September 18, 2010

Know Your Footprint

This was originally going to be part of my "Maximizing Social Media (part 2)" post, but that thing is already flipping long and at some point, you just stop reading super-long blog posts. Since it's the weekend (when fewer people read blogs, statistically speaking), I thought I'd post this part here as a preamble to the forthcoming behemoth.

There was a comment made in response to Suzie Townsend's blog post on the Perils of Social Networking. (I do not remember if the comment is in the comments section or was on Twitter.) In her post, Suzie says, "DON'T compliment people's pictures when you don't know them. It ends up sounding either condescending ("I'm usually fun and you look chipper") or creepy...or both. @shallremainnameless: I saw your beautiful agent photo. I hope i get to meet that smile in person one day.

This is good advice, advice that can be hard to follow if you were raised in certain areas of the country (Midwest or South like I was) and compliments are a standard part of conversation. Given the illusion of friendship social media can create, a positive comment on someone's appearance would seem on face value to be a nice gesture. Given that social media often constrains our statements to the point that context is lost, best to err on the side of caution.

That leads me to..."the comment," and I really wish I could link to it. Rushing to agree with the poster (as so often does on blogs...except for mine where people seem to be shaming me a lot), someone commented on how silly it was to compliment someone having only seen their user icon. Ignoring regional cultural differences (and now working in Boston for four years, I can absolutely guarantee you there is a difference between Midwestern manners and East Coast manners) or the fact that professional pictures can make the most average person look stunning, this still seems an incredibly short-sighted comment.

Know your footprint. Catalog all the different social media you participate in and don't stop at ownership. Every blog you've guest-posted on, every blog post of a friend that included pictures where you were involved, every forum that you've added a personal user icon to, every Facebook upload that was viewable by other people, every Twitpic and Yfrog of you being goofy in line at a [movie/bookstore/coffee shop/whatever, every dating service you've mistakenly signed up for because your friends insisted it worked for them (thanks Luke...jerk). All those pictures add up. Not only do they add up, they can then be downloaded and reposted by anyone else on the internet. You may be appearing in blogs you're not even aware of. So...

The most obvious and important lesson, be careful what you put on the internet.

The less obvious but equally important lesson, be slow to judge. When you presume people don't know what you look like outside of your professional picture, it's very possible that they do. Be cognizant of how much of your life you share with people and whether you unintentionally (or intentionally) foster that illusion of friendship with strangers.


  1. I think about this a lot. A lot. Too much. I was just talking about this conundrum to my sister in law this very morning at breakfast. On one hand, you want a positive social presence, so it looks good when an agent checks out your site. On the other hand, it makes me crazy because people have different impressions of the same event. If writer X blogs about his/her rejection, and what s/he's learned from it, some agents will think "that writer is complaining about rejection! How unprofessional!" (I am imagining all this with a British accent with me)

    Another agent could read that post and think, "Wow, that writer is putting a positive spin on a negative situation!"

    It REALLY bothers me that people will judge me on something that may or may not be the truth. I know I can't control it, but at the end of the day, it can leave me feeling stumped for what to blog about. There are only so many helpful writing posts an unpublished author can write, only so many "status updates"...*sigh*

    And who is shaming you on your own blog???? I love your posts! I was wishing for a post of yours to read this morning!

  2. You wanted a post and now ou get two! :) Being misunderstood is one of the principle functions of the internet. Without tone, inflection, or body language, neutral statements are completely at the influence of ghe reader's mood. That's why I use emoticons so much. It only helps a little. It is what it is. (And check the comments in the fear and cold water post along with the post I deleted. When do I get my own sycophants. E eryone else got theirs! ;)

  3. "Being misunderstood is one of the principle functions of the Internet" LMAO! So true!

    I went back and read the comments on Fear and Cold was an interesting situation. It seemed to polarize people. Some of them even expected you to hold the burning torch and lead the revolution. Which is well and good, except that you actually WANT to get published.

    Call me controversial, but I would like to put myself in the best position I can to get published. Just like I won't query a book I haven't written yet (though I was sorely tempted last night in a moment of bleary optimism "It's going to be so good, I'll query them right now and they'll all accept!" *rolls eyes* And then I got some caffeine in me).

    If "common wisdom" suggests making a top five list of favorite agents/publishers/foreign rights directors would possibly be taken the wrong way, then I will refrain.

    Do you feel like your voice was needlessly silenced? I know you decided to take the post down, but how do you feel about that?

    I am not blogging to exercise my right to free speech, so modifing what I blog about doesn't bother me so much. I am not going to take it so far that I won't blog about my favorite book, or way to plot a book in case someone doesn't agree, of course. But other people clearly feel like suppressing such a list is disingenuous. I feel like it's no less disingenuous than refraining from posting pictures of yourself in a drunken stupor at a Halloween party. Your presence on the Internet is your business face, at least for us writers.

    I am really sorry you got caught in the cross fire of all this drama though. I wish the boundaries of what is considered TMI and what is not was more clear. How were you supposed to know? I don't think your list was condescending in the least. C'est la vie, I guess.

  4. Sara Megibow just put out a call for sf/f submissions. I had to stop myself from querying THE TRIAD SOCIETY. Do not query first drafts! Oh, but I wanted to. I wanted to so much. :'(