Blogger: Wendy Lawton
In World War II GIs were given four succinct words of advice about what not to say when writing home, carrying on a conversation, or if captured: loose lips sink ships. I’d like to suggest that loose lips can also be the kiss of death to a writer’s career.
We live in an instant communication age. We email, we blog, we Facebook, we Twitter, we do webcasts and we create You Tube videos. There’s no end to the ways we can get ourselves into trouble with a keystroke or two. My mother used to caution, “Don’t write anything in a letter you’d be embarrassed to see posted on a bulletin board.” In this electronic age, I’d have to say the same about any electronic communication: Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to see re-tweeted, forwarded, sent to other writers, to your editor, to your agent, to your publishing house or even to your mother.
I could tell stories. . . in fact, I will.
Just last week, I spoke to an editor about one of my clients whose work he’s planning to take to committee. He asked me if the client’s views track with the publisher’s views. I’d never been asked that before and I must have hesitated because he went on to explain that he was asking because they had recently made an offer to an author. During the process, someone in their house happened upon a blog post in which that author was sharply critical of the publishing house and their mission. The board decided to withdraw the offer. That opinionated blog turned out to be the kiss of death to that particular partnership.
Did you know that many human resources departments routinely check social networking sites, websites and follow a potential employee’s Twitter stream before making a job offer? Don’t assume publishing committees don’t also do equally thorough due diligence on a potential author. Everything we say in these public forums can tip the scales.
I cringe when I see authors twittering negative things about their works-in-progress. Yes, we writers understand the writing process and know that it’s normal to hate the book halfway through but your readers don’t know that. What about the writer who blogged about being so glad a certain book was finished? He said it was a mess but he was so sick of it, he just needed to let it go so he could begin work on the new idea he was passionate about. Hello? How does he think his readers will react to that news? What if his editor or someone from the publishing house reads the blog? Kiss of death.
Too many novelists have been wounded by the barrage of public criticism of their books and writing by wannabe writers and first-time novelists. We’ve all heard new writers disparage the bestsellers. “I have no idea why she sells so many books. Her stories are so simplistic.” Or “If I see one more prairie romance. . .” How about snide comments about Amish novels or whatever genre that particular writer doesn’t write? The truth is that writing preferences are highly subjective. Don’t assume that your criticism will be lost in the blogosphere. Many writers set google alerts. They track every word written about them. Most experienced writers try to take these criticisms lightly, but it hurts nonetheless. One writer recently chose several well-known writers as bad examples of the craft and posted them on his blog. Building ourselves up by tearing others down is a dangerous practice. This is a small community.
It’s not just written communication that can be a problem. Any kind of talk can get around. When I’m considering a potential client one of the things I prize is discretion– the ability to always be appropriate. Nothing is more important when trying to build a career, no matter what industry. When I was leading a workshop at the Career Track at Mount Hermon one year, someone joked about how many times I used the word “winsome” when talking about how writers need to approach problems. Okay, I admit I overused the word, but it is such an advantage to be pleasing and engaging in an age when snide and snarky are too often the default. Winsome will certainly set you apart. Remember what your own mama said? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
So my question for you is how do we balance literary criticism with discretion? How do we speak the truth in our communication while guarding our tongues? Is my advice too old-fashioned in this information age? I’m ready to listen.