Monday, July 6, 2015

Agency Lessons: Safely navigating social media

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.

8 comments:

  1. I think people get so caught up in the ease of social media that they fail to stop and think before typing. An offhand remark that you hold in at a party might come out online-- I wonder if it's because we aren't interacting face to face. Even without anonymity, I think many people are more likely to blurt out stupid or hurtful things when they aren't saying them to someone's face.

    I love YA, love writing YA, and couldn't imagine ever being happy if I stopped writing it.

    I agree with you on drawing a line. I keep my personal views about big issues, religion, and politics private online. That's me-- I hate the thought of hurting or offending anyone. My fans are from all walks of life and religions. I respect their views even if I don't necessarily agree. Keeping everything professional is very important to me- even if my social media reach is tiny.

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    1. Yeah, I think a lot of it stems from not stopping to think first. I'd like to hope that most people are not spending all their free time trying to cut others down (although I know some do). I'm be willing to be that most of these sort of blow-up occur because someone failed to take into consideration how their words would come across.

      An important lesson for all of us. :)

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  2. This is an excellent post! I think your first point is especially important. Readers are going to have opinions on a writer's work and even on a writer personally. This is unavoidable, and in fact we WANT it to happen. If readers didn't have opinions, well, they wouldn't have much investment in anything they read. But it is critical for writers to understand that they can't control those opinions, and furthermore that they aren't responsible for controlling or even responding to anyone's opinions. It's simply not necessary. Being the YA nerd that I am, I keep thinking of Nikolai Lantsov's advice in Leigh Bardugo's SIEGE AND STORM: "Don't argue. Never deign to deny."

    Part of writing is expressing our voice, and encouraging others to express theirs. We can't react so harshly when readers, especially young readers, do just that.

    --Sam Taylor, AYAP Intern

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    1. Thanks, Sam. Learning to let go is a hard thing to do. And it's unfortunate that we have to. But writing the very best book that we possibly can is the only thing we have control over. And that is a seriously great quote!

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  3. I do find it important, though sometimes fans will act like pricks about things that in any other community (lets taking gaming) where references to Star Wars is almost part of why you play Final Fantasy games. I don't know if it is a culture difference.

    And there are Final Fantasy official novelizations, evidently their fans are not complaining if there are Star Wars references. Like if I said I like to run over moose after crossing a 'slow traffic, keep right' sign that be one thing to be so downright negative.

    But some of these people are complaining about stuff similar to Star Wars references. Like get a life people, I'm not running over moose. And there are a lot sillier stuff people will complain about on twitter.

    Middle Grade seems to have much less of this problem, and the YA off twitter seems generally to be OK with references to your favorite classic novels which is making me somewhat warm up to YA again.

    But I can't shake that irritation of Twitters negativity. Tumblr is much better.:/

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    1. Unfortunately, this latest bruhaha came from Tumblr. Some sites tend to run more positive or negative, but we have to remember that they all have the opportunity to give our words much more weight than we intended. Caution on all social media is the best course. :)

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    2. I'm not totally surprised. Tumblr has some ... issues I'm not totally used to. Medium is better. It has more stuff I can import to Diaspora. Red Matrix, Libertree, GNU, Podumpti, and Movim. (I would advise against Movim, not because of negativity, but because the layout is confusing.)

      What surprises me is he recent slamming stuff didn't make it to my main hotspots. Granted the whole platform over there is different, and not quite like other social networks. (Mainly the people over there tend to be more foreign news oriented.)

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  4. Well thought out post. I didn't even know there had been discussions about John Green or Chuck Weindig.

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