Do Authors on Social Media Police Reader Interpretation?

So, this is the second time I’m writing this post. I wrote the first one way back in November but I binned it because I just wasn’t happy with it (it got a little bitchy). So this is attempt number two! It’ll be a rambling mess but I’ll try my best to be coherent.

One of the last papers I wrote in undergrad focused on fandom in the modern age, in a time where connecting with others is almost instantaneous, whether it’s through a blog post or an email or a tweet. My focus was specifically on authors, and how they may use social media not only to communicate with their readers, but to also control ownership over their texts and their fictional characters. This paper was titled ‘The Liberation of the Twenty-First Century Reader as a Result of Social Media’ and it was pretentious as fuck. But the topic really interests me, and I want to see what you guys think on the subject.


When you first think about authors having social media platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, etc. it sounds amazing! You can interact with them whenever you like (if they reply, that is). As a reader, I love that the relationship between author and reader has seemingly grown closer over the past decade or so. I see interactions like this every day on Twitter and most of the time they’re adorable! I’m way too chicken to talk to my favourite authors over social media, but the option to do so is there, and I think that’s fantastic.

But maybe authors having social media goes beyond simple marketing and interaction with fans. You could say that authors have an online presence to also try and control how readers interpret their novels and/or characters. I’ve seen this numerous times on Goodreads and Twitter, where authors have tried to talk over or even ‘correct’ a reader’s interpretation of characters, as it goes against their vision or ‘intent’…

And that’s so wrong to me! It bugs me that some authors try to assert their views over their readers, and that the author’s intent is the sole ‘right’ one. ‘Oh, I see you think this character is gay but they’re not bcos I say so’ (as an example), and attempts such as this are just flat out wrong to me! If readers wanna headcanon characters as PoC or LGBT+ for instance, then that’s their choice. What’s more, think of why readers do this.

And it’s not only reader interpretation authors may battle with. Authors can and have lashed out online due to bad reviews left by readers. Personally, while I can absolutely understand being hurt over a negative review, using your social media account to attack your readers and reviewers is not a good look! It’s gotten to the point where I’m nervous about posting negative reviews in fear that the author will discover it and attack me for it – hasn’t happened yet, luckily!


I’m just a reviewer. I’m not a writer and I have zero desire to become one, so there’s probably a perspective I’m just not seeing, but I was wondering, what are your thoughts about authors online? Do you believe that some authors use their social media to try and control reader interpretations? Any examples where you’ve seen this happen? Would love to know what you all think.

jess

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24 thoughts on “Do Authors on Social Media Police Reader Interpretation?

  1. Wow, they actually do that? I must be naive. I guess I just close my eyes and steer away from content like that, or maybe I’m just lucky and I’ve never seen it? I mean, correcting a reader’s impression is just wrong. I mean, the most they should be doing is saying “it’s interesting that you’re interpreting it this way because that’s not how I meant it when I wrote it”. That’s totally valid, cause you can’t always see your characters through the eyes of other readers, just like a real person can look different through someone else’s eyes. But correcting? Now that’s just so… close-minded.
    As for some of the worse reviewer-author clashes, I’ve got no words for that. I’ve read the story where this author threatened a person about a review with black magic last year 😀 needless to say, end of his writing career. Totally disgusting.
    BTW, I also share your feelings about not wanting to become a writer! Feeling perfectly good being a reviewer myself too 🙂

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  2. I think it’s a difficult situation because as a writer myself I’m already super protective of my project and I’m nowhere near even a first draft. Ultimately the author is the one who knows what they have written in and out – other people can interpret it differently once it’s out in the world, but I would always see the creators opinion as the “true” interpretation because it’s how they created it. I don’t think authors should go out of their way to harass their fans at all but good or bad, they’re the ones who know their creation the best. That’s how I feel, anyway.

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  3. OMG JESS I 100% AGREE! I have seen this on Twitter before too and it ANNOYS ME ENDLESSLY! Books are all about interpretation and you can NEVER tell someone that their interpretation is wrong! I also hate they do that to appear ‘correct’, especially if they’ve written a harmful representation and to avoid apologising *cough* V Roth *cough*

    Thanks so much for this fantastic discussion!

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  4. Well I guess they can try but in the end the reader will make-up their own mind. And they can’t control beyond the readers they come into contact with so in the end it’s pointless. If you don’t want your work to be interpreted by readers, don’t publish it!

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  5. I definitely think this can be an issue. My first thought when I saw this post was the ridiculousness that happened with S.E. Hinton a couple of months ago. I don’t know if you saw it, but I guess some readers had mentioned that they interpreted the boys from The Outsiders as gay and Hinton lost it, saying that her characters were straight and then tweeted about how she was a straight author “being attacked for being straight.” All because she didn’t like how some people read her characters. What a nightmare. I really think a certain amount of reader interpretation gets forfeited when authors are online and regularly interact with and respond to people who are voicing their own interpretations and opinions about books. I really don’t see why authors can’t just let readers interpret things on their own. It’s not like it hurts anyone.

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    • Yeah that’s loosely what I was referring to when readers headcanon characters as gay – how embarrassing! I remember years ago when I was into John Green books and he’d say something along the lines of ‘books belong to their readers’ and it used to annoy me because I wanted answers from him about his books and characters. But now it makes total sense to me – I don’t want the meanings of texts to be completely dependent on the author. Of course some readers do, but it’s just not for me 🙂

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  6. I haven’t seen this with anyone I follow on twitter but can definitely understand how them trying to force their intent it’s frustrating. Reviews I think is different. I’ve seen that and it seems not so much to be about writing a bad review but like tagging them to see it. I think they take it as like rubbing it in their face and being rude. I’m assuming they’re just shitty reviews and not actually constructive in any way.

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  7. I think author interpretation and authors responding to negative reviews are generally unrelated topics.

    The one issue I have is that fans deliberately ASK AUTHORS FOR THE “REAL” INTERPRETATION. If you tweet at an author because you want to know whether a character is “really” gay or whatever, then YOU as the reader are the one who is valuing authorial intent over your own interpretation. It’s hypocritical to be pleased when the author confirms your interpretation (so you can tell everyone you’re “right” because the author said so) and angry when the author says it was not their intention, when you directly walked up and asked for their interpretation. I believe in readers having power of interpretation but…yes, don’t ask the author whether you are “right.”

    And as much as I’m not particularly interested in authorial intent, because I do think books can say things that the author did not “deliberately write in” or whatever, I also think it’s possible to misread texts. It’s possible to ignore information in the book that directly contradicts your interpretation, in which case you need to rethink and take that information into account in order to nuance your interpretation. People sometimes think that literature (think English classes) are 100% subjective and that there’s “no wrong answer,” but it’s not true. You need to be able to back up your argument with evidence from the text AND not ignore information that would contradict or nuance your argument, So I can kind of understand authors getting frustrated at readers ignoring passages that don’t fit their personal interpretation of the book, though I think authors getting into the fray and explaining their book to other people generally doesn’t end well anyway. As an author, you kind of just have to deal with the fact that readers are going to see things you didn’t intend and miss things that you did intend.

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    • Yeah, I understand. Either you believe the author is ‘in charge’ of the texts meaning or not – I prefer to believe that they aren’t. I can also understand the frustrations of writing a novel and the readers perhaps ‘missing the point’, or missing an important aspect of the novel. That’s a really interesting point. And I know authorial intent and reactions to reviews are kinda different topics – I just thought I’d mention it given that the link is social media giving authors a platform to voice their opinions – whether good or bad.

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      • I think I would be frustrated as an author if people didn’t “get” me, so I would definitely just try to avoid reviews and comments from readers. :p But, yeah, if someone tweets the question at you or asks it at a book signing or something, what are you supposed to do? I guess you could try to have a policy where you avoid answering any kind of interpretative question, but I don’t know how well it would work or how people would receive it. Possibly if an author went around telling people “I don’t answer questions about my books,” that would make people think they were aloof or ungrateful to fans or something.

        That said, I have run across authors who seem very eager to air their own interpretative views on social media, when it appears no one did ask them, and I agree that that is a bit much. At some point you have to let go of the book and let readers react as they will.

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        • It’s a tough one! If a reader approaches you and asks questions, what would you do in that situation…
          And I’ve seen that also, I hope that readers who seek answers from authors are satisfied with the answers they get regardless ☺️

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  8. I haven’t seen this happen with any of the authors I follow on Twitter, but I have heard about Cassandra Clare and how she acts on social media platforms! She constantly makes sure to point out to fans or anyone who will listen that she created Magnus and Alec and therefore all the credit should be her’s when people praise the fact that Alec isn’t biphobic on the tv show, for example. Like, yes. That character is your’s but people have made him better (in my opinion) and fans have every right to be excited about it! I much prefer show!Alec to what I’ve re-read of the books so far!

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    • CC has a long history of bullying as well (I absolutely love The Infernal Devices, but she’s done and said some really nasty things in the past). And yes!! That’s what I mean about people’s headcanons, it drives me mad that authors try to assert their meaning over their readers, and try to make out that their intent is the ‘correct’ one.

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  9. Personally, I haven’t seen it, and it doesn’t matter to me (though I know it matters to others)! I’ve always interpreted things how the author wants them to be interpreted, and I don’t think much further than that since I don’t care THAT MUCH about a character or relationship after I’m done with a book.

    I definitely don’t like when authors attack bad reviews though. I’m not really scared they’re going to find my bad reviews, mainly because even though it happens, I’ve only been around for probably a couple of instances when I’ve seen it happen, but when it does, it’s always super annoying. 😬

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    • I always feel bad writing negative things in reviews so maybe that’s partly where that fear stems from! But I do know instances where authors have been vocal about negative reviews (which I really do understand, it must be hurtful), but attacking people over it via their public platforms isn’t very smart!

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  10. I think that authors become protective of their work, and that’s why they try to police what people think about characters. But I do agree with you that it’s annoying. I have seen an author attack people online for leaving back reviews about their books and getting her fandom behind her to try to, literally, destroy this young woman because of what she said online about a book. I think that writers have to have a thick skin and accept that not everyone is going to like what they write. But I do to some degree understand trying to control the image of the characters they create. Characters easily become part of you if you write them long enough. It’s hard to let go and let them become “other people’s playthings” as the readers see them in a different context than the writer wanted. This is a thought-provoking post.

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