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.”
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.