I have one more point I want to make about how to manage an online presence, and then we'll move on.
Sometimes, no matter how gracious and welcoming you are, someone will say or do something that tests you somehow. These kinds of challenges can take many forms, but regardless of whether it's an unfairly brutal review or a nasty comment -- or even just reasonable dissent -- I think there are probably only three possible responses. (There may be more. If you know of other effective methods, please post them in the comments.)
Option One: Let's Be Friends
Depending on the comment itself, it might be possible to extend a hand of friendship and get past the rough moment. This might be easiest to manage when someone points out a flaw in your great work. Rather than becoming defensive, think about how you might be able to bridge the gap. It's important to appear sincere at such moments. Control your tone. Start off with a gentle expression of agreement, apology, or gratitude, such as,
Thanks for pointing that out. I never thought of it that way.
You might be right, but I sure didn't mean for it to come across this way. Sorry about any confusion.
Your instinct will be to fight. But what would you rather make, an enemy or a fan? Check your guerilla warfare skills, and rely on your team-building skills instead.
Option Two: Use Controversy to Generate Interest
Again, depending on the comment itself, you might be able to use it to generate some interest in your corner of the web. This probably works best when there is some debate or disagreement over a given subject rather than insults or snark. Make sure you continue to aim the controversy away from personalities and toward the discussion topic. You don't want this to be personal in any way. Your goal, instead, is to get people to pay attention and enter the debate.
We have an example of this right here on this blog. Last week, one of the commenters suggested that the recent industry emphasis on authors building a web presence amounted to a form of elitism. This comment was not a personal attack on me, nor on any of the commenters, and I knew it at the time. I also knew this was a somewhat controversial approach to the topic and that it might generate some discussion.
So I tweeted it. I didn't name the commenter or say anything that might seem like criticism, because that was not my goal. (Nor my desire.) Instead, I asked a neutral question:
We've been blogging about designing your web presence this week. One commenter thinks it's elitist. Do you agree?
And I included a bit.ly link to this blog. Then I tracked our hits for a few hours. We generated quite a few hits from that tweet, and saw comments from a few new folks. (Welcome!) People were able to discuss the subject further, and I hope that my openness to dissent indicated something about our willingness to hear new ideas.
Option Three: Play With It
This one comes courtesy of Nathalie Gray. Talk about a smart cookie. Last week, several behind-the-scenes discussions sprang up as a result of my posts. In the course of that, Nathalie told me a story I never would have heard otherwise because it involved a book she published with another house. I instantly asked her permission to share her story here. It's that good.
So here's how it goes. I'm sure you're all aware that some reviewers are known for unleashing their savage wit -- emphasis on savage -- during reviews. These reviews can be very entertaining if you're not the author. Which is probably why those reviews are so popular. Sheer entertainment value.
One of these reviewers took on one of Nathalie's books. She didn't give it a scathing review -- Nathalie's too good for that kind of treatment -- but she did make a few rough comments and a few jokes at the book's expense. So what's an author to do?
In Nathalie's own words,
I whipped that cream like mad and made a nice dessert. Encouraged readers to offer worse critique than [the reviewer], using all kinds of imaginative words. The most offending critiquer was to win the book in question. What a blast that was! [The reviewer] e-mailed me later to say how refreshing it was to have an author not act like a "snot-nosed baby". She has a way with words, that woman.
Talk about flipping a frown upside-down. Instead of taking offense or challenging the reviewer, Nathalie found a way to work it to her advantage. Her contest generated good buzz and goodwill, and you can't beat that.
(Go check out Nat's books here. You won't regret it. Her newest release, Agent Provocateur, is urban fantasy, but the others are scifi erotic romance.)
So, those are my three strategies. Got any to add to that list?