I’m going to be 45 this month. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, graduating high school in 1987 and going to college for two years after that, I did a lot of stupid things. I made mistakes. Many mistakes. We all did, right? I was talking to another parent at my daughter’s softball game about it, and he concurred: we were grateful there was no social media when we screwed up.
This got me thinking about mistakes in general. We all learn from our mistakes (or we should.) When we screw up, we can fix it. Some people might remember, but they, too, made mistakes and maybe you helped them fix their mistakes, too.Most of the mistakes we made, few people knew about. Getting too drunk at a party and puking in front of your best friend. Dating the wrong guy. Saying something mean to someone, maybe without even realizing it. Taking naked pictures for yourself and your boyfriend, then realizing it’s a dumb move so burning the pictures because you don’t want your parents or future husband to see them.
Mistakes are good. Great things happen because human beings try and fail and try again. We learn to be better people because in the past we failed to be the person we wanted to be. A world of perfect people is impossible, nor is it something that anyone should want. As Vince Lombardi said, “Perfection is unattainable. But if we strive for perfection, we can catch excellence.”
The current generation can’t make mistakes.
I realized that with social media today, mistakes are broadcast for the world to see. It doesn’t matter if it’s only one person, a school, a town or a country … the mistake is permanent. It’s emblazoned across cyberspace for everyone to see and comment on. The mistakes of our youth can prevent us from getting jobs, getting into college, or getting married. Those of us who grew up without social media were able to overcome our flaws, learn, grow into responsible human beings. But our kids? I worry about them because they don’t have the opportunity to screw up. Even the small stuff can impact them in big ways. Even those not posting pictures of themselves smoking pot might have a friend take a pic and post it on Twitter … and then five years later it comes up in a background check and you don’t get a job that you really wanted.
I truly fear for my kids because one mistake — smaller than I have made, I’m sure — could haunt them for years.
My generation sometimes forgets the power of the Internet, and the word of mouth that increases exponentially through social media. We have to always be diligent in what we say and do on-line. While this is prudent, there have been times I’ve wanted desperately to say something but didn’t do it for fear of it being taken out of context (usually a political comment.) In the past, I was far more outspoken, but the Internet didn’t carry my opinion throughout cyberspace. Still, I’m sure I’ve written things I regret or wished I could have said in a different way; said things to people I wish I could take back; lost friends because I was insensitive or thoughtless or too busy to help when they needed it.
Anyone in the public eye especially needs to be careful, but I know best about authors, so that’s who I want to specifically address.
Many of you reading this blog have probably heard about the author who posted something ill-thought out and offensive to some of her readers and others. She was unapologetic about it. She has every right to her opinion, and I can understand her frustration to a certain degree. But.
A big BUT.
We ALL want to rant sometimes. There are topics that get under our skin and make us want to share our rant with the world.
If you are an author, think twice about what you post for everyone to read. I’m not talking about your personal page where (ostensibly) you know everyone who friended you. I tend to be a bit more casual and outspoken on my personal page. But your fan page, where your readers find you, think twice about whatever you post. If you think it might cause a stink, take a time out and think about it. Consider how you word your comment. If it’s something truly important for you to share, read and re-read and make sure it’s crafted to not unduly tick off people.
Not only your Facebook and Twitter posts, but message group posts as well. Publishing is a small, small world. Everyone knows everyone. We all have opinions about specific editors and agents, but be careful about what you put in writing. Because I can guarantee you that the editor or agent you hate is loved by other authors. People talk. You can be professional about your negative opinion without being mean. Or better, recognize that everyone has a different experience.
Another thing about social media etiquette … don’t post ads on other people’s pages. It’s rude and unprofessional. I delete them when I see them. By ad, I mean any post or comment where you encourage another author’s readers to go to your page to check something out, or to your website, or to Amazon to buy your book.
One thing I saw on the unnamed author I mentioned above reminded me how immature some people can be. Grown-ups, supposedly. I saw more than a dozen people commenting on the thread something in the vein of “I love my readers! Come to my page and like me!” Links to their Facebook pages, links to their books, links to their website. It was TACKY and IMMATURE. Not only because they were advertising themselves on another author’s page without that author’s permission, but they were jumping on the attack-the-author bandwagon.
I believe the author was tired and grumpy and upset. Then she posted something inappropriate. Her readers have every right to be angry about it, but I still feel sympathy because I, too, have been tired and grumpy and upset and wanted to post something inappropriate. I think the only difference is that I used to work in politics. My first boss told me something in 1992 that I have never forgotten. He called it the “L.A. Times Stink Test” (he represented a district in Los Angeles.) He said, “If you don’t want to see it on the front page of the L.A. Times, don’t say it or do it.”
I’ve parlayed that into my writing life. If I don’t want my editor, agent, or readers to see it, I don’t post it.
All the authors who attempted to capitalize on the grumpy author’s grave mistake are also making a huge mistake. They’re almost gleeful in piling in attacking a bestselling author. And that is sad. Because it is a small world, and most of us view their tactics of selling themselves in a completely negative thread as petty and unprofessional.
I’m pretty sure, especially since I’ve been on-line for more than 20 years, I have sent things out into cyberspace that I wish I could take back. So far, nothing has come back to bite me in the ass, but if something does, I hope I’ve made up for it by using basic on-line etiquette for many years. I hope people would forgive errors in my youth.
So for my author friends — think twice before you post anything publicly. You are in the public eye, whether you want to be or not. If you don’t have a positive on-line persona, maybe you should step away from social media. This doesn’t mean never say what you mean or mean what you say — it means think about how others will perceive your comment and if that’s the perception you want out in the world.
This is good advice for everyone. Because there is little room for mistakes anymore. They can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion — and you may not have a chance to defend yourself.