Be Careful of the Lions

Seeing what some people have to say about their experiences in various internet forums, it sometimes seems like they imagine they’ve been transported to ancient Rome. (I’m actually thinking of authors, but have heard that they’re people too.) In their imagination, these authors are (obviously) at The Forum in downtown Rome. But a pack of lions, alleged in myth to be Christian executioners, have wandered down the street from the Colosseum in search of a dietary change. Rumor has it that a surviving Christian told them that authors, regardless of religious beliefs, were much tastier.

To be fair, I’ve seen a few authors torn to bits in a virtual feeding frenzy that would make Roman lions look no worse than Tard, the grumpy cat, in comparison. At the risk of attracting a few hungry lions to my place, some of the time these authors deserved it. More often they were just in over their head. At least once or twice, contrary to the myth that only certain types of lions engage in such acts, in the ultimate act of literary cannibalism, I’ve witnessed author on author attacks. It doesn’t get much bloodier than two rival wordsmith gangs engaged in a war of words.

However, internet forums are also a great place for so many things. As an author you can interact with fans and potential readers in Goodreads discussions (which, regardless of what they call them are the same thing). and the Amazon forums provide the same opportunities. Looking for other writers to talk, get advice, or ask questions about writing and publishing, then there is the Writer’s Café sub-forum at KBoards, the KDP forum, and numerous others. If you’re researching almost any vocation or hobby to get the details right for your latest novel, there is an internet forum somewhere where people who know all about the subject and others who are just learning gather to discuss their common interest. Avoiding them is making a conscious decision to take one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox and throw it away. This seems silly when by taking a few relatively simple precautions you can turn those lions into pussycats.

Find out and follow the rules

This should be obvious, but is also sometimes easier said than done. With the plethora of forum software out there this might be hard to find. Scour the page for a link that may be less than obvious that says FAQ, Guidelines, Forum Rules, or something similar. If it seems like on many forums they hide these or at least make them blend into the scenery to be pointed out the first time you break a rule, you might be right. You may also find the rules and discover that they’re too vague to be of much help. (If you visit any of the Amazon forums or discussion groups you’ll see a guidelines link on the bottom of the message posting box for an example of extensive guidelines that aren’t likely to answer your question.)

Another place you might find rules is if you register for the site (which is almost always a requirement before you’re allowed to post). These may or may not be helpful. Some that don’t appear helpful, actually should be. For example, here is a quote of a few paragraphs from the “KBoards Registration Agreement.” (It only looks like a bunch of “fine print.”)

KBoards is our home. To make it an overall enjoyable place to be, we have to set expectations about the behavior of everyone who enters our home.

The tone of conversation in our forum is important to us. If you are a new member, browse around the boards for a while to get a feel for our culture. Look at the flow of our conversations to get a sense for what we consider to be acceptable in posts and topics.

While there isn’t a lot of detail, this tells you the fool proof way to avoid a misstep.

Get the lay of the land first

If you once rode Amtrak from Montana to Minot, North Dakota and determined that you were perfectly safe walking the streets outside the train station at 3 AM, would you assume the same would be true at the Grand Central Terminal in New York? Don’t dive in. The term lurker exists for a reason and is a good habit to form. Lurk, watch, and observe to get a feel for the personality of the particular forum and the regular posters before diving in.

On large sites with multiple venues or sub-forums what is acceptable can be vastly different from one sub-forum to another. I’ve wasted spent untold hours at one of the highest traffic forums on the net at, which is sponsored by a small specialty publisher. Each of the twenty or thirty sub-forums has a distinct personality, with the cultural norms and acceptable posts being much different from sub-forum to sub-forum. This site is better than most in that they try to define any rules pertaining to that sub-forum in a sticky post that will always be at the top of the list of threads. Other sites sometimes do the same, so check.

But just like most large and unorganized groups of people, the posters in any particular forum probably have a list of unwritten rules. These are kind of like in high school, where you ladies weren’t allowed to date that guy until a certain amount of time after she broke up with your BFF. “Everyone” understood this rule until the new girl moved to town. If you inadvertently break one of those rules remember this.

You’re not Rambo

It doesn’t matter who drew first blood. If you feel like you’re being attacked, there is a good chance it’s because you did the equivalent of agreeing to go out with your friend’s ex too soon and broke one of the unwritten rules. Don’t respond in kind. Ask what you did, learn, and move on. Responding in kind is not likely to work out well for the new guy or gal.

Pretend it isn’t the internet

Really, this is the key and applies in two different ways. First, participating in a forum is no different than any social situation where you’re inserting yourself into an already existing group. Approach it the same way. Second, if you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it on the internet. A little caution and the right attitude is really all it takes to avoid those pesky lions or to get them purring in the corner after feasting elsewhere.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

24 thoughts on “Be Careful of the Lions”

  1. Even lurking is not for the faint-hearted in some of them places. You need a map, lots of water, and a life-jacket. No concealed weapons – they can sniff them at twenty paces. And don’t even DARE mention the title of one of your books.

    1. Sorry for being so slow responding everyone. A bear of a day at the day job, then a night out with the grandkids. Now time to catch up.

      I agree, Rosanne, some places lurking is enough to know it isn’t a place you’d want to hang out.One more reason to lurk first.

  2. I’ve had mostly good experiences in forums on Linked-in and on Face Book. I make it a practice never to criticize a fellow author. My mother always told me “If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything.” If I do get negative feedback by another author on my work, I decline to retaliate. There is no benefit to either party in a blood feud. What goes around comes around.

    1. I can’t get away with never criticizing , Robin, but have always believed there are positive ways to do so if it has to be done. Thanks for the comment.

    1. I agree, Lynne. Although I’d dabbled in forums before the first one I participated in heavily (which I think I mention in my piece unless that’s one of the things I cut) was a poker forum full of 20-something mostly male poker players. If that’s not baptism by fire …

  3. When I just hatched from the egg, and entered the might kingdom of writing I made a huge mistake. I had been given a link to a forum and I landed into the land of hell. I asked one little question, the lions came at me with claws and teeth, ready to shred. I apologized, deleted my question and thought that was the end. Oh no! The vitriol continued for three days. Mind you I was no longer on the forum. Anyone who defended my mistake became the next victim. I had never experienced anything so vicious. To this day, I am gun shy, walk softly, and stay where I feel safe. I do read everything once and then again. There are so many fellow writers who are happy to lend a hand, IU on the top of he list.

      1. Aron, I could make a few guesses as to where that might have been. 🙂 I might not get it right, but it would fit. But not all are like that. I didn’t mention moderated versus not as one thing that might make a difference, although not always. I can think of one writers forum where anything positive said about self publishing is going to be like waving raw meat for the lions. But it’s fairly easy to figure that out before diving in.

    1. Aron, I had a similar experience, altho I was no newbie and had weighed in on many forums. Found out this particular one had a rampant bully that regularly pounded people into the ground. I witnessed a particularly savage attack and left the group; thought better of it and re-joined just so I could come to the victim’s defense and tell the bully that I could see thru her. Found out she was the moderator! You can guess–my comment never saw the light of day. I instead sent a private message to the victim to tell her I had tried to defend her then, of course, left the group for good. I can only hope every other writer there left that group so the bully was sitting by herself wondering what happened.

      1. Thanks for the comments Laurie and Lois. I know a lot of indies swear by the Writer’s Cafe at KBoards as a great place to learn and interact with other indies. I’m not sure about the other sub-forums there and believe they have some strict rules about promotion and such, but things seldom get out of hand there.

  4. Yes, I have seen and experienced the lions at prey. The feeding frenzies can range from mildly entertaining at times, to quite shocking, and yes some of the most vicious lions were cannibalistic authors. Sometimes the victim author really does deserve it. Some were clearly pretending innocence but those old lions have seen it all before.
    Someone made a special thread for me on the UK Amazon once. It was the one place I felt I could go and talk about my book since it had been made by my readers for that purpose. I had not asked them to do it. It was a lovely friendly discussion for a long time, covering all sorts of topics, often nothing to do with my book. Then suddenly, months down the track, the lions arrived and started roaring their heads off, and that was the end of that. I scarpered and have never returned.
    The UK Amazon went through a phase a few weeks back where almost every thread was being viciously sabotaged by vitriolic trolls, even threads which were completely innocent. It was horrific.It wasn’t just authors who were getting out of there.

  5. I has a similar experience to Aron and suffer a little PTSD over it, so Al, thank you for the tools to venture forth again..

    1. I completely understand Krista. I think that’s a common experience of diving in and getting burned. (That’s got to be some kind of awful mixed metaphor riddled with cliches, right?)

  6. Thank you for that, Al, and good, sound advice. Personally, I pretty much stay away from forums; oh, I’ve tried a few in the past and my experience has been pretty mixed. On the whole, I found that a lot of the regular forum predators are paper tigers with too much time on there hands. Ah ha! So that’s what people do when they retire! No offence intended to anyone, I just can’t seem to find the time to spare on frivolity.

    Great post, Al.

    1. Thanks, TD. They can be an unbelievable time suck. Like any tool, it can work for you or against you. TBH, I’m not sure which side the scale falls for me.

  7. I found my legs at LinkedIn in 2010 – after an initial burp or two I was in like Flynn. And it was there that I summoned the ambition, zest, and diligence needed to re-issue my backlist on my own, and then eventually to emerge as a totally independent author. I have never looked back, and I have made a dozen friendships for life there. LinkedIn is a special place if you understand how it works.

    1. Rosanne, I neglected to thank you for your comment. Linkedin is one place I’ve resisted. Maybe some day I’ll give in. 🙂

  8. Great post Al. Good stuff to help people be less afraid to participate.

    I’ve been on forums/groups/discussion boards/email groups around the web for 20 years now. Sometimes I pop my head back in at old tech writing groups or Jewish groups I belonged to. I’ve been a moderator on a number of groups and been called all sorts of names because I require civilized behavior if I’m moderating. I’ve seen groups blow up over the silliest things (the sky is blue, no it’s black…umm gang we are an international group both of you are correct).

    On one group we worked together to create suggestions for how to “seem smart on the Internet” (and stay out of trouble). It did make the group a bit boring once people started thinking before attacking others… For ten years that list has been refined, been used as group rules, and has kept me out of trouble (80-90% of the time).

    I find lurking for a week or two can help in figuring out some of the dynamics & I frequently contact the moderator if I can’t easily find the rules.

    1. Thanks, Tasha. You mentioned one thing that (along with the lack of visual clues as repercussions of not being face to face) that I think causes a lot of misunderstandings that get out of hand. Cultural differences. With the international flavor of many places on the internet, what is offensive on one place is a gentle ribbing in another. I’d give a few examples, but the EM would reduce my gruel rations if I did. 🙂 This is also one of the things I really like. It’s a great chance to get to know people from other countries and understand them better.

Comments are closed.