Anyone who has published anything anywhere has probably had the experience of receiving unexpected and usually unsolicited feedback from a reader or another writer (not that they're mutually exclusive), and recently I started thinking about this. I'm not the most adept with (no longer new) technology, and a reader pointed out a slip I had made and how to correct it. I was pleased with the advice because I might otherwise not have caught on, and thanked her. She emailed me back with a note that she was relieved that I wasn't offended.
Instant publishing through blogs, websites, ebooks, emagazines also means instant feedback. We put our views on the Internet, with direct access to us, and this surely invites a reaction, and the reactions come in. Most of us are used to the benign comments that are complimentary, encouraging, supportive, and we occasionally get the argumentative ones that tell us, usually politely, that we're all wrong. But sometimes we get the snarky ones from readers who are just looking for an opportunity to score a hit. The trolls.
These people are not limited to the Internet. One reader of a Joe Silva mystery novel wrote to me that she wouldn't commit murder under the same circumstances that drove the character in my book, and I must say I was very glad to hear that. I commend her for her self-discipline and virtuous character.
Some people clearly don't mind being trolls or snarks, but most of us can hear that voice in the back of our heads saying, "No nice person would say anything like that," when we are tempted to give as good as we get. We restrain ourselves, proffer something polite, and move on.
The real problem with this instant publishing and instant critique isn't the hurt feelings or wasted time. The real problem is the same one that infects every other aspect of life. Bad money drives out good, nastiness pushes aside more thoughtful, useful comments, and we begin to delete without reading emails from any name we don't recognize.
I've been fortunate to have received only a few snarky emails (probably because I have a modest readership), and the unsolicited comments I do receive have been interesting, useful, and intelligent. I would hate to lose this connection with readers, so I keep my email open, remain optimistic, and thank everyone who takes the time to offer something that might benefit me. They are generous and helpful, and I'm glad to count them among people I reach. I can't promise this will last forever, but so far it seems to work.