(reblogged from the Amazon Iowan)
On Facebook this morning, my husband linked to an article at The Daily Dot about the dangers of blogging/posting at work. Before I even clicked the link to read the post, I laughed bitterly and thought, “Yeah, if only my maxim could be that simple.” Because as an author, whether I talk about writing/publishing or not, everything I put on the Internet affects my work. All my words and pictures and links have the potential to affect my sales. My daughter, now making her first forays into social media, has been warned if she wouldn’t be comfortable seeing it on CNN Student News, she shouldn’t post it, but for authors and anyone whose public persona isn’t an outlet but a lifeline to a paycheck needs a tighter mantra. Every tweet, every Facebook post, every chat and private Instagram could elevate our profile, yes—and it could also stake us more thoroughly than any book we’ll ever write. Public posting for authors doesn’t simply risk getting us fired. Every word and pixel we put up for public consumption could tank our careers. And it’s well past time we started behaving that way.
I feel like so many posts I’ve written on my blog are variations on this theme, but this one matters enough to me that I’ll do it again and be more direct than ever. Authors: if you doubt for a second, don’t post on social media, don’t write that blog. If you’re trashing another author—of any caliber, any level of fame, you should not. You should use great caution and care when and if you review. You should be careful when you post tweets, status updates, and photos. You should behave as if every word you say is being heard by everyone in the entirety of the world, and everyone who loves them—but most importantly, you should assume the world is listening. And taking screenshots, and getting popcorn to watch in case you burn.
Somehow it seems a myth has been started that authors, big or small, are owed something. In the past few weeks I feel like this entitlement keeps coming up in various forms in all genres of publishing, at all levels. Somehow even the most obscure excuse me, who the hell are you? authors have no issue with standing loudly at their pulpit of choice decrying the unfairness of not being chosen for conferences or awards or whatever the hell crawled in front of them that day. Reviews—God help us all, reviews. Authors writing reviews trashing other authors, then acting as if they’re Joan of Arc when everyone turns on them. Authors acting as if every complaint from a reader hurts their poor little feeeeeeelings—which, actually, that happens every day. And it’s why I have my besties on IM and in DM and on speed dial. When a review manages to wound me, I go to a trusted, vetted private source and I snarl and cast aspersions on penis size and sexual prowess and throw enough shade to cast eternal darkness on my enemy’s soul. And then I get over it and move on, the Internet never the wiser. I don’t, ever, broadcast that crap even in a private blog. I sure as hell don’t attack or argue with readers or reviewers. I suck it up. I move on.
Any author reading: you should too.
Authors, what you are entitled to as a published, paid author is a paycheck for the works you sell. You are entitled to not being plagiarized. You are entitled to a fair market and fair pay. You are entitled to a level playing field. But what you are not entitled to is a special refrigerated train car for your very special snowflake. You are not entitled even to a car or a track to ride on. You are entitled to a chance. Everything beyond this you must earn.
I understand why this is such an unappealing concept, but I suggest anyone who wants to get ten feet in this business learn to swallow fast. Publishing has never been a graceful or kind affair, but right now, at this moment in time, it is nuclear war every single day. There is no safe house. There is no clear path. There is no Way to seek and follow. There is blood, terror, heart-rendering risk, and there is pain and betrayal. Those are your guarantees. Your promises I can make you as one who has been actively watching this stuff go down for almost twenty years and wading neck-deep into it for five.
What I can also promise you is that you will go nowhere without friends and allies, which means every word out of your mouth should be filtered to make sure you avoid making enemies.
I don’t think any author can be immune to hope and wistfulness, castles in the sky we wish to build foundations under—and those dreams are vital. But authors must remember, always, that other people are building foundations too, and if you steal other people’s stuff or hurl rocks at their heads, you will pay. If you build your foundations on the blood of your friends or while sniping and snarling at anyone who dares challenge you, your foundations will fall long before you get anywhere worth getting to. Every tweet you share, every Instagram you post marks your brand. It’s possible that it serves you to be a caustic, rotten asshole as your brand—possible, but even this must be polished and affected. And you’d better pray the risks of that approach pay off, because the odds are never in your favor.
I wish we could make a rule that every author or want-to-be author before they get WiFi access needs to read The Prince, and like license renewal we should ingest it again every so many years. When I first read Machiavelli, I hated him and his jaded view of politics. I still kind of hate him, though now it’s because I think he’s completely and utterly right and I wish he were not. What frustrated me about The Prince in college was this idea that the world was not a good, Disney-like place where nice people prevailed and everything, if we all worked hard and went to church and did good deeds, would be okay. This idea that people have to be calculating and sometimes nasty to get ahead made me sick.