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Opinion: Online Etiquette For The Indie Author Community

Opinion: Online Etiquette for the Indie Author Community

Twitter bird outline

Social media – not always so sweet as it looks

As indie authors, we're all used to dealing with people online, whether or not we've ever met our correspondents in real life. With the digital environment at our disposal, there's never been a better time to be a writer, but now and again, we fall prey to its negative side, receiving unhelpful snap judgments, tersely phrased, in comments on our posts.

We all know it's far too easy to make false assumptions about someone based on a quick glance at their photo and comment in isolation. This is one reason that spammy Twitter accounts are so often accompanied by alluring pictures of conspicuously respectable/lovable/sexy/muscular types, depending on the audience that the spammer is trying to reach!

If we really want to get to know online “friends” better, we need to take the time to inspect their bios, timelines, websites etc – that's why social media companies provide the facility to include them, to enhance the quality of our online exchanges with each other. (And if you know that you've left any of yours blank, go fix them!)

As a case in point, Australian author Jessica Bell makes a  plea to guard against hasty judgments, based on her own experience.

Headshot of Jessica Bell

Australian author, book designer and musician Jessica Bell

I have experienced my fair share of online abuse over the last five years. I’m opinionated and not afraid to speak my mind. This has, on occasion, caused some heavy tension in some of my social media threads.

But people who disagree with me are the least of my worries. Everyone is allowed a voice and an opinion. What really bothers me is the automatic assumption that I’m a novice, which more often than not results in me being patronized by someone who I don’t know from a bar of soap.

Sorry, but I’m not a little girl who needs educating.

This usually happens with new followers because they haven’t actually taken the time to see who I am. Perhaps they just followed me so I would follow back. Fine. You can do that. But if you do that, keep your judgments and assumptions to yourself, please.

The last thing I want to do is to throw my resumé in the virtual face of every person who treats me this way. Not only is it time consuming, but it’s also rather arrogant. I don’t want to be that kind of person.

So, I think it might be in everyone’s best interests if I write a letter to Judger that can be applied in a general capacity. Here goes …

photo of a judge's gavel

Judge not…

Dear Judger,

When you friend/follow someone online, it is strongly suggested that you do and think about the following before interacting with them:

  1. Don’t just look at their profile picture and assume you know what kind of person they are.
  1. Don’t assume after reading just one status update that you are clued into their personality.
  1. If you see a typo in a status update, and said person is supposed to be an author/editor/publisher, don’t assume that they are a phony. They may have been typing quickly from their phone. Big deal.
  1. If you read some factual information that you believe is wrong, it doesn’t mean it’s actually wrong. Check the person’s bio. You might be surprised to know that what they’re talking about stems from years of experience and expertise. And also, sometimes there is more than one way to do things, no?
  1. If they use swear words a lot, or tell a lot of dirty jokes that you find offensive, it doesn’t mean they are a bad person. Nor does it mean that you are entitled to tell them how they should speak and behave online. If you don’t like the way a person speaks, that’s your problem, not theirs. No one is forcing you to be friends with them.
  1. Be polite. Not everyone airs every single aspect of their life on social media. Someone might be having a particularly bad day, or suffering from depression. Your rudeness will escalate that and make them feel even worse. Not nice.
  1. Sometimes people speak differently online than they do in person. Don’t judge a person’s personality solely on their Netspeak.
  1. You think the use of emoticons and stickers make them seem childish. Well, you’re childish for assuming that a person who uses emoticons and stickers is childish. Just like in real life, people have different ways of communicating. Can you imagine a face-to-face world without smiles and winks and laughs? Constant blank-faced communication? I can’t.
  1. So you don’t like posts about religion, sex, war, animal abuse, or politics? Not a problem. But how about, instead of verbally abusing the people who post about these topics, you just don’t read them. Simple.
  1. You read a post that voices an opinion on a topic you are passionate about and want to engage in the conversation. Go for it! But engage in the conversation. Not in fleeting judgments about the person who posted it for having an opinion that is different than yours.

I’m sure there are many other tips I could give you, dear Judger, but let me end this letter with one more, very important thing …

Karma, my friend.



What would you say to your online judgers? What are your top tips for dealing with them?

Why #authors need to get to know each other better online by @MsBessieBell Click To Tweet

Author: Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell is an Australian award-winning author and poet, writing and publishing coach, and graphic designer who lives in Athens, Greece. In addition to her novels and poetry collections, and her best-selling Writing in a Nutshell series, she has published a variety of works online and in literary journals, including Writer’s Digest.

Jessica is also the Co-Founder and Publisher of Vine Leaves Press & Literary Journal, a singer/songwriter/guitarist, a voice-over actor. Until recently she was a freelance editor and writer for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide such as Macmillan Education and Education First.

Before she started writing she was just a young woman with a “useless” Bachelor of Arts degree and a waitressing job.

Visit Jessica's website: www.JessicaBellAuthor.com


This Post Has 12 Comments
  1. Our only option, I suppose, is to follow our guidelines for online behavior and then make an effort not to take anything personally. Actually, responding abusively might be a terrific way to learn the crucial skill of “not taking things personally.” I realize it’s easier said than done.

  2. Hi Jessica,
    It is all about being sensitive and not judging and comparing people based on whatever scant information you have at hand. I work in a niche with alcoholism and addictions and this is especially salient with fellow writers deliberately wanting anonymity but also wanting to publish. It is a work in progress..

  3. What Jessica has experienced isn’t only an on-line problem. We had a young(ish – she was actually 35) writer speak at our writers’ group and some members assumed that because she looked young, she was inexperienced. In fact, she’d had a whole YA series published and her first adult novel that had taken her 10 years to write had been released the previous year to huge acclaim. She was treated appallingly and I was incredibly embarrassed.

  4. Jessica–
    Because you are not a little girl who needs educating, I don’t quite know why you wrote this post. You say your main point of irritation is being patronized. The only people who can patronize you are those who see themselves as your betters, superior to you in some way. Assuming the majority of the people you’re talking about aren’t superior to you, why would you bother with them? In life or online, when someone says something foolish or patronizing to me, I just ignore them. That’s because I’m not a little boy who needs educating, by those who are condescending or anyone else who can’t mind his/her manners..

  5. Yeah, online etiquette is really important, and you could say that the online community is a place where we can learn how to deal with or avoid interpersonal conflict. D: It also exposed me to many very diplomatic, tactful people, and I learned a lot about speaking sensitively from them. 🙂

    Ha! I happen to be someone who overuses emoticons, lol, but I do that because online, there are no facial expressions, gestures, or tone of voice, so words can be easily misunderstood. Thus, I use smiley faces or other emoticons to convey that I said whatever I just said in friendliness, not hostility. (Yeah, some words can feel friendly or hostile depending on how one interprets them. 🙁 ) And so I disagree with those who think that emoticons are just immature, flashy playthings, because I personally feel that emoticons can save us from a lot of hurtful conflict that can spring from misunderstandings.

  6. Jessica…

    I guess all we can do is abide by our rules of online etiquette and then try not to take it all personally. In fact, the abusive response can be a great opportunity to practice that all-important attitude of ‘not taking things personally.’ Easier said than done, i know. Maybe this kind of raw exposure is actually a blessing, because it forces us to become more objective. Anyway, thanks for your story. Kalispera.

    ~ PJ

  7. I so like this valuable article and a subject always worth revisiting, and reminding ourselves about at times.

    We are creatures of habit and are unconscious conditioned to usually pre-determining people’s meanings and behaviour by the ‘visual’ – body language and facial expressions! These sensors are removed when we are online beit through an e-mail, blog, posted articles, or responses in other ways so are apt to making pre-disposed conclusions and opinions as to the character, personality, or intent of other people, be they people we known, people we think we know, and strangers.

    I am as guilty of the next person of at times reactionary writing with no forethought of any particular meaning (certainly not of malice), but find a response with has far more warmly received or occasionally even disliked and then the defensive mechanism kicks in.

    Whatever our preconceived opinions we should treat each other with respect and dignity and if concerned about a particular communication simply direct mail the person to clarify before making presumptions and trying to resolve that way in contrast to returning to our cave-like instincts and feelings and reaction in open and risk causing offence.

    I conclude by wishing everyone well; and to those who wish otherwise, I wish you the same!!!!

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