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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Professionally Yours

I’ve often read agents’ or editors’ blogs discussing the importance of maintaining a professional persona in the public arena. It seems basic on the surface. Be kind, courteous, use good manners. All those things we learned in kindergarten. But professionalism is much more than earning a gold star for good conduct.

To be a professional means a person behaves in a predictable way. Doctors do no harm. Firefighters save lives. Police officers protect. Circus clowns freak out little kids. Oh, and me too. Who taught them to apply make-up anyway? Yikes!

There are many facets to professionalism, but today I’ll blog about boundaries. A boundary is literally a line that separates; one person from another, your public persona from your private. There are likely to be cultural variations on where these lines are drawn. For example, Americans have no qualms about sharing – no, detailing fits better – every ailment, surgery and defunct bodily function they’ve experienced over the last ten years. Other cultures find this a little weird.

On the other hand, conventional Americans draw the line at flashing our tatas. Well, except at Mardi Gras, but there are shiny beads and Hurricanes involved, so those ladies get a pass. But you Girls Gone Wild on spring break, what were you thinking? Didn’t you know that was a camera? Did you even retain the international rights to your assets? Someone is making money off you. Respect yourself.

Sorry. I’m off topic. Anyway, when we talk about boundaries in a professional sense, we mean keeping our private life from spilling over into our professional life. This can be difficult for writers especially, because we draw a lot of feeling for our work from our personal experiences. We also form close relationships with our writer friends where we share things from joys to frustrations.

Does this mean I believe we shouldn’t share anything about our lives in blogs, Facebook and Twitter? No. I’m not advocating that at all. But, I think it is very important to consider what you are broadcasting to others. People form opinions about us in a matter of seconds. Humans are quite judgmental that way, but in fairness to the human race, our species has survived thanks to quick judgments. Snarling tiger? Danger. Run!

Consider this scenario. You’re lying on the surgical table, waiting to be put under. The surgeon storms into the room, yelling, “I hate my wife. I can’t believe she ran off with the personal trainer I hired. I’m so angry I could kill someone. Anesthesia. Where’s my blasted scalpel?” Gadzooks! I don’t want this doctor working on me, do you?

In the same token, let’s say you are an agent or editor, and you read a writer’s blog listing his or her various struggles with personal issues or bad-mouthing someone else in the publishing business. What potential concerns might come up? Maybe you would be concerned the writer has too much going on to focus on writing. Maybe you would be concerned about the ability to meet a deadline. Maybe you would be worried every conversation would turn into a quasi-therapy session. Maybe you are simply worried about negative associations with that author affecting sales.

Realistically, we all know no one is perfect. However, we have certain expectations for behavior in the public arena. When people violate those standards, others question their abilities, whether right or wrong. Be careful of what you put out there for others to see. With any luck, it isn’t just your friends reading your tweets and blogs.

Has a blog or tweet ever influenced your view of the person writing it?


  1. Great post, Samantha. I think that too often we forget that what we say in a blog or on facebook or any public media can be read worldwide. Comments made in a moment of fun or bad mood could haunt you for the rest of your professional career. Yes, I have read a few things on Facebook and Twitter and in blogs that have influenced my perception of that person.

  2. Fantastic post, Samantha! And YES! I tend to get most riled up over political posts, followed closely by religious posts in the FB or Twitter-verse. I used to actually post a lot of political status updates or links, etc...but then I read a blog from someone who not only disagreed with my beliefs, but wrote a very nasty blog about why her side was right and mine was wrong. I immediately defriended this person, and while she once stood a chance of having me as a reader, that flew out the window with the "friendship". I have some other friends who post about politics or religion, and I just have to bite my tongue. It's a waste of time to get angry about it or engage in a futile conversation...but rest assured, it chips away at my good opinion of those people, regardless of how long we've been friends.

    I realize people might be judging me on my status updates or links, or even the comments I make on other people's statuses, no matter how diplomatic I try to be in posting them. So, I stay out of it. I hold my tongue and focus on presenting a lively and positive persona. I don't want enemies, and I don't want to alienate readers. I think that's the most important thing to think about...do you want people to know your opinion, or do you want to land a contract/sell books?

    Great post!

  3. Great blog, Samantha! Yes, I have bought books because I thought the author was funny on twitter. I've also been turned off authors because of obnoxious political rants. And there are agents I would never submit to because I don't like the way they talk about writers online. So definitely, I agree.

    Online is on stage.

  4. Ooh, I love that phrase, Gail.

    And I agree, Jerrica. I've made a practice of keeping my political and religious opinions confined to my private life.

  5. Oh my dear Samantha . . . you have hit the nail on the proverbial head today. One of my biggest peeves is people airing all of their dirty business on Facebook or Twitter.

    I'm a member of a women's service organization and I can not tell you how many times some of our members have posted derrogatory comments about other members or our organization. It just adds to the drama. It's like people have turned off their "filter" for what is appropriate.

    For Lent I decided to give up some of my "friends" on Facebook. It was so freeing this morning when I went through my list of drama queens and hit that delete button!

    Keep up the good work SG!! Love your blogs!

    Your biggest fan,

  6. I have always tried to be discrete about my post or personal thoughts in any public forum.Is is rather comical in how people respond to messages that are so one dimensional and fake like facebook and twitter,everybody trying to put on thier happy face and act like everything is perfect and hunky dory.Real people know the truth,and most choose not to air thier personal life in the public eye.
    Great morning read thanks Michelle.Tell the family I said hello
    Rick D

  7. YES! This is a subject I am passionate about! I cannot tell you how many tweets I've read and thought... why would you say that?

    This may step on some toes but I often find some of the query quotes from agents a little disconcerting. Isn't there some kind of proffessional line that's being broken here? When a writer sends a query to an agent with the promise of being confidential and then finds a quote from her query on thier twitter page... I find it very unproffessional to say the least.

    I think we all should take a moment and think about what we're sayin before we tweet that post. Often times we forget there's a person on the other side of that computer screen and being behind our own gives us license to say anything we please. And that simply should not be the case. Whether we realize it or not, everything we say and do has consequences.

    I am so glad you posted this! Excellent blog post Michelle!

  8. Samantha, what a great topic! I am like Jerrica in a lot of ways. Someone else's political rant can turn me off faster than anything. I've "defriended" more than one unprofessional author over FB updates, etc. If you're not savvy enough to know what is ok and what is NOT ok to say in a public forum, I'd really rather not have your name attached to mine.

    There is a time and a place for everything. And I share thoughts with friends privately all the time, but I would never dream of airing my dirty laundry for the world to see.

    I don't want to be one of those authors whose private opinions alienates potential readers/fans. To do so is very short sighted.

  9. Thank you for this post! It amazes me how many people do not have the common sense to realize that somethings the world just shouldn't know about. And, yes, I am also one of those who has "defriended" people because of their idiocy on FB.

    The southern girl in me says, "If it's not something you want your Mama to know, don't put it on the web."

  10. Beth,

    I love your litmus test! What a great thing to keep in mind before posting anything. :)

  11. God yes, I follow a few agents on twitter and have at times wondered if one of them works at all. Seriously reconsidering submitting to her in the future. She's funny but on twitter a lot more than the gabbiest friend I have.

  12. I follow quite a lot of blogs and I must admit the variety of content is a little staggering. Blogs that contain nothing but book promo's are swiftly unfollowed, so too the online rant blogs.

    If an author simply posts updates on their writing life (and they have a positive outlook) I'll stick with them, post frequent comments because I'd like someone to do the same for my personal blog.

    What I enjoy the most are the blogs that make me think, either about writing or the way I live. The funiest one I follow is an Aussie writer who blogs about her cooking experiments and efforts to create a self-sustaining garden.

  13. I have just recently started blogging -- I don't really know how to do it or anything, but I feel like I am sort of catching on. By now, I mostly just update on what's going on with me (I seem to have a thing for weather, sports, and funny youtube videos) and also what's going on currently in my main writing project. I plan to do other things, but I'm only five posts in. And I'm still a little confused. Ha ha.

    As I have nil blog and twitter experience (both very new to me starting this week!), I can't really say yet that I have been influenced by what someone has blogged/twitted (tweeted?). I rant, I know I rant already. So people may be put off by that, I suppose. And judge me. I am identical to my father's normal personality in my writing -- mostly cynical, loud, and boisterous. But I'm trying to type stuff that is actually interesting, or, well, I will try!

    Thanks for putting this up, Samantha, it's a good topic to read on before getting too far into that strange world of blogging and twittering -- at least, it was a good thing to read for me!

  14. Karra,

    I'm glad it was helpful. If you visit again, leave your blog address so I can stop by to visit. :)

  15. I'm CONSTANTLY traveling for my novels and will go to China, Lord willing, May 14 through 31 for novel four. Probably the most poignant was returning, with my protagonist, to the Cliffs o' County Clare, Ireland, to learn the secret of why the "little eejit" had to go.


  16. Samantha;

    Oh! Well, I would sure love anyone to visit! http://karrachristina.blogspot.com/ It's not much, but I suppose I'm having fun with it, and that's what kind of counts, I think? And I like to share stuff with anyone who reads my current project -- so that's that. Thanks again for putting this topic up! It was a very interesting read.