What We Share Online


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.


21 comments to What We Share Online

  • Thanks for the helpful advice, Carrie!

    How do you feel about creating an alias to vent your real feelings (such as Editoral Ass or The Rejector)? Is this sufficent enough cover to try or should we just stay away from it all together?

  • Great advice, Carrie. As someone who wears his politics on his sleave, this is a tough one for me, tougher still as I move into the children’s market. My facebook and twitter pages are periodically shot through with rant and bluster, though I keep that stuff off my author webpage. I know that makes little real success, that people will connect the two and some will be offended but I haven’t figured out a better way yet. For all the smart biz savvy advice not to hawk my feelings on social issues, for instance, there’s a part of me that wonders what the point of success is if you can’t use it to advocate for the things you believe in, you know?

  • Sadly, this can never be said enough. In fact, I was just talking with my 13-year-old son about such things. I told him to always remember that the Internet never forgets. Don’t put anything online you don’t want the whole world to know about. There’s no such thing as privacy on the Internet. If writers can remember that little bit, they’ll have far less web-related troubles. Or as you and other wise people have said: Be nice!

  • AJ — I couldn’t agree with you more! I spend a LOT of time thinking over this point in particular: “there’s a part of me that wonders what the point of success is if you can’t use it to advocate for the things you believe in?” There are some issues that are so very dear to me (and that are hot button politically) and I do sometimes feel lame and cowardly for not speaking out and advocating for them using the platform that I have. There are times when I wonder if I have a duty to speak out. I appreciate and admire those authors who DO speak out (there are a lot) — and I very much look forward to the day when I personally feel comfortable speaking out as well (and one day I will). For now I just let Carrie the Person speak out and let Carrie the YA Author talk mostly about issues concerning the book world. I’m not going to lie — this does make me sad.

  • Stuart — very true that the internet never forgets! Also, there are places and forums where we might feel safe posting but sometimes those aren’t as locked as you’d think! I’ve had people email me “locked” LJ posts, I’ve seen agents respond to comments on “author” message boards and I know that when Facebook changed it’s permissions a while back it unlocked a ton of photos that people designated as private. I always keep all that in mind when I’m online — if I post something, anyone could see it even if I think I’m writing in a locked or private community.

    And let me also make a caveat because I worry that I’m giving the wrong impression: this is just how *I* approach all of this and I have a background of being very risk averse. I’m not advocating anyone else has to do what I do!!

  • mudepoz

    The politics thing is a two-edged sword, though, isn’t it. It wasn’t that long ago I mentioned to a friend that I refused to ever buy a book from an author because she supported something I am rabidly against.

    Yet right now, my FB page is loaded with political statements, articles, and links. I have a solidarity emblem as my avatar. I’ve never been political on my FB page. People tune in because for some reason they think I’m funny. Or insane. I recieved back channel comments when I once posted some history on Women’s voting rights.

    I’ll be blogging about it as soon as I have time. It’s planting season for the systematics class and I still have students who think dissecting = butchering. Oh, I work for a state run university in Milwaukee. Even custodians such as I have a stake in what happens, so I will continue posting.

    Will it affect if I ever get published? It doesn’t matter. In the long run, this will always be more important. I’ve noticed some of my most favorite authors have also been taking up the cause.

    BTW, I know that even when my last name wasn’t on FB (by accident) my students knew who my identity was. I have way too much presence on the web. Some with dogs, mainly judging. My license plate would have given me away, anyhow.

    One other thing, remember to Google your name. A lot. I’ve had my quotes misused so many times it makes my head spin. It isn’t always easy to get them removed. If they use the quote exactly as stated, even if it’s in the wrong context, they can keep it. Sucks.

  • Hey Mark, Excellent question! I’ve been VERY VERY temped to create an anon online alias and I’ve done it once before to make one comment several years ago. I later regretted it only because I felt uncomfortable with the idea of not owning my thoughts (it was a comment on a book related post — if I were to do something like write a letter to the editor or sign a petition or work on a campaign — something like that — I’d use my legal name which probably puts little distance between Person and Author).

    I’m not sure how much protection an alias like Editorial Ass or The Rejector gives you — I’m sure there are several people in the industry who know who they are and it always has that feeling of “only a matter of time” before more people know (for example, I know who Editorial Ass is (or rather, I once knew and have forgotten so the secret is still safe – lol)).

    Also, and I know this sounds crazy, I’ve known people to track down IP addresses to figure out who an anon poster is (there have been several instances of authors or author family members adopting personas to leave comments, reviews, etc — this rarely ends well if said comments are antagonistic). There’s also the case of one famous author who created an online identity to praise/defend himself (I believe he pretended to be his own editor?) and got caught.

    Anyway, creating an anon persona is def an option. I know authors who do that in forums so they can give detailed advice without necessarily getting specific about their personal situation. I think to me the bottom line is that you can create an anon identity with the understanding that those can go amiss. If/when I need to vent I just do it to my co-workers and friends and tend to keep it offline. But as I mention above — I’m not a risk taker and perhaps I’m way way too cautious!

  • This is a fascinating topic for a post, Carrie, and one I’ve thought about a lot. When it comes to professional matters, I am very careful about what I say online. And, in fact, a couple of years ago I posted something here that was a little too honest about something going on in my career at the time, and my agent urged me to take it down. I did. I’ve since been even more circumspect in my professional posts.

    On the other hand, I am totally up front about my politics. (Just ask Mark.) I post political stuff all the time, and make no effort to hide my lefty leanings. But here’s the thing: I also make every effort to stick to the “Be nice” rule. I express my opinions, but I also welcome differing views, and I try my best to engage people in substantive discussions while guarding against name-calling and other ugliness. I agree wholeheartedly with A.J.’s point. I have a forum, and I want to use it. There are people out there who listen to what I say. I don’t think I can convince everyone, nor do I try. But I offer my opinions and hope people will respond. I think those of us with strong opinions have a duty to express those opinions, but also to listen to those who disagree with us. We live in a world in which the wackos on both sides dominate, because those of us who are reasonable are afraid to speak up, lest we start a fight. I’m not looking for a fight; I’m looking for a conversation. And maybe I’m flattering myself, but I feel that I have started conversations on my blogs and my FB page that have made people think a bit. Again, I might not have changed minds, but at least the discussions took place.

    As I say, fascinating post. Thanks for this.

  • I should add here that I call politicians names all the time. But in the discussions, I do my best to be respectful of others and I urge those commenting on my sites to do the same.

  • Re: religion and politics: Those are very good rules.

    I’m grateful that I’ve had a chance to get over myself (mostly), so I find myself conscious of what I’m posting. Usually that translates to “not posting when I’m upset” and “not posting unless I have something I feel is worth saying”. Which right now equals “not posting much at all”.

    I completely agree with “be nice”. It’s about being positive, and perpetuating positive energy throughout the Internet rather than sitting around and complaining. Thank you for the re-affirmation.

  • Darn…looks like I gotta take all them lurid pictures of myself down… 😉

    It’s funny, doing a Google search, I can find my blog, my facebook, my linkdin, and a couple other things, and then there’s an actor with my name, a production assistant with my name, a writer of text books, and a dentist. Heh! Hopefully that won’t hurt my chances of using my own name.

  • “I express my opinions, but I also welcome differing views, and I try my best to engage people in substantive discussions while guarding against name-calling and other ugliness.”

    “I think those of us with strong opinions have a duty to express those opinions, but also to listen to those who disagree with us.”

    @David – and that’s what I call the difference between true debate and petty argument. I applaud you, sir. A lot of folks like to argue under the pretense of calling it debate, but they never really listen to anything the other side is saying to the point where things get heated and feelings get hurt. It’s one of the reasons why I tend to keep my opinions to myself. I know too many people who are exactly that way and I don’t like petty argument. 🙂

  • Carrie, great (and timely) post. My personal and professional opinions about that opportunity to advocate a position are a bit different from the others here.

    I’ve always felt that as a writer, who I am and what I believe will come out in my work. If I believe that child molesters should be shot, partially beheaded, and tossed alive into a bayou that is on fire and filled with gators then it should go into a story, not into my blog as a rant against judges who let molesters out or popes who move them to another parrish. And that is where a BBU ended up. Dead. In my opinion, that was ’nuff said.

    While I don’t shy away from either religion or politics, and will answer direct questions about most everything, I don’t get evangelical either, not online. In fact, most of my leftie friends think I’m a leftie and my rightie friends think I’m a rightie. And while most know I’m a Christian, they also know that I don’t care if they are agnostic or athesitic, worship Bast, are Jewish, Moslem, sacrifice to the goddess, or are Wiccan, Christian cultic, whatever. I don’t care if they are straight, gay, pan, or anything else.

    And this is because I am a writer. I am story teller. Thus, I have to be able to see both sides of most every argument so I can write a believable story. As a writer, I want people to get what I belive and honor and respect and detest and want to see whipped in a public square through my stories. If I write a great story, then people will read and perhaps be changed. They will never be changed by my retoric or discussion or rants or thougths. Only by my stories. This I believe totally and completly.

    So, online I am not only *nice* I am open, honest, and mostly silent. And I make friends who believe and think and live very differently from me. And guess what? They read my stories. And then many argue online about them, about what they mean. About why my characters did what they did. Other people get passionate about my stories and the underliying themes. I find that amazing! I’m a writer first. And so in every other way, I am silent. And that, to me, is the best way to change the world.

  • David — I think you’re a great example of someone who can raise those discussions and keep them from devolving into name calling. It can be tough — even many of the authors I linked to in the post above received a lot of flack for their posts which surprised me (one even talks about how she thought about quitting blogging all together because of it).

    You raise another interesting point about how much honesty about the business is considered too much. Interesting that your agent asked you to take a post down. I find that I tend to have a lot of industry conversations out of the eye of the public. It frustrates me because I think it perpetuates what I found right after I sold, namely that people blog about the process of querying and finding an agent all the time but few people are as open about what happens after the sale (again, something I think you’ve been great with sharing which I wholly appreciate!).

    Laura — I think you raise a great point about not posting when you’re upset. That’s GREAT advice!

  • Thanks, Carrie. I wish I could say that I just started out that way, but I’m part of the generation that grew up on the Internet. I learned things the hard way … thankfully under a handle that I don’t use publicly anymore. 😳

  • This post gives me a lot to think about. I never post about religion, and I rarely post about politics online, and even then it’s only in comments to other people’s posts on FB. However, I still feel the need to keep my writing life and my day-job life separate. For example, I don’t accept day-job colleagues as friends on FB, and I use LinkedIn only for professional purposes. In part this is because I’m not yet published, therefore I don’t feel I can consider my writing to be my profession yet. Don’t get me wrong, I approach writing professionally, I just don’t want to alienate my day-job colleagues by telling them what I do in my “spare time”.

    Now, could a work colleague find my blog or otherwise find out about my writing? Absolutely. And I don’t worry about that, because if they’re googling me or something, then they’re probably interested in me as a person beyond my profession. They might even want to know that I’m a gardener or a yoga practitioner. But I don’t want any of that to interfere with my work relationships, particularly since the industry I work in (Big 4 accounting) culturally tends to believe that I shouldn’t have “spare time”. There’s a mild stigma against people that don’t devote every waking hour to the firm. That’s changing a bit, but with most of our client facing folks working 60-80+ hour weeks, it’s still there. So I try to manage my different online personas to keep a small barrier between my different lives, so that people actually have to look for Megan Haskell the writer or Megan Haskell the manager.

    That being said, it’s always important to think through what you’re saying. I used to work in fraud investigations, and in a nut shell, anything you’ve ever done on your computer or online can be discovered. It might take some effort, but it’s there forever. So never put anything on the internet or in email that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see, regardless of where it’s located. It can all come back to haunt you.

  • tiffany

    Never say online what you would not say directly to someone in person, face-to-face.

  • Carrie> Great post.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the “don’t post [or email] when you’re upset.” I go ahead and write those posts, those emails, and then feel better and delete them. Then I can write another post or email and it is much more coherent or clear.

    I don’t have a blog, that I use much, and I’m thinking I should start one, but right now, I know it would suck away the time I desperately need to put into my writing. But soon I think I’ll make one.

  • Interesting discussion. Thanks, Carrie, for starting it.

    I’m with Faith on this one. I try not to take sides online and tend to avoid commenting on hot button discussions (though I do enjoy reading them and often discover interesting viewpoints on both sides – fodder for the character mill).

  • Razziecat

    Faith, your comments on this are thought-provoking and inspirational. I think you’ve got the right idea.

  • Also, I just wanted to say one more time that, esp in the comments, I’m just talking about what makes me comfortable for my own career. As is very clear from Faith and David and everyone else’s comments — everyone has their own comfort level about what they share and don’t share. I’m only asking that everyone think about these things to make mindful decisions. There are plenty of people who talk politics, review books, give strong opinions, etc online and have fantastic careers. I’m not in any way advocating that people have to act a certain way or not act a certain in order to have a great career, just throwing various links out there for us all to think about!