The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

What to expect from online message boards

Message boards and discussion groups (which now include Twitter) are an excellent way to engage with people who have similar interests and for this reason, book publicists often encourage authors to explore and participate in appropriate online venues.  But message board newbies would be wise to note that online companions don’t always play nice.  Let me provide an example.  (And no, this example does not involve a certain South by Southwest panel going, well, south.)

About a year ago, shortly after Katie Holmes finished the New York City marathon in just under five-and-a-half hours (putting her in the bottom 15 percent of women her age), I made an admittedly  rude comment on a running message board about Suri probably being able to crawl that fast.  I also found fault with the commonly-held notion that marathons are somehow the gold standard of fitness (I think being, well, fit is the gold standard of fitness — whatever “fit” means to an individual) and said I thought marathons — a supremely  unnatural 26.2 miles of exertion — should be reserved for faster, fitter runners.  In an all-that-matters-is-you-crossed-the-finish-line age, this did not go down well.

Let me share with you a few gems from the comment thread (but before I do, let me just say, sic, sic and sic):

“Thanks, sweety, for insulting all 5 hour marathoners.” 

And file this one under Bang-Head-Against-Brick-Wall:

“You can attempt to explain yourself as much as you want, but you are still wrong.”

And the crowning glory:

“… you’re basically a d**k … you simply need to STFU!!!!! Anything else will make you look like a bigger idiot than you’re already coming off as.”

For those of you unschooled in the ways of online abbreviations and wondering what “STFU” means, let me just hint that the first and last words are “shut” and “up.”  I think you can fill in the blanks.  Of the 56 other comments, about 55 averaged somewhere between indignant and condescending.

Although message boards do attract people of similar interests, this online interaction provides a shield of anonymity, which some interpret as a license to be rude.  In the most extreme cases, “trolls” incite “flamewars.”  (In this instance, I’m not sure I’d classify the commenters as trolls — who deliberately seek to be contrary or cruel — or simply as semi-literate.)

Another feature of message boards you should keep in mind is that only a fraction of people who read them ever comment.  (Readers who never comment are known as “lurkers.”)  So there might have been 59 comments to my Rude Comment About Katie Holmes, but the message thread garnered more than 17,000 views.  Yes.  17.  Thousand.  Keep this in mind if you’re a blogging author who fears no one reads your posts.  And if you’re someone who reads message boards but doesn’t comment, give it a whirl.  You’re interested enough in the topic to visit the site — why not interact with others who share your views (or who don’t share your views)?  Make yourself heard (preferably once you know the style and tone of the group).

For every wacky person out there, there are many who participate in ideological rather than personal debates, whose arguments  are measured and sound and professional.  Whose views are enlightening and from whom you can learn.  These are the people with whom you should engage for informative and productive discourse.  As for the others, ignore them.  Then wait and make fun of them on your blog.

Have you had any particularly good (or atrocious) experiences with message boards?  Do share.


March 31, 2009 - Posted by | Discussion Groups, Miscellaneous | ,


  1. I’ve had good and bad experiences with message boards. When I was pregnant, the group I belonged to was a lot of fun and very informative. After I had my daughter and moved into a playgroup message board, there were constant flame wars and attacks that seemed to be generated by members who would assume a new, anonymous identify and go on a tirade against other members. I finally left the group for good because their tactics were unpleasant and I was no longer learning anything or having fun.

    My truly positive experience was on a scrapbooker’s group. I learned a lot, even met several members in person for crops and – amazingly enough – made a friend who referred me for my current job with Author Marketing Experts. It’s been almost six years, so clearly that experience worked out very well! It also shows that you just never know who you can meet online. Proceed with caution in the beginning, but it is possible to make friends and invaluable contacts.

    Comment by Paula Krapf | March 31, 2009 | Reply

  2. Have had some really strange reactions on group message boards on Linkedin. I’ll chalk it up to the high number of unemployed folks and the stress this must be placing on their “online” manners 🙂

    Comment by Barbara Kimmel | March 31, 2009 | Reply

  3. As a new novelist, I recently followed Steve Weber’s advice (in “Plug Your Book”) on seeking good reviewers: “You can find prospective reviewers by posting a message on Amazon’s discussion board dedicated to customer book reviews:

    I posted a polite inquiry and waited, naively thinking that I would receive an email message from anyone interested. A few weeks went by and it occurred to me that perhaps I had to check back with the discussion board for replies. I checked. There were over 250 entries by then. The very first one had been a casual nasty, “yeah, I’ll give you a bad review…” and the pitbulls moved in. I was called a panhandler, a kook, and became the source of lots of fun for a few mean-spirited nitwits. Others entered the fray trying to defend my inquiry or turn around the tone of the thread. It finally petered out at about 450 comments. It was a mortifying and fruitless effort. Lesson learned: take the time to figure out the tone and rules of engagement before jumping blindly into any message board group; they can become as tight a club as a beehive, and prone to sting an unexpected stranger.

    Comment by Mara Feeney | March 31, 2009 | Reply

  4. I am in agreement with the author on Mrs. Tom Cruise’s NYC Marathon performance. She should have stayed in bed instead of going for a five hour walk. Why not go shopping instead? What did she prove? How “unathletic” her jaunt was? It’s hard enough getting into the “circus” that is run the first
    Sunday in November, I’m sure many who can run much faster than five
    hours were in shock: how did she get a number anyway?

    Comment by Jerode King | April 1, 2009 | Reply

  5. I don’t know who Katie Holmes is, but completing a marathon in 5 1/2 hours is not bad at all.

    That is far better than most people are able to do.

    Good for Katie Holmes, whoever she is.

    Comment by John | July 24, 2009 | Reply

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    Comment by Reovireence | December 18, 2009 | Reply

  7. Hello !

    I’m new on this forum so I introduce me…

    My name is Jason I’m 27 years old, I’m French.

    I like: holdem poker and baseball…

    Nice to meet you

    Comment by Silapolxxzz | October 20, 2010 | Reply

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