Today, I'm going to talk about the Internet and what's appropriate to post in a public forum. This is a very subjective topic; what's appropriate to one agent or editor might offend another, and as a teenager with lots of teenaged friends I'm not necessarily used to censoring myself. A few months ago, my agent told me to go through all my blog posts, tweets, etc, just to make sure I hadn't posted anything that could possibly alienate an editor. Bad book reviews fall into this category....I know many of us love reviewing, but if an editor navigates to your page and the first thing they see is a one-star review for a book they acquired, you're not going to make a good first impression. With me, this isn't an issue. I only ever post reviews for books that I love. But what about swearing? Information that might be too personal? And how does Facebook fit into the mix? My Facebook started out as a place where I connected with school friends, but it has grown to include other YA writers, agents, and book sellers. It's still set to private (so only friends can view my profile), but my business and social lives have begun to mix.
But first, an anecdote. Last year I won Utah's Sterling Scholar award for accomplishments in English, earning a full-ride scholarship to the University of Utah as well as $2,000 cash. Three other kids from my high school won in their respective categories (Math, Science, and Trade and Technical Education). We went out for ice cream afterwards, and ended up joking about taking a road trip to Vegas and blowing all our winnings. I tweeted about it (I was new to Twitter at the time, with only a few followers who were close friends). The next morning, when I woke up, a woman had tweeted multiple times about "English Sterling Scholar wasting winnings on Vegas trip, implicating four other winners in the process, English Sterling Scholar possibly condoning alcohol consumption for underage minors..."
Needless to say, I was mortified. Anyone who knows me (or Raiyan or Delian or Chris, for that matter) knows that I'm not about to go spend $2,000 on alcohol in Vegas. To win a Sterling Scholar award, you have to have pretty impeccable grades (Raiyan and Delian were actually our two valedictorians), and good grades indicate we have at least some measure of self control. To me, the joke seemed obvious. But to this woman, who I'd never met in my life, such a joke was quite offensive.
I pulled the tweet and apologized for offending her. At the time I thought it was rather silly, but Internet fights are never productive, so I let it go. Looking back, this illustrates one of the core issues with posting on the Internet: it's very easy to misinterpret what someone means. Sarcasm and humor often don't translate well into the written word. Without important body language/vocal cues, you don't get the whole picture.
I try to keep things professional on this blog. I talk about writing, for the most part, and when I do share a personal story it's a story I don't mind other people reading. Facebook is where things get tricky, because it's where I "hang out" with my friends, and there's a different set of social rules that govern my behavior around college kids than rules for a professional setting. For instance, my photos. Obviously I don't have anything risque or illegal on there, but what about summer pictures where my friends and I are wearing bikinis? Perfectly appropriate for a normal person's Facebook, but if I decide to use it as a platform to connect with readers, I'll probably have to go through and delete a few.
I suppose it's a moot point right now, since I'm not actually a real author. But if/when I do get published, there are decisions I'll have to make, such as whether or not to make my social networking profiles open to the public. My Facebook is currently semi-private. I only add people I recognize, but those people include writing industry professionals, so I try to censor what I say and the opinions I express. Even with the private setting, I've become more and more aware of what I post. A swearword here or there is fine. But am I going to rant about something like I might've in high school? Probably not.
My point is, when it comes to the Internet, always err on the side of caution. It's easy to misinterpret someone's intentions online, and one misread post can have lasting repercussions on your career.