There’s something terribly fascinating about train wrecks, about watching someone publicly crash and burn online. You can’t help reading the post, watching the video footage, following the interactions, wanting to join in… except you’re smarter than that. Right?
Some of us aren’t, though. When emotions run high, we can forget how incredibly easy it is to post something in anger that would have been best left unsaid, or at the very least, modified first. Toned down. Had the rawness taken out of it.
One of the big changes for a writer is that these days we’re expected be out there promoting ourselves on the social media. It’s part of the territory now, encouraging readers to recognize our names and our books. Whenever we put ourselves out there in public, we take the risk that someone might not like us. But when we’re counting on people liking our work, when we’re looking for their support to buy our books or spread the word about us, then we can’t afford underestimate that risk and do everything we can to manage it.
Celebrities deal with this kind of social pressure all the time. Some of them handle being in the public eye with grace. Others count on their popularity to protect them from real damage, toss professional decorum out of the window and sail in, no holds barred. To be fair, it must be wearing to always be ‘on camera’, so to speak, and never being just yourself. But, are the risks of speaking now and repenting later worth it?
Even people who have been in the entertainment business for a long time can get it wrong. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I used to be a huge fan of , but after following them on Facebook (or Twitter, or whatever)… well, not any more.” I’ve said it myself. I’ve been influenced and alienated by what was said and done online by the creators of something I loved.
A few years back, I had a favorite television show. After a good run, the show eventually got canceled the way shows do. Within twenty-four hours of the cancellation announcement, the network and producers released news about the development of a new show. A “better” show.
With every attempt to promote the new show, the producers spoke at great length about how much better the new show was going to be than the former one. How the new show would be much more sophisticated and cerebral. How it would be aimed at a different audience—a more demographically preferred audience. With every press release, the producers touted the new show by maligning the former show, the cast, and its fan base. They were so confident in their new production that they openly stated they didn’t need their current fan base. When the show received poor reviews from a major columnist, the producers attacked the reviewer in a public forum, questioning not only her intelligence, but the I.Q. of anyone who didn’t like their show.
The show failed. The fans of the original weren’t interested in following something the creators had publicly told them wasn’t made for them. The fans weren’t prepared to forgive the insults and the contempt. But never once did the producers apologize for their attitude. To this day, they still blame the ‘angry and resentful fan base’ for sabotaging their show by refusing to support it. They simply do not understand why people were so upset.
That’s a powerful example of how not to do it. We should learn from it and vow never to unintentionally sabotage ourselves in such a fashion.
It’s just one example. We’ve all witnessed similar PR situations that were badly handled. Most of the time, they’re the result of an initial poorly worded (and frequently unintentionally insulting) statement that sets off a firestorm of outrage. Then, the perpetrator tosses on more fuel by never apologizing, or by laying the blame on the people who got upset in the first place. And the internet is fast. These sorts of situations can become online conflagrations in a matter of minutes, much less hours. No one can control a damaging situation when all it takes to pass on the outrage is the click of a mouse button.
And there’s no point in backtracking and pretending it never happened. The internet remembers everything. Some famous musician makes a nasty, sexist comment? It doesn’t matter if he deleted his tweet. Someone out there screen-capped it and saved it, re-tweeted it, and is showing it to anyone who denies it ever existed.
Because if there’s one big fact of our extremely interconnected ‘social media’ lives, it’s that this is the way it will be for all of us now—we’re connected to the entire world. Nothing we write online will ever really go away, and someone will always find the bad-tempered quote or the off-color joke. And if it can come back to haunt us, it will. We can do ourselves real harm by not remembering that. And that’s everyone. Not just the big celebrities, but everyone. It’s a conversation every parent should have with their children: how not to react when someone says something that upsets you online.
So, what’s the lesson for writers?
As authors, we can’t get away from the fact we have a public face to present to our fans, and that we need to think before we speak (or type, as the case may be). A good rule of thumb is to write that angry response, get it out of your system, and then sit on it for twenty-four hours. If you still feel that strongly about whatever it was the next day, review what you wrote, weigh every word for tone and nuance and only then click ‘send’. Hey, you wouldn’t send a rough draft of a story out for publication without editing would you? Same thing applies here.
But, what about the other side of the coin? We’re still people, individuals with beliefs and values, with things to say that may not be about our books directly, but just about life as we see it. There are a lot of good social media books out there, and they will tell you that there are some things you should never blog or tweet about—politics being one of them—as it can alienate your fans. But, I have to wonder: are we as authors, as ‘public faces’, required to muzzle ourselves in every situation for fear of upsetting our fan base? Isn’t that a risk of another kind? Don’t we then risk being bland and boring?
I can’t answer for everyone—that line is different for each individual. But I do think we as people have a right to voice our opinions in a civil manner when it comes to matters of personal importance to us. Not everyone is going to agree with us. And yes, it may lose us some readers. But, there are some issues that I think are too important to hide under a rock and only support in private. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. I believe this to be true—but only as long as we remain true to ourselves. We can’t let the fear of losing readers make us lose ourselves.
Find the balance between the risks, people. Find the balance between the public writer and the private you. That’s where we should put our effort. Only then can we be true to both our selves.
Sarah Madison is the author of the award winning paranormal M/M romance, Crying for the Moon. Her latest release, The Boys of Summer, is now available on Amazon.
David McIntyre has been enjoying the heck out of his current assignment: touring the Hawaiian Islands in search of the ideal shooting locations for a series of film company projects. What’s not to like? Stunning scenery, great food, sunny beaches…and a secret crush on his hot, ex-Air Force pilot, Rick Sutton.
Everything changes when a tropical storm and engine failure force a crash landing on a deserted atoll with a WWII listening post. Rick’s injuries, and a lack of food and water, make rescue imperative, but it takes an intensely vivid dream about the war to make David see that Rick is more than just a pilot to him. Will David gather his courage to confess his feelings to Rick—before it’s too late?