As authors, we’re public figures, whether we want to be or not. We write books that we hope people will read, and have to acknowledge that one way or another, we stand out in the public eye. As such, we will encounter questions, comments, and sometimes even insults that test our power of diplomacy.
Gratefully, we’re also writers. We’ve made a career of mastering the use of words. We should be ninjas when it comes to diplomacy. But just in case you still find it difficult to respond to insult with gentle words, here are three tools you might want to add to your belt.
1. Don’t respond. Obviously, this works best in public forums, social networking, and places where others can see and respond to the comment/question. The trick here is to let the audience respond for you. If the person (or troll) is attacking you, your blessed fans will step in and defend you. Don’t let it get out of hand (such as blatant insulting and threats), but let your supporters do the dirty work, because they want to, and they love you. They may be able to take on the whole thing, while you stand back and mentally thank them. You may even want to private message them a thank you for their loyalty and kindness.
2. Thank the Troll. Though you may feel like lashing out, and releasing the dragons from your book to burn the person’s face while they sleep, sometimes it’s better to simply say something like, “Thank you for your feedback.” Don’t be sarcastic, and don’t be patronizing. Just offer an apparently genuine thank you for their comment, and don’t try to defend all the points they bring up. This won’t always resolve the issue, but it can prevent you from making a big mistake. Remember that on the Internet, flames fan easily, and you may inadvertently chase away genuine fans by a heavy response. A simple, “Thanks for your suggestion,” or, “I’ll have to think about that, thanks,” may go far to dissolve a cruel comment to ashes without a fight.
3. Respond to the question they should have asked. If the comment was a question, and a “thank you” wouldn’t make sense, or if the person has brought up an issue that you genuinely feel needs addressing, try this little trick: take their question and dissect it, in order to discover the underlying concern, and then, on a sheet of paper or document, rewrite the question in the sweetest, kindest, most sincere way possible. Then respond to that question.
For example, if someone asks you, “It seems like the plot of your book was just a cheap photocopy of Star Wars. Did you even think about it before starting to write?” don’t respond quick. Break it down. The person has a question about your plot. They have a question about your preparation. They see a similarity to Star Wars. A totally awesome person might have asked the same thing like this: “I noticed some subtle similarities in your book to some of the great works of science fiction such as Star Wars. Where do you get the inspiration for your incredible book? What kinds of things do you do to prepare before you start writing?”
That‘s the kind of question you can deal with diplomatically, right? Well, completely ignore the first question, and answer the second. The response will not only come out kinder, but will reflect your mastery of words. Anyone else seeing the conversation will take side with you, because you responded to insult with a meaningful explanation of how your book came to be.
You may occasionally be in a public situation and asked rough questions (perhaps in a presentation or panel). You have to think quick, but use the same trick here. Instead of answering a bad question, mentally reword the question, and answer the adjusted question.