Footprints in the sand – Online presence

It’s a fact that for better or worse, we all create an online presence that leaves its little footprints all over the internet. So anyone can google our name and check out our latest attempts to sober up a small beagle or commenting on the latest in bellybutton ring fashion.

Laying the foundation – perception

If you dangle your modifier, you can be sure that someone will see it. The  concern is how you will be perceived by those little footprints – especially if you’re trying to impress someone, like an agent, or editor, or those within the literary community.

So to carry that thought a wee bit further, do you think your latest foray into blasting someone a new orifice on a public board will be met with concern and derision if you’re trying to become a formidable presence that commands respect?

Are you given to public temper tantrums and carrying out public vendettas? I’ve been knocking around writers sites for many years and have seen more than my fair share of unhinged posts that made me wince and think, “ooo, that’s going to bite them on the bum at some point.”

And it always does.

I google potential authors because I want to know who I’m dealing with in order to avoid potential trouble downstream. Maybe a manuscript looks really great and the author’s platform is fabo. But if I see where the author yelled at an interviewer [happened, pinky swear], or behaved horribly in some other public forum, then I’m going to run in the opposite direction because if they’ve done it once or thrice, chances are they’ll do it again. On my dime. Who needs the aggravation? I’m in this game to sell books, not play referee.

So the end result is that I’ll keep on walking.

It goes both ways

But this whole footprint/online presence is a two-way street. Has the agent or editor you’re thinking of querying behaved in an unprofessional manner? If so, you have to consider whether they’re a loose cannon. Editing can be interesting enough without having an editor whose verbs don’t completely conjugate, or an agent who takes a private problem to a public forum, or screams at an editor.

You need to consider very carefully about working with anyone who wages public wars over what should be a private matter. I’ve seen too many instances where the self-induced feeding frenzy causes pain and suspicion for those who become embroiled in those wars. The fallout is a destroyed reputation.

If that happens to be your agent or editor, then you have to ask yourself whether it’ll affect your career. I have agents who are on my ignore list because of their behavior. And I’m far from the only one who does this. You have to hope that isn’t your agent.

I’ve seen pints of blood spilled when new publishers are asked very simple, basic publishing questions and rather than answer the questions – because, gee, that’s what authors do – they go on the defensive and start name-calling. Ouch. I’ve seen cases where people felt their reputation was being questioned, and they fired back with heavy weaponry, taking no prisoners.

This kind of behavior accomplishes two things; inciting a feeding frenzy and making that person look like a bitter fool with lousy people skills.

Delivery system

I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty cases where real problems arise and need to be dealt with immediately, but it’s in everyone’s best interest to maintain a professional decorum. Ours is a business based on reputation and results. The most powerful words are, “whee doggies, we gotta get us another print run!” – which has zip to do with this post – and “Hey, what have you heard?”

Beyond “what have you heard?” is what have you seen on the internet? What kind of footprints has that agent/editor/author left? No one can afford to tarnish their reputation because where there’s smoke, there’s fire – and it must be put out immediately. And that’s where your delivery system comes into play. How you handle yourself under tough times is what makes you graceful and classy.

If someone has said something about you on a blog or a writer’s board that you feel damages your reputation, then you need to deal with the situation posthaste by remaining calm and polite. If you come out with your Uzis on full auto and colorful metaphors blazing your trail, guess what the result will be? You’ll be laughed at, derided, and ignored. Those who are in a position to fix things could be petty and small, and decide that it’s more fun to dig in their heels and deny you your day in court. Believe me, not everyone behaves like the lovely, classy Victoria Strauss.

So what have  you accomplished? Your ultimate goal is to fix a problem, so you need to review your delivery system. It’s very hard to turn one’s back on someone who has approached you in a polite manner, as in, “Say, old chap, I see that you have listed my company incorrectly. Can we talk about this and fix it? Do you have any questions for me? How can I help?”

Hello! Who’s going to say “bugger off” with that approach. Even my old battle axe of an English prof in college wilted under that kind of approach. She was a horrible little woman who smelled like mothballs and graded papers in a manner that confounded us. I could have very easily incited a minor uprising among my fellow students just to exact my pound of flesh out of her after she gave me, and most of the class, a bogus grade. But what would I gain  by taking my fight to a public arena? More than likely, Ms. Battle Axe would have happily failed me and enjoyed every second of writing an F next to my name. Instead, I took her for coffee and simply talked to her about my confusion over her grading and my desire to excel in her class. In the end, the old bat gave me an A.

So yes, definitely protect yourself and reputation. But keep it private. Keep it polite. Keep it calm.

Anonymity is fleeting

How many of us have seen blogs that were supposedly anonymous? Oh yah, baby, we can say anything with impunity because no one knows who we are. We can sandbag agents or editors and call them vile names [hello Rejection Queen] and not worry about walking down the street and expecting a flying tomato aimed at our heads.

Read my lips: anonymity is fleeting. Someone always knows who you are and if you get too out of hand, they will be all too happy to out you. Then what? Your writing career is o-ver. Some people take absolute delight in hunting down and exposing anonymous posters who exhibit all the class of a drunk wildebeest. Make sure you’re not one of them.

In this day and age where everything we say and do is held up for public scrutiny, it behooves all of us to make sure the footprints we leave mirror the reputation we’d like to have. If you treat people with respect – even if you’re grinding your teeth down to a nub – it’ll come back to you ten-fold.

But if you’re an ass, that won’t be missed by many either. Pinky swear.

23 Responses to Footprints in the sand – Online presence

  1. MelissaA says:

    I agree! I own (though am no longer the active moderator on) a mailing list of 7300+ members. At its peak, it generated a couple hundred messages a day — all on the topic of positive dog training.

    Because the training was based in positive reinforcement, I insisted that the list posts were as well. People who would never hurt their dogs could be vicious to other people. I, of course, had to be positive as well. Believe me, it’s difficult to resolve problems positively when what you want to do is pull hair and shriek foul language.

    I’m glad I did it though, because so many of the posts and articles I wrote during that time are easily searched out on the Internet now. Since my current WIP is about a dog, it would be easy for an agent or publisher to tie me to anything I wrote in the past.

  2. CarolRose says:

    Lynn, wise words from a wise lady. There’s a right and a wrong way to take something public, and even then one should think very carefully before doing so. The internet is forever, and trust once broken is often irreparable.

  3. NinjaFingers says:

    I am always worried something I said when I lost my temper will come back to haunt me. Sigh.

    I do my best to be a good person to work with, but I’m only human.

    Lynn…if you do say something stupid, what is the best and most classy way to deal with it? Because we’re not all perfect, ya know.

  4. NinjaFingers says:

    …and thank you. You just made me google myself and I discovered…that somebody has posted, without permission, a story I wrote a LONG time ago.

    Wouldn’t be a problem as I posted it publicly for free…except its godawful and they’re using it in a way I don’t like.

  5. NinjaFingers says:

    …eh. I guess I’ll let them leave it up. I suppose I should be flattered, and it *is* under creative commons. It’s just from *wince* 2004 and a very newbieish effort 😉

  6. NinjaFingers says:

    So…add to the things you may not want to leave lying around the internet…fiction that hasn’t had an editor’s eye over it ;).

  7. Lynn…if you do say something stupid, what is the best and most classy way to deal with it?

    If someone tells me I’ve said something really stupid, I try my level best to understand what it was I said that upset them so I can explain what I meant to say. And then I apologize for hurting/angering the other person.

    An apology goes a long way toward healing a situation. Even if the other person is unwilling to listen and the fracture remains, at least you can come away feeling you did your level best to rectify the situation.

    And you stay calm. At all times.

  8. NinjaFingers says:


    I said something *very* stupid. Something that was incorrect information and I most definitely should not have said. I did apologize and all, but it still worries me that somebody, somehow, will dredge it up and use it against me.

    I get very paranoid at times.

  9. Well said, Lynn. What we do as writers, or agents, or publishers is juggle emotions. Our own, the writer’s or another party’s; but at the end of the act, it’s the adroit juggler who manages to keep all the pins spinning. That’s the one who’s remembered.

    When someone drops them, then chases all over the floor, sending pins scurrying – it might give us a laugh, but we won’t remember their name in a week’s time and we’ll be loath to do business with them.

    So, as Lynn has laid out here, keeping one’s pins under control, for the best possible entertainment value is the way to go. Making a stupid spectacle is what children and poor jugglers do.

  10. Ninja, there isn’t anyone alive who isn’t in the same position. At some point or another, we’ve all said things we wished we could swallow, but for whatever reason, we can’t. Sometimes we just have to let it go and hope it doesn’t bite our backsides.

    If someone calls you on whatever you said, you can take the time to explain. Otherwise, fuhgeddaboudit. Hopefully it happened a long time ago!

  11. NaomiM says:

    If there is not a professional code of conduct, then there should at least be a personal one. Without either, then the rot sets in.

    I think you made a wise choice, Lynn.

  12. Steve says:

    I could show you an editor’s blog where the owner shamelessly acknowledges association with an alcoholic beagle. 🙂


  13. Pelotard says:


    the point (business-wise) about “apologising and all” is that if you leave the other party mollified, chances are they’re not going to dig it up and use it against you when you’re rich and successful. A similar reasoning applies in personal relationships, of course 🙂

  14. I could show you an editor’s blog where the owner shamelessly acknowledges association with an alcoholic beagle.

    No! Really? Wow some editors just don’t care who they associate with.

  15. Webb says:

    Lynn, do ya think someone is googling you now? Do ya think he/she will get it?


  16. tbrosz says:

    Actually, the beagle might be more worried about being associated with somebody in the publishing business! 🙂

  17. Bill, chances are great that people are googling me, probably for all kinds of reasons, as in, “Who in their right mind would have a beagle for a secretary?”

    Authors should know who they’re querying before they ever hit the Send button, yet I can tell from the queries that few actually have any clue at all. Scary.

    Tom: the beagle knows where her designer chewie toys come from, baby!

  18. GutsyWriter says:

    I found your post very interesting and came across the following website:

    I don’t know if you’ve seen it. I watched their interview on, and although geared towards the over 20 million mom bloggers, it applies to all bloggers.

    They stress integrity, and being responsible for your own words and apologizing if you make a mistake. It’s important to remember that you can attack an idea, but not the person.

    I agree with that statement.

  19. Jennifer Perry says:

    Once again, this is truly a useful blog. My corgis say it is surely the beagle’s doing. It’s best not to argue, but maybe I’ll take them to the park and ask them if they could reconsider the value of two-leggers.

  20. Jennifer, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s this; never trust a beagle.

  21. NinjaFingers says:

    But but but, she’s so CUTE!

    (I know. It’s her disguise).

  22. Ninjie, it’s her cuteness that guarantees she gets fed and a soft place on my desk.

  23. HarryMarkov says:

    I am not sure when, but this actually popped in my head as a realization.

    I was like ‘Dude, you being an a-hole’ does not go unnoticed. There must be a no particular reason for it, but it came to me. I am in general not aggressive on the web, but I have my moments, where I make some not so flattering comments on books/movies. I am not the one to start a war in the comments section so I have been relaxed about making an ass out of myself [apart from poor sense of humor]. But yes, whatever you say, can be traced back to you for better or for worse.

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