Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.
If you pay attention to the social media surrounding YA books, you've probably heard the hub-bub lately about adult YA authors (John Green and Chuck Wendig among them) getting called out for silencing teen voices. I am not linking to any of the articles or blog posts, but a simple Google search will point you in the right direction if you have no idea what I'm talking about.
Pair this up with the recent EL James flame-fest that resulted from her live twitter chat and we have a social media landscape that is absolutely loaded with bombs and trip wires, ready to hit unsuspecting authors. Obviously, this makes some authors nervous. Just yesterday I read a blog post by an author who has decided that she is leaving the YA community for fear of one day becoming a target.
I think this is both misguided and reactionary, but every author has to make their own decisions based on what is best for them and their own personal situation. But what should the average author do?
Afterall, we are encouraged to interact with our readers and become a part of the community, yet there are times when we are obviously not a welcome part of the conversation. How do we be transparent and sincere while still holding back a private part of ourselves that was never meant for public consumption?
I don't have all the answers, but I do have three suggestions that I live by. I'm certainly not anywhere even close to the popularity of Green and James, but this strategy has served me well.
1. Understand that you can't control the conversations that happen around/about you
If you write controversial books, don't be surprised when there are heated conversations and strong emotions surrounding any discussion of your book. If you write for teens with impassioned, yet sometimes illogical emotional responses to situations and encourage them to make their voices heard, don't be shocked when they do exactly that.
We all wish that discussions on the internet always stayed civil, logical and on topic, but you might as well wish that celery tasted like chocolate. It's just not gonna happen. I hate that some individuals seem to think that it's okay to personally attack public figures. It sucks and isn't right. But I can't change it and any attempt to control it is an act of futility.
There is no internet police and for the most part, that's a good thing. But it means with the freedom to express ourselves online comes the freedom for others to do the same, regardless of our opinion on that expression.
2. Decide what you are willing to share with the world and draw a line
You are the owner of your personal story and you control how much of that story is shared with the world. Often times, those who are most open are the ones most vulnerable to attack. In other words, those who choose to share the most of themselves with others in an attempt to connect with their tribe are most at risk of being attacked by that tribe, especially if something they share doesn't sit well with a portion (even a small portion) of their tribe.
That's why there are certain topics I don't discuss online. I don't do politics. For one, my political opinions are irrelevant to my works as an author or as an agent. Second, regardless of my opinion, I am 100% guaranteed that anything I post of a political nature will alienate at least a portion of my followers. Because no one has a group of followers that all share the exact same political opinions. Lord, we can't even all agree on who should be cast in movies. I doubt we can all agree on who should be the next president.
I also limit how much I share about my family. I have a family. I have children. They are amazing and being a mom is a big part of who I am. But they are not part of my platform. They are not a part of the public discussion of me. This is why I never accept friend requests on Facebook from readers or people I haven't personally met. Because that is the space I use for sharing pictures of my kids with family and that's my line.
I'm not saying that you have to create a separate online identity that is a shadow of who you are in real life. By all means, talk about what you're writing and reading. Discuss what you're passionate about. Share your thoughts and feelings. But before you go too far, decide how much of your personal life is okay to be public and what needs to stay private.
3. Realize that words have power, regardless of your own personal power
If this controversy has shown me anything, it's that you don't have to be a major player in the social media scene for your words to have a huge, lasting impact. The internet has connected the world in ways we could never have imagined, even ten years ago. This can be wonderful, but it also means that our words go so much further than they ever have. If I put something on this blog, I can't assume it will only be consumed by my followers. I have to understand that those readers might share it with their own network, and then others might share it as well, until the audience is eons outside of my own circle.
Once you put your words online, in any context, be it a blog, twitter, chat board, etc., those words can be shared, screen shot, copied and pasted anywhere. This means taking care with our words. I don't really do controversy here on my blog, because that's not part of my platform. But I do think carefully about the subjects I tackle. I read over my words to make sure my intention is clear. I remove thoughts that might be taken the wrong way or come across negatively if seen out of context.
Even though my reach is small compared to the grandness of the internet connected world, I understand that even my softly spoken words can have power.
It would be all too easy to see the nastiness that crops up online and decide to skip it all. For some authors, being a part of the online conversation isn't worth the potential baggage. But the internet isn't going anywhere. I imagine it will continue to evolve and grow so that a decade from now we barely recognize the internet of today. As an author and agent, I understand that being a part of the constantly changing social landscape is a crucial part of success. Like any part of your professional course, you will be best served by understanding exactly what you are a part of and understanding your own personal limits.
Thanks to the internet, the world is at our fingertips. Now go out there and enjoy it responsibly.