Friday, April 13, 2018

Why I Don’t Have Comments on My Blog



A long while back, I removed my comments section. A man (and a few others) who followed me on Twitter, but never had spoken to me before, wanted to know why.

"Because more people are commenting on my lack of a comment section than they ever did in my comment section?"

I removed it for several reasons, but the mainly no one used it. I followed many writing blogs and I knew that when I saw an open comment section with no posts, I took the article less seriously - even though I realized that was ridiculous. But not only that, I rarely like online comments anyway. Few add to the enjoyment of the piece, most people enter something asinine and then flee never to be seen again. The whole thing just kind of seemed ineffective for communication. People say, "Is it because you're worried about hateful comments?" and while, hey, sure, that's nice to not have to worry about it every time I go to post, all my hate-mail/disagreement mail has always been private, even when the comment section was open. I have very respectful haters when it comes to writing. Also, I have rarely seen any hate-filled responses on ANY writer's blog (save for famous ones). Usually they are, "This is so true for me! Buy my book!" Sure, I've come across some authors with a real bullying problem, but it’s been like two, and that was on Amazon. No, I am far more worried about being ignored than being attacked.

When I explained to him my honest reasoning (that I knew it would look better if I just removed it), and that it worked, my hits went up a noticeable amount afterwards, he responded that it wasn't always about hits but about your readers.

I don't remember how I responded to that. It was Twitter, so it's not like we could have a real conversation with all 140 characters a response (that was back in the good ole days when Direct Messaging had a limit), but this separation of numbers and humans has always interested me.

Writers post a lot about, "I'm not in it for the sales," usually in reference to some sort of criticism someone gave them. They claim that their writing is about more than the money or the numbers.

And you know what? I believe you. I think there are a lot of writers who are not in for the money or the fame and they don't need to explain themselves to anyone. But sometimes hits and sales are not separate from more artistically minded visions. A “sale” isn’t just dollars and cents, but a reader. Sometimes a decision to maintain your fan base is not about keeping the numbers up, but caring about their experience. Sometimes numbers are the only way to gauge the effectiveness of your choices even when they’re not your direct goal.

Why do I write? I write for all of the reasons, really. Bad ones, good ones, completely irrational ones I should probably talk to my therapist about. But my main hope, the one thing I want more than anything, is to touch readers in a way that my favorite books touched me. If I can make a good number of people feel the way that I did while reading, then I would consider myself successful. That means I would have to be read. It means I would have to sell my book. And while a sale can be without emotional impact, a buyer never even reading it, emotional impact cannot happen without a sale. They can’t be touched if they never get it into their hands. Sales, hits, and other numerical devices considered shallow can be a representation of more than just fame or money.

In the case of the man who said hits weren't as important as the readers, I wondered what he thought the difference was. He was implying that opening the comment section would enhance the reader's experience. But that's not what was happening. My current readers weren't using it; they clearly didn't care about it. Until it was gone, of course. For another thing, deliberately making a choice only to keep old readers around can be considered just as superficial as doing something for hits.

We have to acknowledge that once I removed it my numbers grew. In his mind, this meant nothing, but it should. The growth of readership represents actual people who I am communicating with, someone I wasn't communicating with before. Asking me to keep a comment section open to enhance communication was actually contradictory to what actually enabled me to speak to my audience. Without the section, more people listened even though they couldn’t speak. With the comments section, less people listened and chose not to speak.

Of course, it was obvious what he really meant. He was accusing me of closing my comment section, not because he wanted to use it or would have ever used it, but because he believed I did so out of insecurity or ego. Then when I said it was to enhance "hits," he wrote me off for selling out. He was suggesting, albeit in a very polite way, that I was not promoting the artistic and pure ideology I should be.

But I think this limited definition on what “appropriate” goals are is competitive, not beneficial, or even genuinely analytical. His view was that I shut out people’s ability to express themselves and that my argument of it enhancing the experience as proven by higher number of readers was invalid. “It’s not about that.”

Let’s think about this. A hit is someone who comes to the page. It doesn’t mean they read it, of course, but it did mean for whatever reason, they were more encouraged to read it. Considering that they had to first go to the page to see there is no comment section, it limits the way that the section could have had an effect on it. It means one of three things: it’s a coincidence, it had more people talking, it had more people coming back.

The hike was enough and remained constant that I severely doubt it was a random coincidence, especially considering that I decided on doing so due to my own perspective on how I experience comment sections myself. It suggested that people were taking the articles more seriously (as I expected), that they were actually thinking about the words, not worrying about what others felt or how many people were reading. They only saw it for what it was and could develop their own opinions based on the ideas alone. The blogs were, for whatever reason, something they wanted to talk about, or at least get more of. People enjoyed them more—enough to share them with others—when there wasn’t an empty section staring them in the face.

In this case, I made a speculation based on my own feelings, acknowledged those feelings, and acted on them. My evidence behind the success of that was based on numbers alone, sure, but I can’t watch people’s expressions, I can’t witness the faces that come in and out and of my virtual realm, how quickly they go or long they stay – I’m lucky if I even can talk to someone who’s read my work. I knew what my goals were, and while it is easy to interpret “have a lot of readers” as some superficial, uncouth selling out, every author wants people to care. If you publish, you want to be read. If you do want to be read then it’s about finding a means to achieve without sacrificing your real goals.

A writer can write for whatever reason she chooses. She might want to make money, she might want to reveal a problem to the world. Maybe she wants to talk about her perspective on reality. Maybe she just wants to make someone laugh. Maybe she wants her characters and world to seem real. Maybe she’s just bored and has nothing better to do. It doesn’t matter, but let’s stop using “I’m not in it for the money” or the hits or the readers as an argument why you should or should not make the choices you that seem right for you. Just make them. Use the resources at hand to determine if they achieved what you would hope for, and stop worrying about the artistic integrity of your fellow writers.


Oh, and if you’re really concerned about how to send me hate-mail, most people just use Facebook.



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