The Cool Table

If you read this blog, then you probably also follow me on Twitter. I’m a huge fan of Twitter. I encourage every writer, editor, agent, and wannabe intern I meet to join and embrace it. It’s where the publishing community hangs out – our collective water cooler – so obviously if you want to be part of that world, that’s where you need to be. (Note: This is not the first time I’ve had thoughts about social media on this blog.)

As much as I advocate for Twitter, I’ve noticed a growing trend that goes against everything I love about social media for writers. New writers, particularly the ones who joined Twitter specifically to meet people and learn about the industry, are accidentally falling in with a bad crowd. This “bad crowd” often has good intentions, but they’re who I refer to as The Cool Kids.

Transition.

When I was in high school, my BFF-at-the-time and I used to call the popular kids “Air Quotes” because every time we’d mock their “cool” status, we’d put air quotes around the word “cool.”

The “Cool” Kids in the online book world are a little different, but can still be just as misguided and destructive. These Cool Kids, as stated above, usually mean well, but sometimes end up doing more harm than good to new writers who become convinced they need to be a Cool Kid too. (Ironically, the Cool Kid syndrome is most prevalent in YA writers, who often try to defy social hierarchies.)

Hint: You don’t need to know a secret handshake or be part of “in” crowd in order to succeed in publishing. Watch out for these “Cool” people who may lead you to believe otherwise:

Cool Kid: The Blogger
Why They’re Dangerous: No credentials are needed to start a blog.

Not all bloggers write reviews, and not all blogger-reviewers write smart reviews. The danger of The Blogger comes from those who simply call themselves bloggers without putting in the work or building an audience. Yet, to writers just starting out, it’s hard to tell the difference, and can get outdated or incorrect information. The Blogger ends up being in a position of power for writers who want to learn about the industry from people they assume are experts.

I have a blog (obviously), as do many agents and writers, but I do not consider myself a blogger. The type of blogger I’m talking about isn’t just someone who writes blog posts. I’m talking about the ones who spell their title with a capital B. The Blogger who holds pitch contests every two months just to get hits, and posts query advice despite not being agented or published. These are also the Bloggers who feel slighted when they get rejected from NetGalley.

At BEA a few years ago I was in line for the bathroom with a few of these Bloggers. They complained loudly about how they were rejected by the publisher for a coveted galley and couldn’t believe they had to wait in line with a bunch of commoners. One turned to me even though she didn’t know who I was or that I worked in publishing. “My blog has 500 followers. It’s not like I’m just some random person!” she told me. I shrugged and left to find a different bathroom.

Here’s the truth of modern society: Everyone is online. Being a blogger in the publishing/writing world may have been impressive 10 years ago, but today it’s practically expected. Being online doesn’t entitle anyone to anything anymore, and it doesn’t necessarily mean The Blogger has industry knowledge or connections.

What does entitle bloggers to things now? Having a good blog. Having a large, loyal, and consistent readership, and being well-known among the literary community. Publicists know that bloggers aren’t going to have the same reach as the New York Times, and they take that into account, but they still need to believe the blog is a respected voice in the industry.

Here are some non-agent/editor, capital-B Bloggers and blog-like sites I particularly enjoy:

Jane Friedman
The Rumpus
The Millions
Bookslut
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Stacked
Book Riot
YA Interrobang
YA Highway
The Daily Dahlia

Cool Kid: The Twitter Darling
Why They’re Dangerous: They’re your best friend… until they’re not.

Raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimized by The Twitter Darling.

The Twitter Darling knows everything and everyone. They may not be bestselling authors, or even well-known outside of the Twitter and blogging community, but they have made themselves Very Important People To Know. The Twitter Darling tweets approximately 100 times a day and will RT and promote the shit out of you because that’s what supportive BFFs do.

Twitter Darlings keep up with industry news and trends. They are Bloggers-with-a-capital-B who never get rejected from NetGalley. They are close friends with a few industry folks and get invited to publishing parties. They have the power to invite you to sit at the “Cool” Table, and if you’re already cool, they will convince themselves it’s because of their influence and acceptance of you.

If you’re friends with the Twitter Darling, congratulations, but remember to stay true to yourself. Because the thing about Twitter Darlings? They have the power to kick you out of the “Cool” Table. Reasons might include: Not being agented, not having a book deal, not being published by what they consider the “right” house, not acknowledging the Twitter Darling’s greatness, and not wearing pink on Wednesdays.

They can be wonderful allies and friends, but they can also create unnecessary pressure to be just as “Cool” as they are.

An important thing to keep in mind about being “Cool” is that agents and editors Do. Not. Care. We want to work with good writers and people who act like professionals online and offline. If you’re “in with the in-crowd,” that’s fine too, and it may even be beneficial to your career. Just remember there is no standard of “Cool,” and you should never, ever let yourself feel “less than” for not measuring up to a false deal.

Cool Kid: The Fanboy/Fangirl
Why They’re Dangerous: Their contagious enthusiasm may end up being your downfall. 

The Fanboy/Fangirl is usually on the periphery of the book world – aspiring authors, recent grads working as booksellers or interns, bloggers, etc. We like them and support them. Until they cross boundaries.

A “fanbase” is not something I expected to have working in publishing, and it’s also something that makes me super uncomfortable. My authors are the one who deserve fans. My job title is “literary agent” the way others are “teacher” or “accountant.” Yet, an increasingly disturbing thing I’ve noticed is that some writers equate my job title with being a celebrity. This is not healthy or helpful.

I’m happy so many people seem to find my tweets and blog posts amusing, helpful, or interesting, but the Fanboy/Fangirl takes this appreciation to a whole other level. I’ve had “fans” come up to me at book events and conferences to say they love me. Not “I like your Twitter account” or “I really loved your client’s book,” but rather “OMG I love you!” Um.

Think, for a minute, how you would react if a stranger came up to you and declared their devotion. Police might get involved. Or at least a very cautious, slowly backing away. I’ve seen agent-friends ambushed in similar fashions.

I don’t respond to everyone who tweets at me. I do, however, recognize names and have developed friendly relationships with writers who have reached out to me online. Most times it’s because our personalities mesh or we have the same sense of humor, and that comes in handy if they also happen to write in a genre I represent. What never works, though, is pretending you already know me, being argumentative for the sake of attention, or responding to Every. Single. Tweet.

What’s dangerous is that otherwise sane writers have asked me if they should care more about “agent gossip” or be more familiar with editors online even if they’ve never spoken to them before. They somehow get convinced that the super enthusiastic Fanboy/Fangirl is the one doing it right simply because they’re doing it the loudest.

(An aspiring author and blogger who respects industry folk without Fangirling over them is Charlee Vale, who wrote this necessary post expanding on this concept.)

Cool Kid: The Debut Author 
Why They’re Dangerous: Their “inspiring” Twitter feed could make other writers have nervous breakdowns.

This is a tricky one because the real “danger” of The Debut Author lies in how you handle them. I love debut authors. I buy their books, support them, and have quite literally devoted my career to creating more of them. The Debut Author doesn’t always know the damage they do, and I’d wager that 99.9% of them don’t mean to cause any damage at all.

Twitter is a great community for writers as long as everything shared is taken with a grain of salt. Comparisons are inevitably made, and in the age of social media, broadcasting why your news is the best news can cause other writers to question their own accomplishments, or lack thereof. You should be 100% proud of your achievements, which is why I’m not telling The Debut Author to stop tweeting their Agent Success Stories, Deal Announcements, Film Options, or anything else positive and amazing.

What I am asking is for other writers to stop drawing comparisons. Celebrate your friends’ good news without secretly resenting them. Step away from social media and clear your head and remember that the only thing you need to focus on is what’s right for you and your career. Your agent loves you just as much as The Debut Author’s agent loves them. Your “dream editor” is out there too.

No one’s timeline is going to be the same, and success doesn’t come in one size. Your modest debut may not compare to The Debut Author’s 6-figure multi-book deal, but you have more than one book in you, and a writer’s “breakout” novel is rarely their debut. So, relax, be happy, and get offline if you need to.

(By the way, agent Carly Watters had an excellent post on this topic. Bookmark it for your own sanity!)

All of these Cool Kids have one thing in common, and that’s their ability to make writers feel less than what they are. Don’t let them convince you there’s one way to do things, and be aware that most of these Cool Kids aren’t intentionally causing harm. Embrace social media, but remember to be yourself, stay sane, and be open to new online friends who are supportive and understanding. If they start to make you feel like you should sit at a different table, then go sit somewhere else and leave them behind.

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