The Author Background Check (Or: Why We All Freak Out About Blog Followers And Comments)

*DISCLAIMER* You’ve probably read about this topic a million times before, and if that’s the case, feel free to move on to a more original blog post. But if you stick around, I’ll do my darndest to entertain you. Also, this post is NOT just for authors – there’s something for you non-writers at the end!*

In reading this post by editor Alan Rinzler about how carefully editors and publishers research an author they’re thinking about signing on, something struck me. And I don’t mean the guitar picks my husband likes to throw at me to see if I’ll notice.

Not everyone knows this, I thought. Because if they did, then this writer wouldn’t have blogged about that topic, or this other writer wouldn’t be using that kind of language when he or she tweets.

So let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: If you query a book, and someone out there likes it – agent, editor, whatever – THEY WILL GOOGLE YOU. And any comments you’ve left on blog posts, any blog posts you’ve actually written, ANYTHING AT ALL containing your name, will pop up on their screen.

And then they will find you on Twitter.

And possibly also on Facebook.

And – Heaven forbid – MySpace.

And this is when you have to ask yourself one very important question: What will they find? And then you ask several follow-up questions, each with an increasing level of anxiety: Who will they think you are? Will their impression of you be accurate?

Let’s say Big Scary Editor does a Google search on you, and nothing comes up but roses and rainbows and he thinks you’re just lovely. LOVELY.

But then he takes a closer look at your blog, and you’ve only got, say, five followers. And you only post something, oh, once a month. And no one comments.

And he checks your Twitter account, and you’ve only got twelve followers there, none of whom you interact with on a regular basis.

Is this a terrible thing? No, not by any means, but it does raise a pinkish flag. (As opposed to a red flag, that is.) Because what your five blog followers, twelve Twitter followers, and lack of interaction are telling him is this:

You are not passionate enough or motivated enough about becoming a published author to network. You can’t market yourself. You don’t know how to get the word out about what you’re doing. Or, possibly, you’re just oblivious to the fact that you need to be building relationships with other writers and readersΒ before your book is even finished.

Regardless of whether or not any of that is actually true, he’s going to think it’s true.

And what THAT says to Big Scary Editor is this: If they sign you on, you’re going to be a lot of work because you haven’t done any marketing for yourself. And then he communicates all this to the publicity department, who lets out a collective groan and waves their hands in a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me kind of way.

More than likely, unless your book is the next Harry Potter and they know they can make it a bestseller in spite of the lack of groundwork you’ve laid, well… there’s sort of a chance they’ll pass on you.

Now, let’s go back for a minute to the way you present yourself online. You don’t need to be a Bland Betty who never has an opinion about anything and won’t crack a joke for fear of it being taken the wrong way, but you also need to watch what you say.

Are you a YA author who constantly drops the F-bomb in blog posts and Twitter?

Are you a children’s book writer whose words just drip with bitterness and condescension?

If this is what Big Scary Editor finds when he researches you, what do you think his reaction will be? Do you think he’ll say, “Oh, sure, she doesn’t have any social skills or a verbal filter, but she’ll be fine in interviews and book signings! She’ll represent my Big Scary Publishing House quite well!”

Yeah. Not so much.

So, to summarize:

  1. Watch what you say online. My rule of thumb is this: Would my grandmother be embarrassed to read what I’ve written, be it a blog comment or a Tweet or anything else? If the answer is yes, it gets deleted.
  2. Follow people’s blogs if you like them – don’t just lurk. Click “Follow” or “Join This Site” and make your picture show up.
  3. Comment on blog posts whenever possible. (This is the rule I break all the time!) People appreciate it, and it encourages more interaction.

So, Blog Readers, are you enjoying a certain writer’s blog, but haven’t made your presence known? Why don’t you? All you have to do is click “Join This Site” over on the sidebar.

And, although it sounds EXACTLY like we wannabe authors are “using” our blog followers to get editorial attention, I can assure you – and this is the honest truth – we’re really not. Sure, bigger numbers definitely helps us out, as I’ve already said. But we’re truly interested in people who are interested in the same things we are, and we want to see your faces. We want to know your names. We want to read your comments and get to know you better.

If we already know you in real life? We appreciate the support. It’s nice to see a familiar face in that little box every once in a while.

So if you’re reading a blog, loving it, but not “following” it officially, why don’t you fix that today? I guarantee the blogger will appreciate you for it – especially if they are an aspiring author!

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19 thoughts on “The Author Background Check (Or: Why We All Freak Out About Blog Followers And Comments)

  1. Summer says:

    I am the worst about reading without commenting, and it’s something I’m trying to get better at.

    Even if others have blogged about this, the way you’ve put it into words perhaps makes it a little more clear about the back-and-forth nature of networking. You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours…

  2. Anne Riley says:

    Summer: I’m so bad about it, too! And yes, it is very back and forth, isn’t it? Which can be really hard sometimes because it all feels really narcissistic and weird, but at the same time, it’s a necessary evil.

  3. Charity Bradford says:

    Great post Anne. My problem is I follow so many great blogs that I read them on google reader to save time. You know for things like writing (when the kids let me). I’ve become lazy about commenting.

    Thanks for the reminder to make more effort. I have missed the community feel this summer and comments on my blog have gone down as well. I hope it’s just the summer and we’ll all be back in the fall?

  4. Alexandra Shostak says:

    Once in a manuscript request, an agent said something to me (positive, no worries) that let me know she’d googled me! I was surprised because before that point, I didn’t necessarily know if that was really true. πŸ˜› (I use so many emoticons… I wonder if that will work against me… that’s a joke)

  5. Medeia Sharif says:

    It’s so true, they do look us up.

    During the first few months of blogging I wasn’t sure what I was doing. Then someone tweeted to me that my comments were disabled. I didn’t know why anyone would want to comment on my blog, but people do. Once I allowed comments, started commenting back, reciprocated follows and held contests–learning by observation–my blog grew. I’m pleased, because I really do interact with people and respond to feedback. And the blog is a great way to build a platform.

    I’m careful not to use profanity or sound bitter or angry on the internet. I even recently blogged about keeping things to oneself while blogging. I’ve ran across tweets and posts bashing publishing, and that definitely doesn’t look good.

    Surprisingly, before my book deal, I barely had a web presence, but I’ve taken care of that since last summer, a bit too well since I’m everywhere.

  6. Anne Riley says:

    Charity: I totally know what you mean! There are so many great ones out there that we don’t have time to fully engage with everyone. It’s a tough prospect, for sure.

    Connie: Thank YOU!

    Alexandra: That’s weird! I always check my blog stat thingy and it tells me how people are finding me… when someone googles my name and the title of my book, I kinda freak a little bit.

    Medeia: I don’t think you could ever be TOO present online – it helps engage your readers!

    Jemi: Yes… yes. Frightening, eh?

  7. Jamey Stegmaier says:

    This is a GREAT post. Very wise. I follow something similar to your number one rule, which I call the Grandmother Rule. Although, as my grandmother gets older, she gets more and more flexible about what she talks about. So I felt okay talking about two girls kissing on my blog. My grandmother would probably wave it off and say something about “kids these days.”

  8. Laurel says:

    I’ve been suffering blog fatigue lately, so thanks for this reminder that it IS worthwhile to keep up one’s blog presence. I’ve found that writing really short posts has freed up some time to visit others more, which is slowly recharging me.

  9. Sarah Enni says:

    My Grandmother actually DOES read my blog! (but she never comments. lurker.) So I have the censor happening 100%!

    Awesome advice though, always good to keep in mind. The line between fun and professional can sometimes seem arbitrary, but it is soooo not.

  10. Raquel Byrnes says:

    I read this on Twitter and was very surprised that, especially non-fiction authors, can be hurt by disparaging comments about them in a public forum. Makes me want to both get going on a better web presence…and really make sure what I put out there is an accurate depiction of who I am. Great post.

  11. Rhonda Cowsert says:

    I’m always very aware that whatever I put out there into cyberspace is “out there” and I might as well be taking out a full sign ad in the middle of Times Square – so I’m pretty careful about what I say…but I’m also pretty honest about who I am. πŸ™‚

    I’m not terribly consistent about blogging and that’s something that I really need to work on.

  12. Rebecca Thompson says:

    Oh, yes – so true. And commenting is the thing I’ve been working most on (as well as trying to figure out exactly what I’m doing on Twitter, other than having fun – but the good kind).

    But my comments usually turn into these bizarre little ramblings, which I hope give some sort of amusement rather than annoyance. Um. Yeah, so I’ll stop now πŸ™‚

  13. Anne Riley says:

    Jamey: HA! I thought about qualifying the “grandmother rule” by saying something about it depends on how “loose of the tongue” your grandmother is!

    Laurel: Good idea. And I think people are much more likely to read a shorter post, too. (She said, on the longest post ever written on her blog. Haha!)

    Sarah: Lucky!! My grandmother doesn’t do internet. I wish she did, because if I thought she REALLY might be reading, it would make it even easier to keep everything rated G!

    Raquel: YES – and that’s something I don’t think about. Except when I review books – I always assume the author will read my review at some point, and if I didn’t love their book, I certainly don’t want to hurt their feelings by posting sharp remarks about them as a person.

    Rhonda: I love your honesty!! And I am consistent about MY blog, but not always consistent about keeping up with other people’s – especially the commenting. Eesh.

    Rebecca: LOL – it doesn’t matter, any comment is a great one!

  14. HeatherM says:

    This post makes me want to stand up and shout, “yes!” There are still far too many writers out there who don’t know this or simply choose to ignore it. We are what we do and say and if we want to be published someday we should think really hard about our image. You’re right, agents and editors do google us!

    As for the blogs I follow~and there are many~I love and support them all! And I love each and every one of my followers, they mean the world to me.

  15. Simon L. says:

    Okay, when an editor googles me and checks my social media stream, I think the thought process will follow the, uh, following steps:

    1. WTF!?
    2. This guy’s about three tweets and a blog post away from doing something SEVERELY embarrassing, possibly on a national scale.
    3. On the other hand, controversy sells books.
    4. Hmm….
    5. Wait, what did he just say on Twitter?
    6. WTFFFF!?
    7. ZOMG I MUST SIGN THIS INSANE PERSON BEFORE HE GOES VIRAL!!1!
    8. *makes 6-figure offer*

    Yah, it’ll probably go a bit like that.

    πŸ˜€

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