Spam and Trolls

Jam & Judicious Advice


What is a troll?

A troll is someone who posts on Internet message boards “to start arguments and upset people.”* We have had trolls at Toasted Cheese in the past and will probably have trolls in the future.

Trolls post provocatively because they know this will incite a reaction from other posters, thus giving them what they want: attention. The best thing to do with known trolls is ignore them. Sit on your fingers. Do not flame them back. Do not try to reason with them:

“Trolls are utterly impervious to criticism (constructive or otherwise). You cannot negotiate with them; you cannot cause them to feel shame or compassion; you cannot reason with them. They cannot be made to feel remorse. For some reason, trolls do not feel they are bound by the rules of courtesy or social responsibility.”*

How do I tell if a poster is a troll? What if I’m not sure?

Consider the poster’s prior posts (if any). If the post is out of character, he/she may just be in a bad mood, or the topic may have touched a nerve. If it’s a new poster, he/she may not be familiar with board etiquette. Assume the best, and try responding with a polite, friendly message.

You’ll generally be able to tell by their reaction whether they’re a troll or not. Someone who’s willing to negotiate, who backs down when called on his/her behavior, or apologizes, is not a troll. Trolls will argue “hello & welcome” if that’s all they have to work with. If the poster responds in a trolly manner, do not continue the conversation.

There’s a troll on my board. What recourse do I have?

If you’re concerned about a possible troll, email the Toasted Cheese staff at editors[at] Include the URL and content of the post. Your email and ID will remain confidential.

How do I avoid being labeled a troll?

The best way to keep from being considered a troll is to follow the posting guidelines and basic rules of courtesy. Remember, there is a person behind each post. Keep your criticisms to the writing; do not personally attack the writer. For example, “I noticed some spelling and grammar problems in your story. Here are a few examples…” is appropriate, whereas “Did you drop out of school in sixth grade? Your spelling sucks.” is not.

A good rule of thumb: Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want someone to say to you, nor anything you wouldn’t say to someone “in real life”, i.e. to their face.

If you do post something in the heat of the moment, and later regret it, apologize, and then move on. Don’t dwell on it, or beat yourself up about it.

*from Internet Trolls © 2001 by Timothy Campbell


What is spam?

Merriam-Webster’s definition of spam is “unsolicited usually commercial E-mail sent to a large number of addresses”, in other words, junk mail.

In the case of Toasted Cheese‘s message boards, spam means the same post posted to an unacceptable number of boards, i.e. more than two or three. (n.b. This does not apply to board hosts posting TC memos.) Posts that are irrelevant to the purpose of Toasted Cheese, i.e. posts that have nothing whatsoever to do with writing or writers, will also be considered spam.

What is not spam?

Ads and self-promotion are not spam. Toasted Cheese encourages writers to share URLs of articles, contests, resources, ezines, etc. Posters are also welcome to post a link to their own website, advertise a book or article they have written, or tell us about a service they offer. All we ask is that these be writing-related.

But it’s rude to post a link to your site if you’re not a regular poster!

While it may not be up to your standards of etiquette, it’s still not spam. Instead of getting upset when someone does this, respond with a pleasant welcome, ask the poster about him/herself, and encourage him/her to get involved.

Okay, but this one is really spam!

If you believe a post is spam, send an email to editors[at] which includes the URL and content of the post. Please do not publicly accuse someone of posting spam.

I told you about it, but the post is still there.

We may have decided that the post does not qualify as spam.

Even if it really is spam, we’ll probably only remove the post if the poster is a repeat offender. We consider removing posts a last resort, and strive to do it as infrequently as possible. A first offender will likely receive a private warning.

Your best bet: ignore the post and trust that we’ll take care of it.

Why is TC spamming me?

We’re not.Spammers are able to spoof email addresses, i.e. make it look like their spam came from someone else’s address/domain. Sometimes this is a targeted attack, the intent being to have recipients of the spam report the unwitting victim (who only becomes aware of the attack when they start receiving bounced e-mails) to their service provider as a spammer. See: Joe Job. More frequently, it is random and automated, using addresses harvested by spambots.

We have reported the abuse of our domain name to our service provider. Unfortunately, there is nothing that we, or they, can do to stop/prevent it. However, we want to make it clear: we don’t spam. If you have received spam that looks like it came from TC, it didn’t. Period.

10 Tips for Posting at Writing Forums

Jam & Judicious Advice

I want to post a story (poem, article…). What do I need to know?

  1. Read the posting guidelines before posting at a new forum. Leave a space between paragraphs; it makes it easier to read online. Spell-check your post.
  2. If you’re posting an excerpt from a work-in-progress, say so, and ask for a general critique, not a nit-picky one. NPC on an unfinished first draft is a waste of time for both the critiquer and the writer. What you really want is encouragement (yes, really!). Get your first draft down before you start asking others to tear it apart.

I posted yesterday (or 2 days ago or…). Why hasn’t anyone replied?

  1. Everyone (including the forum hosts) who critiques your writing is volunteering their time. Realize that their own writing, other work, family and friends, etc. come before critiquing your work. Have patience. It may take a week, or even two, for everyone who plans to critique your piece to do so. Also remember that hosts are there to keep the forum running smoothly, not to critique each and every piece of work posted.
  2. In general, shorter posts and posts requesting general critiques will receive quicker responses than long posts and posts requesting nit-picky critiques. If you post 10,000 words and ask for NPC, don’t be surprised when you get fewer critiques than the person who asked for GC on a 300-word flash fiction piece. Decide what you really want/need: a quick reply, or a detailed response.
  3. How often are you requesting critiques? If you’re posting more than one piece per week for critique, reconsider. People need time to see your post, read it, think about it, then write up a critique. If you post a second or third piece within the week, people who were considering or in the midst of giving piece #1 a critique may decide not to bother because they feel you’ve already moved on. A week isn’t a long time in the greater scheme of things. Pace yourself.
  4. Consider the busy-ness of the forum in question. Is there one story waiting for a critique or twenty? Realize that it’ll take longer for any one person (i.e. the forum host) to get back to you on a busier forum. Everyone needs to chip in. Which leads us to #7:
  5. A critique forum only works if everyone who requests critiques also gives them. While waiting for your piece to be critiqued, take the time to critique others. It’s the best way to show your appreciation for the critiques you will receive and to garner more (or faster) critiques of your work in the future. If you’re new to critiquing, check out our critiquing guidelines.

Someone critiqued my story! I’m going to change everything she hated right now.

  1. STOP. Don’t rely on a single critique to shape your story. Wait till you have three or four responses and then compare them. Something one person may hate, another may love. Look for commonalities between critiques.
  2. After you’ve had a piece critiqued, wait a few days (at least). It’s best to let the initial sting of criticism wear off before editing. Time will also help you resist the temptation to try to please every critiquer by incorporating every tidbit of advice. A critique is a guideline, not a rule. Use what feels right; discard the rest.

Wow, this place is great. I don’t know how I can thank you!

  1. If you like Toasted Cheese and want to give something back, please consider volunteering as a co-host at one of the forums.We’d like to see two co-hosts for each forum, with each individual co-hosting at no more than two forums. That way each forum would get the attention it deserves and no one person would be overwhelmed by his/her hosting responsibilities. When we’re short hosts, Toasted Cheese staff each have to cover multiple forums, and it’s not always possible for us to respond as quickly or as often as we’d like. The forums are just a small part of what we do at TC, and other aspects of the site sometimes take priority. Speaking of other aspects of the site… Is there a writing topic you’d like to expound on? We welcome queries for our Absolute Blank section (articles on writing). Do you have finished work slumbering on your hard drive? Our quarterly e-zine takes submissions year-round.

How to Copy & Paste

See: How to Copy, Cut, and Paste for Beginners

Common Acronyms & Abbreviations

See: English internet slang

Conquering the “But I don’t know how to critique” Blues

Jam & Judicious Advice

Dance Naked
The Critique Zone

Worried that you’re not worthy? Well, worry no more. At Toasted Cheese, our motto is, “If you can read, you can critique.” Remember the majority of reviewers, editors and agents are not writers themselves, they’re readers. They read and evaluate. And so can you!

Background Image: Jeremy Bushnell/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

First, stop bashing yourself for perceived deficiencies. If grammar is not your forte, don’t stress yourself out trying to fix someone else’s. Instead, comment on something else — plot or character, for example. Use your strengths.

Next, ask yourself some basic questions about the piece you’re critiquing. Be honest. At this stage, the critique is for your eyes only.

Did you like it or not? Why? List some concrete, specific positives and negatives to help you organize your thoughts. An example of an positive would be: “Your dialogue was believable. It sounded realistic.” An example of a negative would be: “The ‘moral of the story’ line at the end was too preachy and obvious.” (Stuck? Check out the list of critique questions for ideas!)

Would you like to read more of the story / this writer’s work? Why? Here you might say: “I’d like to read more because the main character was fascinating.” or “I don’t want to read more because the pedantic, passive voice writing style made me feel like I was reading a term paper, not a story.”

What changes would you suggest to the writer? Why? Some examples: “I’d clean up the spelling mistakes and typos because I found them really distracting.” to “I’d use ‘she’ in place of the narrator’s name at times, because using her name every time is annoying, especially when she’s the only person in the scene.” to “I’d change the scene where the main character jumps off the cliff because that wasn’t realistic since he’d just declared his love for life in the previous scene.”

Finally, organize your notes so that you can show them to the writer of the piece. The purpose of a constructive critique is to help writers improve their writing, so it’s important to be honest. Don’t say a story was “Great!” if it wasn’t. If the writer knows their story wasn’t great, they won’t ever trust any feedback you give and if they happen to think their story is awesome, you’re just setting them up for a bigger fall when they send their not-so-great story off to a publisher before it’s ready. At the same time, a critique should avoid being cruel, so even if you thought a story sucked out loud, please don’t say, “This really sucked!” Instead, concentrate on specifics and on finding solutions for problems.

Start off with one or more of the things you thought the writer did well. Remember, saying something positive is possible, even if overall, you really didn’t like the piece. Then, share the things you thought detracted from the story along with your suggestions on how to fix them. Suggesting how to fix the problem is what makes it constructive criticism, so do try to give a suggestion for each. Wrap your critique up with a positive statement or two, for example, “I can’t wait to read more!”

Just like any skill, the more you critique, the easier it gets. As a side benefit, critiquing can give you valuable insight into your own writing, so give it a try! At Toasted Cheese, you must critique at least two pieces for every piece you post at a critique forum.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Critiquing

  • ACCESSIBILITY: Was it easy to follow the action, what was going on and why?
  • APPEARANCE: Were there too many errors? Typos? Grammar? Punctuation?
  • CHARACTERS: Were they human, fascinating, unique, flawed?
  • CONFLICT: Was it confusing? Did it exist?
  • DIALOGUE: Did everybody have their own rhythm, tone and style?
  • ENDING: Was it clear and satisfying? Do you know what the characters will do in the future?
  • LEAD: Did the opening have passion? Style? Pace? Depth? Energy? Does each chapter have a lead and an ending?
  • MOTIVATION: Why did the characters do what they did?
  • ORIGINALITY: How fresh was the story? Was it a new take on an old theme?
  • PACING: Did the story flow smoothly? Were there too many high points and low points?
  • PLOTTING: Were you surprised by the choices the characters made?
  • SETTING: Were the mood and tone good?
  • STRUCTURE: Does everything happen in order? ie. What if that scene were there, for example?
  • STYLE: Does it sound like the author?
  • SUBTLETY: Was the message too preachy?
  • TONE: Did the theme stay consistent throughout?