Thursday, July 28, 2011


by Melissa Senate

A few days ago, I read a lovely piece about the author Ann Patchett and the bookstore she’s opening in Nashville. Ann Patchett doesn’t tweet. Or have a Facebook page. She’s never Googled herself, let alone Google +ed herself. When I read this, my first thought was: Dreamy. Both the bookstore and the utter lack of social media.

I do love Twitter. And Facebook. I haven’t yet joined Google+ because I’m on deadline, have a lot of freelance work and very little childcare this summer (in other words, no energy to learn something new right now), but come fall, I’ll be there. Thanks to social media, I rarely feel like I’m home alone at my desk in Maine. I feel connected—to the world of publishing, to authors, to editors and agents. To readers. To ideas. To news and entertainment. To old friends and relatives who live hundreds of miles away. I’ve gotten to know so many authors who now feel like can’t-wait-to-chat-with-them friends at the water cooler. I have a daily (okay, many times daily) check in with my universe. Because of Twitter, I know that Beverly Cleary is Judy Blume’s idol (and this is something that warmed my heart to know.) Because of Facebook, I discovered that Amy Winehouse died and that many of my Facebook friends are very compassionate. Social media is more than just typing something into a little box and hitting send; it’s a world of connection, in every sense of the world. It’s a wonderful thing and I love it.

There’s often a but, and the but with social media is that sometimes it can feel like it’s squeezing the lifeblood out of you. Like you’re not a part of anything at all. Like you’re very much all alone at your desk in Maine. For all the times I unplug, though, I happily come right back, refreshed and ready to rejoin the social mediaverse.

Another but, which came to me this past weekend after a particular tweet made me gasp, is this: If you’re not on social media, your work, like Ann Patchett's, speaks for itself, speaks for you. That’s a good thing. Social media, on the other hand, does a lot of our speaking for us. Every now and then, I read tweets by authors that make me raise an eyebrow, but I move on down the feed, enjoying the various personalities and sensibilities and breakfasts of those I follow.

Until this past weekend and that gasp. A New York Times bestselling author tweeted something that turned me off to the point that I’d never read a blog post this author wrote, let alone buy another book. And I’m not easy to offend, I swear! I have a sense of humor. I know some things are just stupid-funny. But this tweet, this mean-spirited (albeit maybe very funny to some) bad-taste tweet, all the more wrong especially in light of what the tweet was about, actually managed to offend me. It was a tweet written in the aren’t I clever, aren’t I snarky vein. And all I could think was: Is this who you really are?

That I was turned off to ever reading this author again seems to me a #twitterfail. One of the main points of social media for an author, in my opinion, is for readers and potential readers to discover a face/voice/heart/soul behind the pages. Turning off readers with bad-taste snark (and trust me, I very much appreciate brilliant snark), can’t be good tweeting.

Says me. A thousand others may not have been offended in the slightest. Might have found that tweet very funny. Should authors be mindful of others on social media so that they don’t turn off readers? Everyone has his/her own point of view, sense of humor, way of looking at the world, way of communicating. I follow over a thousand people on Twitter and can’t remember ever reacting so negatively to a tweet.

Do you ever get turned off by what you read on social media? Facebook status updates that make you hit hide or unfriend? Tweets that make you hit unfollow? P.S. If the answer is yes, remember not to be specific! I VERY PURPOSEFULLY didn’t reveal any details about the tweet that bugged me so much. I’m not all that comfortable posting this bit of negativity in the first place. For all I know, I've tweeted a thing or two that has turned someone off.

Again, what’s vicious to me might be hilarious to someome else. What’s “Yeah! Sing-it, sister!” to me might make someone else hit unfollow. Should authors be careful on social media? Does the author who snark-tweeted care that a reader or two might have been lost? Should that author care? That is the question, I suppose.

Bio: Melissa Senate is the author of 10 novels, including her latest, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School. She lives on the coast of Maine. P.S. She'd love you to friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.


  1. Melissa, yes I do sometimes get offended by peoples' tweets and FB status updates. I have hidden people on FB and I take them off my radar on Tweetdeck, though I usually don't unfollow. I have little patience for political rants or incessant minutia or TMI.

    But for me, I love social media generally. When I hear about an author who eschews all of it like Patchett it's usually a writer who doesn't need to market herself. I'm sure Ann Tyler doesn't do social media either. That's all fine, but it's a good thing I like Facebook and Twitter because I don't think I have a choice when it comes to self-promotion! :-)

  2. I have a love/hate relationship with FB and Twitter - but mostly FB. Sometimes it's fabulous, sometimes it's annoying, sometimes it's just too many voices in my head. The trick is learning how to manage it in a way that works for me. Just when I swear off of it, I pop in and have the most wonderful experience that I wouldn't have had otherwise.

  3. I have found some tweets offensive, but I try to remember that facial expressions and tone of voice don't come across in the written word, and quite often, people are tweeting quickly and don't really think things through.

  4. I have unfriended people on Facebook based on super-political posts. Like you, I think, "Is this who you really are?" And I don't friend/follow people who are unrelentingly negative. Who needs that?

  5. Great post, Melissa. I once unfriended someone because they linked to their blog post that was really upsetting to me. The person, up until then, had been an internet friend and I, like you, took pause and thought, "Who is this person?" It was unsettling.

  6. Great post, Melissa :)
    I recently stopped following a "big" author b/c I found his Tweet to be really nasty (snarky nasty) and I didn't like it. But here's the thing: it's a part of who he is and he writes like he tweets and I don't think he should hide his personality. I'll confess I don't like his books either. I followed him because of his publishing knowledge and chances are, after I've gotten over my snit with him, I'll probably go back and Re-follow him.

  7. Absolutely. Not very often, and I always try to give the benefit of the doubt (being quite succeptable to "foot in mouth" disease myself), but there are time when someone says something that is so CLEARLY nasty or prejudiced or negative, I have to think "I don't want that person in my headspace." [OMG--that's a long sentence!]

  8. Oh yeah, I definitely think/worry about this--I try to make sure my FB posts aren't too political (not always sure I do that well) or filled with blatant self-promotion, are amusing, etc. I have blocked a few folks for what I classify as idiocy. As far as Twitter--I'm on there, but have found it incredibly overwhelming (haven't set up tweetdeck which I hear helps) and don't now have the time to figure it out . . .

    It's all tricky.

  9. Melissa, I've been hearing more and more folks lately mention unfollowing a big name author on Twitter because of weird/tasteless/mean comments. That would make me want to stop reading them, too! I've stopped reading folks I used to love who made unacceptable remarks when I saw them in person. I still haven't gotten on Twitter, and I really don't want to. I haven't joined Google+ either and continue to resist its lure. I do love Facebook and enjoy that interaction. I can catch up on friends and acquaintances in a snap without lots of emails. Love that! And I love reading relatable and funny posts by others. I do worry about what I put up on FB, just as I worry about what I've said in an interview or online anywhere. It's a fine line, being ourselves and not saying something that might be taken out of context. I even worry about emails and whether I phrased something properly. I tend to be effusive, and I know some people find that off-putting. Regardless, I guess this is the Brave New World we live in, so we have to adapt. It's just a little scary seeing idols fall in 140 characters or less. Heck, it's disconcerting seeing three people fall off your FB friends list in a day and thinking, "Was it something I said?" Oy. We just do the best we can, I guess.

  10. Hi Melissa!

    After a celebrity death a couple of years ago, one of the people I followed at the time tweeted a harsh condemnation of the dead woman, along the lines of the fact that she deserved no sympathy because her death was believed to be drug-related. I raised an eyebrow, but did not respond. Apparently others did, because this person started to defend herself, and only got more vehement and angry as the defense went on.

    There was such a hateful lack of compassion that I unfollowed and have remembered this ever since. If the person had backed off, had said, "I posted in haste, without thinking," or had even moderated her original position slightly, that would have been the end of it for me. But that didn't happen.

    That said, I feel bad sometimes, like I'm sanitizing my Internet presence for the sake of marketing. Because that's boring and false. However, my readers don't likely care what my opinion is about the debt ceiling. And Twitter is a lousy place for thoughtful political debate, in my opinion, anyway.

    So I try to walk a line. I try to be sensible in my social media interaction, without censoring myself so thoroughly that it becomes artificial and dull.

    Kristina Riggle

  11. Melissa, you've written EXACTLY what I'm always grappling with as I navigate--or at least, try to--this twisty twitter path. I am a big believer in boundaries and I sometimes feel as if that keeps me from offering a truly genuine impression of myself in my tweets. Politics is a biggie. Those who know me, know I have very liberal views but I rarely expound on those via social media--even though sometimes the urge to respond is so strong!

    Kristina's comment is a great one--as she says, it feels like walking a line. Some days I want to reach out in a personal way, but I still feel a need to maintain boundaries and frankly, I'd rather regret holding back then putting something out there that could be misinterpreted or offensive on any level.

    It is a prickly path, for sure. And I'm sure like so many aspects to this journey, the road becomes clearer the longer we're on it. (Good night--could I squeeze any more cloches into this comment??!!)

  12. Thank you all so much for these very thoughtful comments!

    I do want to clarify that the "offending" tweet (I sound so prissy!) was the kind an Oscars/Golden Globes host would say for snark-shock value.

  13. Fascinating discussion! I try to avoid controversy on my FB and Twitter pages and also avoid negativity. But I violated that today (long story) after a media company did something highly unprofessional and possibly unethical for one of my booksignings. I felt like it was almost a public service to warn people about them!

  14. Great blog, Melissa. I'm dying of curiosity! If you don't want to say the name of the author, I understand. But what did s/he say? Inquiring nosy parkers want to know!

  15. Melissa, this is a great post, and obviously has struck a chord with all of us out here in Twitterland and Facebookville. I used to write a humor column, and I am so very aware of that fine line between good old fun snark and just plain mean snark, and how tough it can be to navigate it, especially without benefit of facial expressions to guide you. But I, too, have unfriended and unfollowed people for extreme negative comments and for vitriolic political and religious stuff, too. It's so upsetting when it's by somebody you thought you admired! It's a whole new world out there, huh?

  16. Yes I get offended sometimes... I really dislike foul language & negativity. I especially feel uncomfortable about the fact that I often have no control over being confronted by these things - they're posted up there for all to see whether you choose to or not! I've been surprised/shocked more times than I care to remember. Thanks for bringing this to the light...I love social media, blogging, etc, but this is an issue that frustrates me - that grown adults would think it okay to publish something that is bullying, hurtful or offensive. I would ban my teenagers for doing it, but the thing is, they wouldn't because they're "lovers" not "haters"!