In general, I am a technology optimist. I believe the internet is an amazing thing. I truly believe the more connected world today is a more welcoming place for artists, with more opportunities to show your art, break through to a professional career, and to make a living. I love seeing the inventive ways artists have learned to use social media to cut out the middlemen (pesky clients) and tap their fans directly, becoming artist-entrepreneurs. And don’t even get me started on the new opportunities from Kickstarter and crowdfunding—that’s worth at least a whole post on its own.
I think the sociological implications of social media are really fascinating—human beings moving further and further towards harnessing the collective unconscious into an actual hive mind. I believe social media most often acts as a force for good—it connects people of like interests, it can make people isolated by geography or disability maintain strong social interactions, and it can very often be used for positive change in the world via awareness campaigns, fund-raising drives, etc.
Unfortunately there is one great evil of the internet, and it is haters. From the casual negative commenters on down to the lowest circle of hell where the true internet trolls reside, negativity on the internet can hurt, and unfortunately, as cyber-bullying has taught us, it can kill. And while I hope none of you reading this is an internet troll, I know each and every artist or creative person reading this has felt the sting of negative and/or nasty comments. They can steal our pride, rob our enthusiasm, and literally ruin a whole day.
Britt Martin was inspired by all the recent internet troll articles to give us this accurate portrait, thanks for letting me include it!
Before we get started, let’s define terms. By negative comments I don’t mean constructive criticism. That’s a good thing. I don’t even mean people pointing out something that seems wrong to them, or even that they just don’t agree with what you’re doing. By negative comments I mean nastiness, personal attacks, hating without a reason, and just general negativity.
I am in a position—as a woman, an artist, and an art director for a large and public company—that I am very much in the public eye. I have received more than my share of negativity on the internet. Some of it has been incredibly ignorant, and even violently personal. I’ve learned not only to not let it affect me, I’ve even learned to use it as fuel. Here’s some lessons I’ve learned along the way:
1 — Don’t Read the Comments
If there was a survival guide to the internet, this would be written in gold foil on the cover, a la “Don’t Panic” on the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. If you make anything and post it in a public place, do not read the comments until you have gotten to a stage where you are only reading them to laugh at them. This is hard, and takes years of practice. If you have not yet reached that Zen-master level of not-giving-a-sh*t-what-people-think and you are tempted to read the comments, read this instead: @avoidcomments, a hilarious twitter feed of all the reasons not to read the comments.
The only place it is safe to read the comments honestly, is here on Muddy Colors. It’s the only public site I’ve ever seen where the comments aren’t moderated, and yet they are also almost universally positive and thoughtful. It’s a credit to Dan Dos Santos who runs this blog so seriously, but I wouldn’t expect this level of positivity anywhere else. Also if trolls ever found us, I’d make it my personal mission to figure out who they were and make sure they never worked in SFF art again. Consider yourself warned.
2 — Negative Comments are Universal
The amount of negative comments is completely irrelevant and in no way relates to the quality of the work being commented upon. Check out this list of classic books and their inane comments.
Honestly the better a piece is, generally the nastier the comments are, and there’s a simple reason: jealousy. Leaving a nasty comment makes a troll feel a little bit better about their own insecurities, but it’s an empty victory. They can’t make something as good, all they can do is lob spitballs at it and hope some stick.
3 — Don’t Feed the Trolls
Before I started at Orbit, I was designing non-genre bookcovers for Doubleday. Some fiction, some non-fiction, all kinds of books. In that world, you really only hear feedback from your coworkers during the process—which, although hard to take sometimes, is at least being delivered by professionals, and delivered entirely to your face. You may not agree with the feedback, but you can at least respect it. Once I started at Orbit, I found that every cover I released was a free-for-all for commenting on the internet. I didn’t have as much of a problem with the plain old “I hate this cover” and “This is the worst possible cover and the designer should be shot” it was the completely ignorant comments that drove me insane. It was the comments like “They only use photography because it’s cheaper” and “That cover is a ripoff of X” (where my cover clearly came out first).
I wanted to sign onto every blog and argue each and every idiot to prove to them that I was right and they didn’t know what they were talking about. But you know what, it doesn’t work. All it does it fuel the fire. Trolls don’t leave nasty comments to be right, they leave nasty comments to upset you — and if you answer, they win. Read this account of a former internet troll, and see what the psychology is behind trolling. And then stop reading the comments already. Really.
4 — The 10 to 1 Rule
There are some universal laws of the internet and I’m sure it’s been scientifically proven: People are 10 times more likely to leave a negative comment than a positive one. Thus, one positive comment = 10 negative comments. Honestly, I think it’s closer to 20 to 1.
This is where the ugly side of human nature collides with our inherent laziness for maximum effect. Anger and hate is much more casually motivating than empathy and encouragement. That’s why it’s so easy to fall prey to the Dark Side of the Force, duh. I believe goodness and honor win out in the long run, in the big battles, but if you’re honest with yourself, you know you usually don’t take the time to leave a positive comment every time you like something. It is much more likely that a person will leave a negative comment if they are angry than a positive comment if they are happy. So if you really must read the comments (really, you shouldn’t) then at least use a factor of 10x to equalize the true worth of those positive comments.
5 — Negative Comments are Fuel for Your Fire
As this article says, If you aren’t pissing someone off, you’re probably not doing anything important. Once your thick skin is grown, and your confidence has grown iron-clad, then you are ready to not only read the comments, but to see your negative comments as a badge of honor. Let the negativity grow your self-confidence instead of eroding it. Your critics aren’t the ones who matter.
Negative comments are often a signpost showing you that you’re pointing in the right direction. People are angry about what you’re doing. People are scared of what you’re doing. People are jealous of what you’re doing. Keep doing it.
6 — Your Weapon is Laughter
Trolls are sad. People who exist only to tear down others deserve our pity, and that’s the only emotion they should be getting from us. As I said above, we need to see hating as fuel. But let’s be realistic, that’s a really hard attitude to maintain. We all slip. And here’s a confession: It’s when I’m feeling the most insecure that I DO read my comments, and start letting those comments reinforce that insecurity. Hey, nobody’s perfect. When you slip, you have to remind yourself how ridiculous these comments really are. And how ridiculous you are being for letting some anonymous stranger dictate your self-worth. Maybe you should read your comments out loud. I always find a dramatic reading makes things better:
So go forth! Post things on the internet without fear of what the trolls think, or say! And if you can’t yet rise to the point that you can thank your haters, at least ignore them! And I wasn’t kidding about trolling on Muddy Colors. I have hacker friends. I will figure out who you are, and I will wait until you are in a portfolio review with me at Illuxcon to tell you I know. Heh heh.
After 17 years designing and art directing book covers, Lauren Panepinto has worked in every publishing genre and collaborated with artists of all disciplines. As the Creative Director & Vice President of Orbit Books for the past ten years, she has been trying to merge the worlds of genre and commercial publishing and figure out what SFF publishing looks like in the present world of mainstream "geek" media.
After an amateur career in punk rock show posters and 'zines, Lauren received a B.A. in Graphic Design from The School of Visual Arts. She has worked in fashion (Perry Ellis), television (MTV), and for boutique design firms, but found her calling in book publishing. She has worked at St. Martin's Press/Picador Books, at Doubleday/Random House, and now at Hachette Book Group, the parent company of Orbit.
In addition to traveling all over the place giving portfolio reviews at conventions and writing for Muddy Colors, you can also find her art business education projects at www.DrawnandDrafted.com, and www.MakeYourArtWork.com, and all of her many projects and www.LaurenPanepinto.com.