The past month was all over the place for me, as far as writing is concerned anyway. So let’s take these subjects one at a time and make our way through them in an orderly fashion. 🙂
First off, while commiserating to a fellow writer that sales of “Nowhere to Hide” are abysmal (and that’s an understatement), she suggested that I rewrite the book’s summary (which is pretty boring) and change the cover (which was created by me and is thus significantly less than professional). I’ve known that I should consider these changes for a while, but I’ve continuously put it off because this book was my baby, designed 100% by me from cover to cover, and so I was loathe to change anything about it. In mid-July, however, I changed my mind. Myself and my closest friends and family all have copies of the original version of the book, so why not now do what I can to present a better face to the average paying customer? With that in mind I recently rewrote the back-cover blurb, while a talented cover artist has been working on the new imagery for me. When I get home from work this time around my father is going to take a professional photo of me for the back cover, and then we’ll be off to the races. There’s no guarantee that this will help sales, of course, but I figure it’s worth a try.
Secondly, and speaking of zombies, I had a really shift of work at the beginning of July. Why is that important? Well, it inspired me to start something that I’ve been getting questions about since the first few people read “Nowhere to Hide“: a sequel. Okay, technically it’s not a sequel, exactly – it’s more of a companion story that takes place at the same time as the first one, but in a different part of the country with different characters. While the first book started out in suburbia and moved mostly through residential areas, this new one takes place mainly in an oil sands facility. Do you see where this is going? I’ll give you a hint: I work at an oil sands facility.
So, long story short: I don’t know how this new story – which I’ve tentatively named “Nowhere to Run” – will end up going anywhere, but for now it’s an extremely cathartic exercise. I plan to do a great deal of damage to my “fictional” site and work camp, and while several of my coworkers are bound to be heroes in one way or another, there are also a few people who are slated to meet an extremely messy end. Does that make me sound like a ghoul? Perhaps. But I justify it in saying, screw it! I’m writing, and that’s a good thing…right? Right.
Finally, if you read my previous IWSG post, you might be wondering about the release of the erotic fairy tale. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been writing a series of short erotic fairy tales, partly just for the fun of trying something new and (extremely) different, but also partly for the curiosity of how such stories would sell as compared to the (again, abysmal) sales of my zombie novel. Last month I mentioned that I had officially self-published the first story in this erotic series under a psudonym, so the experiment was on.
Well I won’t say that the first month was a failure, but it definitely wasn’t a success either, due to some unforeseen road blocks in the promotional department. The main problem is that the story is obviously public domain, being based on a well-known fairy tale, and what I didn’t know was that this means it is not eligible for any of the Kindle/Amazon marketing and promotion options. I can’t do a free book promo, a Kindle Countdown Deal, or even purchase an ad package to promote the book in its category. So that right there pretty much destroyed my ability to get the story out there.
So now it had become a game of “how the hell do I let people know that this thing exists?” I started the only way I could think to: by setting up a Facebook and Twitter account for my pseudonym, and joining a bunch of groups and lists that allow self-advertising. While doing this I found two Facebook groups who specialize in sharing erotic and romance novels. I got each of those pages to share mine, and as a result I saw a whopping four sales over eight days…and that’s all there’s been so far.
Now, granted I haven’t spent much time marketing the story since then – I’ve kinda got a lot on my plate to be spending too much time on the internet pretending to be my pseudonym – but it is a little frustrating that the first release didn’t go as planned. My original intention had been to have a free book promo to get those download numbers going, and then release the second story to spark more interest, but now I feel that releasing the second one would be a bit pointless because no one even knows there’s a first one yet. I need a strategy that doesn’t rely on the usual methods of promotion, and I just don’t know exactly how I’m going to go about that yet…
***EDIT: Turns out I was wrong about this; see the comments if you’re interested in the details. 🙂
So that was my month for writing. A little bit of fun, a little bit of work, and a little bit of disappointment. I’m all over the place in a sea of emotions, and “insecure” is definitely one of them!
It may seem like a strange concept, but once you decide to become a public blogger, you’ve essentially branded yourself as an online good for consumption. And if you want to be regularly consumed by lots and lots of people (get your minds out of the gutter!) You have to market that brand.
Advertising tends to be a foreign world to many artistic types (writers, for example), and personally I think that’s okay, because we live in a world where traditionally advertising methods have become so intrusive and annoying that most of us just ignore them completely. Be honest: how often do you actually click on the frustrating pop-up that appears right in front of the website you’re trying to check out? No, these days we have to do our advertising in a more polite, user-friendly way, by working it into the things that people are already enjoying.
Example: the Facebook Fan Page. Creating one for yourself gives Facebook users the opportunity to “follow” you, even if they’re peoplewho wouldn’t normally visit a blog on a day-to-day basis. I myself created my Fan Page (i.e. Author Page) a few months ago, and now I have 91 non-blog-following-people who check out my posts just as often as my actual WordPress followers.
Give a Fan Page a try! You might actually enjoy it!
My husband and I are huge nerds. I’m certain that I’ve mentioned this more than once. We may not be the worst kind of nerds, but most of the things we enjoy are the geeky kinds of things, and with that comes a certain amount of collecting. I’m big into shows like Doctor Who, movies like Star Wars, and anything ever done by Joss Whedon; he has an outrageous number of horror movies, many of them VHS tapes of some of the worst pieces of cinema ever filmed. I have McFarlane Dragons all over my bookshelves, he has an entire shelf of horror character figures to go with his movies. We both almost exclusively wear t-shirts plastered with nerdy sayings, superheroes, or video game characters. The list goes on, but I don’t think I really have to go much further to prove that yes, we are huge nerds, so I rest my case.
The point is that, because we’re nerds, and because we amass nerdy stuff, we regularly frequent what we refer to as “Geek Shops”. A nicer phrasing would be “comic shops”, but since not all of these stores necessarily focus on comics, we kinda figure that “Geek Shop” is a more accurate phrasing. These are the places you go to buy toys that you will insist are “collectibles”, and various forms of the kind of literature that makes your family roll their eyes and yell at you for wasting your money. These are the shops where the nerdiest of us go to get our guilty pleasures. These are the kinds of shops that my husband and I have watched fail time and time again.
The pop culture example would be Stewart’s comic shop on the Big Bang Theory. It’s a nice looking shop, and the Big Bang cast frequents it regularly, but we’re never under any kind of misunderstanding that Stewart is in any way successful. He regularly mentions such things as being unable to pay the bills, not having anything to eat for the day, etc. Even with people regularly in his shop, he’s failing miserably. The subplot is part of the humor of the show, but in real life my husband and I have seen this kind of thing time and again. Since we first started frequenting “geek shops” several years ago, we have seen no fewer than five of these shops disappear within a year because they couldn’t hold their own, and a few more downsize to significantly smaller shops because they overstepped their bounds and had a really rough time making a go of it. Alternatively, there are a few shops that have withstood the test of time, that have been around since long before hubby and I started shopping there, and will probably be there for years to come. So what’s the difference? Why is it that some shops are perfectly successful and others can barely stay open for a few months? I have a few thoughts. I’m going to share them.
The owners don’t consider their market/location.
When you open a specialty shop in a big city, chances are that someone will be into it, simply because there is a greater population and a greater variety of people and personalities. Alternatively, when you open a specialty shop in a less populated area, you have to consider that your clientele will not be as varied. Several times I have seen someone open a “geek shop” and immediately order a crap-ton of different comics, books, and collectibles from a great number of distributors. They want to have variety, so they order some video game stuff, some superhero stuff, some TV-related stuff, some movie-related stuff, and maybe even some tabletop board games, stuffed animals, collectible card games…you get the point. They order everything. And then they fail miserably because they can’t sell it.
In a big city this would be a more reasonable approach because chances are, at some point, someone is going to walk in who desperately wants a particular item that you happen to have in your vast inventory. In a small area, the chances of a customer arriving for each of the hundreds of things you’ve decided to stock is very unlikely. You might get lots of people coming in and buy comics, but you might find yourself sitting on thousands of dollars worth of tabletop games for years, unable to pay back all the money that you spent on them in the first place.
In the area where my husband and I grew up, big collectors are few and far between. People like us have slowly been appearing over time, but as a “by population” statistic, it’s a small percentage. Therefore, someone who opens a shop full to the brim with collectible figures in our area is likely to find themselves drowning in those figures for months, and maybe even years, until eventually they sell them all at a loss just to pay the last month’s rent on the store.
I’m not saying that a shop in a smaller area shouldn’t order lots of stuff, but you have to scope out your market first. Buy a few of a bunch of different things, see what sells, and then focus on that stuff. I’m sure that’s right up there in some of the top lessons they teach in marketing classes, and yet a large number of comic shop owners find themselves deep in the hole because they fail to have that little bit of common sense.
They cater to a certain crowd, and alienate everyone else.
Several of the geek shops I’ve seen fail had one big thing in common: they were constantly hosting tabletop or collectible card game tournaments in the shop. This, I’ve come to believe, is an enormous no-no. Why? Space. One particular shop I’m thinking of constantly had their entire store filled wall to wall with tables to host these tournaments, and the result is that no one else who comes in can reach anything. Entire walls of product will be inaccessible unless you want to press your entire body up against the dudes playing Magic the Gathering, or else climb right over the damn table. I have witnessed, on dozens of occasions, customers walking into a store, seeing the army of gamers taking up every inch of floor space, and turning around to walk right back out. No one wants to deal with that, I’m sorry.
Maybe the store owner earns a little bit of money from the tournament itself…maybe a few of those gamers buy something on their way out. But how many customers does the shop lose because they just can’t be bothered having to fight through the crowd just to be able to see anything?
I’m not saying that these shops should never host tournaments, because I’m sure there is some revenue to be had from them, but you have to consider the other customers as well. One shop I know of has a room off to the side that is set aside specifically for these tournaments. The gamers are away from the product, the door can be shut if they’re making too much noise, and other customers can come and go as though it’s any other day. That shop is successful. The one that constantly has it’s entire floor space covered in gamer nerds is not.
They spend tons of money on stuff they may never sell.
This one goes along with knowing your market. There’s a vast world of geeky items and collectibles out there, and for every item there’s someone who desperately wants it and will spend ridiculous amounts of money on it…but that person is not likely to ever walk into your shop.
I die a little inside every time I walk into a geek shop that has a $2000 sword replica hanging on the wall, or a huge glass case full of resin statues that range anywhere from $100 to $5000, because chances are that all of those items will still be there the next time I visit…and the time after that…and the time after that. Those items almost never sell, because honestly, what do you think the chances are that someone who just happens to have $3000 of disposable income in their pocket and really desperately wants a life-sized stainless steel replica of Ned Stark’s sword is just going to happen to wander into your store? Sure all that stuff looks awesome, but if you’ve bought it just so that your customers can say, “Wow, that’s so cool!” and then walk away…well, it’s not a very good investment, is it?
A more successful shop – one that has already stood the test of time and proven that they’re going to be around for a while – can get away with a few of these items because they have the capital to be able to survive if that item never sells. But when a brand new shop opens up and has their walls covered in the kinds of items that only the richest and most dedicated of nerds would ever even consider buying…that’s just dumb. There, I said it. Sorry, but it’s true.
They try to cheat people.
This is not something that every shop owner does, of course, but I’ve noticed it in several shops, some of them being the ones who eventually crashed and burned.
Here’s the thing…geeky stuff has become much more mainstream over the years, and that means that some of the items that we previously could only get at geek shops are now available all over the place. Therefore, where geek shop owners used to pretty much be able to choose their own pricing for items, now they have to consider what that item is being sold for at the Walmart down the street…and a lot of the time they don’t.
I’ll give you an example. I love Funko Pop collectibles. They’re adorable and I love ’em. When the hubby and I first discovered them they were something that we only ever saw in geek shops, but in recent years the cute little figures have become a lot more popular and can be found in lots of stores and also bought online. Therefore, tell me, please…why would I spend $20 on one of these figures from a geek shop when the local Chapters has the exact same one for $12?
Hey, profit has to come from somewhere, I get that, and if a collectible is obscure or hard to find I can totally understand a geek shop charging extra for it because it’s not like you can just walk down the street to buy it from someone else. But if you actually can just walk down the street to buy it from a dozen other someones…well, maybe – just maybe – you should consider not charging 30-50% more than those other someones. There are plenty of people out there who would prefer to support their local specialty shop, but the overwhelming majority of people are going to choose to pay less because of course they are.
This is all just my opinion, of course. I don’t claim to truly know anything about marketing, or business models, or any of that nonsense. All I know is what I see with my own eyes, and when I’ve seen the things I mentioned above, the result has almost always been a “Closed” sign on the door of an empty building.
Join me, my fellow nerds. Do you frequent “geek shops”? Do you notice these trends yourself, or have you noticed other things that tend to contribute to a shop’s downfall? Share!
For a number of reasons the internet is a wonderful tool for the use of artists of every kind. It allows us to network with our peers and our fans, to take the reins on our own marketing and distribution, to do various kinds of research, and a world of other useful things. It makes our lives and platforms easier to handle and, if we so choose, allows us to share ourselves and our work with the world on a scale of our own choosing.
But there are also pitfalls. One such pitfall that never ceases to destroy my trust in people is plagiarism.
Plagiarism is something I never honestly thought that I would have to worry about. When I was still in school the only kind of plagiarism you ever heard about was kids copying each others’ work or copying entire sections of their essays out of library books. Even as I moved on to the college world the most you really came across was when truly stupid students would copy sections of Wikipedia pages without realizing that Wikipedia is created by volunteer input and is therefore not necessarily correct in any way, shape, or form.
These days, however, I can give you a list of pieces that I have seen plagiarized on the internet. I have several artist friends who have found their drawings/paintings/etc posted on other peoples’ websites with no credit given to the original creator. I know a number of writers who only found out through the help of their readers that other people were snatching their work from sites like FanFiction.net and FictionPress.com and posting it on their own websites with their own names attached. I even know a few people who write for professional websites who have found their articles copy-and-pasted onto other people’s sites with the impression that it belonged to the thief. And just recently my father, who loves photography and regularly posts his photos on Facebook, was informed by a friend that other photographers were ganking his pictures and claiming them as their own. In most of these cases the original creators had no intention of making money from their work, which is why they were sharing it freely, but that does not give other people the right to steal that work and turn around and use it for their own purpose.
Some people may say that if the thief isn’t making any money off the stolen work, then what should it matter? And I’m here to tell you that it matters a lot. For one thing, if two people are claiming ownership of the same work, how do the fans know who to trust? If, for instance, someone stole one of my stories and posted it on their own site, how many readers might read it on that site first, and therefore assume that I am the thief? Now my name has been besmirched even though I am the victim. For another thing, you have to think about things like exposure and building a portfolio. Take my father for this example. He currently has no intentions of making any money from his hobby, but someday he might, and all the photos that he’s been taking and sharing with the world will be part of his portfolio. But if other people have been taking his photos and claiming them as their own, they will have been spending all this time building up their own portfolios with those stolen photos. They’ve been gaining all the ill-gotten exposure while my father has been simply enjoying his hobby, and if his intentions do change, he’ll be basically starting over from scratch because he’ll have no way to prove that those photos were truly his all along.
There are certain things that an artist can do to protect their work, such as watermarking photos and emailing manuscripts to yourself (so that the email server has a time stamp of how long that particular file has been in your possession), but action rarely stops plagiarizers. The internet is an enormous virtual Universe that is unfortunately filled with quite a large number of jerks, and in the many examples of plagiarism that I’ve seen, the only reason the victims even found out about their work being stolen was because fans found out and informed them of the outrage.
So with that said, I offer a suggestion to the masses: keep an eye out for one another. To my knowledge no work of mine has ever been plagiarized, but for all I know there could be a dozen other blogs out there posting my Final Fantasy novelization and claiming it as their own, and I would definitely want to be informed if someone happened to wander across such a thievery. I’m sure any one of you would want the same. So keep your eyes open, friends and fellow artists. We are a community and we have to have each others’ backs on this one. Don’t let the thieves win!
When I was quite young, still in the elementary school years, I used to write like mad. I had notebooks and notebooks full of stories and I was rarely ever without pen and paper. But as I grew and other things began to be important to me, my writing dwindled down to nothing. By the time I hit high school I was barely even writing at all.
Then my best friend and I began a strange collaboration. It started because of a particular English teacher who I loathed. My best friend and I used to jokingly plot crazy ways to be rid of this particular teacher (it’s not as creepy as it sounds, I swear, and besides, she deserved it), and somehow or other it became a super-short little story. I honestly can’t remember which one of us wrote the first chapter, but I remember that it was only about a page long, featured ridiculously overblown explosions, and ended with my boyfriend and I being pursued by the police. It was an incredibly goofy, over-the-top little piece of flash fiction that would have made little to no sense when taken out of context, but it started something.
You see, at the time that this strange little story first came to light, my friend and I shared a keyboarding class. For you youngsters, that was a classroom full of typewriters – not computers, mind you, but honest-to-goodness typewriters – where a teacher would run us through exercises to learn how to type properly (you know, with your fingers on the right keys and without looking at your hands). Since my friend and I were already rather good at typing, we would often finish our assigned tasks quickly, and thus we took to spending the remainder of our classes adding to our little story. She would type up a page-long “chapter”, and then I would type one. Back and forth, back and forth.
The thing is, there was absolutely nothing sensible about this story we were collaborating on. The cast quickly ballooned to include my best friend and her beau, two other friends and a boy one of them had a crush on, and a random goofy guy from my best friend’s science class (who, funny story, wound up becoming my husband). This motley crew of eight went on lunatic adventures to stay ahead of the police, and that adventure got more and more bewildering as it went on. Among some of the more outlandish plot points were an armada of flying enemy pizza-minis who were destroyed by being sprayed with donair sauce, alien cows who could disguise themselves to look like humans, and the use of such devices as a SRMLD (Stark Raving Mad Lunatic Detector. Since one of the first pages of the story involved one of the characters accidentally blowing up the planet, we called it “The Day the Earth Blew Up”, and filled the thing with so many terrible in-jokes that reading it now makes me twitch a little.
And here’s the point of this little trip down memory lane…Our story was utterly foolish. It had numerous spelling and grammatical errors. It had no discernible plot, and certainly no semblance of act structure. It was complete and utter nonsense that would mean absolutely zip to anyone other than myself and my friend. It was nothing that could ever be shared with the world in any way. And it was fun. It was ridiculously fun and it started me writing again.
There’s a moral here, and that moral is that writing doesn’t always have to have a purpose. It doesn’t have to mean anything. It doesn’t have to be publishable, or even readable. You can have goals and deadlines and lots of writerly responsibilities, but you can have fun too. You can write silly, meaningless nonsense every now and then. You can write whatever foolishness pops into your head just because it’s in there and you’d like to get it out. I think that’s something that a lot of writers forget. They focus all of their time and energy into writing words that can be sold, or used for marketing or promotional purposes, and they forget why they got into writing in the first place.
Writing can absolutely be your career, but it is also something that writers do because we enjoy it, because we love it, and it’s important to remember that. After all, we all know what “all work and no play” did to a famous fictional writer.
My Facebook friends and Twitter followers already know about this, but I thought that, considering the subject matter, it bore repeating as a blog post.
Yesterday morning, a little less than one month since I sent out my first real manuscript submission to a publisher, I received an email back from said publisher.
It was a big, fat rejection letter.
And it wasn’t even an overly impressive rejection. It basically read, “Ms Tobin, sorry, but your story isn’t for us, good luck in the future.”
Now, here’s the thing. I’ve been expecting this since the second I hit the “send” button on my submission. While I wanted to have a glimmer of hope, I had a dozen voices shouting pessimism (reason?) at me. I thought, “It’s my first submission, and who the hell ever gets published on their first submission?” and, “You don’t even read romance novels, so what makes you think you would be able to write a decent one?” I wasn’t terribly hard on myself, I was just trying to be reasonable. I didn’t want to get my hopes up when the chances are so terribly low of getting a deal with a publisher these days, particularly on your first try.
But, here’s the other thing: I’d be a dirty, dirty liar if I said the rejection didn’t sting. Despite my 99.99% certainty that nothing good would come of my submission, there was still that tiny little glimmer in the back of my mind, holding out hope. And that glimmer imploded in upon itself when I read the words “your project isn’t right for us”. I had a wave of disappointment, followed by a wave of anger, followed by a wave of almost physical pain – all this within a 30 second span.
But then something wonderful happened. It was over. After weeks of checking my email fifty times a day, wondering if I would get a response today or not for months, telling myself that it was going to be a rejection but also praying for it to be an acceptance, it was over. My story was rejected. Submission saga complete. Nothing left to worry about.
I learned several things about myself and about the system by submitting that manuscript…
For one thing, I learned that I hate the traditional publishing process, not because it rejected me, but because of the time and waiting required. I only had to wait a month to get that rejection letter, and the waiting drove me right up the wall. Most big publishers quote up to 6 months or more, and many of them make it very clear that they expect to be the only one looking at your manuscript at any given time (if they find out you’ve submitted to multiple publishers at once it’s an automatic rejection). So say for a moment that I start submitting my zombie apocalypse novel and that it takes 5 publishers before one says yes (which is generous, as some people submit to dozens of publishers before hitting pay dirt). Now say that each of those publishers requires that you can’t submit to anyone else until they’re done with you, and say that each one of them quotes a 6 month waiting period, which they dutifully use every second of. That means that it would be two and a half years before that fifth publisher decided to take a chance, and that’s before the long process of contracts, cover design, copyediting, etc that can also take years. In other words, by the time my zombie apocalypse novel was actually in print people might not give a flying rat’s tail about zombies anymore, and my sales might be abysmal. Alternately, I could self-publish the book by the end of this year if I put my heart in it…I’d have to do all the cover/editing/marketing work myself, but it would be out years earlier, during a time when there are tons of zombie movies and games around because zombies are in right now.
Another thing I learned is that I’m not nearly as delicate as I thought I was. Sure I had my moment of depression that sparked anger and frustration as well, but it was all over in less than a minute. I didn’t mope or tell myself that I got rejected because my story was crap. I didn’t turn into a miserable ball of self-loathing. I had a burst of emotion, and then it was over. I’ve moved on. Back on the road and heading into the great beyond. No turning back now.
And another thing that I learned is that I’ve gathered a great community of family, friends, and fellow writers around me over the past months. When I took to Facebook and Twitter to announce my first official rejection letter, the response I got was just wonderful. Amongst the messages I got were:
“Some day your writing will pay off for you. You love it too much for it not to!” – my father
“Just save it for when you do sell your book. You can frame it next to a glowing review.” – @writerreese
“Celebrate! It means you’re a dedicated, professional writer!” @SaraMThorn
There were many others, and it really gave me a burst of confidence, an invaluable thing to me. So I want to say thank you. Thank you to the people who rallied around me to make sure that I knew this wasn’t the end of the world (or, at least, my writing career), thank you to all the writers and references that have let me know what I can expect from both traditional publishing methods and self-publishing methods, and thank you to the editor who gave my manuscript a chance and was relatively quick in letting me know that it wasn’t what they were looking for. Now I can move forward, which is the direction that one definitely wants to be headed in.
As previously mentioned, I’ve been taking a bit of time to read some “craft books” on writing, and the first one I’ve been looking at is Kristen Lamb’sRise of the Machines. The focus of her book is social media and how writers can use it to create a working “author platform”, but she also touches on other subjects such as traditional vs. indie publishing, marketing, and occasionally a little bit of (related) neuroscience. Yeah, you heard me.
One of the side-topics that has come up in what I’ve read so far (enjoying it so much!) is this idea of ruining your platform without even realizing it. In other words, turning your name to mud by accident. In a world where everything can be re-Tweeted half a million times before you blink, it’s easy for one stupid mistake to go viral and effectively ruin your good name for, well, for good. This doesn’t only apply to writers (or the celebrities we so often see spiraling the metaphorical toilet bowl); it applies to everyone. That’s why I wanted to talk about it today, because this is the kind of thing that everyone should know, but which most people never think about.
I’ve spoken before about how anonymity does not truly exist on the internet and how we should watch what we do and say because it can come back to bite us in the ass. In that previous post I was focused on what I called “The Golden Internet Rule”, which is simply “don’t be a jerk on the internet”. This time I’m not talking specifically about being a jerk, but simply about understanding that whatever you choose to talk about on the internet has now become searchable, findable, and quite possibly eternal.
I’ll give a personal example, because what better way to show people what you mean than by sharing your own morbid embarrassment?
When I was in university, studying to be a technologist, I had ups and downs. I had chosen my path partially on a whim because of a stressful situation (the course I had originally chosen was cancelled two months before the start of the semester, so I had to pick something else quick or simply not go to school). The result was that I often wondered if I’d chosen the right thing, whether or not I should drop out and choose something else, and was I really suited for this kind of career? I kept pressing forward because change is scary, and eventually I found myself in the fourth and final year of program, having an all-out panic attack. It began to occur to me that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I graduated. I didn’t know what kind of jobs I was even qualified for, how I would go about applying for them, where the work would end up taking me, or whether I would even be any good in the field. Sure I’d made pretty great grades in school, but the real world is a lot different from the class world. I didn’t know what kind of work I would be doing, but I was pretty confident it would not be writing short lines of computer code to set tiny LED lights to flash on and off at timed intervals.
One night when I was particularly stressed, I went online to a forum that I frequented in those days. I wrote a long post about my concerns, my worries, my stress level. I ranted about things like “wasting time and money on a degree I don’t even understand” and how I would disappoint my parents if I suddenly up and decided to do something different, and how I was terrified of the idea that I might have to move away from home for a job and “why oh why didn’t I choose a career path with a clearer future?!”
It was a rant born of stress, passion, and an overwhelming desire for someone to wrap their virtual arms around me and say that it was going to be okay. I did get that virtual hug from my virtual companions, but I also made a teeny tiny mistake. Within the confines of that rant, I used my full, real name. It wasn’t a concern because most of the folks on this forum knew my real name anyway, but in this particular post I wrote one line that described what my diploma would look like when I graduated, with my full name in the center of it. I added that bit in to make a point concerning my rant, but I didn’t consider what adding my full name in actually did to that post.
Haven’t figured it out yet?
It made me instantaneously and easily locatable on Google.
For the most part this was a non-issue. I was a nobody that no one cared about. Who would even go looking up my name on Google, and if they did find my post, why would they care? At least that’s what I thought until someone did happen to Google my name and did click on the link that led them to my post. It was my uncle. I can’t recall the reason that he searched my name in the first place, but when he did he happened upon my post, read it, and subsequently wrote me a very long, very concerned email.
I was mortified.
My uncle was just trying to be helpful and calm my concerns, and he was very sweet. That’s not the mortifying part. The mortifying part was that he read my post in the first place. When I wrote that post it was with the intentions that only my internet friends ever see it. I just wanted a little bit of anonymous support from people who I never had to deal with face-to-face. For good or ill, I’ve never been the kind of person who can share their pains and emotions with their closest loved ones, so when one of those close loved ones found my whining, complaining, melodramatic post I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. And while in this case I had the opportunity to go back and change what I’d written (posts on this forum were editable), in another place I may have been stuck with what I’d written forever.
This is what we’re dealing with when we put ourselves out there on the internet, and my example is absolutely nothing compared to what some people have put themselves through. Every one of you reading this right now has seen at least one photo of someone who uploaded their pic on a social network site only to realize later that there was something excruciatingly embarrassing about it. One particular photo that comes to mind is of a teenage girl who took a “selfie” of herself and uploaded it to Facebook before noticing that her vibrator was sitting in plain view in the corner of the pic. As if that’s not mortifying enough, before she noticed it dozens of people had copied it and posted it elsewhere. The picture went viral. Because this girl failed to take a few seconds to actually look at the photo before posting it, she is now an internet meme that will never die.
Whatever you say, whatever you post, whatever you do, it only takes one opportunist to back-up your mistake on his computer before you can backtrack. In this way the internet is forever. Ask anyone who has ever found themselves depicted as a cruel jape on sites like 9gag. It doesn’t matter how much you beg or cry or scream, you can’t erase something from the internet once people have decided to use it at your expense. Even if it is an extreme example and you have grounds for legal action, it only takes one person to store the quote/pic/post away to whip out again at a later date. And the bigger a deal you make out of trying to abolish a bad rep, the bigger a deal people will make out of making sure that it never dies.
This is why we have to be careful, not only when dealing with touchy issues like religion and politics, or when letting our tempers get the best of us online. We also have to be careful with everything we say or do on the internet. Before you say or post or upload, step back and think. Think about how you would feel if your parents (or your children) happened across your post. Think about the repercussions if your employer saw that pic. Think about the veritable shit storm you might inadvertently stir up with your status update.
Basically, just THINK. It’s something we don’t do enough of these days, and with the Internet playing the part of devil’s advocate, one stupid mistake can mean that you name is mud for a very, very long time.
Have you ever said or did something on the internet that came back on you in an embarrassing or painful way? Do you know anyone else who has had to deal with this kind of unintentional reputation ruining? Thoughts and comments?