Publishing is a mystery to many. When we’re first starting on our publishing journey we are often mostly educated by those who came before us who are willing to bestow their knowledge via blog posts or social media.
Even industry insiders admit that they often don’t know anything about departments they don’t work for or closely with. Therefore, we are always grateful for those publishing professionals and authors who talk openly about their process and their experiences. However, when does being transparent flow over into oversharing? And how do new writers navigate the tricky social media space where many have casual, often subtweet-like conversations about their experiences with the hopes of letting others know the pitfalls of publishing? (WBP’s general advice is to never subtweet, it often ends in tears)
In the hope of understanding how to navigate the tricky space of social media and talking about publishing secrets, we interviewed a few writers about this topic to see what the varying opinions might be.
One traditionally published Young Adult fantasy writer said, “I just think there’s such a difference between the gatekeeping against marginalized creators in the publishing industry–both as professionals and authors (a topic which deserves 500% transparency)–and this idea that authors are sitting in ivory towers, hoarding the secrets of their success from other aspiring writers.”
They went on to say, “I completely agree that I find querying play-by-plays unprofessional. And it’s not because I think the struggle should be kept a secret, but because the struggle isn’t a secret. There are countless success stories and resources out there for those seeking the information. There are so many people who work tirelessly to break into this industry, and half the time, authors are really just the lucky ones. And those other writers deserve a level of humility and grace, and ‘for transparency’ play-by-plays, for better or for worse, make me wonder if the querying writer can ever provide that.”
An agented Young Adult fantasy author said, “I also would caution people not to tweet their querying journey because then everyone knows literally everything about you and that does color people’s perceptions of you. I might be in the minority here but I actually believe that social media should be curated to some extent. I think that’s where it does get a little weird because on the one hand it’s your personal social media account where you can say whatever and be your true self. but on the other it quickly becomes A Brand and a professional space. And, every industry, has standard professional behavior.”
Another traditionally published Young Adult fantasy writer said, “There is definitely a big difference between transparency for the good of the community and personal venting that is a slippery slope into unprofessionalism. I think that we need to always see the publishing as a business. Being transparent about how a business runs is fine, but complaining about your colleagues or your bosses is not professional. This is akin to venting about ‘yet another rejection’ or ‘how long it takes for agents to read your query and then you just get a form rejection’ (these aren’t direct quotes but definitely things I’ve seen discussed online).”
They went on to say, “That being said. Where do we draw the line on keeping our silence? There was a great post from Susan Dennard about book finances. We’re often told that talking about money in the industry is gauche, but I found that her post was enlightening and informative. It also dispelled a lot of myths about splashy deals and debut deals which I really appreciated. So, should we always tow the ‘company line’? Or should we shake things up for the sake of transparency? Also, how do we gauge what is still professional or not if we’re stepping over the line that publishing has already drawn into the sand?”
So, does this mean that we should be pushing boundaries in the a bid to change the “bad” parts of publishing AKA how secretive it is and how that locks out many new authors (especially marginalized authors who don’t have as many resources)? And who is to tell us what is unprofessional and what is just different than the norm? Some might say that tweeting completely candidly is a good practice so you can to help others coming behind you.
Another traditionally published Young Adult author said, “Yeah I see that. But I’m also like listen would you tweet about getting rejected from a job on a social network used by everyone in that industry? There’s a lot of conversations here. Like both about transparency and how we use social media as writers. And about learning norms and how do people learn them (by knowing authors who have already queried or desperately reading blog posts I feel like). I have a lot of feelings about this because when I first queried [I had a] weird encounter with [a] bad agent. [That] partly happened bc I didn’t have a resource to hand hold me through knowing every ‘unspoken rule’ of querying. I always think of twitter as an industry cocktail party. theoretically anyone could be there so like just be thoughtful. You can be honest and have fun but you’re in a professional space.”
So how do we gauge when it’s a topic we can speak out about and when it’s something we should keep close to the vest to protect ourselves?
“That’s where I think your closest friends come into play. If you have a close-knit group of publishing or writing friends then bring it to them first. My personal process is if I worry about saying something in public I probably won’t say it. But if I think it’s a topic that’s important to openly discuss for the sake of transparency, I’ll ask my closest friends what they think about the post. They’ve never steered me wrong yet!”