QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Journey to Publication: Beware the Public Personal Diary

The secret diary: Most of us, especially women, had them as teens. We expressed our hopes, fears, problems and crushes in writing for various reasons. We railed against the mean girl who was our arch enemy. In some ways it was therapeutic. Sometimes the therapy came in the form power from the knowledge that we had a special secret journal of our personal life that we could choose to share if we wished or hide from the *gasp* authority figures in our lives.

Some keep diaries even as adults.

Now, I've never been a diary keeper. In fact, it never made sense to me at all. I tried as a teen because my best friend was the diary queen. She would hide her diary carefully from her family or "accidentally" leave it open to a page to indirectly pass on information. She could control how, when, and to what degree the information was disseminated because she had physical control of the diary itself.

Enter the electronic age and the blog.

As writers, we know we need to have a web presence. We are told that by other writers, agents and editors. But there is a difference in a web presence and a beneficial web presence. "Make yourself Googlable," agents tell us. Okay. Done. I start a blog. It's free, it's easy, and heck, it's even fun sometimes.

Many writers use their blogs to journal their road to publication. Any of us who are walking on the sharp rocks of that road in our bare feet know it is a hell of a tough journey. There are bloody footprints to prove it.

Here is the point of my post: Do not use your writer's blog as a private diary.

I pop onto aspiring writers' blogs all the time and large percentage of them are devoted to whining, complaining and lamenting the unfairness of the business.

Okay, Mary. It's my personal blog. I can write whatever I wish in any tone I wish.

Darn right. But writers need to be aware of the potential pitfalls.

Why do we blog? I think that is the first question to be asked. Specifically, What is the purpose of this particular blog? Who is the audience right now? Who will be reading it in the future?

My diary-loving friend would tell me how when she was famous, she was going to publish her diaries for lots of money. Again, she was physically controlling the information in that diary hidden in the bottom of her closet under her box of summer camp photographs.

In blogging, we lose control of the information the minute we hit "publish." There is a reason the button says that. "Publish" means to make known generally, and boy, do we. So many times on twitter I've seen people say something like, "How to alienate the children's publishing industry," or "How to never get published," followed by a link to the post of a poor writer who has lost control on her/his blog and gone off on a career-impacting rant.

Yes, we can set the permissions on our blog to a very narrow audience, rendering it private, but if we, as writers, are using the blog to increase our web presence or establish platform, that is not practical.

Keep the nastiness private. I have a crit partners who have endured endless rants about the difficulty of this business along with my insecurities all laid out for examination. I would never put these tirades up on my writer's blog. But to remain stable, most of us need to vent occasionally.

My advice is to never write anything on your writer's blog you do not want read by your agent, publisher, spouse, child or fan. If your career takes off, your unpleasant post could be more wide-read than you ever intended. Think long-range.

Do not give tallies of the number of queries sent/rejected/accepted. This never works as planned. If I'm an agent and you have queried me, I might google your name if I like the letter or pages. What if I go to your site and see you have received zillions of rejections and very few requests? Naturally, it's up for interpretation, but it might backfire.

What if you have ranted about how unfair and crappy a certain agent was with her form rejection? I work for a different agency, but we share office space (this is common) and talk every day. I like her. So much for the full request I was going to send you.

There is nothing wrong with opening your diary about the hardships of publication as long as you keep in mind the person you least want to read it probably will. Don't rant and don't give out your rejection count. I know of several cases where agents have told writers they requested material based on their sites or online presence (I'm one). I also am aware of a couple of cases in which an agent said that she found the presentation of the writer's blog offensive and unprofessional and were not going to pursue representation for that reason.

Now, I don't mean you have to be serious and stuffy and only blog about writing. Your website can handle that part. Quite the contrary. A blog is where you let your personality show. I'm not much of a blogger by anyone's standards. I blog mostly about writing and my road to publication, but on the rare occasion when I post, I try to make it fun for myself. The posts where I am "me" are the ones that get the most hits. I've blogged about singing out loud in a Waffle House and getting caught at the country club in my pajamas. It lets my online friends get to know me as a woman and not just as a writer. It doesn't mean I don't get discouraged and have posts that reflect that, I just refrain from ranting, venting or giving out information that will come back to bite me someday (My ever-tolerant crit group receives the full force of all of that).

One last parting bit of advice from someone who needs advice herself: Refrain from mentioning anyone by name in a negative light. Most folks are aware of this, but I'm a total technotard and found this out a year into my writing career *blush*: There is a thing called "Google Alert." If a person has it on their name (as I do now), she will receive an alert every time her name is published online. I get dozens of alerts a day, most of them not about me, but some are. Agents/writers/editors use these. Your private diary can now broadcast with pinpoint accuracy to the people you are talking about.

Be yourself on your blog, but remain professional. Use care. Be aware of the image you want to project and keep in mind that every person with a computer holds the key to your private diary.

Have a fantastic week.



Kristy Baxter said...

I've made a concerted effort, in three years of blogging, to do just what you've wisely advised here. I keep a personal journal (on good ol' fashioned paper) for any frustrations I run into.

I'd highly advise this route for anyone seeking publication--when you have a four-rejection week, scribbling about it in all caps with black ink is really the best therapy EVER.

Great post!

Christine Fonseca said...

Excellent post Mary - And I couldn't agree more!!!

Stacy S. Jensen said...

It's important to be professional on all media. Did you hear about the waiter, who was fired following a Tweet about a celebrity who did not leave a tip? Yikes. Thanks for the reminder.

Stina said...

Great advice, Mary. It's exciting when the requests start coming in. You want to share it with the world. But the harsh realities of the industry means the likeliness of getting the call is remote. As you said, do you really want to advertise your lack of success in obtaining an agent? And you definitely don't want to come off as a difficult client to work with if a potential agent should google your name.

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Yes, Stacy. I did read about that. There was also a slander case successfully filed against a blogger for getting nasty recently.

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I hadn't intended to address on this topic today, but I was researching my scheduled blog topic on genre discrimination and was shocked by the crazy posts I was finding on writers' blogs.

I was amazed and disheartened by the number of posts that were just TMI. People would never stand up in a room of people they didn't know and say these things out loud, so I can't figure out why they would broadcast the information on the internet.

It's the security of being safe in our own space when we blog that dulls the realization there are real people who can impact our careers on the receiving end of our posts, I guess.

Unknown said...

I would also add that you should be professional when leaving a comment on someone else's blog. It may not be as easy to track, but I've seen some very unprofessional and hostile comments left by people on writing blogs. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said to think about whether you would want an agent/editor/etc. to see your comments. Thanks.

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Good point, Kristi. Thanks.

Nikki Hootman said...

Question: When you say never name anyone specifically when you have something negative to say... what about book reviews? My blog is mainly about my everyday life, not writing, but I occasionally like to post reviews of books I've just read for benefit of family and friends. I usually do pros and cons of the book, but some books have many more cons. Is this frowned upon?

Gloria Ives said...

Indeed. So true.
Rants begone!
What image do you want to convey? That bad PMS day is likely not a typical snapshot of you, which may be misread. Unless it's the actual you, and the rest a sham.

Jemi Fraser said...

Lots of good advice, Mary - thank you :) I guess this is one time it's good to be kind of shy and a very private person!

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Hi Nikki. Great question. Review blogs are a bit different.

Writers must keep in mind that not every reader/reviewer is going to like their books. As long as a the reviews are honest and fair, not ranty or mean spirited, you are fine.

There is a difference in a book review and a complaint. I was, for the most part, addressing the use of a blog as a diary. Reviews are different.

I tend to avoid discussing books I don't like online, but I'm not much of a reviewer. :)

Thanks, everyone for the comments!

Brooklyn Ann said...

You know...I've never whined about rejections. Although I will admit that it probably has more to do with not wanting to admit to any bad news than being professional.
Well, except for a really inspirational pass on a partial. The feedback was so helpful that I was so excited about being inspired that I tweeted about it.
Never had a bad experience with an agent either. They've all been so polite that I wonder if those "horrible agent" stories are just figments of someone's pride swollen imagination.
Now...If I could just motivate myself to blog more....
Very useful post!

Anonymous said...

This was a fantastic post! We move information along so quickly these days that sometimes we forget the basics...like the fact that everybody can read what you're posting. I just read a couple of posts by a few authors that I will never support again. Thank you so much.


Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Really great job with this post, Mary!!

Veronica Roth said...

A lot of this had never occurred to me, but it makes total sense. So after I read this, I went through my old blog posts to make sure I didn't have anything in there I would regret later. Phew! Thanks for such a helpful post.

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Thanks again, everyone for the kind comments. :)

Laura Bickle said...

Great advice! I try to imagine that anything I post is likely to be read by my mother-in-law. And it probably will...

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

The Mother-In-Law Standard. Perfect, Salamanderstales!