Caution: Loose Platform Planks

I love learning about authors on the internet. And as a literary agent, I enjoy the internet and find connections there that would be otherwise difficult to find and maintain. But as professionals, we must be cautious about what we share on any level.

One reason is that we all know the internet is forever. Consider Blake Shelton’s recent woes over old tweets. He is not alone. When I was investigating new insurance agents last week, I found comments posted years ago. I shy away from reviewing books (“Wow, her agent gave her book five stars!”) but have posted other reviews. These tidbits of information seem harmless enough. Although I do have to say, one site listed my shoe size for all to see. That factoid is insignificant, but I didn’t care to publish it. Otherwise, what harm can it do for someone to discover that I loved the women’s trousers I bought in 2009?

Well, maybe not harm; but it’s one tidbit of information. And sites usually ask for an age range and perhaps a description of yourself, such as sporty, curvy, classic, etc. Then you might jump onto another site that asks for a different set of information. Some inquire about income and other facts that we shouldn’t share. Without thinking, survey responders provide snapshots of their households and themselves. Individually, there probably isn’t much harm. But by piecing together details, a hacker can produce a complete profile. At the very least, a nosy neighbor can track your habits.

And what if you had a terrible experience somewhere and want to get revenge of sorts through ranting online? I was tempted to trash a business after several bouts of incompetence but ended up pretty much being forced to return to them a couple of years later. If I had fumed, I couldn’t have done so. At the very least, if I had read the tirade five years later, I may have been embarrassed by how my outburst made me appear. I tell everyone never to post when livid.

Another reason? Some business owners decide to sue.

We all want a tribe; but as an author, finding political allies online isn’t the way to go. Don’t you want readers of all political stripes? I never tell pollsters how I plan to vote. Answering means that rich friends of the candidate will invite me to barbeques where we can meet for $500 or more. Not only does that amount place me in the small potatoes range, anyway; but I don’t have any issue I need to pay $500 ($1,000 when I include my husband) to discuss. I’ll just vote.

And by keeping a cheerful but closely guarded online presence, readers are more likely to vote for you by reading your books!

Your turn:

Have you been turned off by an author’s comments online?

Have you stopped following or reading an author because of their online presence?

Has an author’s online presence caused you to be more of a fan? Why?

30 Responses to Caution: Loose Platform Planks

  1. Janine October 11, 2018 at 4:04 am #

    I googled myself and found comments I made of a friend’s blog 12 years ago. They weren’t negative or anything but I wouldn’t have thought those kinds of comments would still show up!
    This is a great reminder!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 11, 2018 at 9:56 am #

      It’s a great idea to do a Google search on yourself every month or so!

  2. Darlene L Turner October 11, 2018 at 5:14 am #

    It’s so important to be careful on what you post. I hate all the political debates that I see on Facebook/Twitter and get really tired of it, so I refrain from posting or commenting on them. This is a great reminder. Thanks, Tamela!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 11, 2018 at 9:56 am #

      A lot of people have left Facebook over politics. So sad.

  3. Damon J. Gray October 11, 2018 at 5:29 am #

    As for personal information, I was browsing one author’s site, and found an obscure page “deep” in their site and from it was actually able to get their physical home address. On a whim, I plugged that address into Google Maps, went to the satellite view mode and was able to zoom right down into their yard. It was really disturbing.

    I contacted the author immediately and said, “Ummm, hey, you might wanna get this page or info off your website.” Thankfully, she did.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 11, 2018 at 9:58 am #

      What a kind thing for you to do, Damon. Yes, there is way too much info on the Internet. Much of it isn’t even correct!

  4. Elisabeth Warner October 11, 2018 at 6:51 am #

    “And as a literary agent, I enjoy the internet and find connections there that would be otherwise difficult to find and maintain.”

    Tamela, you were the first literary agent that I followed on Twitter. I’m so glad we’ve been able to connect!

  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 11, 2018 at 6:52 am #

    Great post, Tamela.

    I don’t follow any authors online, because honestly, I don’t want to know about them. It’s nice to have heroes; I don’t want to see their feet of clay.

  6. Carol Ashby October 11, 2018 at 8:01 am #

    Good points, Tamela. All racehorses born in a single year share the same official birthday, January 1st. Perhaps we should all adopt that policy for our online presence, like the thoroughbreds we are.

    Well, maybe some of us are more like Clydesdales or Shetlands, but we still run the race God sets before us. Why not adopt the birth date that shows it?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 11, 2018 at 9:59 am #

      That’s an interesting fact I didn’t know about horses!

  7. Jill Weatherholt October 11, 2018 at 8:33 am #

    Thanks for the reminder, Tamela. Like Andrew, I don’t care to know a lot about the authors who I love to read, and I definitely don’t want to know their political standing. It’s sad because there are several writers that I loved, but their rants on FB or Twitter have turned me against buying any of their future books. Great post!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 11, 2018 at 10:02 am #

      Very good point, Jill. I have been amazed more than once when actors have ranted on national TV as though they were sitting at the family breakfast table. Ummm, don’t you realize that not every person watching TV agrees with you?

      And though many of us here write for evangelicals, we still may have differing views. Why alienate any reader?

  8. Angela October 11, 2018 at 8:40 am #

    I’m in complete agreement. I don’t post political views or rants. I started my online policy when I started online. I also teach other authors how to create their own online policy. But even so, I was shocked to find some personal info that I kept private. Social media can choose to post your birthday, phone, and email when they change policies. I don’t share those things. I found that a social media platform opened them up even when marked private. Google shares my private number with ALL their companies even when marked private. Friends and family have gone on my social media to wish me happy birthday. It’s not a failsafe. But, we do have to attempt to minimize the damage. I just try really hard not to create it.

  9. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D October 11, 2018 at 9:49 am #

    Tamela, thanks for the great reminders of being careful what we post. I have given online reviews to Amazon, only to find them sending customers my way who want to know the carb count or size of my socks. They should contact the company, not me! I stopped giving Amazon reviews, for the most part, because it was such a bother.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 11, 2018 at 10:04 am #

      Isn’t it funny how a review suddenly makes us an expert whether we want to be or not! I don’t blame you for dropping out of the review madness!

  10. Loretta Eidson October 11, 2018 at 11:19 am #

    Normally, I think about what I’m about to post on social media before I post it. Not to say I haven’t messed up somewhere along the way. Most likely I have. I don’t want to give others the wrong impression of me, nor do I want to argue or belittle anyone. I stay away from political issues completely. It’s amazing how much you learn about people and their character from just a few posts. There is one author on social media that comes across as whiny and picky, and sometimes judgmental. This is not an image I want my friends to have of me.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 11, 2018 at 11:21 am #

      Loretta, anyone thinking those things of you wouldn’t know you well at all! I do agree it’s hard to curate every comment well. Even the most benign statements can be misinterpreted. But we can’t hold ourselves responsible for people’s moods and mindsets when they read our words. We can only do our best to be pleasant and uplifting. Thanks for always being great at both!

  11. Kathleen Denly October 11, 2018 at 11:37 am #

    I have always tried to be careful what I share publicly because you never know who will read it or how they might perceive it. The trouble with addressing any controversial topics online is the lack of full communication- you can’t hear tones, see facial expressions, or read body language through online text. Without those important facets of communication, it is too easy to be misunderstood or to misunderstand others. I’ve seen relationships lost through online discussion of things that really should have been discussed in person.
    As a reader, I have lost respect for certain authors who have posted political comments online. Worse still, is making thoughtless remarks in person. Years ago, I met one of my favorite authors in person and was shocked by a very disparaging remark that author made about a few other authors. Afterward, I could never read that author’s writing without remembering their snobbish remark and have since stopped reading their work entirely.

    I think, regardless of whether we are speaking in person, or typing online, we should do our best to pause and consider our words before sharing them. We should ask ourselves if what we are saying is appropriate and necessary for the person or audience we are communicating with and anyone else who may overhear or have access to our words later. As much as possible, we should try to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and consider whether what we are saying is coming from a place of love and honest concern, or somewhere ugly like self-righteous pride or anger. Are we speaking to humbly correct or to prove ourselves right or better? Are we seeing the person to whom or about whom we are speaking as someone God cares about?
    We all make mistakes and speak when we should be silent, but I think if we all try to keep these things in mind, it would go a long way to assuring that our hearts, words, and actions are in line with how Christ would have them be, regardless of whether it affects our platform or our personal relationships.

  12. Claire O'Sullivan October 11, 2018 at 1:39 pm #

    Hi Tamela –

    Great post!

    So, I agree with many of the responses. I have 2 Facebook pages. First, under my name, where I post ‘stuff.’ Not about myself, but yes, some political, weather, other disasters, or about the beauty of nature so, COUGH, yes I am guilty ! But not rude. I do get rude comments back and on occasion will post my op on that. But, if folks can’t be civil, well then, they are blocked. I do not have personal information there- I don’t want folks to know where I live, my real name, my picture, or my family.

    My second Facebook page is only about authorship and writing. None about failure other than encouragement or the writer’s life. Articles from the SLA and other posts I may share from other authors. Because both pages are linked and I can’t unlink them, I routinely let folks know on my ‘regular’ page the link to my author page. I may delete the author page and start over.

    On Twitter, I have definite issues. I admit it. I spend several days only on authorship which also includes the encouragement of other authors who are either flagging or celebrating. No author should disparage other authors, and if I cannot support an author due to content, I do what my Dad said: ‘if you can’t say anything nice, do not say anything at all.’

    Within those authorship pages I also encourage Christians posting about faith that is in line with Scripture.

    Other days… I get somewhat political, reposting articles. I ‘try’ not to mention names. Parties. On occasion it slips.

    I do have followers on political issues and faith, as well as other authors, readers. I see it as a method of sharing the Gospel to those who are not Christians. There are authors I do not follow because of the content of their novels, i.e. erotica.

    Other authors without a social media presence or without any commentary on their beliefs, I may or may not follow.

    When I read a well-known Christian author, this particular book insulted a group of folks by making them stupid, and stereotypical country folk (rednecks, of whom I am one-i.e. I live in the country, though many of us have Master’s and PhD’s in economics, medicine, etc). Because the antagonists were rednecks they were violent bombers, stupid and not worthy villains. I won’t read any more of her books.

    Good post(s) and I will be rethinking what I throw into the internetosphere.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 11, 2018 at 2:23 pm #

      Great insights, Claire! Glad you benefited from the post.

  13. Jennifer Mugrage October 11, 2018 at 8:28 pm #

    Hmm. There is a lot to think about here.

    Obviously, the easiest thing, in terms of not creating misunderstandings, would be to follow the hoary “never mention politics or religion.”

    On the other hand, I have begun feeling that social conservatives need to speak up in polite and appropriate ways. The narrative that is broadcast daily is that anyone with socially conservative views is “racist, sexist, homophobic” and either incapable of logical thought or else a dangerous, violent ideologue. I think many leftist types have no idea how many people they already know who are both conservative and psychologically normal people. That is because these normal people don’t speak up and defend themselves against slanders like “racist” for fear of being further slandered. The only ones who do articulate their views are either professional commentators or people who don’t care at all what others think, which usually means they have poor social skills and perhaps don’t actually represent the rest of us very well.

    That said, I don’t think that short posts, memes, etc., are the way to do this. I’m not sure what is. I believe we need to engage deeply about important issues. That means long-form discussions like essays or half-hour videos. When I find someone whose political or theological views I find intriguing, I watch, listen to, or read A LOT by that person. I believe you need to read a lot of their work to get a sense of what kind of person they are and the actual nuances of their views, and in fact even to grasp their arguments.

    In a perfect world, if we found from an author’s novels that he or she had a lot of wisdom about human nature and the way the world works, then if we saw them saying something we didn’t agree with politically, we’d give them the benefit of the doubt and figure that their views must be more nuanced than that sound bite made them appear. In reality, I think you are right that most of us readers tend to take it as a sudden shock, and suddenly no longer feel psychologically safe reading that author.

    So this is a conundrum. It is really hard to hear slander every day and leave standing up for ourselves to the professional commentators. But perhaps we authors should do exactly that, and let the things that speak for us be our daily life, and our books, into which we pour so much effort. “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

  14. claire o'sullivan October 11, 2018 at 10:12 pm #

    Hi Jennifer

    You raise a lot of good points, and brief mentions on social media I prefer, only because I can look closely, or roll on by. I will stop at announcements regarding beliefs/poll on said beliefs and read. Then sometimes depending on it, sign. I suppose I could say these days social media is where I find a lot of new books and keep up with the news (though very important to research that tidbit before agreeing with it, or not, ie fake news).

    Christians should be involved. I point first to actors. You have plenty of actors who clearly paint everyone else as too far right, and very few who stand up for their faith. Those that do indeed pay a price, and for some it’s like the young man who wanted to follow Jesus but went away when Jesus said, ‘Give all you have to the poor.’ He went away sad because he was ‘exceedingly rich.’

    I agree, reading a lot by an author is the only way to learn about that author. Ten years of reading an author who has bared a very ugly bit of bigotry once (that I know of) should not be enough to stop reading that artist’s books. But paying for them repeatedly feels as though I might as well pay for and listen to a rapper’s misogynistic and/or racist lyrics.

    One takes pause when we’re talking about an entire book based on bigotry rather than a sound byte ( ~which has happened to many commentators, and those have been a ruination. Imagine a book based on it).

    I think most of us can get past a remark, even a tweet. Until there’s enough of them to ‘just say no.’

    I think you are absolutely right about writing on faith, our beliefs, gently to stir up thought. It was once requested that I remove almost all of the faith aspects of a novel, and honestly, that made me uncomfortable. I was glad to have the manuscript back, and thankfully I kept the original to finish it with the faith aspect back in.

  15. Tamela Hancock Murray October 12, 2018 at 5:07 am #

    Excellent comments, Jennifer and Claire! I try to remember that commentators are asked to provide entertaining TV. It’s hard to say whether the commentators are magnifying their own views to keep being invited to TV panels or if they really feel the way they say. Also, hearing extreme views we don’t agree with can make us think.

    As for making purchases, my daughters will often say, “Yes, I want you to buy that music for me for Christmas. That’s an artist I want to support.”

  16. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 12, 2018 at 8:49 am #

    Tamela, it’s a bit late for the conversation, but another issue comes to mind: when a writer starts writing issue-driven stuff, it affects his/her other work as well.

    A blogger I follower, with a warm and funny tone, went the social-activism route, which seems to be a passion.

    Nothing wrong with writing one’s deeply-held convictions, except that the tone got preachy and somewhat condescending to those who did not share the views…and this coloured even the non-political posts. It was sad to see an elegant voice thus coarsened, and I don’t go there any more.

    • Heidi Kortman October 12, 2018 at 10:10 am #

      Excellent point, Andrew.

    • Jennifer Mugrage October 12, 2018 at 7:05 pm #

      I hear you, Andrew.

      One major determiner for whether I keep reading is whether I feel the author respects his/her readers. If I feel disrespected, I quickly depart.

      Although I have read a few pieces of fiction where the author either disrespects the reader or else employs a straw man as a character, in general I’d say that a snarky tone is rarer in fiction than in debate/commentary. Perhaps because when writing a story, we have to love our characters and the world we are creating to write about. Also, it’s easier to show nuance and complexity in a 300 or 400 page novel. I guess I just made another good argument for letting our work speak for itself.

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