By Sammy Bina
Sometimes I wonder if people realize how easily accessible information is in the 21st century. In the olden days, gossip was passed around by word of mouth, and you had to ride a donkey fifteen miles into town just to see someone who wasn’t a relative already living on your land. You’d lean against the counter in the mercantile and swap stories about how your crops were doing, offer each other some advice, and maybe find out that those youngins down the street done finally got hitched. Nowadays, all you have to do is log onto your computer and type someone’s name into Google and voila! Instant gratification.
What does this have to do with publishing, you ask? Allow me to explain.
For those of you looking to immerse yourself in the publishing world, it’s important to cultivate an online presence. Think of it as a job interview. Would you wear ripped up booty shorts and a belly shirt to an interview? Of course you wouldn’t! You’d wear your best suit, and do your hair up nice. You’d be polite, professional, and courteous, and hope to god you made a lasting impression on the interviewer. A good impression.
So when you make that conscious decision to start inching your way into this business, be it through querying or looking for an actual job, it’s important to go into Interview Mode. Take all those drunken pictures of yourself off Facebook and myspace, and delete any tweets that are inappropriate. Get yourself an email that isn’t from 1992; preferably one that’s just your name, and doesn’t have a bunch of X’s and O’s after it. If you have a blog, make sure all public posts are ones you’d feel comfortable letting your boss see. I use what I call my Grandma Guidelines: if my Grandma saw this, how horrified would she be? It works every time, guaranteed!
But why do all this, you ask. It’s not like anyone’s going to go looking for me.
And that’s where you’re wrong. Because they will! In a query letter, it’s polite to offer a link to your website below your contact information. But even if you don’t do it, or simply forget, there’s always the chance someone is going to look you up. Especially if an agent is interested in signing you. They want to make sure you haven’t been in and out of prison for the last fifty years, sell drugs out of your living room, and/or are a pathological liar who plagiarized someone else’s work and submitted it as your own. As an intern, I’ve definitely googled my fair share of names from submissions that come in. Which is why it’s important to either have no online presence at all, or to make sure you have a good one. If an agent finds out you’ve been trashing them or their books all over your blog, they probably aren’t going to sign you. If they hear from other people that you’re really hard to work with, they might think twice. People still talk. Maybe not at the mercantile, but you get what I’m saying.
Like I said, you need to treat your online presence like an ongoing interview. It’s one of the benefits and downfalls of the internet: because information is so readily available, it’s incredibly easy to look someone up. And you never know when someone might stumble across your blog or your twitter account, and if it’s full of negativity and trash talking other authors, your old boss, or that agent who rejected your manuscript, you won’t look good when Awesome Agent/Kickass Boss comes along and googles you. It’s easy enough to present yourself well, and it’s only going to benefit you in the long-run!
Here are a few easy ways to get yourself out there, and do it up right:
1. Get yourself on Twitter. I was hesitant at first, too, but I’ve definitely gained a lot of connections in the publishing industry by using it. Get involved in chats like #YAlitchat, #askagent, or #askintern. People are so willing to offer help, and this is a really easy way to learn about the business and the people in it. It also allows you to market yourself in 140 words or less!
2. Keep your Facebook/blog/Twitter/etc. clean. I’m not saying you can’t cuss up a storm or complain about things; just be aware of what you’re writing. Don’t trash talk online – keep that for your real life friends. Everyone has writers and coworkers they don’t like, but it’s probably best to put that somewhere less public.
3. I meant what I said about getting a new email address. If you’ve been using the same one since middle school, you’re way overdue. Eyebrows definitely shoot up when a query or job application comes in from an email like ‘sUgeRpIE12387xoxo@blahblahblah.com.’ Keep it professional. Sometimes an email address is the first thing someone in this industry sees, and it’s best to keep it simple.
4. Start a blog. People in this business surf the internet, too. A blog is yet another opportunity to get yourself noticed. Just remember to keep the Debbie Downer moments to a minimum. If you’re going to do book reviews, for example, you’re completely entitled to dislike what you read. Just be nice about it, because someone put a lot of time into that novel, and someday you might be in the same position. Good karma, people.
5. If people leave comments on your blog, talk to you on twitter, etc., it never hurts to respond.
5. Personally, I’m not much of a myspace person, and I’ve been using Facebook less and less. Still, they are tools you can use to promote yourself. Use them wisely.
6. Get involved in writing communities. We mentioned a few in this past week’s QOTW. Take advantage of them! People have some really great advice, and will sometimes help critique your work. Return the favor! Just be careful not to bash anyone’s writing. It’s all about constructive criticism!
7. False advertising is a no-no. Don’t say you’re published if you aren’t. Don’t tell an agent you’ve got offers from three other people if you don’t. Don’t tell a potential employer that you’ve already worked in the business if you haven’t. Sometimes that information is pretty easy to find, and believe me, people check. And if an agent/employer doesn’t, the interns might. Lying is so easy with the internet, but it’s just as easy to catch someone in a lie.
I know this all might sound like common sense, but it really is important to consider your appearance online. If you’re already doing these things, keep it up! If you’re serious about getting into this business (or any business, really), at least maybe now you’ve got an idea as to how you can make yourself more visible online!
Sammy Bina is a fifth year college senior who recently completed her Creative Writing degree. She is currently querying her adult dystopian romance, THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, and working on two new YA projects. You can follow her blog, or find her on twitter.