In the past two weeks, we’ve covered diverse ground on Novel Matters. Week before last we talked about various aspects of marketing, from word of mouth, to social networking. Then, last week, Katy Popa pointed out how easy it is to be caught with our metaphor around our ankles. She said, “Metaphors are not toys. If you don't know how to handle them they can hurt you - or worse: they can make you look silly.”
Today, I’m going to combine these two topics and (and paraphrase Katy’s quote to suit my purposes) talk about life in the public eye.
Social networking is not a toy. If you don’t know how to handle it, it can hurt you – or worse, kill your writing career.
I was chatting with a good friend who shared the exciting news with me that she has inked a new contract – another multi-book deal. She’s beyond excited. Together we did the happy dance. Then she said, “Mum on that, right. We (meaning her and her major publishing company) aren’t announcing until September.” If you were to check her website or blog (which you can’t, because I’m not telling her name), there would be nary a mention. Not of the deal, not even that she had pitched to this publisher. Smart cookie, my friend.
Another writer friend (I’m lucky to have so many smart friends), was going through a rough ride, professionally. She’d suffered several difficult setbacks and was in the midst of a major change of direction with her writing. It was a difficult time. There were tears. There was ice cream at 2:00 A. M.. There was pacing. And if you had visited her Facebook page, her blog, or read her Twitter updates you would have seen. . . no evidence of her turmoil. She neither lamented nor dished. She didn’t ask for Twitter prayer. She remained professional.
What if my first friend had spoken out of turn? Announced the deal before the publisher wanted it announced?
What if my second friend threw herself into micro-blogging the blow-by-blow of her rough ride? Simply, they could have blown it.
Social networking is not a casual affair. It isn’t private. It’s part of the job. If you are a writer, published or working to become published, you are being watched. If not today, then tomorrow. Agents you query, editors you sent proposals to, publishing VIPs who read your work and might be interested, all of them seek you out online. They read your posts. Social networking has many functions (connecting to other writers, connecting with readers, building a fan base, marketing your books), but you must always keep in mind that your online presence is a living resume. A real time curriculum vitae.
On my personal blog, I posted a list of five tips to help the writer handle social networking. Here is an abbreviated version of that list:
1. Develop an inner circle. It's important to develop an inner circle of people to whom you turn when you feel insecure, angry, betrayed, or otherwise upset about your job. Start with your family. Then hand select a very few close friends who love you and support you. These are the people you need to lean on, and who can truly validate. They are the one’s you vent to. The one’s you share your early good news with. Not the public.
2. Validation is an illusion - stop running after it. Outside of your inner circle (comprised of people who truly know you and love you anyway), there is no such thing as validation from others. People's opinions change. Books rise and all too soon become 'so yesterday'. When we need to be validated by an increasingly far-flung group of people, we devalue the rock solid affection and support of our inner circle. We end up hurting the people who love us most by taking their validation for granted and running after validation somewhere else.
3. Stop talking about yourself all the time. Social networking has created a new self-paradigm where in it is acceptable to talk about yourself all day long. Facebook wants you to post how you are feeling, Twitter wants us to post our micro-moments. Talking about yourself all day creates and unhealthy filter by which you begin to view the world as orbiting around you.
4. Nothing matters more than the writing and the story you are telling. We can talk all day about our work, about people's reactions to our work. But if we focus our energy on talking about it, the quality of our work will suffer over time. Excellent writers are writers who know they haven't arrived. They know how much more there is to learn and they dedicate themselves to mastery. Do we want to talk about writing? Or do we want to be great writers? Publishing professionals can spot the difference.
5. Develop a strong sense of self. Creative people have weird needs (as a creative person, I speak with authority). Depression rates in writers peak when the novel is finished. We die little deaths, we mourn the intangible. The fragile nature of creative people means we need to work harder at understanding ourselves and accepting ourselves for who we are. Not by micro-reporting our every mood.
6. Know where you are going, and keep moving toward that goal. Hockey obsessed Canadian's have a saying, "Keep your stick on the ice." It means stay in the game, stay focused, and be ready. Develop a strong goal, and work toward it. Don’t be seduced into thinking your public rants on Facebook won’t effect an agent’s decision. Don’t think that publishing houses don’t notice when you post how many editors are reading your work and when those decisions are expected to be made.
I’m not trying to be the Big Brother voice of doom. I’m clarifying an issue I’ve noticed as a problem. As writers we have a weird job, and part of that job is to be public figures online before we ever truly become public figures.
How about you? Have you noticed social networking super stars? Seen it bite someone in the behind? What have you learned online? Please share your wisdom!