QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Advice from Carolyn Kaufman, Part 3: Control Your Online Image

I've been posting a short series based advice for aspiring authors from my friend, fellow founding QT blogger, and critique partner, Carolyn Kaufman. Previous posts can be found here: Part 1: Professionalism and Part 2: Accepting Criticism

Carolyn passed away well before her time, but she left a rich legacy of advice for writers in her book and on her blogs, including Psychology Today and this one.

This is the third part of an interview she did for me back when her book, The Writer's Guide to Psychology, was about to come out.

What I’ve Learned: Advice for Writers Who Aspire to Publish  
Dr. Carolyn Kaufman 1973-2013 
3. Control your image: be conscientious about what you share online. 
This is a good general rule, but it’s doubly important when you’re trying to convince people – agents, editors, potential readers – that you’re a professional. 
Thanks to books (and films) like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, we all know that Hunter S. Thompson was heavily into drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, the same image might not do much for you if you’re writing YA or MG or even a nice nonfiction book on scrapbooking. Even if you are writing edgy material, you don’t want unsavory personal choices to overshadow your work, a la Jessica Simpson or Britney Spears.

Yes! I completely agree with Carolyn. I see this all the time. I guess it's the anonymity of the internet that makes people want to over-share, but stop! Please.

Querying authors: Save the behind the curtain posts for after you land an agent or publisher or decide to publish your book yourself. Don't put the angst of the process out there for everyone to see while it's happening. To outsiders, it looks like you are a failure (which rejection of a manuscript in this business is NOT), or it makes you look like a whiner to those inside. A little bit is okay, but were an agent to Google you, and see nothing but posts about rejection letter after rejection letter and how torn up and discouraged it makes you feel, it might affect his or her stand on what to do about your manuscript. It's a tough business. It takes tough people--or at least people who can appear tough. Sad, but true.

After the fact, whine and rant away if you feel you must, but be careful. It's out there forever.

As for online persona… I go to conferences and workshops all over the country and meet readers who feel like they know me simply from online interaction. Without having met me in person, they come up and introduce themselves (sometimes by Twitter handle) knowing I'm friendly and approachable because I work hard to give out that vibe online.

I can't even tell you how many times I've wanted to rant and rail about specifics of the industry or jump into a flame war over a review of what I though was a fantastic book by an author I love, but I don't. I never do. Not because I'm scared, but because there is absolutely no benefit from it. I write commercial fiction. I'm aware that the readers of my books don't really care about my political, religious, or industry beliefs. They care about books, and dogs, and my kids and funny crap I accidentally do or say--usually involving my dog or kids. Now, other authors are in different situations, especially if their works relate to specific issues hitting the coals. I can only speak to what works for me.

When I want to jump in the middle of something flaming on a board or Twitter, I step back and think, would I do that in real life? Would I tell a group of my friends that? If so, I go for it. But it's rare.

More than that, I think long and hard about how personal I want to get online. I'm pretty open, but I don't air dirty laundry. Some people put it all out there, and if it's helpful for them personally or professionally or enhances their platform, okay. For me, its like putting a personal diary out there for strangers to read and pass around. Not for me, thanks.

Carolyn mentioned genre related to persona being a consideration. I completely agree. In real life, I cuss like a sailor (thank you, Dad). Online, I intentionally don't swear because I speak at middle and high schools and write for teens in addition to adults. I don't want a school board or teen book club to cancel an appearance because they think I'm going to go all potty-mouth on campus in front of an auditorium full of students. Teens follow and interact with me on social media, and I never ever let myself forget that. I'm an ambassador for my books, my publishers, my genres, my profession and ultimately, my brand as an author. You know… I'm that super nice woman from Texas who loves meeting new people and writes ghost stores for teens and adults.

Carolyn had a fantastic online presence. She prided herself on her accessibility to aspiring writers as a resource of psychological issues addressed in books and for professional advice. Sadly, her website no longer exists, but you can check out some of her articles the links found at the bottom of Part 1 in this series.

Stina did a great post on online behavior recently you might want to check out called, You Really Want to Avoid This.


Mary Lindsey is one of the founding members of the QT Blog. 

She writes young adult novels for Penguin USA and is the author of Shattered Souls, Fragile Spirits, and Ashes on the Waves. She also writes adult romance for Entangled Publishing as Marissa Clarke. Love Me To Death is scheduled for publication October, 2014. 

Mary is represented by Kevan Lyon of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency and can be found the following places: Twitter, Facebook, MaryLindsey.com and MarissaClarke.com


Anonymous said...

Excellent reminders. Thank you!

Alina K. Field said...

Oh gosh, Mary, may I add political/religious ranting, and candidate advocacy to this list? Last week I saw a FB commenter say that she was so insulted by some news-inspired FB posts she went on an unfriending spree. As one of my author friends says, if the country is politically divided 50/50, why do you want to alienate half the potential readers and insult those of your friends who privately hold other opinions? Plus, ranting is negative, and that's pretty much always a turn-off.

Brandie said...

Thank you for this. People are no longer judging your work by the work itself, they are judging the person as well. Great advice!