It’s official. Agents stalk you. Publishers stalk you. Potential employers stalk you. In the latest Pitch Wars, even the mentors stalked you — or had me do it. Welcome to the digital age of way too much information.
The internet’s an amazing tool for writers if you’re wise about how you use it. It’s also the easiest way to kill your chances.
You may think that if your manuscript is good enough, no one will care what you say online. That may be true. That may also be serious wishful thinking. I have seen agents say they loved a manuscript but refused to offer representation because the author was “crazy” and/or unprofessional online. Can you imagine coming THAT CLOSE, but being disqualified because of your rant about “the system” or your stupid roommate or burning things with fire?
Hint: Don’t let this be you.
If agents really like you, they will probably stalk you THOROUGHLY. They will find you. A family friend at the FBI once told me that most of the tools the FBI uses to track and find people are actually available to any member of the public who has a pretty good idea of what they’re doing. You have been warned.
While doing research on PitchWars contestants, I compiled a list of some major red flags that stuck out to me. While every person is different on what will turn them off on an author, I think this is a pretty good place to start.
Red Flag #1: You have flamed or ranted on someone via blog, tweet, Facebook post, or direct email back to them when they gave you constructive criticism.
Why this is a terrible idea: The agent/author relationship is different for everyone, but 99% of the time, you will be doing some kind of revision work with your agent. So why would they want to work with someone who can quite obviously not take criticism? Even if the criticism you got was completely unwarranted and you think it’s a load of crap, say “thank you” and move on. PERIOD.
Red Flag #2: You talk about how much your book (and/or you as an author) sucks.
Why this is a terrible idea: Huh. Your book sucks? You’re a terrible writer? Say no more. Next!
Red Flag #3: You have chronicled your unsuccessful query stories/process for me on a blog, on Facebook, or in a query.
Why this is a terrible idea: “Hmm . . . so you’ve been querying for six months? A year? And these are all the people who said “no” to you? Hm. Jeez. That’s a lot of people. And you’re just now querying me? I’m your 95th choice to represent you? What an honor! I’m sure we’re destined to be together!” said no agent EVER. To paraphrase Summer Heacock, the amazing FizzyGrrl, querying (and being on submission, btw) is like Fight Club. DON’T TALK ABOUT IT. (And read Summer’s “The Art of Oversharing.” Hilarious gifs and amazing advice await!)
Red Flag #4: You’ve posted mean/degrading things about other authors/agents.
Why this is a terrible idea: Do I even need to explain this one? Don’t be a bad sport. Don’t go into jealous rages. Don’t flame. The publishing industry is a small place. People talk. Be the one they’re talking about because you’re amazing.
Red Flag #5: You have 50 self-published books that you couldn’t sell because no one “understands” your work.
Why this is a terrible idea: There is nothing wrong with self-publishing. If you are a successful, self-published author, congratulations! You are awesome! I salute you! But if you have self-published a ton of books because no one else would publish them and you have no sales to speak of, that is mildly alarming. Keep in mind that this is definitely case-by-case.
Red Flag #6: You publicly complain about how unfair the industry is.
Why this is a terrible idea: You want to be published by the industry . . . but you don’t like the industry? Ok. Cool story, bro. Like all complaining, it’s perfectly fine to do in private. Rant to your mom, instant/private message your friends, rage to your CP’s if you dare. But the second you put it on any kind of public forum, you are stepping into very dangerous territory.
Red Flag #7: You post your preferred agent list online. (Or other details that would be better kept to private messages.)
Why this is a terrible idea: Summer Heacock has the perfect “why this is terrible” story. READ IT.
Red Flag #8: You claim to have written things that are 1) not yours or 2) don’t exist.
Why this is a terrible idea: People fudge their credentials on resumes all the time. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people fudge their writing credentials. But seriously, don’t do it. This information is only a Google search away. And I can tell you that no agent will want to work with you if you’ve lied to them.
Red Flag #9: You rant/brag about how you don’t need to edit because your manuscript is perfect. (Oh, and how you’re going to be famous, and they’ll all regret it.)
Why this is a terrible idea: Remember when I said that agents will be helping you with edits 99% of the time? Yeah. Even Asimov, one of the most prolific writers EVER, made mistakes. Everyone needs to be edited, including bestselling authors. Don’t be so arrogant as to assume that your work is perfect. It isn’t. (Also, manage your expectations. Seriously.)
Red Flag #10: You publicly say you don’t like/need to read.
Why this is a terrible idea: Be still, my fiery heart. If you are one of these people, there is no hope for you.
Pitch Wars mentors Megan Whitmer and Naomi Hughes had this to say: “I mean, be yourself, but remember some things are better said in DMs or texts to your friends.” & “Like other mentors (and most agents), I absolutely WILL Google you and your MS before deciding. Be professional online, always. Also: ‘be professional’ =/= ‘have no personality.’ Be yourself! Just be the version of yourself you want THE ENTIRE WORLD to see. “
My best and most concise advice comes from my 11th grade English teacher: “See ya. Good luck out there. Don’t do anything stupid.”