There’s been a lot of debate recently about how people comport themselves online. There are stories of teachers losing their job for complaining about students, other people losing jobs for complaining about said job, or their boss. Lovers discovering spouses and vice versa. Seriously, it’s a minefield out there. But that’s just life. I’m more interested in the persona someone puts out there when they’re some form of public figure, even a very minor one. Obviously, from my point of view, I’m most interested in writers, editors, publishers and so on. It seems that a lot of the time those people can be real dicks online and it can only damage their careers. I got to thinking about this after I wrote a fairly poor review of Unimagined by Imran Ahmad. Ahmad himself came along and left a comment that did some serious damage to his reputation among people that would otherwise have never thought badly of him. Some people even said they wouldn’t buy his book now, after the author “waded in with his ego-hammer”. You can read that post and all associated comments here.

I spend a lot of time online. I know, that’s really no surprise to anyone. But during that time I’ve seen a lot of people make serious asshats of themselves, for no real reason. Your personality online is very important. If you’re a writer and you want people to read your stuff, you’ll get more fans if those people feel like they know you. It’s one of the many things about this changing world of publishing. Back in the day you could be a complete shit, utterly sociopathic, but no one would know. If you wrote good stuff and no one ever saw you, you’d just be reclusive or eccentric. These days, with everyone online, people like to know a bit about the author behind the book. As far as I’m concerned, the best way to manage that is just to be yourself. Unless you actually are a dick, of course, but then you’ve got bigger problems anyway.

Not everyone is going to like you. I think that’s something we need to accept from an early age, regardless of what we do. Some people are just not going to dig you, just like there are some people you simply don’t like. If you’re being yourself and you’re happy in your skin, fuck ’em. You don’t need to please everyone. It’s the same if you’re an author with books that you’d like people to read. Not everyone will like your books and not everyone will like you, but if you’re open and honest with your personality online, then the people that do like you will follow you, read your stuff, interact with you. If you have any sense, you’ll interact right back.

To use myself as an example, I swear a lot. Yeah, I know, it’s a shock to many, but it’s true. I believe that words and language are seriously powerful things, but I also think that swearing is an unneccessarily heightened taboo. That’s partly just rationalising my constant swearing, but fuck it. I don’t care. It’s how I am in real life, so I don’t pretend to be different online. I’m always getting in trouble with parents because I inadvertantly swear around their children. I do my best not to, but I’m not very good at it. I’m also opinionated, I don’t suffer fools, I call out the willfully ignorant, I can’t stand injustice or bullying or hypocrisy and I’ll challenge it every time I come face to face with it. That’s just how I am in real life, so that’s how I am online as well. But I try not to be a dick about it. It gets me in trouble, but so be it.

I like to have a laugh with it too. I’ll be deliberately controversial and antagonistic to get a debate going and to interact. I’ll question people to test their conviction. It’s fun, it’s interaction and it’s part of who I am. But, again, I try not to be a complete arse about it. I still want to be a good guy, that people are interested in and entertained by. I want to be liked, same as everyone.

But while I’ll be open and honest about who I am as often as possible, there are some things I’ll keep to myself, because they’re not right for open public consumption. Particularly, I won’t bitch and moan about people to vent my frustrations. I won’t rant and rave when I get a bad review. Other people are as entitled to their opinions as I am. Like Imran Ahmad coming onto the blog here and whining about a bad review, it would only damage my reputation. Not just my reputation generally, but with other professionals in my field – other writers, but also editors and publishers. If I went online and ranted on about some shitty rejection I’d had from so-and-so publisher that didn’t know their arse from their elbow, that rant would DEFINITELY get back to them. (Of course, I have nothing but respect for all the great editors and publishers out there – I’m just talking hypothetically. Honest.) But it works the other way too. Sometimes editors will rant on about some fuckwit writer they’ve had to deal with and that writer WILL hear about it. The nature of Twitter and Facebook and blogs and all that stuff is that everybody knows everybody in some connection. There are certainly not six degrees of seperation any more. Sometimes there’s not even one.

If you have someone you want to bitch and moan about, or a particular company or group you have the shits with, or a review or rejection that really pissed you off, ring a friend. Email a personal mate that understands. Do your venting in the privacy of an enclosed group. When you put that stuff out there online IT’S THERE FOREVER. You might delete it, but it’s already cached. Whenever you say anything online, ask yourself if you really want it out there forever and for everyone to read, because that’s what you’re doing. Careers can crash and burn before they’re started sometimes, because a person flags themselves as a nightmare to work with by the way they act online. This is especially true of newbies in the writing world, that haven’t thickened their skin yet. Because seriously, people, you need the skin of an old elephant to survive with your ego intact in this game.

Be yourself, interact with others, let people in on your personality and your style, your standards and ethics if you like. But don’t be a twat. People want to get to know you and with the internet the way it is we’re all part of one massive community. Which is awesome – I love it, I really dig being part of this great big cyber love-in and everyone needs to embrace it these days. But like the title of the post says, don’t be a dick online.