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November 9th, 2010

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.