fall-back position, you tend to fall back." That's when I decided to cut back on my day job and give this writing thing my all. I'm not getting rich, but I'm not falling back, either.


Our book has gone through several editions since we did this interview. But it's on an Amazon countdown starting Saturday, March 19, 2016, and ending the following Saturday, March 26.

On Sunday, I will be talking more on the subject of Social Media Pressure on my Writing Blog, Anne R. Allen's Blog...With Ruth Harris.

99c Countdown!

by Catherine Ryan Hyde and Anne R. Allen


From March 19-March 25 it will be only 99c at  It's also available in paper for $12.99  

The countdown at Amazon UK starts on Tuesday, March 22 and goes until the 29th


  1. Nicely said and still valid today... one thing I've never understood is why authors that receive good reviews (-5 star reviews) don't take the time to vote them up by hitting the "yes" button on "was this review helpful." It's a good, easy way to combat the trolls and what reviewer doesn't like to see that someone found what they wrote "helpful?" Anyway, thanks for this piece, it was "helpful." :-)

    1. Michael--Thanks for your comment! Those helpful/unhelpful buttons are sometimes gamed by the reviewer community so some authors prefer not to click on them at all. Because there's fierce competition among Amazon reviewers, some will get friends to "upvote" their reviews so they can get ahead and get more free stuff to review. That leads some of the Amazon vigilantes to say it's unethical for anybody but random readers to upvote a review. I personally think this is silly, but many authors don't upvote because they don't want to be accused of being in collusion with the reviewer.

  2. Nice blog - 2012 to 2016 is clearly no time at all in the evolution of the Internet Troll.

    PS - there's a typo/mistake - you say March 9, rather than March 19, here:

    "But it's on an Amazon countdown starting Saturday, March 9, 2016..."

  3. John--Thanks for the proofreading help! I've fixed it now. I got this post up yesterday morning before going off to my tax appointment. I think my mind was elsewhere.

    Yes, the Internet Troll is still pretty true to form. Especially the ones in the book world. They seem to lack imagination. :-)

  4. I always appreciate your posts concerning cyberbullies and trolls. A few months ago, I told you about the troll/bully/hater that I had inherited from a Goodreads Giveaway that I did last year. I had no idea that Goodreads had a reputation for this type of thing until it happened to me. This narcissist renamed my characters in the book during her review. I don't think she really ever read the story. I think she just wanted to hate somebody. Lucky me. Needless to say, I will NEVER run another Goodreads Giveaway. Not EVER. And that particular person even went so far to say that I should be "careful what I say or do" since she works at a bookstore. She actually works at a Barnes & Noble in the coffee shop, but her venom was unbelievable. Where do these people come from? To this day, she still watches me online and waits to see when I have new releases. Cyberbullying is a crime punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and jail time. Protect yourself and hire a legal team if necessary. Nobody should have to tolerate this type of insanity!

  5. Sydney--This is exactly why I advise writers to stay away from GR. I only go there as a reader, and I don't go often. There's a culture of hate there that they can't seem to eradicate. I've looked into some of the worst bullies and discovered they're mostly failed indie writers. Yeah. They wrote one really bad piece of erotica or whatever and it didn't sell, so now they hate all authors. Typical that your particular toxic moron doesn't even sell books at the bookstore.

    And yes, cyberbullying is a crime. It's very hard to prove, but as law enforcement gets more savvy about this stuff, they will learn. Picture that b**** getting taken away in handcuffs from her little coffee counter. It might help. You might also want to send a little note to her employer. :-) They might not want a criminal sociopath who stalks, harasses and bullies authors working at a Barnes and Noble. Just saying...

    1. Thank you, Anne! I sought legal counsel after this individual began watching for my new releases. She would then go back to her cherished "hateful" review that she had posted and update it with new comments or bold marks. It has almost begun comical. But she took her venom across multiple social media platforms, reposting her review on Wordpress, etc. And it's so silly. I am in Mississippi. She works in the coffee shop of a Barnes & Noble in Virginia. Never laid eyes on this person! (Although I have seen her picture) Yet her attack seems so personal. And we have had to begin monitoring this person's behavior for legal purposes. Building a case. If she continues, we plan to make an example out of her! And her employment was verified at the B & N. I just wish people would act sensible. If someone dislikes a book, that's their right, but for GOD's sakes, is total sabotage necessary? Thanks again, Anne for a great article. You are the best!

    2. I'm so glad to hear you're getting legal help with this. Stalking and cyberbullying are crimes and this person needs to be stopped.