The Perils of Internet Forums

Author Bruce FottlerGuest Post
by Bruce Fottler

When I entered the world of indie-publishing, I was hungry for information and interaction with other writers. For years I was active in hobby forums, so writer-centric forums seemed to be an obvious place to start. After a few years of participating in writer forums, I’ve learned they can be helpful, supportive, and perilous.

Wait, why perilous?

We all know it takes passion to be a writer. This passion unleashes our imagination and drives our desire to pen a story. However, if we truly know our craft, our unfiltered passion will be refined by beta-readers, proofreaders, and editors into something that’s polished for a reading audience. These are important processes that both improve and safeguard our narratives.

On the other hand, internet forums are avenues that enable writers to unleash their unfiltered passion. There’s no editor around to point out inflammatory verbiage, no proofreader to cross out incendiary remarks, and no beta-readers to warn against foolishly charging into a controversial issue. I’ve seen far too many instances where writers get caught up in the moment, failing to gauge their emotion while possessing the talent to quickly type out a clever, snarky retort.

After the “post” button is hastily pressed – BOOM, the ill-conceived reply predictably sparks a flame-war. Things go downhill in a hurry and the moderators eventually lock the topic. After the dust settles, some are left wondering how to repair the damage to their social media reputation. If they’re lucky, the moderators will clean up (or allow them to remove) any offensive posts. Otherwise, the internet has a very long memory and Google is always there to help unearth those embarrassing moments.

In order to mitigate these perils, I’ve come up with the top-five rules to keep in mind when participating in internet forums:

Rule 1: Stay off internet forums if you should be writing.

Rule 2: Stay off internet forums if you should be writing! While these forums offer access to a wealth of information, connections, and camaraderie, I’ve found they can easily soak up hours of time. I strongly recommend setting time limits as well as a cap on the number of forums that you join. It also helps to remind myself that working up the word count on my WIP is far more important than working up a high forum post-count.

Rule 3: Play nice. It never ceases to amaze me how many writers adopt a brash forum persona. They have no shortage of opinions, are quick to argue, and nobody should dare tell them what to say because they have freedom of speech on their side. I hate to break the news, but there really is no such thing as free speech on internet forums. Whoever pays the forum bills makes the rules, which everyone agrees to as a condition to join. Besides, brazen behavior rarely plays well in a forum community. Instead, it’s best to be civil, helpful, and complimentary. Your social media reputation will benefit more from this approach.

Rule 4: Don’t join a forum with the ulterior motive to self-promote. I’ve seen many new members join up and proceed to exploit any opportunity to plug their book(s) and/or blog. In fact, they think they’re pretty clever in the way they attempt to disguise their promotional efforts. In reality they aren’t fooling anyone because most members have encountered this behavior many times before. Besides, these forums are full of writers (not readers) who aren’t there searching for their next read.

Rule 5: Don’t feed the trolls. Every forum has them: Trolls. They lurk and strike when you post something that seems innocuous, but they want to use it to ignite a flame-war. No matter how incredulous a reply is to your post, or how under-control you think you are, don’t take the bait. Trolls thrive on attention. If you ignore them, you starve them of what motivates them to behave the way they do. It’s always best to let the moderators deal with them.

In conclusion, I’m not trying to steer writers away from internet forums. While some forums are better moderated than others, it’s how you approach them that determines their value. I recommend that you enter into them with a clear intent of becoming part of that community. However, once you’re a part of a forum, it’s equally as important to adopt strict disciplines. Don’t drift and waste time on things that will take you away from the most important thing: writing.

Since exiting a finance career in a world of cubicles, Bruce Fottler has written and published four novels. He has also dabbled in writing, producing, and directing film shorts. For more on Bruce, check out his Amazon Author Page or his Goodreads page.

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10 thoughts on “The Perils of Internet Forums”

  1. What’s sad is when the moderator is the troll–king troll, ruling with an iron hand and a scathing tongue. Your advice is well-taken, and the sooner the better when you encounter these toxic types: avoid and ignore them. I’ve left groups when I’ve met these types, and I would like to think every other rational person did the same, leaving the troll to rule an empty kingdom. Good reminder to put your energy where it will do your writing the most good.

  2. Excellent post, Bruce. To this I would add one more rule.

    Lurk before posting.

    Any community has its own personality and unwritten rules. When you discover a new forum read, but don’t participate right away. Get a feel for the forum to decide (a) is it a community you want to get involved in and (b) while doing so you’ll get a feel for the acceptable community standards. Often times even different areas of the same forum have a different personality and standards. (As an example of what I mean, consider the differences between the “Writer’s Cafe” area of KBoards versus the other areas of the same site.)

  3. Thanks, Bruce, for detailing the pros and cons of joining online forums. I fell into one of these “pits” and promptly scrambled out! Bad advice prevails, and members can get snarky. I prefer to lie low and to reserve my opinions for my personal blog. Regardless, I always “play nice.” I firmly believe in courtesy and respect–in treating others the way that you would like to be treated.

  4. This is a good list of rules to live by, Bruce.

    In one Facebook group of which I’m a member, we had a very short spate of authors who thought they’d found a loophole in the group’s no-self-promotion rule. They would post a valid discussion question, but accompanied by a picture of their latest book. The admins shut them down but quick.

  5. Great comments, everyone (and thanks). While I held it to five rules, I know it could easily be fifty. Big Al also makes an excellent point about lurking and gauging the personality of a forum before jumping in.

  6. This advice is what every user of EVERY kind of forum should have. As an old fanfic writer, I can remember some really brutal flame wars in a couple of fandoms, as well as some personalities that became notorious (like the one with the fictional dying husband). In my younger days, I would sometimes fight the good (read: stupid) fight. I’m wiser now (if still pretty tactless). I can’t regret some great real life friends made along the way, though.

  7. Great list! I’d also add, don’t be afraid to walk away if you find that it isn’t fitting you anymore or if you find yourself more aggravated than helped by being there. I’ve left a few forums that had some great people but the static to noise ratio from the not so good ones was enough that it was just better to leave before I became part of the noise 😉

  8. Hey Bruce,
    I’m a lurker myself, but (like now) I don’t strike to create controversy and comment only when I have something (hopefully positive) to add. I mention my ebooks only if it’s appropriate to the comment. I tend to speak my mind, though (that often makes PR and marketing people unhappy with me), so I’ll add to your post: Rule 6: Also watch what you say in emails! People’s subjective interpretation of what you say and their subsequent reaction can be harsh and unexpected, especially if you use irony or humor that doesn’t resonate with them. And I have to mention that this warning includes talking about plot details. I only had it happen once. An author released a thriller with a setting and plot very similar to what we had discussed some years earlier. I don’t harbor much ill will toward him, but it taught me a lesson. Keep your what-ifs, settings, characters, and other writing ideas to yourself. If you place a sample of your writing in a forum, put a copyright date on it too. At least you’ll have some legal recourse (if you can afford it).
    Yours in reading and writing,

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