We all know what trolls are. They’re those green ugly creatures that lurk beneath bridges and demand your first born child in exchange for safe passage. Or maybe we think of them as naked little dolls with cotton-candy hair that people used to stick on their car dashes back in the eighties. Right?
Well, technically yes. But today we’re discussing an entirely different beast altogether: The Internet troll.
Internet trolls are a certain breed of human whose main goal is to disrupt the harmonious flow of the interwebs with their nasty and inflammatory words. There are many different types of trolls, and they don’t necessarily have to be on the Internet to qualify as such. A troll can lurk in your personal life as well. Heck, a troll could be a friend or a family member even, but we’ll get to that in a bit. For now, let’s focus on the parasitic haters we come across while on the Internet.
As authors (or artists and creatives alike), our workplace is the Internet. It’s where we take our lunch breaks and gather around the digital water cooler to discuss Bob’s new haircut or Amy’s awesome new novella. It’s our happy place, one which is our escape from the thousands of words we’re writing per day. You are writing thousands of words per day, right? 😉
Anyhow, whether you are merely taking a 5-minute bathroom break to peruse your facebook app, or have closed up your manuscript for the night to join your friends on instagram, the last thing you want is to encounter a troll in your happy place. But it can and most likely will happen, if it hasn’t already. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but trolls are everywhere.
They may not be big and scaley, with bad breath and a hankering for your most valuable possessions, but they are focused on sabotage and have no regard or respect for the feelings of others.
Let’s talk about different scenarios in which you might find yourself in the metaphorical break room with an internet troll. Let’s also discuss how to handle the hate.
1. Groups or Forums.
If you’re an author, and you haven’t been hiding in a cave for the last 10 years, then you are probably in some sort of online group or community. Maybe even a local group where you meet in person. Let’s face it: authoring is a lonely business and we need adult interaction just like any other hard-working human being. And that’s great! Keep involving yourself in the literary community as much as possible. It will help you grow as a writer and become a better business person. But unfortunately, these groups and forums are the perfect breeding grounds for trolls and bullies, which are really one in the same.
So let’s pretend you’re in your happy little author group on Facebook, or your favorite KBoards forum, and you have a totally awesome epiphany. You post this:
Hey Guys! I have a new story idea. What do you think about a young woman who gets an interview with a sparkly billionaire vampire who’s into whips and chains and never ages? It’s so original, right? I think I’m going to call it… wait for it… “Fifty Shades of Twilight!”
Erm. Cringe? Well, let’s hope you’re a bit more original than this, but that’s not the point. The point is that there’s a hater just waiting to jump in and attack you. In enters troll:
What kind of idea is that? It’s terrible! It has no fan base and you’ll never sell a single book. You should just go ahead and jump off a cliff. Vampires don’t even sparkle. That’s just stupid. Jeez. You should quit writing because clearly, you’re not cut out for it. And because of your clear lack of literary knowledge, I will be forced to spread the word about you and tell everyone how much you suck. I’m also going to need to gather my troll minions so we can light torches and storm your castle of confidence.
Okay, so this may not be a super realistic scenario, but you get my gist.
Trolls LOVE to HATE.
They love to make you feel like dirt and the worms that crawl beneath it. It is their sole purpose to make you feel bad about yourself, because they are obviously insecure bullies who feel the need to flash their egotistical tale feathers. Well, I have some news for you. Trolls will go away if ignored. BUT, on the other hand, they will grow bigger when you feed them fuel. And troll fuel is a response from you. That’s what they want; a reaction. This is what NOT to do:
Hey, you big jerk! That’s not cool. Not nice at all. You shouldn’t talk to people like that!
Nope. Don’t do it. Don’t you dare reach for those vengeful tomatoes and start throwing back. Because the minute you feed the troll, it gets bigger. My advice- DO NOT ENGAGE.
Ignore. Ignore. Ignore.
With that being said, in a perfect world, most of your fellow colleagues should be able to sniff out a troll like rotting meat in the fridge. And more than likely, they will come to your aid. But, also, be prepared for no one to say anything at all. Fear might be a factor. Your buddies may not want to get involved in what looks like the beginning of WWIII. And you, yourself, do not want to get further involved either. If you do, it will not only wear down your creativity and distract you from what’s important- creating- but your engaging could cause other problems to arise. The troll may take further steps to destroy your online presence, by gathering torch-weilding followers and stalking your personal spaces. It could go as far as the troll finding your book on Amazon and leaving a nasty review. And that brings me to our next scenario of where you might encounter a troll.
2. Public lashback/Bad reviews
I have an author friend of mine who has suffered the worst type of trolling. It is a trolling so hateful and cruel that it targets your very heart- your life’s work and your livelihood. It’s so hateful that one would think it could affect your reputation, your readers, and also your paycheck. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
This trolling is something I call Public defamation or lashback. It mostly comes in the form of bad reviews on a widely viewed website.
A while ago, my colleague befriended someone overseas. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call this person Douchebag, an appropriately fitting alias.
Anyway, Douchebag was a like-minded creative and hit it off with my friend immediately. Douchebag had a rough life in his land far away and wanted so desperately to come to the United States and try his hand in the land of the free. My friend, being the kind and generous person she was, offered up her home, a warm couch to sleep on, and enough home-cooked meals to get him back on his feet.
Douchebag, of course being Douchebag, took her up on this offer and moved in. A few months later, Douchebag’s butt-prints began to permanently mark up her couch, and my friend had had enough. I don’t blame her. She asked him to leave, but it didn’t end well.
Well, what do you think happened seeing that Douchebag’s feelings were hurt and he knew my friend was an author?
Exactly. Public lashback.
Not only did Douchebag leave a bad review of my friend’s book on Amazon, but employed his cronies to follow suit. These reviews were nothing about the book and everything about publically defaming my friend’s character by way of a personal vendetta.
You must be thinking “What?! But he can’t do that! How can he leave a book review when it has nothing to do with the book?”
But he can and he did. And whether Amazon took down the reviews for being unfair attacks, I’m not sure yet. But what I can tell you is that trolls can come in all shapes and sizes- whether in the form of a stranger on the Internet or an unsuspected friend.
But how can we handle such a problem should it arise? Can you take a guess?
DO NOT ENGAGE.
If you receive an unfair review from a troll, do not respond. First off, it will only make matters worse and give the troll more ammunition. Second, it will make you look unprofessional and whiney. The best you can do in this situation is report the troll to Amazon and sit back and let karma do her job. And don’t worry about one or two bad reviews. Every book has bad reviews. Yes, even the great Stephen King himself has some crappy feedback.
And in all honesty, you should actually be thanking the troll for upping your number of reviews. Regardless if it’s a 1 or 5 star rating, Amazon doesn’t notice. What they DO notice is that your book is gaining more reviews, thus increasing the algorithms that bump up your visibility. And that’s what our main goal is, right? Visibility is key.
So thank your local review troll for helping you sell more books. (Don’t actually thank them. You can do that in your head.)
Blogs are places we like to be. We choose to either write or read blogs to gain knowledge on topics we enjoy. Whether it be a blog about parenting, writing, or underwater basket-weaving, a blog is a beautiful place. It’s the modern form of a personalized newspaper and magazine all rolled into one. But when the trolls come out to play blogs can get ugly. And Fast.
What starts out as a simple disagreement on a certain topic can turn into a ranting argument with thousands of witnesses to watch the blood bath. This is nothing new. Bloggers have been blogging since 1994, and trolls have been around even longer.
Remember the 1984 movie Gremlins?
Do not give them water, light, or feed them after midnight, or they will turn from a cute and cuddly Beanie Boo into a Tyrannosaurus Rex with wings and a hankering for flesh.
This is the simplified version of a troll. Trolls LOVE to HATE and there is a bit of pshychology beneath it. Aside from being narcissistic and possibly psychotic, trolls are attention whores and will commit nothing short of murder to get a reaction from you, especially if you are a noted blogger with a large online presence.
Again, do not engage, especially if you have something to lose, like a large following of readers. The good thing is, if you do write a blog, there’s a neat little function that you can enable to protect yourself and your readers. It’s called administrative approval. It’s where the blogger must approve all comments before they go public, which is an easy way to nip trolling in the bud. And that brings us to my next topic…
I know it sounds crazy, and you’re probably wondering how you could possibly be related to a troll. But remember, trolls come in all shapes and sizes and are sneaky to boot. So here’s a little story to clarify the fact that you might personally have a troll in your life and not even know it.
Professionally, I started writing seven years ago. It was my first novel and I was so excited to become the next J.K. Rowling. I read craft books on writing and took advice from literary geniuses. I outlined, drafted, and created character bios. I wrote day and night until my eyes were bloodshot and fingertips raw from pounding away at the keyboard. I had it all together, or at least this is what I thought. What I never realized was there was a troll in my life, just waiting to tear me down a notch or two. This person was a relative by marriage and someone I thought would always have my back. Until they showed their true troll colors. Once my book was published and I didn’t immediately hit the NY Times Bestsellers List, these are some of the things this person would say to me.
Oh, how’s your little writing hobby going?
You’re still writing? I thought you gave that up a while ago.
Obviously, writing is not your true calling. But don’t worry, you can always go back to waiting tables.
And the commentary went on and on, some of the cut-downs so harsh, I will not relive them by posting them here. But we all have one of THOSE in our lives, that person who- whether they know it or not- does not support or understand your passion. They may not LOOK like a troll, or WALK like a troll, but they ARE definitely a TROLL.
I made the mistake of trying to explain to this in-law troll that writing is a marathon, not a race, and it takes time to build an empire, but my explanation fell upon deaf ears. If I could go back and give myself advice when handling a personal troll, it would be, yet again, DO NOT ENGAGE. Smile and nod. Change the subject. Keep on keeping on.
Looking back, I’m still not sure if this person really had my best intentions at heart, or if they were green with jealousy. In all honesty, it was probably a mixture of both. But that was seven years and 12 published books ago. And now, with a climbing income and a substantial fan base, I don’t hear comments of that nature anymore. At least, not from that troll, er, person.
So, as you can see, we all have trolls. Whether they have materialized from the Internet or social media, or are hiding in a friend’s or family member’s facade, they are still out there, just waiting for a glimpse of weakness.
My best advice to you is to stay strong. Walk away. Look the other direction. And most importantly of all, do not engage.
Yet if- even after my sage advice- you still find yourself itching to respond, kill the troll with kindness. Say sweet and flowery things. Embrace them with your love and understanding. Their tiny grinch heart just might expand a notch or two. And you might just find a fluffy Beanie Boo instead of a scaly dinosaur.
A troll can either tear you down, or help you lift yourself up. Which one will it be for you?
Have you ever encountered a troll? Was it a stranger or someone close to you? How did you handle the situation?
I’d love to hear your stories! And because I’m a little bit awesome, I will pick one comment and feature that person’s story on my blog.
Give it a go! Let’s knock down those trolls and lift ourselves up! Keep on keeping on, my fellow writers. Because if nothing else, we ROCK.