In a word – yes. Really. What’s worse is authors have the smokey gun and no idea they pulled their own trigger and shot their own foot. And agents need to be aware of this because it can impact a potential sale.
I’m talking about your online presence. Anything you say on the internet can never be removed, so you want to make sure that what you say won’t come back to bite you on the quill. I’m currently reading a number of full manuscripts – works I’m fairly excited about. I happened to stumble upon a very big writer’s board where I saw a long thread of comments made by an author of one of those manuscripts, and I am now so turned off because he’s tainted my impression of him.
I saw a side of him that wasn’t very pretty, admirable, or reasonable. Do I want to work with someone like that? Of course I will try my level best to judge this author on his writing merits, which are vast, but I’d be an idiot to ignore his online behavior. Publishing is hard enough and requires a lot of patience and a great sense of humor to get over the rough parts. Will this author sling hash about me if things get rough? I can’t help but wonder.
It’s scary to think that I may reject this author based on comments he made on a popular writer’s board. I should be judging the merits of his writing, right? But an author is the sum of his parts, and it’s not just about the writing.
Agents, take notice!
Agents can do themselves a huge service by talking to their authors. I know of a number of agents who issue very strict instructions regarding their online presence:
- Authors are never to jump into a discussion to defend their agent – this is where passions run high and conversations can turn ugly. If the agent feels the need to jump in and reply, they will do so with (hopefully) more tact and composure. Besides, defending your agent makes you look like a shill. Let them fight their own battles.
- Authors are always to conduct their online presence so they are an asset, not a hindrance. If authors feel the need to make comments on writer’s boards (on discussions that don’t involve their agent), they must present themselves in a professional manner.
If your agent doesn’t have this talk with you, then have it with yourself. The idea of “only write what you’re willing to let your mother see” is solid advice because it’s not just your mother who’s watching. Potential publishers are also surfing the web. The idea is that if you’re rejected, it’s because your writing didn’t measure up – not because you behaved like an ass.