Message boards were born as places of online community. I remember when the BBS (bulletin board system) went viral back in my freshman year of college in the 90’s. It was too cool to be able to create a persona and chat with someone several states away. The relatively new computer labs in the dorm were always packed with waiting lists of people who chatted with others on the BBS rather than typing papers. So I get the ideal of having a specific online community to share a common interest.

social media 5C concept

Lately, I’ve logged into a couple for writers. They both tend to take sides towards one way of publishing over another, and participants can feel uneasy if they side with the opposite publishing world. Like I wrote in yesterday’s blog, I’m still surprised with the line drawn in the sand between traditional and self-publishing. But in order to research all roads to getting my work out there in the world, I’ve logged onto both message boards.

For the most part, the community works. People do share good information based on their own experiences. Sometimes people can include their information like a query letter and get feedback. On the more self-publishing message board, writers share cover designs to help them tweak the image so that it looks the best. So far, I’ve benefited from both message boards and bookmarked several threads with great information and feedback.


 

The yin and yang of participating in a message board is that for all the good and community building it can do, it comes with its share of evils. The first evil is getting sucked into reading the message board and writing responses rather than working on my own writing. It’s like I think I’ll find the magic bean to make my work a blockbuster hit or the next big thing on the message board. No message board can give that elusive key to doing well. That requires hard work on the part of the writer. I wish I had something that automatically kicked me offline and told me to write, although I do have a nice desktop image of the actors from the Avengers pointing at me with the words “You should be writing!” at the bottom.

The second evil is one that is shared with any communication online. Because we sit in our own worlds typing to anonymous people, we can forget about etiquette sometimes. Also, intent and tone don’t translate as well. There have been a number of times where I’ve taken it the wrong way that somebody mocked or denigrated me or my response. Then there have been a couple of times where I didn’t read the tone wrong. A good rule of thumb is to write what you would say to someone’s face.

But even with the drama they can cause, message boards do the one thing they were created to do in the first place – provide community.

If you wouldn’t call them a blithering idiot to their face, it’s probably a good idea not to write it out as a response (an example not based on reality). And a smiley face added at the end of a rather insulting post does NOT make it a joke or okay.

Discussions about issues facing the overall topic of the message board, in my case writing and publishing, can be good, but I’ve found that they sometimes devolve into cat fights. One of the things that bothers me is when people argue with personal feelings and attacks rather than using rational thinking and consideration. I know that people have opinions, and sharing those opinions and the experience that led to them can be very informative and help in discovery. But sometimes, people just want to win their side and don’t really care about a balanced discussion.

I will admit a small guilty pleasure that I think many participants share – those threads tend to be the ones we log on and read the most. Nothing like seeing the pot stirred when you’re procrastinating. That’s when the message board requires strong and fair moderators to intercede to make sure no one steps out of the line or becomes too insulting or inappropriate.

But even with the drama they can cause, message boards do the one thing they were created to do in the first place – provide community. I’ve been able to reply directly to writers who have gone on to do well for themselves in both paths of publishing. I made a connection with an outstanding editor. Through personal messages, I’ve connected with some of the more sharing contributors who’ve offered me direct help. And I’ve pulled out a few personal connections from the grand whole.

Ultimately, the one who makes sure I get the most out of message boards is me. Choosing when to visit and for how long, how to participate and when to reply, and whether or not to throw myself into the fray of arguments when I see the ugly side is up to me. What needs to be remembered by all participants is that if the message board isn’t private, then anyone and everyone can see what’s written there. And with the open access to information on the internet, it’s good to remember to put the best foot forward at all times.

For now, I won’t be giving up participating in message board communities. I just need to set better limits to my time on them so that I can finish up my WIP. And for those who do participate in whatever message board you choose, remember to thank your moderators!