First, I’m so sorry I missed my regular posting day this month! I kicked myself for having my post written but not queued up to publish (I neglected to hit the “publish” button after getting trapped in Missouri by the snow and fighting my way home over the course of several days). Thank you Faith for letting me take over your day!!
Today I want to talk about how we make choices about what we will and won’t talk about online. Recently, Misty penned an excellent post about how what authors say (specifically in reviews) can affect their career (or at least, can affect their relationship with other authors in the very small writers’ community). Misty’s is one of several really great posts on the topic and I wanted to link to a few others before diving into my own thoughts:
- Jennifer Laughran, agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency and known online as Literaticat (btw, she runs a fantastic blog and is very active on several writing forums answering questions — she rocks), wrote a post on When to Keep your Trap Shut? Almost Always. Essentially this post discusses what querying authors should or shouldn’t say during the process.
- Stacia Kane wrote a blog post about how Being Published Changes Everything in which she also talks about the difficulty of balancing being an author and writing reviews. Her post generated a lot of discussion and subsequent follow-ups from Stacia: More on What We Say, Publishing, It’s a Business and It’s Hard Sometimes, and Reviews are For Readers.
- Illona Andrews posts Yet More About Reviews where she suggests, essentially, that as an author everything is your fault (that really there’s no good response to a review other than “Thank you for reading.”)
- Jeaniene Frost wrote a piece On Reviews talking about the difference between Jeaniene the Author and Jeaniene the Person and how that affects what she says publicly.
So my thoughts…
When I started sending out query letters one of the first things I did was set up a matrix in the sidebar of my blog that listed how many queries were outstanding, how many had asked for more, how many had rejected and how many had (fingers crossed) accepted. I reasoned that I’d learned so much by watching other people’s process and their generosity and sharing so much that I wanted to do the same in the hope that maybe it could help someone else down the road. Also, my blog readers had stuck with me through so much that I felt like I kind of owed it to them to keep them in the loop.
Within the hour I got an email from a friend and mentor that basically said, “Are you insane!? Would you ever walk into a job interview and tell them how many other employers had already rejected you? Take that stuff down!”
I thought about it, realized that what I thought was sharing was really advertising to potential agents that not only were they one of a larger group (which I’m sure they knew but there’s no need to shatter the illusion that each query letter is sent to the person you want above all others) but also that their peers had already judged me and found my work wanting. So I took the information down and kept it all private. Now, after the fact, I have no problem sharing that information (for example, you can find my query letter here) but that’s partly because I’m on the other side of it — me saying that I had several rejections just makes me part of the community and is unlikely to negatively impact my career.
I bring this up because of the aforementioned posts I linked to above. They tend to all have consistent themes: be aware of what you say online and the consequences what you say can bring. And just to be clear, those links aren’t saying you have to shut up and can’t post your feelings, they’re simply pointing out that posting said feelings can have consequences and you should be aware of those in order to make an informed decision about your actions.
Like all advice, you can take it or leave it, but I think there’s some good advice in those posts.
One of the harder transitions about moving forward in a writing career is becoming a “public persona” and what that can mean in terms of how you approach online communities. When I first started my writing blog in early 2006 (can’t believe it’s been that long!) I knew I was doing it with the goal of ultimately (hopefully) becoming a published author. In fact, I pretty much based the tone of my blog after the blog of someone I admired, Diana Peterfreund, who always had a very personal and informative blog that was entertaining, helpful, and professional. Her blog really made me look up to her and it helped me learn a ton about the industry and craft and my goal was to someday hopefully be that to someone else.
So when I began to blog I created two rules: no politics, no religion. I’m someone who LOVES to talk politics and it’s been hard over the years but I’ve kept to those two rules because I’ve seen talk on those two subjects just tear apart a blog (and friendships) and I didn’t want that. If my blog were going to be a wholly personal blog then it wouldn’t have mattered what I talked about, but I was aiming to someday have other people in the industry read my entries (and since I read a lot of archived blogs I knew others would too) and so I comported myself accordingly.
But it’s hard. It’s hard to have an online presence that’s supposed to present who you really are and at the same time withhold part of who you are and what you’re passionate about. Because at the end of the day, the blog and website and twitter feed are part of your brand, like it or not. There are days I’d love to complain or share rejections and somedays I do share and sometimes I don’t. Other authors are much more comfortable sharing some of that information and some aren’t. But always in the back of my mind I’m aware that I’m not blogging or tweeting as “Carrie Ryan the Person” but as “Carrie Ryan the YA Author.” There’s a difference (Carrie Ryan the YA Author posts much fewer pictures of Chtulhu statues holding up her beer). (Which reminds me, Elizabeth Bear has a great post on auctorial construct i.e. how other people perceive you as a construct of what they expect versus who you really are).
I’m not advocating that all blogs have to be sterilized of information that could conceivably cast you in a bad light (because the truth is, there will always be someone out there who dislikes you for innocuous reasons) but what I am advocating is to create your online presence mindfully. Be aware that people are or will be reading what you write (even before you’re published) and be aware what message you’re sending. For me, it’s all about making an informed decision about how we present ourselves and the posts I linked to above definitely gave me food for thought about how I approach the online community.
I really love Misty’s suggestion: Be Nice.