Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sharing is (S)Caring

Both Janet and Nathan have interesting posts about authors sharing information on the Internet this week. Janet's is a response to my post about dream agents and dream agencies; Nathan's is about Internet fatigue and the effectiveness of social media when it comes to selling books. I'd like to bridge these two topics by asking: where do we draw the line between our real and electronic selves?

Janet has a good point, and Dan Krokos (see Monday's comments) makes a great analogy: mentioning your favorite agent on the Internet is like "saying Tom is your favorite brother, then asking your other brother, Jim, to help you build a deck." At best, you're not doing yourself any favors, and at worst, you might be putting off an agent who would otherwise want to work with you.

So: if I made anyone uncomfortable, I apologize, and certainly feel free to remove your comment if you think that's appropriate.

However! I also believe that these opinions are very much rooted in individual dispositions and personalities, so while it may be best to keep these kinds of discussions off the Internet, you should keep in mind that not every agent (or every author) will respond to these kinds of things in the same way: some agents will care, and others won't. Some are much more involved in their clients' digital lives (and, of course, some authors have much richer digital lives) than others, and so I think that there are at least as many different electronic opinions and personalities as there are real-life opinions and personalities. Sometimes more!

I suppose my questions are, mes auteurs: what do we allow on the Internet, and what don't we? Are our collective attitudes changing as the number of folks who grew up on the Internet increases and the number who didn't decreases? Will the definition of "TMI," especially as pertains to the Internet, change substantially over the next several years? What role will social networking services like Facebook and Twitter—which probably already provide more information about people we thought we knew (or don't know at all) than we could ever want (or need)—play in this transition?

To the comments! Or, you know, not!


  1. Everybody has a different line, I think. I only get uncomfortable with comments or blogs that are mean AND specific enough to figure out who the target of the discussion is.

    I also think it is a stretch to think if you say something nice about someone it is to the exclusion of everyone else. If I mention a book I loved, that doesn't mean I didn't like anyone else's.

    I do think that writers, aspiring and otherwise, should avoid bashing books. For one thing, you've no idea if the agent who repped that book will read your comment about how no one with a brain could possibly think that was a good novel. For another, I never feel good about killing a potential sale. Even if the writer is an uber-gazillion bestseller who lives on a private island that profit goes to pay other salaries. The bookseller, the copy editor, etc.

    If I want to be a reviewer, I'll do that. Otherwise, I don't suppose my opinion on a book really matters to people who have never met me.

  2. Let me just say that if I mention agents I would like to sub to/work with, it isn't based on who's better. It is based on their "public identity". We only think we want to sub to these people because, what we've read about them, leads us to believe that they are outstanding and trustworthy people. Having said that, there are plenty of agents I would sub to and would want to work with that I didn't mention based on other sources - such as Editors and Preditors (believe me, I research) - but they maybe don't have as public of an image as the rest. When people talk to you, you think you know them better. I will still sub to these other agents and they shouldn't be offended if they weren't mentioned because I really don't think any of us feel badly about them in anyway or think that they are inferior in some fashion. It's natural for us to immediately think of the agents who talk to us and who's blogs we follow because, somehow, we think we know them better.

    On the other hand, us writers could end up being totally wrong about the agents we "think we know" through their public faces. When it comes right down to it, it's all about fit. Heck, I may get an offer for rep. from an agent who turns out to be the devil's spawn for all I know. We all put our best foot forward when we're in public, that is to be expected.

    Lastly, maybe the agents who are threatened by us not mentioning them, are too insecure for us to want to work with them - just a thought. I, for one, absolutely want an agent with - dare I say - cajones? We want a tiger in our tanks, a fighter in our corner, but just because some agents choose to not have an internet public identity, does not mean they won't fight for us -they just haven't told us that they will. Go on, make us love you, we dare you!

  3. If at all possible I try to keep Facebook for friends and family. I am not sure how I would be able to then turn around and try to make it an additional link for professional networking.

    I have a blog I write for my entertainment and to entertain whoever reads it. What I like most about the blog (and I have recently added Twitter) is that it links to so many others who are doing what I do ...

    and frankly, doing what you do Eric.

    Having an opinion on line regarding agents, their blogs and other publishing sites, might not be a wise move. I read five agents each day, along with this site, and three of those agents have rejected one of my queries.

    What I would like to accomplish is a broader base of readers, a bit of name recognition and the satisfaction of a job well done.

    Thanks, this is an excellent post :)

  4. As I explained to Janet this morning, the question was asked, "Who are our dream agents(cies)?"

    That's all, it was just a question. I didn't see anything wrong with that, and the agents I chose were just that, dreams. I also have the dream I'd like a 7-figure, 4 book deal when it comes to signing, but hey, you know, that's so far-out it's otherworldly.

    I don't bash books or writers/authors or agents. I try to be as nice and as friendly as possible. You asked a cute question, I answered it.

    I didn't think it was that big of a deal.

  5. The generational differences in how technology is used is often included in management classes. People of x-y age range prefer to do things a-b ways. The younger the generation, the more likely technology is to be involved and more open the person will be with themselves in that technology.

    I pondered Nathan's question but never go around to answering it. I don't think it's fatigue as much as it is honing the use of the media. We've had the big splash, assimilated the fancy new toys, and now we're refining how we use them to deliver the message. Blogs/podcasts always fade. Eventually you run out of things to say. It's been like that since blogs/podcasts began (hell, earlier with TV and radio programs as well).

    I'm hopeful for Diaspora when it comes out. If it's delivered the way they're describing, I won't have to separate my personal Facebook account where I keep in touch with friends and family and a Facebook fan page where I make myself available to people interested in my writing. It will all be scalable on a case-by-case basis. Fingers crossed that works out.

  6. This is part of my comment below and It's my comment here:

    Why is there such firm protocol in place for writers... and yet agents can post anything they want in cyberspace? Maybe people need to realize that all the visible nonsense and snark that goes on between agents in cyberspace has resulted in setting the "behavior" bar lower, so writers feel they can engage in activity and interaction that years ago would have immediately been recognized by most as a "let's not go there" place.

  7. I don't think I would want to work with an agent who got huffy because I said something nice about some other agent. This is business, guys. We don't always get our first choice; that's understood. I'm probably not their first choice of client either. A professional understands it's about making deals -- an agent doesn't have to be my friend, my brother, or my favorite person.

    Now to address the question actually asked. I don't know. I now cultivate multiple personalities for writing vs. life. My fans, should I have any at some point, don't need to know what I'm doing for fun this weekend. I do, however, want to connect with them about my WIP, let them make suggestions, ask questions... Maybe I'm doing it wrong.

  8. Marjorie, there's a bit of a power imbalance there. Beginning writers got nothing, and they're a dime a dozen. Agents don't suddenly stop receiving way too many submissions because they got snotty with some noob. They might start to have trouble selling things if they annoy editors, or Oprah, but being a curmudgeon doesn't noticeably impair their ability to get clients.

  9. I'm ambivalent, because honestly, when I read the post about "dream agent," names didn't pop into my head. Things like "someone who is passionate about the work!" and "great fit!" made the list, but specific people didn't.

    In a way, I can see Janet Reid's point. However, I also think that if that's the case, then perhaps some agents need to take their own advice and develop a thicker skin, too. Getting all bent out of shape because someone, perhaps some time ago, specified a preference for one agent or another, is akin to calling off an engagement because you found out your fiance wrote "I love Billy Gibson 4EVER!!!!" in her notebook when she was twelve.

    Or if you don't want to go that far with it, like whining over an agent's apparent lack of taste after receiving a form rejection.

    The Internet might be forever, but a little human understanding and forgiveness shouldn't be out of the question, either.

  10. Uh-oh. Does this mean if I say I want to be on Oprah that I'll be on Ellen's poop list? Will Jon Stewart and Colbert shun me? And I'll never be the first writer to go on Dancing with the Stars? Way too silly...

  11. I think this problem is mostly about applying our already existing social skills in a new medium. If you don't already have those social skills, understanding the technology will not help you, just as having the social skills but not applying them to internet publication can still land you in trouble. Everyone can read what you put out there. Being polite will help you win friends and influence people. People who have both these things figured out will do just fine.

  12. For a lot of us... this is such a fine line because we have kids that we don't want exposed to internet crazies, but at the same time we're building online presence and trying to be ourselves.

    I think, for me at least, it's all about sharing the happy, the good, and the funny with the internet because that's what I write about and I want my online author self to be indicative of my novels. :)

  13. I do think that writers, aspiring and otherwise, should avoid bashing books. For one thing, you've no idea if the agent who repped that book will read your comment about how no one with a brain could possibly think that was a good novel. For another, I never feel good about killing a potential sale. Even if the writer is an uber-gazillion bestseller who lives on a private island that profit goes to pay other salaries. The bookseller, the copy editor, etc.

    If I want to be a reviewer, I'll do that. Otherwise, I don't suppose my opinion on a book really matters to people who have never met me.

    I don't want to write a long rant about this topic, because I've already soapboxed about it in several venues (on YA Highway and on my own blog, among others), but critical reviewing, even when negative, does not constitute "book bashing," and I think you're doing reviewers--both those who write fiction and those who don't--a disservice by characterizing it that way. Authors frequently seem terrified of negative reviews (not just from other authors, but from readers on amazon and goodreads, as well), thinking that each one kills a sale. The irony is that negative reviews can spur sales just as much as positive reviews; I've experienced this first hand, when negative reviews I've written on GoodReads have spurred comments like "Wow! That sounds insane! I have to buy it!" For my own part, I never would have read Twilight were it not for Cleolinda's unabashed bashing of the series.

    Writers shouldn't fear critics--any conversation about their books is advertising, even if their egos are bruised in the process. Savvy readers of reviews understand how subjective opinions are, but can likewise see the incredible use of qualified, careful reviewing, both in steering purchases and in revealing deeper truths about fiction.

    As for whether one should aim to both review and write fiction, I can say only this: writing reviews for an audience sharpens my critical tools in addressing my own manuscripts; I'm a reader and a writer, both, and I feel it would be disingenuous to hide that fact; and I'm certainly capable of separating my critical reactions on a work from the writer--and I hope that other writers are capable of doing the same.

    Well, now I've gone and ranted on this anyway. But obvs it's something I'm passionate about.

    As for lists of dream agents, I think it's kind of . . . I don't know, sad? if such a minor thing hurts an agent's feelings. But I didn't comment because I try not to have dream lists. I don't know that an agent's online presence has anything to do with their quality of agenting, and so I try not to be too overly swayed by things like blogs.

  14. Here's my blog entry about this:

  15. @ Phoebe: Critical reviews are not the same as book bashing. "I can't believe anyone would publish this crap" is book bashing and probably unwise. But I do see variations on it appear in a lot of places.

  16. Laurel, apologies if I misread, but in light of your comments about not wanting to offend those involved in the creation of the book, and your last paragraph in regards to not wanting to be a reviewer, I think it was easy to make that mistake.

  17. It's simple: just don't be stupid on the internet.
    Maybe people think the internet gives them a buffer somehow between what they say and their consequences.
    Or maybe they think it's not real.
    Or maybe they think it's just a diary to post all their innermost thoughts.

    It is not.

  18. Marjorie said: Here's my blog entry about this

    An interesting point, Marjorie. Is it hypocritical to say it is unacceptable for an author to list which agents they'd like to work with while acceptable for an agent to post Slush Pile Hell?

    I hadn't really thought of it in that context. Something to ponder.

  19. I have since pondered, and I don't think the comparison holds up. Slush Pile Hell is comedy. It may be drawn from real submissions (though we have no way of proving that all the submissions are true, fiction, or hearsay since it's anonymous). The absurdity of it is meant to be humorous.

    Now, it's lead to some conversations on Twitter that would be a better comparison of "bad" behavior, agents laughing at writers together forgetting that we could see the entire conversation. I shrugged those conversations off as professionals venting (we all do it at our respective jobs). Likewise I would expect anyone seeing a list of dream agents treat it with an equal grain of salt.

  20. Joseph:

    That's "comedy?" OK...

    I wasn't talking in terms of acceptability when I made the comparison, I was citing examples to show WHY this is happening.The SPH comparison doesn't have to hold up because my general point was to show how agents' behavior all over the internet has resulted in this breakdown of respect and protocol.

    If you have an agent engaging in "comedy" designed to ridicule, it serves generally to have the profession viewed in a not very dignified manner. It sets the stage for this type of "comedy" (or whatever) to be two-sided.

    So this was bound to happen and nothing surprises me any more from agents or writers in their blogs on the internet.

    Buckle up.

  21. A lot of fascinating comments here that run the entire spectrum from books to agents, as well as how much is too much let loose on the 'net.

    Speaking as someone who spent three+ years being bashed around the chat rooms (people, if you ever want to be cut down to size and made to look like a dope, explore the chat rooms) with personal info that was posted in the chat rooms and from my blogs, I think that the less information about yourself that you personally release the better.

  22. I'm finding it hard to understand why anyone would be upset about this. I am finding it especially hard to understand why any agent would be upset about this.

    When I was an agent, I certainly never cared if I did or did not end up on someone's "dream agent" list. All I cared about what the writing. When I offered to rep someone, I care whether that potential client and I were a good personality fit. Period.

    Any agent worth his or her salt is going to feel the same way. If a person is so insecure as an agent as to worry what a complete strangers think of him or her online, that person is probably in the wrong business.

    The fact is that writers have been sharing their "dream agent" lists on writers forums like Absolute Write for years without this being an issue. There's nothing wrong with this. It's much the same way that writers share ideas about their "dream publisher". If Random House wants to buy a book, they aren't going to reconsider because they didn't end up on a writer's public "dream publisher" list.

    Let's be real here: this is the epitome of a first world problem. =)

  23. Colleen Lindsay has said it perfectly.

    Nothing else to say. No one can say it better.

    Well done...;-)

    And thank you for showing absolute reason and understanding here

  24. Another person mystified why this is a problem; I agree with Marjorie's comments on the original post and here.
    If agents really judge decisions on who said what on Twitter, maybe the publishing industry really is screwed. But hopefully that's not the case.
    The saddest part is the writers (both published and not) willing to self-censor themselves over a very tiny matter on one corner of the internet.

  25. I think your analogy is wrong.

    Asking my brother to build me a deck is a favor. Entering into a business relationship where the agent reps me is not a favor. She is doing it because she a) likes my work b) feels she can sell it and make money. She doesn't rep me because she likes me or because I had her (or didn't have her on a list.)

  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

  27. Had to edit that....

    Colleen Lindsay.... my new best friend. I perseverate because of OCD, which has brought me to this place where I am an energizer bunny once I get going.

    I am really funny and not "batshit." Well, just a little batshit but big deal. My heart is in the right place.

  28. Who do you guys think will be the villain in the new Batman?

  29. OK, here is my deal. Dream agents are based off of all sorts of hopes and maybe some math. How people pick their dream agents range from feelings to people who represent big authors and everything in between.

    If I sat down and had drinks with all the agents that represented my genre I probably wouldn't pick the same 'dream agent' as I would based off of some stats at editors and preditors.

    The brother comparasion? I am going to assume we know our brothers well ;) When if you are an unkown writer, you probably don't 'know' many agents, and I can't think that is the same thing. It absolutely stinks to think someone would hold something against me when I don't know them, and that could be the only reason they aren't my dream agent.

    This is amazingly long winded, but I wanted to say my current dream agent is not who it was when I started my journey. As I have learned more about what I am doing, and met other people things have changed.

  30. It's tough.

    I won't read a certain author anymore, I don't care how good the books are. The author has certain views (expressed in public forums on the internet) that are (IMO) heinous.

    However, I have expressed views in my blog that I'm guessing other people would think were heinous, but were so important to me that I posted them even at the risk of offending other people.

    Do people need to know about my sex life? Not unless I'm writing a sex book. But I still read the blog by the author with the (um, interesting) sexual paraphernalia in the blog design.

    My religion is on the Internet, but I don't rub it in people's faces. I don't read some writer/agent blogs because their religion plays a large part in how they work. Some writer/agent blogs share their religion, but don't seem as hung up on making sure their work fits that religion.

    I crossed an agent off my list (and don't read the blog any more) because there was an example of something I considered to be unethical behavior. (Does that agent know or care? No.)

    Sex, religion, politics, and ethics are all mine fields. I pick and choose what is important to me and share (and read) or not based on that.

  31. I predict the next villains will be Marty and Poison ivy.

  32. I listed my own dream agents on my own blog. Go have a look.

  33. Wow, um, does anyone else have a sudden craving for popcorn and milk duds? Quite the show here this week.

    My two cents:

    There are certain agents who think they are the shit. In my opinion, their track record gives them every reason to believe that they are, in fact, the shit. They've earned the right to spout their educated opinion on things such as this. Contrary to the myths I've seen discussed in writerly circles, agents do NOT tell all on their blogs or on twitter. They talk (and complain) about a lot of things, but there is so much more that they keep quiet--assuredly biting their tongues at times--because this is a business. There's no reason why we, as authors, shouldn't have that same professionalism.

  34. Blogging or tweeting about the relative merits of various agents is akin to blogging or tweeting about the relative merits of potential employers. It isn't professional and in most cases it isn't wise. Doing so might not nix any chance you have of being represented, just as blogging about work won't necessarily get you fired (though it can), but also won't earn you any bonus points.

    As much as we like to pretend otherwise, the internet is a public place, and there are some things that shouldn't be shared with the world at wide. I work at a library, and as much as I am sometimes tempted to refer to difficult patrons on Facebook, I refrain. A number of my coworkers are on my friends list, and I wouldn't want them to form a poor opinion of me or of my handling of patron confidentiality. Am I being overly conscientious? Most likely, but I like my job.

  35. *sigh* World at large or a wider audience. Sorry, it's the end of a long day.

  36. I answered the question. I was upbeat about my choice and didn't dis others. Most importantly, I was careful to market myself in case a potential agent were to stumble across the comment. I saw no harm.


    There have been many lively debates about blogs like Slush Pile Hell. Some agents post links to it. Some agents will be addressing it and its ilk with the AAR. We all have different boundaries.

    I comment on agent and publisher blogs. Sometimes I disagree with them. I am, though, always respectful -- at least in my eyes. Who knows what's in others' minds? I would love potential agents or editors to see my name and make a connection when my submission hits their desk. Am I worried a google search will turn up an obscure comment or two that might somehow be offensive to someone? No. I'm more worried that when they google me they'll think I'm one of the other 4 Phoenix Sullivans on Face Book. While my blog turns up first in a search, the first Face Book name isn't me. What if they think THAT's me? What if THAT Phoenix Sullivan's online conduct is reprehensible? What if she leans too far to the left or the right in her views or is a bigot or xenophobic? Believe me, being mistaken for someone else is really my biggest fear out here, not whether someone might misconstrue my words or take offense at any of my comments.

    Mainly, I just don't think I hit that many radars. There are simply too many voices, too many posts, too many comments in even a day.

    Now would I post my dream agent choices in a post on my own blog as Marjorie and others have done?

    No. Never. My blog posts are easily found whereas my comments aren't. My blog is where I expect someone who wants to know more about me to find the real persona I want to share. That is my boundary.

  37. Nancy writes: "It isn't professional and in most cases it isn't wise. Doing so might not nix any chance you have of being represented, just as blogging about work won't necessarily get you fired (though it can), but also won't earn you any bonus points."

    What is this? The Stepford Writers Association? I feel I can be wacky and "batshit" and write my opinions as I please... and I couldn't care less about bonus points or whether all these agents serve me up for brunch at a roast of jackasses. Enjoy!

    I stand on my work and my work ethic... as a teacher of 35 years with excellent reviews. I am a character. I have fun and I am outspoken. On the other hand, I am exceedingly responsible and cooperative and have an almost obsessive attention to detail. Tell me something needs to get done and it's done yesterday.

    And... if agents can create hashtags where they ridicule writers and carry on with snark, the playing field has been leveled. I enjoy myself. This is funny to me. I actually use a lot of how crazy I am on the internet in my stand-up act. It gets big laughs.

    Phoenix writes: "Now would I post my dream agent choices in a post on my own blog as Marjorie and others have done? No. Never."

    I guess I am just putting it all out there with no boundaries. I am going to be 64 years old. Age has a wonderful way of making a person more easily take brazen risks. Sure it could backfire. It already has. Four agents on Twitter have blocked me. Oye.

    But! I just got a part in an off Broadway reading of a play. You think they evaluated me based on this nonsense from the internet? Actually, i told the director to take a peek at some of the stuff I post, and that cemented the deal. He was convinced nobody could play the nutty character better. I milked it.


  38. I speculate that agents everywhere are scanning that post to see if their name crops up. It's like high school. Who's on the "Most Likely to Succeed" list in the yearbook?

    What they don't realize is that most authors see agents as the Greek gods of publishing. Who can choose between Athena and Artemis? They're all more powerful than we, the lowly unpublished. I stuck my neck out though and posted my two bits. If Zeus wants to strike me down, bring it on. What's the worst that can happen? So I don't get published for another ten years. What the hell. Meanwhile I'm having fun writing from the fires of Hades.

  39. What I don't like is that agents know they have this power and they enjoy manipulating and controlling their internet audience. It's like a "we've got the power" sorority and they put writers through an endless hazing. And writers comply and kiss butt to be given the golden ticket to join the club of the "represented."

    Yes, indeed. The bottom line is, in order to be outspoken in an opinion about these issues you have to see the worst that can happen and just not care. Not caring is freeing. I sure don't care. Many will argue and say I do care and that I would change if representation presented itself. Not true. Those cockamamie blogs are really not ready... and I realize it.

    Plus, I do realize that after my death all that stuff on my blogs will be recognized as a treasure trove of great hilarious and poignant and bittersweet material. That sustains me, lmao. Check out marjorie-pentimentos. There's a real "51 Birch Street" piece in there.

    I would rather be free to express my opinions than to have representation and feel gagged. If more writers would not be so scared, the numbers of writers who are not afraid would grow and it would be the agents who would have to modify their behavior in order to receive queries and be chosen for representation. The power would shift. Any agency that has agents who are unprofessional online would be fearful of the worst that can happen. Not writers.

    Plus, for writers there are other options. Be free. Get crazy. Woot! lol