Monday, March 9, 2015

When Bad Advice Attacks

Not all advice is good advice.

I felt compelled to write this after reading a marketing write-up in a trade publication I receive through my Romance Writers affiliation. My intention is not to single out the author of the article (which is not available online, but in a print publication via Romance Writers). The writer clearly meant to be helpful, but unfortunately missed the mark in some areas. It's the missed the mark aspects I think are worth discussing. The article was regarding a set of unwritten rules authors should consider in order to portray a professional presence on social media.

The trouble came when some of these rules strayed from sensible things like not posting your home address on Facebook, to resisting the urge to post anything political, religious, or controversial (to which the author then listed a few items including gay marriage and the Ferguson, MO shooting court ruling). It then went on to prescribe advice on not sharing revealing photos of oneself, and warning of the dangers of being "overtly happy," because nobody wants to read about a faker, and nobody can really be that happy, so just cut it out because you're making us all jealous and now we won't buy your books.

Say What Now?

Okay, so that's a lot to take in. Naturally, some members took their concerns to twitter (the irony) to say how hurtful this advice is when say, they themselves write same sex romance, or want to share on issues that affect them, or that they are passionate about, or even that they are genuinely happy people, so why should they not be allowed to be themselves without fear or shame?

Some advice is just bad advice.

The mention of Ferguson is what lit my fire. Twitter in particular was hugely influential in discussion and attention to what happened in Missouri last year. When mainstream media wasn't covering a teen left for dead for hours in the road, an oppressed, impoverished community took to social media and said: Enough. What followed was passionate and angry, and also hopeful and motivating. Focus was given to those who are frequently silenced, continually oppressed, and regardless of where you stand on anything political, the tragedy in these mostly-black communities sparked a national and international level conversation about racial politics that can no longer be swept aside.

I was proud to see writers speaking out. Writers were largely responsible for an initiative to raise money for the Ferguson library, which is a safe haven for the community. Being able to freely share our voices, even if they aren't always politely smiling, is exercising the freedoms we have in this country. Sometimes if you can't say something nice, it's best to not say anything. It's up to each person to determine where that line falls. Other times, speaking out means supporting those whose voices are silenced, or maligned, or not well-represented.

Often writers are doing just that with their books. Prolific writers share their created worlds which speak truths about our society, or show how things could be with dynamic characters risking their lives for change. Yes, even in romance books. In YA. In kid lit. In mainstream fiction, and horror, and non-fiction. Writers are often passionate people, and to suggest we take a back seat in exchange for not offending potential book buyers is not only poor advice for writers, it's poor advice for life.

That's not to say consequences don't exist. I look up new writers all the time. Recently, I came across a book and immediately searched the author online. The author's twitter account had her book cover as the header image, so I knew I had the right person. Yet, her tweets were full of profanity (this was a YA writer), and often unintelligible with poor grammar. We all have the occasional typo or auto-fill, but this was chronically awful. That's a consequence of representing yourself poorly. But those things have nothing to do with the author's viewpoints, and everything to do with communicating effectively, which this person failed.

What Does Work?

For social media advice that I think gets it right, check out Kristen Lamb and her Warrior Writers blog. Her main point is that social media for writers has never been about selling books. It's about being you, and providing a landing point for readers to find you. It's about forming relationships, and you can't do that effectively with automated tweets that don't respond back, or spam links to buy one's book churning on a feed ten times a day. That's all noise, and it's not effective. It's always been about being a real, living person on the other end, and about connecting.

What Now?

In a social climate where women's voices in particular are continually challenged and silenced, items in this article felt like a real blow. Here are yet again more rules to direct us to play nice, don't offend, and by golly don't be too sexy or too happy either. No one wants to hear that.

Except we do. We need these voices. I'm counting this article as one under-vetted blunder that is not representative of the organization as a whole. What I've found in my experience is a community of mostly women writers who support one another through mentoring, advice, education, and friendship. They stand up for what's right, and stand by writers when something jacked-up happens in the publishing universe. The last thing we need is to lose that, especially for something as intangible as "not losing readers."

We have the opportunity to do and be so much more than a nice, tranquil social media profile that politely excuses itself when things get hairy. Writers are needed voices who have the ability to communicate well, and powerfully. Losing those voices, or shushing them, comes at a great cost.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on the larger subject of what to share on social media.
Note: the writer of the article I mentioned is someone unknown to me, and others online in this discussion have chosen not to post the person's name. The point is not to single this person out, but to highlight the content.


  1. I love your point about how this rule is like so many others intended to keep women from causing a stir. I think if you're just trying to sell things, it comes across pretty clearly, but if you intend to start and engage in a conversation, that's what social media is really great for. I'm still learning the ropes, though.

    1. There are certainly guidelines that help in being professional online. I've seen publishing pros including a publishing house owner engage in nasty name calling online. There's a real difference in not sharing your own identity and values, and behavior that is rude, insulting, or aims to hurt someone else.


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