Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bad Blog! No Cookie for You

By Meghan Conrad, Editor, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.

When we were asked to write something about submissions, I had lots of great ideas: write a strong cover letter, follow the submission guidelines, proofread, have an engaging first page… Then I found out what Kelli and Raelene were writing about and realized I’d have to do something a little different.

So instead, I’m going to talk about what may be the least-known aspect of the submission process—the part where we Google you.

I realize that some of you are probably looking at me in shock. Yeah. That’s right. We Google you.

We might not Google the author of every submission, but every submission that I’m serious about gets the Google treatment. I search for the book title, the author’s pen name and the author’s real name. If you have a blog, I’ll read that; if you’re posting on message boards, I’ll read that, too. Does your LiveJournal or fanfiction.net account mention your real name? Because if it does—you’ve probably guessed—I’ll read that, too.

And, yes, what I read is going to influence my response to your work. If you’ve written the next Harry Potter, it’s unlikely anyone’s going to reject you because you present yourself badly online, but for the rest of us, it’s something to keep in mind. I’ve rejected one or two good books because the author behaved so badly online, we decided we didn’t want to work with her. I’ve rejected a great many more books I was on the fence about after the author’s online presence ultimately convinced me the author probably wasn’t worth the effort.

What are we looking for? In general, we’re looking for signs that you’re relatively normal, literate, and reasonable, which is admittedly sort of difficult to quantify. A well-written blog is a great sign, or a Twitter account with hundreds of followers. This is fiction, so you don’t need to have the platform that would be expected for nonfiction, but having followers is an indication you write well enough that people find your posts interesting and useful—points for you!

It’s easier, though, to talk about what might put an editor off. Posts slagging off publishers or editors are big red flags, especially when you’re criticizing several companies (indicating that the problem is maybe you, not them) or resorting to over-emotional rhetoric like name calling. It’s normal to have problems from time to time, and even to talk about those online, but there’s a big difference between “I’m not getting my royalty statements on time” and “I never get paid on time because those greedy jerks are trying to screw us over and take all our money to feed their crack habits”. (For added realism, please add several vulgarities to that last bit.)

Similarly, trash-talking about other authors is worrying. We’re not talking about disliking a book, we’re talking about personal attacks and flat-out nastiness—things that make you look immature and petty.

Complaining about low sales, especially if you’re blaming someone else for them, is probably best avoided, as well. It’s one thing to say “My last book didn’t do so well—I guess the trend for dark YA fantasy involving elves is waning.” It’s another thing entirely to say “My last book totally flopped, and I’m so angry. I can’t believe that my publisher didn’t send me on the fifty-city tour that I demanded! And the cover they made me was totally fugly—it was blue, not black, my heroine’s eyes were the wrong color, and they had gold foiling instead of silver! They ruined it!” Not only do you look like sour grapes, but you also look very, very unrealistic.

Maybe this is too obvious, but it seems like every few months, there’s another author behaving badly on Amazon or Goodreads. There’s a lot to be said for taking criticism—even the one-star-review kind of criticism—gracefully. Which is to say, of course, that it may not be in your best interest to start arguing with people who leave bad reviews of your book. I promise you, the editors and agents out there will be far more bothered by angry flame-outs than they would by the odd bad review.

Also worrying are blogs—or, worse, short stories or writing samples—with horrible grammar, punctuation, and spelling. No one expects you to be perfect, but I do tend to assume that the writing on your blog is a representative sample. If you’re missing three periods and have seventeen misspelled words in a five-hundred-word blog post, what’s your submission going to be like? Even if your submission’s in great shape, a blog riddled with errors will throw up red flags, making us doubt your abilities. After all, why would you choose to write “I cant wait for you’re book 2 cum out!” if you know better?

This is one of those lists that could go on forever. The point, though, is probably obvious by now—if you don’t want your mother, grandmother, and editor reading it, don’t put it on the internet.


Sarahlynn said...

I've been reading, writing, revising, editing, polishing, taking classes and workshops, meeting with my book and critique groups. I've published a few short stories and am getting ready to start the submissions process in earnest with a couple of novels and several short stories.

I've always intended to cloak my blog before I start submitting, but I'm a little torn. I have hundreds of daily followers and have been building an online audience for six years. (I also have a writing-only blog with much less traffic.) I think my main blog is reasonably well-written, but in addition to writing, family, and daily life posts I also talk about politics and share my potentially controversial opinions (climate, abortion, elections, etc.). Hot button topics draw the most blog traffic. But I'm thinking they might turn off an editor who's on the fence about a new author.

Are my instincts right on this?

Lesley Speller said...

Oh no! I have to be relatively normal? Now I'm completely out of the running. hehe Great post!

Roni Loren said...

Terrific post and great reminder that we're not blogging into the ether. People besides our followers are reading what we have to say. No pressure though, right? :)

Anonymous said...

Oh now I'm paranoid. I hope my blogs are up to snuff! Usually I pay attention to grammar, but there have been times when I've been in a hurry and just threw something out there... that sound would be the back door slamming behind me as I run to the blogs to do some quick proof-reading...

Lesley said...

Good points. Thanks for the reminder. ;)

Katie O'Sullivan said...

Great post, Meghan. Thanks for keeping us all on our cyber-toes!

Ju Dimello said...

This is really an eye-opener !

Though I personally feel that writers are professionals and more so since they are in a "audience" oriented kind of work, I do tend to get disheartened when there is a lot of sniping and bad vibes surrounding a particular book or author.

And I never realized editors google out information in the same way !

ECPI Editors said...

Hey, Sarahlynn,

Every editor may have a different answer, but from my perspective -- your personal opinions on politics or social issues or whatever will not influence me when considering your submission or you as a writer. Even if we are in total disagreement. ;-)

What counts are your writing skills (as Meghan mentioned--write clean blog posts) and your public discussions of anything related to publishing or writing. Bad-mouth a politician all you want, I don't care. But don't make personal attacks on authors, don't trash publishers--that indicates a lack of understanding or respect for the community you want to be part of.

Raelene Gorlinsky, publisher/editor

Charlie Cochrane said...

Oh hear, hear. Great post. Hope you don't mind if I link it where it might be useful?


Anonymous said...

This is an issue in which it's very easy to feel 'danged if you do and danged if you don't.' It's our unique voices and willingness to openly discuss things which draws large amounts of readers to our blogs. If we get hyper-sensitive about content for fear of offending a publishing professional, then the readers get *bored,* can't relate, and go away, and they don't come back. These are readers who could form our readership base as published authors. Where do we draw the line? I know there are simple rules like 'attack the issue, not the person' and 'don't name names.' But, still...

PJD said...

Mother, grandmother, and editor?

Also boss, employees, coworkers, potential future boss, children, friends' children, children's friends, grandmother's friends, mother-in-law...

Yeah, my boss once made an offhand comment about a blog entry I'd posted. Fortunately, when I began blogging I decided to use my real name, and I already knew the power of usenet and BBSes to trash reputations. So I've been wary.

Be careful out there. There's a fine line between personal voice and TMI.