Thursday, May 29, 2014

Rules for Writers ... by Susan Oleksiw

During the last few weeks, the media has been full of discussions about slips and goofs and outright disasters on social media. Young college graduates are warned that an inappropriate selfie could ruin a chance at a good first job, a rant on Facebook could lead to ostracism, and an insensitive comment could bring down the wrath of thousands. Everyone, it seems, is in need of a lesson in etiquette.

I’m especially conscious of this right now because I’m doing so much on social media to promote my new book, out this month. For the Love of Parvati is the third Anita Ray mystery, and getting good reviews. It’s thrilling when this happens, and that makes me all the more determined to get all the promotion done well.

In the Neanderthal times, before FB and the rest of it, the guidance given to employees was mostly about office parties and the like. One rule was never let yourself be photographed holding an alcoholic drink. That one’s so far off the radar now that I doubt anyone even remembers it (except me). Another rule was to treat an office party as just a loosely run staff meeting. In other words, don’t do anything stupid. You have to go to work with these people on Monday.

There were obvious rules on office politics, and staying out of them. My father once told me a story about his office. He father started the company, it had run smoothly for years, and everyone got along great. Then one day it seemed like everyone was at each other’s throats. He listened, asked questions, and finally isolated the rumor-starter—a new hire. The lesson was obvious. No matter how clever you think you are, gossip leaves a trail.

These stories certainly relate to a different time and different culture, but the principles are the same. Here are a few rules I keep in mind as I navigate social media and the rest of it.

First, never gossip about another writer and her work. I can’t say that I like everything I see or read, but I recognize the effort and talent that goes into creating something unique and finishing it for others to enjoy, and I respect that. I can admire work that I don’t personally love.

Second, be reliable and a good team player. When I served on a committee with free-lance writers I knew there would be trouble the minute I read the list of volunteers. Another member of the committee was habitually late and chronically disruptive. At the first meeting she showed up fifteen minutes into the meeting and interrupted the discussion to explain, at top volume, why she was late. She sounds like a caricature, but she’s not. She’s real. We came up with a solution. We never told the chronically late the real starting time. If you sign up to help with something, show up and do the best job you can do. And remember, you’re only one of several.

Third, be a good guest. We rely on bookstores and libraries to promote our books to readers. If the event is in a bookstore, I buy something before I leave. After an event in a library, I send a thank you note. This may be old-fashioned (yes, it is), and you may be one of a very few who does this, but trust me when I tell you the librarian or bookstore owner will remember you fondly. And if alcohol is served, now is the time to be abstemious.

Fourth, find a way to contribute to the writing community. You can do this in any number of ways. Support new writers by mentoring and attending events. Read other writers’ blogs and leave comments, and offer to review books that are the sort you enjoy. Volunteer at a mystery writers or other conference. Those events take a lot of work and extra hands are always welcome.

Fifth—and the impetus for this posting—don’t say anything on social media (FB, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.) or in an email that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper. Most professionals know this but everyone can have a brain cramp, a lapse in judgment, an off day. Unfortunately, those slips are the ones that seem to become permanent.

For an article that offers several examples of major lapses on social media, go to this article in the Boston Globe Magazine, "6 ways social media can ruin your life."

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Susan Oleksiw writes the Anita Ray series featuring an Indian American photographer living at her aunt's tourist hotel in South India (Under the Eye of Kali, 2010, The Wrath of Shiva, 2012, and For the Love of Parvati, 2014). She also writes the Mellingham series featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva (introduced in Murder in Mellingham, 1993). Susan is well known for her articles on crime fiction; her first publication in this area was A Reader's Guide to the Classic British Mystery. Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. Susan lives and writes outside Boston, MA.

To learn more about Susan and her books, go to her website and click on any book cover.

24 comments:

Jan Morrison said...

Thanks Pat for hosting Susan! And thanks Susan for such excellent reminders. I remember office party etiquette well and just good old fashioned kindness. It is good to be reminded in this age of social media that we can't really hide in our houses lobbing grenades at the vulnerable, believing we won't be identified. Let us instead give out bouquets when deserved and let our silence speak our disapproval.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Excellent tips! I posted some of those this week on the IWSG site. Being a team player is so important.

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Susan.

Susan - Thanks for addressing this topic. Writers are members of the community as much as they are anything else. Behaving as such is important. And so is remembering that anything you post, say, etc. can get passed around.

Unknown said...

Excellent reminders, Susan. Isn't it interesting how common sense, common courtesy, and common decency so often coincide? ;)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks for being here today, Susan. Your post is a timely reminder that online etiquette is extremely important. The information we put out there reaches all around the world.

Susan Oleksiw said...

THank you for hosting me, Pat. And thank you all for commenting. We think we know these rules but then I come across a comment and I wonder what happened. These ideas about the importance of being a member of a community resonate with all of us, and I too appreciate the occasional reminder.

Bobbi A. Chukran, Author said...

Great post, Susan! I think a lot of younger people on FB, who have never had a job in customer relations or retail sales, have never heard the "rules" so sometimes get in trouble with their catty remarks, criticisms, etc. It's STILL all about the customer, and we just don't want to do anything to ostracize any of them.

JustinScribe said...

Very interesting and astute post, Susan. I work in academe, where we have out own version of Rule #5: when using the campus email system, never write anything (even to your close friends) that you wouldn't want to be read by the Dean. I have my own corollary to that: never respond immediately to an email that has just pissed you off. Compose all the snarky responses and cutting phrases you want to, but keep them in your head for at least 12 hours -- 24 is better. Then write an email that's not going to come back to bite you on the ass later. That's probably a good policy outside the academic world, too.

M. K. Theodoratus said...

You are soooo right. Too many people don't realize that once something is in the cloud, it's always in the cloud. You may be 12 when you post, but the post is find-able after you die at a hundred.

Susan Holmes said...

Thank you Pat for a great blog and thank you Susan for an excellent post!

I love rule #4, and would add that any time we can support other writers, we should. Although I started my website when I launched my mystery series, I've had a wonderful time featuring other writers and their work. And even though I don't expect it (nor do I ask it), I'm always appreciative when those writers mention my book or include me in some activity.

Susan, your latest book sounds intriguing. I'll definitely add this to my TBR stack!

Stephanie Faris said...

Great tips! I engaged in a conversation with a fellow author recently who regularly reviews other writers' work. My stance on it is that once you become a writer, you kind of give up your freedom to trash other writers' work. You have to pick one. She thinks that authors appreciate her honesty. I just disagree. Once I even suspected I might be published someday, I adopted the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" approach to reviewing books. I just think it's not a wise idea to make enemies.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Susan,

Well-said! Your observations are astute. Social media can benefit writers but also harm them depending on how it is used.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Thank you all for these comments. I'm not surprised to hear that many of you have your own versions of these. Reviewing especially is tricky because we want to be honest for the reader looking for a book but we know that personal taste should not determine the review or the book's rating. I try to remember always that a lot of work went into writing and editing the book, and to be fair and generous.

And I am truly glad we didn't have social media when I was young. Young people don't have the opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them, and move on.

Patricia Stoltey said...

It's interesting that the topic of writers doing reviews has popped up here. Brian Kaufman will be my guest blogger on June 12th, and he specifically talks about why he never gives a bad review.

Maris said...

Good suggestions. Probably the best advice I received from my mother was think before you speak. It can be applied to posts, too. Think before you write or hit send.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I look forward to reading Brian's comments on reviewing. Once again, I think it comes down to seeing a larger picture, a time beyond a momentary reaction. I think back to how I felt about some "classic" novels when I had to read them in school and how I feel about them now. We grow and we learn.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Pat, once again, thank you for hosting me on your blog. I've enjoyed reading the comments and meeting new writers, and the opportunity to crystallize my thinking on a topic that has been on my mind for some time.

Eileen Goudge said...

Good advice. It would seem common sense, but I think we all need reminding, from time to time, that we're not alone in this lonely pursuit of ours. We have to play nice with others.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've done over 300 signings, and one thing I hear from store managers is that no one sends thank you cards or anything anymore. I've always sent one, and I usually buy something, too.

Carole Price said...

Excellent reminders, Susan. Sad that the personal touch of a hand-written note has been replaced by an impersonal email. And I cringe when I overhear criticism of an author by another author.

LD Masterson said...

All very good pints.

I'm a leftover from the "office party" culture and it amazes me the things people with post on Facebook, etc., as though these words (or worse, pictures) will never come back to haunt them.

Maggie Toussaint said...

These are great tips, Susan. I try to keep an image of standing at a podium as I'm writing my social media posts. Not to enhance my ego, but to remember that its a crowd of people out there beyond the keyboard, reading, and Lurking. And once something is out on the internet, it seems to take on a life of its on.

Thanks for the informative way to remember that we need to be mindful of how we comport ourselves!

Arlee Bird said...

All excellent suggestions. I try to be as positive as I can without coming across as insincerely effusive. If I say something negative I usually make an attempt to over evidence of what I've said and counterbalance my statement with a positive.

Your retrospective look at never being photographed with an alcoholic drink evoked memories of the old publicity shots of actors and other personalities posed with a cigarette between their fingers. Now those types of photos would rarely fly, but back then smoking was considered kind of cool and the cigarette was an attractive prop.

Good tips to follow.

Lee
What is the best short story ever written?
Tossing It Out

Jemi Fraser said...

These are awesome tips! It's so uncomfortable coming across a comment/post you KNOW the author is going to regret. That ol' 24 rule that's used here for parents of kids in sports (similar to Justin's above) works well in real life as well :)