Before you post that comment on Facebook —
Before you write that caption on your Instagram photo —
Before you hangrily reply to that email —
If this were the first thing your future editor saw, what would it say about you?
Because “my privacy settings protect me” doesn’t say much. You should never assume that anything you post online is private. If they’re not already teaching this in school, they should start soon.
These same rules apply to professional writing, you know. Even if you’re not “a professional” yet. While it’s true that many of your clients and editors will focus on reviewing your writing samples, you also should never assume that they won’t also Google you or stalk you on social media. And if you’re applying for a “real” writing job — guess what? It works the same way as any other job. If your online presence isn’t clean, you’re not moving on to any stage of the hiring process.
But this isn’t even just about what you post personally or the tweets that come from your “professional” account. What you write and publish also makes a difference. You can either let it ruin your chances of success, or you can use it to your advantage.
Hiring managers don’t tell you why they picked you, the same way editors won’t always disclose why they selected your piece over someone else’s. But your online presence has almost everything to do with it these days. If you can’t prove you’re worthy online, why should anyone pick you to publish anything under their brand?
Every single time I publish something — here, or on behalf of any other publication I contribute to — I consider who’s watching. Not just the people I hope my words are helping, but also those who might be tracking my work specifically. In no way am I saying I’m anywhere near awesome enough for someone to spend valuable hours doing that (ha). But what’s the most important rule on the internet? You never know who’s reading or why.
I do not publish viral-worthy essays about my personal life. Many people do, and many of them do so for good reasons, like helping or inspiring others. But I do not need the entire world knowing every single thing that makes me vulnerable or could someday be used against me somehow. The harder it is for people to find that stuff by searching online, the better.
I do not comment on articles or social media posts unless doing so is, essentially, beneficial for my career. If I have insightful comments to make about a new nutrition study that’s being reported on, for example, I will do that — it is a credibility booster (if you do it correctly and for the right reasons).
I find no value in talking about myself online unless it’s somehow beneficial for a very carefully selected audience. Because if I’m trying to get a book published at some point, and people are looking for reasons to trust me, I’d rather give them reasons to do so, not provide them with reasons to reconsider me.
It’s just an example. But sometimes I look at things people post online, even under obviously fake names, and I wonder what makes them think it’s ever OK to do that. Do most people just feel completely safe on the internet and assume they’re fine?
If you want to impress a potential editor, agent, or client, the most important thing to remember is that everything you post online counts as a first impression. You never know who’s paying attention. Though I hate to say it, because I’m all about transparency, as a writer, you’re under an obligation to act as your best self online as much as possible. Especially when you’re trying to get hired to do any kind of writing job.
Be mindful. Be yourself, but think before you publish. Always.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.