Keep Your Lip Stiff

Know what really grinds my gears?  People who let Publishing make them its bitch.

Being a YA writer is a lot like being a celebrity.  I mean, I know we’re not ACTUAL celebrities, but the idea of the spotlight is the same.   We shouldn’t go around without wearing panties (a mistake I won’t make again, I can assure you), we have to watch what we do because the paparazzi is always lurking (I KNEW someone was snapping photos when I took out the trash), and the things we say get taken out of context all the time.

But here’s the point: you have to keep a stiff upper lip.

When something terrible happens, our first instinct is to talk about it.  Which is HEALTHY.  But just watch where you say it, and to whom.  Venting about things that you can’t control on your Twitter (especially when you’re doing it on a weekly basis) just looks tacky. Vent if you need to.  Just don’t overdo it!  Vent, and then LET IT GO.  Don’t wallow.   There’s always something better you can be doing with your time.

There are writers who’ve allowed EVERYTHING about their publishing journey to make them miserable.  Instead of rejoicing that they’re being published, every milestone becomes a reminder of how they got screwed over along the way.  Every hurdle becomes a personal offense.  Some people are more sensitive than others, and I sympathize.  But DO NOT put it out there for public consumption.

There’s one writer I know who had a very good reason to get upset a few months ago.  Something happened with her publicly (that she had no control over), and if I had been in her shoes, I’d have been upset too.  But here’s the thing:  no one on the outside knew anything about it.  She kept it professional and stressed in private.

But some people don’t respond in the same way.  Maybe their journey has been tough.  But that doesn’t matter!  If I go to my day job and tell everyone who will listen that I’m underpaid and overworked, I look like a jerk, and I can’t be shocked if I lose my job.  I was raised to believe that if you put out negativity, the only thing you’ll get back is MORE negativity.  I don’t need to know every way the world is out to screw you, and neither do the people who read your books.  People want to know about the author, not the author’s bad moods and insecurities.

Remember: no one invites Negative Nancy to the Prom.  There’s a fine line between sharing and over-sharing.  If you’re using your blog or Twitter to vent more than promote yourself, then stop blogging.  Stop Tweeting.  I think that being a bad blogger, or an annoying Tweeter, can do more harm for your career than in not doing either.

I’ve watched two authors lately(whose books I loved) as they’ve spent the weeks and months since their books came out complaining about every single misstep along the way.   They’ve whined about the placement of their book, how they didn’t get to do a big tour, how their one or two half-hearted promo attempts fell flat.  It’s appalling, to be honest.  And I really just can’t believe that between their agents, their editors, writer friends or even ANYONE at their publishing house, that no one’s suggested that they suck it up and put on a brave face.

Believe me, I have my moments.  But I keep that private.  The worst you’ll hear me say is that I’m struggling with a scene, or that I’m having a bad day.  I don’t use my Twitter as therapy, and I don’t think anyone else should either.  Twitter is a horrible therapist!

I think what it boils down to is that whether or not you believe that YOU are a brand, the end result is that YOU can be Googled.  And once you put things out on the Internet, they’ll stick around in some form.  Maybe you deleted that that Tweet you sent out complaining about B&N, but SOMEONE saw it, and they’ll remember that the next time you have a book coming out.  Heck, it may get talked about in book clubs, between critique groups, or even latenight gossip sessions over Jack and Cokes after BEA.

So I guess what I’m saying is that as a writer, there isn’t much of a dress code.  But I really think we should all be wearing our big boy Underoos.  Don’t you?

65 thoughts on “Keep Your Lip Stiff

  1. Am now torn between posting my “Somebody’s Eyes are Watching” post later in the week or just stepping back and acknowledging that this post pretty much owns the topic.

    What troubles me is when writers over-share at the query stage. They post about each rejection and share their query stats while they are still querying. Some things are better left between you, your inbox, and a few trustworthy friends.

    • That’s a really good point, and one I didn’t even think about. Querying is another one of those times where it would behoove you to keep it completely professional. I’m pretty sure a few of the agents I queried were checking out my blog at some point during the process. You shouldn’t put anything out there you wouldn’t want a prospective agent to read.

  2. I could not agree with this sentiment more. We have a core group of writer friends who we confide in, but we try to keep most of our writer angst private. It IS tempting to vent on Twitter and I’m sure we’ve been guilty of it before, but it really isn’t smart. Whenever I’m tempted to post something angsty, Laura always makes me take a step back and think about what we’ll gain from it. Usually the benefit isn’t enough to outweigh the repercussions of putting negative energy out there.

  3. Amen. Very well said, Scott. 🙂

    Something that helps (a lot) is having a small group of close writer buds with whom you can share the ups and downs of the publishing journey. A safe, un-google-able place to vent–a space shared with fellow writers who will commiserate, but who will also tell you when you’re going over the top with your worries and/or complaints. Helps you keep your head on straight.

  4. GREAT post, Scott! I totally agree!!

    Everyone has angst. Everyone is stressed. Everyone gets bummed. Everyone is tired. Right? So don’t complain about it. Especially not publicly.

    I think agents are in the spot light (at times) too, and we should all follow the same advice. I know that I am *very* conscious about what I post on Twitter.

    • Thanks, Joanna! Like Kathleen pointed out above, there’s clearly many different situations in which is this is applicable. I didn’t even think about agents when I wrote this, but it definitely holds true.

  5. YES. Stress in private. I don’t mind seeing the occasional negative writing-related comment on twitter, but if I start to see too many, I get turned off by that person. And like Kathleen said in the above comment, the query-stage oversharing can be bad, bad, bad as well. I’ve seen so many tweets/forum posts/blog posts that I wanted to erase from the internet on behalf of their poster. As easy as it is to type out the first thing that comes to mind, it’s always smart to think before hitting post/tweet/enter.

    • I really wish it was that easy. Like there was a magic ERASE button you could use, wipe someone else’s mistake off the internet and then email them to let them know why you did it.

  6. A great, all-too-true post. Completely agree. As a blogger, I also feel a sense of responsibility to the writing community to which I belong and I want to be a positive, helpful force and not bring other writers down 🙂

    • Exactly! I think having a sense of responsibility for what you put out there is a commendable trait. So many people put EVERYTHING out there, and sometimes it can be appalling.

  7. Excellent post, Scott!

    I follow an author on Twitter solely because I’m just waiting for a tweet in which she doesn’t whine about something. Hasn’t happened yet. In fact, she finds new things to complain about every day (editors, publishers, revision notes, first drafts, cold coffee).

    Will I buy this author’s next book? No way. I should know better, but I feel like the voice in her novels will have the same whiny, crybaby tone as her tweets.

    I don’t think I’m the only one to judge people based on a twitter impression (which strangely seems more accurate than facebook status updates or even blog posts). Publishing people tend to tweet frequently, and one can quickly get a sense of a person’s personality. The impression sticks.

    • I was actually doing this too, I’m not gonna lie. But then I realized nothing was going to change so I decided to eliminate the author from my Twitter feed.

      And I definitely agree with you, in some cases you can really get a better sense of the author’s personality from their Twitter feed than anything else.

  8. I suppose if I put on my big girl underoos, I’m not supposed to flash them at the paparazzi? Damn.

    GREAT post, Scott! If there’s one thing people turn away from but can’t stop watching like a bad accident on Twitter, it’s whenever someone says things they REALLY shouldn’t share. You can just HEAR the DMs and private emails of the wiser buzzing, but the people who talk ABOUT them know better than to do so where everyone can see! I’m not sure the victims-of-self will recognize that THEY are indeed the subjects of this blog entry (GAWD cuz you will NEVAH believe how The Man has got me DOWN, I tell you!!), but PSA’s are for those who care to listen. If only ONE person is saved by this blog entry…


  9. Excellent post! This advice is critical even for people who aren’t published yet. You don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention that could torpedo your career before it even starts. Prime example: a blog from someone who calls herself “The Rejection Queen.” It went viral a while back when she called out agents by name and added her own choice, um, comments. She eventually took some of the most offensive posts down, but the damage was already done (the Internet has a very long memory). Discretion is so important, both in career situations and social situations, that I’m surprised more people don’t practice it.

    • I think discretion is one of those skills that people just…stop using, sometimes. Like you learn how to ride a bike, but then you just stop riding for years and years.

  10. Fantastic post! I think people do like hearing about the struggles writers faced on their way to or during publication, AFTER those struggles are over. (Take this incredible blog post by Carrie Ryan: ) It’s one thing to say, “50 agents rejected me and now I have a book deal!” – that gives everyone hope. Saying “50 agents rejected me and I and I’m sad” (or, worse, mad) just makes people think that maybe those agents had a good reason.

    • Absolutely. Looking back and relating what your journey was like can be extremely helpful for up and coming writers. Plus, you have the clarity of hindsight, so you can look back knowing the result. Thanks!

  11. AMEN brother! I think it’s about maturity and professionalism. You never want something to come back and bite you in the butt!
    Hey, see you on Thursday at book club! We can talk about all of our angst there 😉

  12. Great post. There’s definitely a line btw sharing some vulnerability (admitting that writing a sequel is challenging for x,y, z reasons for instance, which other writers might relate to) and whining, and some people overstep. I have a book out on submission now, and after one of the editors mentioned to my agent that she’d read my blog, I reread to make sure I was representing myself the way I’d want editors to see me. There’s a way to be honest without being Pollyanna or Negative Nancy, I think.

    • This is exactly it. We should all strive for the middle of the road – honest and approachable, yet discrete.

      And I did the same thing you did, checking through my blog to see what was out there. Just to be sure.

  13. I’ve read so many whiny tweets and blog posts from a variety of writers–traditionally published, unpublished, self-published, agented, and unagented alike complaining about numerous aspects of the publishing world that don’t agree with them. They need to realize that people read and will in fact remember their complaints.

    So far I haven’t been turned off by any published writers whose work I admire. But if I do come across these rants, it would definitely change my opinion of them.

    • I don’t usually think anything of it if I see an author grumble about something small. But it’s when they become consumed by that negativity, and put it all out there, that I just sit back and wonder “what are you thinking?”

  14. Twitter IS a horrible therapist! This is a fantastic post. And it doesn’t only apply in the professional sphere — I’ve learned to hold onto strong BAD feelings for a while, and just take time to think. Only when you have distance from your immediate reaction can you start to think about how you will move on and learn from it. Then it’s alright to share your pain with people close to you. (Or, in this case, 10,000+ followers online.)

  15. Great advice, and I’d extend it to the real-space, professional community as well. Even within the writing community, there’s a difference between venting about a particular experience/injustice to your best friend or critique group and projecting that personality/status on a regular (and exhausting) basis.

    Writers who whine/complain constantly will find others backing surely and steadily away.

  16. You said this perfectly–and with style. I’m turned off by venting and whining and TMI on blogs. Perhaps some people think this keeps it “real,” but it’s just negative and tiresome. I like to visit places with positive, professional attitudes and, hopefully, with a sense of humor. I came over from LiLa’s and enjoy your voice!

  17. This is awesome advice. When I talk about things going wrong on FB or twitter, they are generally things that are hopefully relatable like my car broke down or my cat just got in a fight OH NOES emergency vet time. It’s never that my book got rejected or that said publisher is bad. I have never had an issue with a publisher treating me poorly yet. And by poorly, I mean being down right nasty. Most are quite nice in their rejections and the ones who have taken the time to comment on what to change, I value their contribution greatly!

    • I think it really comes down to whose in charge. We can gripe about the A/C breaking, or the catfight and that’s normal and relatable. But when you start ranting about publishing, you’re letting Publishing win. And I don’t want anyone else in control of my career but me, y’know?

      • It also about professionalism as well. You want a certain view of yourself when your fans and readers view you. I’ve posted on Facebook, “Ooh, I’m sitting here crying over this scene I wrote for my latest novel.” so when they go to pick up the next book, they go “Oh, I see why she was crying over writing this.” Or at least I hope they do.

  18. Hi! I got here via Twitter (I think it was Colleen Lindsay that retweeted you). Great post and definite words of wisdom. Blog posts take a while to write, but Twitter is instant gratification where the distance between your brain fart and the ‘send’ button is often way too short. I just unfollowed someone because of her unrelenting downer tweets, it ceased to be fun.


    • Colleen’s my agent, so thank you for letting me know. 🙂 An excellent point about Twitter being instant gratification. I think I agree – that probably is a huge contributing factor to why people do it.

  19. Yes!!

    Nothing turns me off someone (in RL or online) like negativity. I totally believe that what you put out there creates your reality…and I don’t wanna live in those people’s reality.

    Though of course I had to triple-analyze this post to make sure you weren’t talking about me. 🙂

  20. Brilliantly put Scott! *applause*

    I think venting is for best friends, in private–and even then, don’t do it too often, or your friends will get sick of you. But especially in public, be positive. No matter what’s going wrong, there has to be SOMETHING going right. Focus on that.

    I’m with you — I only indulge in the occasional scene-blasting session and that’s it. It gets old, tired & depressing to hear others rant rant rant, and I don’t forget the writers & agents who make my day less colorful instead of otherwise.

    • It’s hard sometimes. I stop myself sometimes and take a minute to figure out if I’ve been venting too much. It’s all about the discretion. And the thing is, we’re not always going to be perfect at it. But as long as we’re aware of it, we won’t go TOO far overboard, I think.

  22. *snerk* No one invites Negative Nancy to the prom! Even Downer Dan 😉

    I have actually not seen this much in the writing world…mostly because when I get a whiff of it from someone, I tend to avoid that person (and usually those people never get past a whiney blog and a 100 rejections). But in real life, I know several people like that, and it makes me cringe. I hope I never get to that point. I wanna go to the prom!

    • I think the next time I have something like this to say, I’m using Downer Dan. And then I’ll start some flash fiction posts all about Negative Nancy and Downer Dan’s ill-fated love.

      One of the things I’ve realized in the comments was how universal this idea is. I hadn’t thought of that while I was writing it. So I’m glad you got something out of it!

  23. I’m still writing the first draft of my first novel, so I’m not anywhere near getting published yet. Still, this blog is food for thought; I can now avoid these mistakes in the future.

    • Glad it could help you. I definitely think it’s something we should all keep in mind, even if it doesn’t apply to us at the moment. There’s always the chance that it COULD someday.

  24. I always keep a stiff upper lip, but I think that has to do with genetics and improper moisturizing.

    Seriously, great article and well said.

  25. While I respect your opinion and see where you’re coming from, I’m not sure why it was necessary to point the finger at specific authors to make your point. Granted, you didn’t name names, but since I’ve been one of those authors who’ve talked a lot about my self-promotion efforts failing and I do vent on Twitter from time to time about, well, anything, this feels a bit personal even if you weren’t talking about me specifically. I’m sure there are probably a lot of authors scratching their head right now going…does he mean me? Because that’s what authors tend to do (most of us are sensitive creatures) and also MANY vent on twitter over small and big things. So, in a sense, you’re putting negativity out there by posting something like this for public consumption rather than writing those authors personally and saying, hey, it seems like you’re venting a LOT. Maybe you should slow down. This is especially true if they’re a writer friend of yours. I’m sure they’d much rather hear it from you in an email than on a blog post.

    And the thing is…you don’t know how much effort someone has put into promotion. You aren’t there by their side, seeing everything they’ve done. Calling their attempts ‘half-hearted’ seems a bit presumptuous. Also, while your celebrity analogy is interesting, I can’t say I agree with that either. I think it depends on the author. If you’re Stephanie Meyer, sure, LOADS of people are watching. But if you’re say, me, a debut author whose only followers are other writers for the most part, I don’t think that many people are watching me…or even, quite frankly, care what I have to say. Or what kind of day I had. And the people who do tend to be my writing buds. That’s pretty much who I interact on Twitter with.

    Anyway, my point is to be honest (and I pride myself on honesty, whether I come off as whiny or not) this post comes off as a bit mean-spirited, whether you intended it that way or not. And I know you to be a nice, thoughtful guy, so I don’t think you meant it that way. But like you said…much of what we say can be taken out of context.

    • First, I just want to say that my point with this was NOT to single out any one author. That’s why the details were kept general. Some things were exaggerated, or added, so that it covered as wide a base as possible. Such as the reference to “half-hearted promotion.” This isn’t something I’ve seen only once. It’s something I’ve noticed over the course of the last year or so, and each successive instance built upon the things I’ve already seen. There’s been several examples lately, not all of which have been YA, but the point is still very valid. At least to me.

      Mainly, I just want to say that in a sense my post WAS negative. I never shied away from that. It’s a negative situation all around. But I think this is a case where if I’d pulled back on my opinions to avoid offending ANYONE (and thereby made my post innocuous and innocent), there wouldn’t have been a worthwhile point to make. The message would have been lost.

      Almost a year ago, a friend told me a story about how she went to a book festival and didn’t know anyone there. So she walked up to a group of girls, and introduced herself. It turned out it was a group of book bloggers, and they were talking about different authors they’d dealt with, things they heard, things they’d seen. Gossiping. They weren’t in the publishing industry proper, but they were still present enough to see some of the things that were going on that they did/did not like. That’s where the idea for this post started. They may not follow the author’s blog, or follow their Twitter, but they look at those things randomly. And then they talk. That’s my point on the idea of celebrity – that you’re putting yourself out there, and people can pick up on whatever you’ve said or done.

      I had a veritable TON of people nervous that I was referencing them. And I think that was part of the point you might have missed. We should all be aware of what we’re putting out there. In a sense, we should all have seen something in there that might have been referring to us. The point is not to let it get out of hand. That was where I was coming from, and as I said, I think the message would have been lost if the post wasn’t a little bit of “harsh medicine.” I wrote the thing, and it still made ME reexamine what I do on the Internet.

      • Fair enough. Thanks for clarifying. I was in no way suggesting that you NOT express your opinion or tone it down, so to speak. You can post whatever you want to post. I was responding to lines like this: “I’ve watched two authors lately(whose books I loved) as they’ve spent the weeks and months since their books came out complaining about every single misstep along the way. They’ve whined about the placement of their book, how they didn’t get to do a big tour, how their one or two half-hearted promo attempts fell flat.” This makes it sound like you are talking about TWO specific people, not that you are talking about authors as a whole.

        If it were me, and this is JUST ME, I’d have put–I’m not talking about anyone in particular, but here are some things I see authors do in general, including myself, that drive me crazy.

        I’m kind of dense and slow on the uptake sometimes, so I’m not completely clear on what your point/intent was (to show what public posts do?), but if you had a ton of authors think it was about them, maybe clarifying that you are talking about everyone from the beginning would have helped and made it less personal for some people.

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