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Social Networking should work for you

I attended a really interesting panel at Capclave a few weeks ago about the presence writers should have on the internet - how much is too much, etc. And it got me thinking a bit about a few things that weren't mentioned on the panel. This flowed on from a discussion about what is appropriate and what is not and where the line should be about how much personal information is too much. Someone said something like, "you should never publish anything on the internet that you wouldn't want to read as he headlines on the Washington Post." Personally, my livejournal has evolved over time from being an excruciatingly no holds barred kind of personal diary to something a lot less so. As time passed and my number of readers increased, ironically partly because of this honesty, it felt less and less appropriate to talk about deeply personal things so openly. Now I struggle with walking the line between writing a personal blog without it being *so* personal.

Over the last few years we've seen the rise of social networking sites like Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and so on. And I've been watching how people use these with great interest. I think like most new things, we all dive in and pick it up and shake it a little to see how it works and like most things, realise at some point that we've gone too far and pull back. We've all heard the stories about people who have been fired from jobs after posting inappropriate material on their Facebook pages like photos of them blind drunk or status updates of fun having whilst they've called in sick to work. And we've all rolled our eyes at that and thought how stupid.

But something I've been watching with interest is the balancing of social networking sites as personal and as "business" networks, where "business" is for publishing and may not be the writer/editor/publisher's full time, employed profession. There is a great danger in using accounts as both personal outlets directed at family, friends and peer support as well as the point of professional contact.

We all know now the importance of having an online presence in the publishing world these days. It's important to have a place where people can come find you, get in contact with you, touch base and do a bit of research on you (what have you written/published etc). But I think it's also quite easy to forget about the people who follow you, friend you and quietly read you without reminding you through comments and feedback. And there is a lot of danger in thinking your audience is only the people who are interacting with you online.

Over the last year there have been more than a few instances for me of reading material posted, blogged, status updated or tweeted that have turned me off wanting or being likely to work with particular writers again. I'm an editor and I want to work with brilliantly talented writers writing work I really believe in. But I'm also a publisher and I want to make sure that the writers we publish are going to not only promote and protect our branding and reputation but more importantly, not tarnish or damage it. And it's now interesting that the way writers behave online is factored into editorial decisions.

I remember being made to feel very stupid by a writer for having bought and published their work. I personally thought the story in question was very well written and I know how much work went into the production of it and also that it was overlooked for awards and in reviews. That sadly is just how it rolls. But the way this writer spoke about the story and bragged about how it was whipped up overnight and that the writer was surprised that the editor bought it considering x, y and z, made me question why I had bought the story too. Not because I thought it wasn't a great story but because I didn't think I or the book or the press deserved to be mocked that way in public. That was the very first moment for me that changed the way I make purchasing decisions. The way a writer is going to promote, or detract, the finished work became a much higher element of the decision process.

A couple of other instances relate to the rejection process. Rejecting work is not something I enjoy and it's not something I do for fun or flippantly. I greatly value it when writers go to the trouble of writing a specific work for me or who take the time to submit work for consideration. And I know how personal the process of showing new work to someone outside is. But now, with the advent of the social network, as an editor you can watch the whole process of sending the rejection, knowing about when the person gets home to read the email and how they react via what they tweet or update their Facebook account with. And I wonder sometimes if writers genuinely forget that the editor in question is one of their "friends" on the network or if they don't forget and the remark is intended and pointed. Either way, it's read and felt too. Just like the rejection.

So for me, I think all this has made me try and be more careful and more aloof from the social networking. I certainly try to be more mindful of the vast array of readers of my various accounts.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 9th, 2010 01:27 am (UTC)
I remember being made to feel very stupid by a writer for having bought and published their work.

Yikes, that's very tacky on the part of the writer! I can understand the impulse to put down your own work and the effort that went into it in public -- it's a roundabout way of protecting your own ego and I probably come close myself from time to time -- but it's not a grown-up way to behave when it's by implication a put-down of your hard-working editor and publisher, too.
Nov. 9th, 2010 11:11 am (UTC)
I definitely can see the whole protecting your ego and saving face thing but the thing is that your public, writerly image is always public when it's on the internet. It's all part of the package deal these days.
Nov. 9th, 2010 02:20 am (UTC)
Great post.

I think Twitter's format deceives people into thinking that the interactions it allows are something less than complex, but the reverse is true.

Reduced capacity to communicate means you have to be very specific about how / what you say.

Alan Baxter said (on his podcast) that people need to learn to use Twitter, and I think that is absolutely true, certainly of myself.

Nov. 9th, 2010 11:05 am (UTC)
I agree, you do have to be very specific about what you say - its possible for example that in the case I'm talking about, the person wasn't referring to me at all. It was very oblique. But the timing was such and the way they have subsequently behaved, and the way they behave in public towards other people, has me leaning the other way.

I think people need to look at the power of social media and what and how they want to use it. It's all public in the way that hiding out in your bedroom and moping (or cursing) quietly to yourself is not.
Nov. 9th, 2010 02:57 am (UTC)
I remember being made to feel very stupid by a writer for having bought and published their work.
What an absolute arsehole.
How fucking rude is that
Nov. 9th, 2010 11:03 am (UTC)
It is very unlikely I'd buy work from this person again.
Nov. 9th, 2010 10:29 am (UTC)
Twitter can be very deceptive because it feels like a fleeting comment or interaction - it can be very humbling to realise how easily tweets turn up in Google searches!
Nov. 9th, 2010 11:02 am (UTC)
And it can be fleeting if the person you are talking about happens to not be online at that point in time.

In this case, I believe the person called me some unpleasant names.
Nov. 9th, 2010 10:42 am (UTC)
It's interesting the whole social media thing. I don't think there is an answer; there is no right way to navigate it, except by your own internal barometer/integrity I guess.

I've been in a similar situation as you describe with the writer.... I don't think (in my instance) the writer realised the implications of what they were saying... some people talk themselves up and some people talk themselves down. And they don't always stop to realise that they're talking the publisher (and their own career) down when they do so.

I am quite stubborn though. I don't so much care for what an author says about their work, because authors are a mass of neuroses. You can't trust them to evaluate their own work. So if I still dig the story... *shrug*.

Of course, it's personal taste where we draw the line in the self-promoting/self-criticism thing. Authors who overpromote themself can be just as cringelicious.
Nov. 9th, 2010 10:47 am (UTC)
One of the things that really bugs me is writers who have never had anything published blowing their own trumpets on blogs, Twitter and FB and befriending everyone in the industry to get noticed.
Nov. 9th, 2010 10:58 am (UTC)
It's a difficult thing to manage on the other side of that too - as a publisher a lot of people whom I don't know befriend me on Facebook but I don't think they get to see me post about my niece and photos of her etc.
Nov. 9th, 2010 11:01 am (UTC)
In the particular incident I'm talking about here this was a repeat offender who talks themselves down so that was to be expected but in this case they talked me down and my choice to buy the story. It crossed the line of self flagellation and into, I dunno, bringing me and mine down with them.
Nov. 9th, 2010 11:19 am (UTC)
Yes that would be hurtful. And I could certainly understand you being reluctant to buy another story from someone if you know they are sending you work they don't believe in...
Nov. 9th, 2010 11:34 am (UTC)
Well it is also partly, I guess, that they are saying they don't respect my press because they are sending work they don't believe in, too.
Nov. 10th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
Little to no net presence
My problem is more a long the line of practically no net presence. I have a story that for years I have wanted to write and have poured my heart and soul into it so far. I know that it is my first story and that at the moment it is still a long way to finish. But I hear all these things that prevent writers from getting their books published.

I only hope that when it is my time to send my story in that I don't stuff it up. Now I just have to figure out how to increase my net presence as I tend to be unsocial lol.
Nov. 10th, 2010 11:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Little to no net presence
You can do a very lowkeyed internet presence which would be more than enough - very static webpage which very vague bio information. What it does is provide a very small check that you are a real person and not spam or a bot. But I wouldn't worry that much about how much net presence you have for selling your first stories. Ultimately, for me, the choice is made on whether the story is good and if it suits what I am looking for.
Nov. 15th, 2010 09:09 am (UTC)
Separate accounts
I'd almost be inclined to run a number of twitter accounts using third party software like Tweetdec. One for author presence and one for private use, create a fan page also on face book rather than a personal page.
Nov. 16th, 2010 03:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Separate accounts
I definitely think that's one way to go
Nov. 15th, 2010 09:21 am (UTC)
Twitter = time sink
I was also wondering if they mentioned at the conference the tendency of twitter an other social media to be a distraction and time sink, how it can suck the creative energy from you :)
Nov. 15th, 2010 10:59 am (UTC)
Re: Twitter = time sink
They did discuss the idea of feeling fragmented. Some people felt that way, others didn't. Personally as someone who has loved high level of social interaction on the internet for many years, I'm now finding it hard to find the time to be present in any real sense in every account I have - lj, TPP website, Facebook, twitter and email. It's a lot to manage. And I think there is sense in paring it back - it's certainly something I'm looking at doing.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )