Some Thoughts on Social Networks

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Some Thoughts on Social Networks

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Before I got into publishing, maintaining my social network pages was easy. I joined Facebook in 2005, a bygone era where the most I had to worry about was whether or not my profile picture made me look chubby.

When I was lucky enough to land a job in publishing, I suddenly realized that my Facebook profile was filled with material I didn’t exactly want every writer out there to see: three years worth of immature jokes shared with college friends, photos of me in silly costumes from various Halloween parties, and links to off-color material that made me laugh. I decided the day I became an agent that I was going to maintain Facebook only for my personal use. If I didn’t know you or want every piece of information on my profile to be available to you, then we weren’t going to be friends.

Predictably, I started getting friend requests from writers. Those were easy enough to ignore at first. Then I started getting from requests from editors. Those were a little tougher. After much hand-wringing (seriously, my hands were wringed), I accepted that in today’s digital world, it was hopeless to hold out.

I’m sure many writers out there are struggling with the same issues. What should be on your Facebook page, your blog, your Twitter updates? Will you hurt your chances by posting something seemingly innocuous that could offend the wrong person?

The answer, unfortunately, is a very big maybe. We’ve all heard tall tales about editors reading bits of information about a writer that has turned them off to a project. I’ve personally encountered information about writers or my publishing brethren that made me hesitant to want to work with them. I don’t go seeking this information out for the most part, but sometimes it has a way of showing up.

My main advice to you is to develop a strategy and stick with it. If you don’t want all your information out there for the world to poke and prod, make sure that you’re controlling what strangers can see. After all that hand-wringing I did, I’ve stuck to my guns and kept Facebook mostly personal by using different privacy settings (in case some of you out there were wondering why you can barely see any pictures of me or information but the basics, there’s your answer). I decided that Twitter would be the tool I used more for communicating with writers and editors. For the most part, it’s worked for me, aside from the *occasional query that references personal information about me and makes me squirm a bit (examples below).

So how about you? How do you make sure the information about you is only what you want people knowing? How do you ensure your professional identity is separate from your personal one in this connected world of ours? Or does it not matter to you?

*Nearly true examples of things culled from Twitter used in recent queries:

  • Dear Mr. Richman: I hope you enjoyed your recent trip to California. I’ve written a book about surfers you may enjoy!
  • Dear Mr. Richman: I recently read that you enjoy Philadelphia sports. How lame! May I interest you in a book about vampires?
  • Dear Mr. Richman: I sincerely hope your rash has cleared up. My 109,000 word manuscript won’t make you itchy at all!
  1. Chris, Too funny! What to incorporate into your public world is a serious question. On my blog, which is mostly about writing, I have posted personal posts from time to time. For example, tales of my feline captors and our musical performances (my husband the doctor and I are also singer/songwriters). Last year, I had more fun than I probably should have posting about politics. (It’s not my fault. Sarah Palin threw great material at me every day!!)

    As a writer, I want to show my best side to potential agents and editors, but at the same time I want my blog to be a true expression of myself, warts and all. I’ve read advice by certain agents who say you should absolutely not put anything the slightest bit controversial on your blog. You never know who you might “turn off.” I understand their point, but would I want to work with someone who would be “turned off” that easily? I suppose it depends on how controversial something is, but that’s all subjective.

    I’m not on Facebook, but I’ve recently embraced Twitter and am LOVING it! I resisted it for a long time until I went kicking and screaming into heaven. The writers, agents, and editors there are the most interesting and generous group of people. I’m honored to be a part of that world.

    So, here’s my query for you:
    Dear Mr. Richman,

    I live outside of Philly and can get you wicked Phillies and Eagles tix. Also, I love dressing up crazy for Halloween just like you. I’m hoping you might be interested in my fiction novel (it’s not true, btw) called “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Phillies, But Were Afraid to Ask.” Actually, it’s called, “The Bamboo Train” and it’s about Panda bears in Asia, but I was hoping the Phillies thing might spark your interest.

    All best, D.L. Schubert
    (You can contact my lawyer directly to work out the contractual details. Peace out!)

    Reply

  2. I also joined Facebook way-back-when, and I’m friends with people from middle school, high school, college, grad school and various family members. And that’s why that one is now “In Real Life” people only (and is under my married name), and I made an account I keep for my ‘professional’ contacts. The same goes for Livejournal and for Myspace.

    I’ve found keeping multiple accounts gives me even more control than privacy settings alone, and I don’t have to worry quite so much about who can see what. I know exactly who has access to my personal accounts (I keep them locked), and if I’m posting to a “pro” account, I know what I’m posting will be mainly public and to be on my best behavior. :)

    It might not work for everyone, but so far it seems to be working for me.

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  3. Hmm, Philadelphia sports fan? Do you mean like watching the Eagles lose to my Stillers or braving South Philly after dark to find the bestest cheesesteak ever? I’m the latter, although ilike the former as well ;)

    I do have to say, I find it amazing that agents put so much of themselves out there in the internets. I’d be terrified some writer would go off the deep end and start stalking me with their 209,000 word MS about the migratory patterns of seaweed. Writers are only slightly sane at best.

    So are you interested in reading my MS on blue-green algae or what?

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  4. I’ve thought about doing the two-account thing, but I feel like it’d be too difficult to maintain separate accounts when Facebook is already enough of a distraction as is.

    Justina, your seaweed book sounds fascinating. Not right for me, though :)

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  5. As a former high school teacher, I swore I’d never get into the social networking thing. And then I had a friend convince me to set up a facebook page. I did nothing with it for at least a year until another friend told me about it. Next thing I know, I’m reconnecting with high school and college friends galore.

    Then I got a friend request from a former student. A former student I absolutely adored, mind you, but a former student nonetheless. I knew if I accepted her request, I’d be opening the door to a lot more and consequently have to be more conservative about what I put out there for everyone to see. (Not that I’d put much objectionable material out there anyhow.) So I accepted her and subsequently many more.

    Because I’d already made a decision to self-censor my facebook page before I became a writer, I have no fears about what a former student, future agent, editor, or reader might see. To be honest, if someone can’t handle my obsession to that addicting Bejeweled game or my frequent status updates about drinking red wine and/or dirty martinis, then they shouldn’t be “friends” with me.

    I treat my facebook page like a postcard. I don’t put anything out there I’d be afraid for everyone to see. Too personal? I’ll send it in a message or to their email.

    As I learn more about the necessity of social networking, blogs and websites for budding authors, I know that it’s my duty to know where I want the line drawn to keep my professional life separate from my personal life. And it’s my duty not to cross that line.

    As far as embarrassing and potentially career-damaging pictures? None posted. Chances are good that I’ve got enough wine and vodka to bribe those folks to make sure those pictures are never seen. :-)

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  6. I use LJ for my blog because of all the privacy settings. I review books for public viewing and will mention various, fairly non-personal things in public, as well. FB already has too many people that I don’t want knowing my truly personal stuff, so it’s the fluffy place (like the day I mentioned my love of cottage cheese and got tons of comments). Twitter is for shout-outs to books and authors I’m currently reading and loving. It’s pretty much all I discuss there. I like having the different options, and I use my locked entries on LJ to discuss my more personal (and professional) challenges. It’s certainly an interesting world with all the social networking available now!

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  7. Great topic.

    I have three different levels of privacy setting on my Facebook account, so that I can reveal more or less to whomever. Of the eight hundred plus “friends” I have on Facebook, I probably am acquainted with five to six hundred of them via work and life and that sad stint I did in Folsom. But of those, the ones I actually count as friends are very few.

    The rest of the people get varying degrees of access to my wall, my information, my pictures, my private dancing, etc.

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  8. I never put much personal information up on Facebook to begin with, but I did have a lot of pictures of my kids. At first, I decided to keep Facebook personal and use Twitter for networking and fun with the writing/publishing community. Didn’t last. Like you, the requests kept coming from writers I really liked and respected and I caved to a few and then felt like I had to cave to all. So I read up on privacy settings and made groups for those that can and cannot access my pictures. I beleive I have it set so that my wall comments don’t post to the homepage either.

    I tend to be more lax on Twitter and tweet a mix of personal and professional content. I like to think I do it in a respectable manner, and don’t share anything I wouldn’t share in a group of strangers.

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  9. I have nothing to share with fans about my private life. My private life is I work, I yell at the kids to stop fighting, I drive around a lot on various pointless errands, I eat too much, drink too much, and do it all over again the next day.

    This is why I don’t like Facebook or Twitter. Even I’m not interested in my life so I can’t imagine why anyone else would be. Ever notice how there are no 10 pm TV dramas about writers? Can you guess why?

    Type, type, type, drink coffee. Type, type, type, puff on cigar. Type, type, type, eat hot dog. Tweet that.

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  10. I can’t believe some of those tweets you got!

    I keep my FB viewable to friends, family, and professionals that I feel close enough to share with. I do post personal stuff, but compared to what a lot of folks deem appropriate, it’s not *that* personal. Mostly stuff about my travels.

    The thought of sending a random query-like tweet to an agent or editor makes me feel yucky…like a used car salesman.

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  11. Lawsy, this new age of ours is crazy, huh? I like your plan of keeping FB personal and Twittering away to the masses. I might steal the idea.

    PS. Forgive me for friending you :-)

    Totally kidding! I never have.

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  12. Wow. Those are creepy. I keep Facebook for old high school and college buddies and my blog for my writing life. I try to keep personal information out of it, and keep focused on topics of writing. Not that I don’t stray to the occasional post about zombie sheep, but you have to spice things up once in awhile.

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  13. I, too, started Facebook before I started writing. I have decided to keep it personal and started a blog and twitter for writing contacts.

    When I sell something, I plan to start a website and I’ll do a fan page on Facebook.

    And, yes, those queries are creepy. Yikes.

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  14. You tweeted about your rash? Must have been a doozy.

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  15. I’m thinking…keep it as separate as possible. The writing persona and then the ‘yeah, that was me in grade 9, baby’ persona. One for ‘professional’ and one for ‘personal’. Those with pen names must just laugh at us.

    :)

    Reply

  16. […] I’ve spoken about social networking before and won’t rehash it here, but I’m beginning to see networking pay dividends. Writers from across the country know each other personally, are sharing and improving their work in online critique groups, and are better able to find things in common with editors or agents in order to better target their work. […]

    Reply

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