The One with Wisdom from Auntie Alex
I get asked a lot for advice on starting out in the publishing industry, but I wanted to share something that I think applies to all industries, great and small. Whether you are an intern or an assistant--basically, if you are not your own boss or at such a senior level that you can make your own rules--it is never appropriate to discuss business matters online. You should not be blogging about it, you should not be tweeting about it, and you should not be posting things on Facebook. It's one thing to talk up a title you've worked on, or praise one of your authors, but it's something else to discuss submissions/letters you've received or what happens in certain meetings. You may think you are being helpful to your readers, and maybe you are... but you know who you're not helping? Yourself. You are showing yourself to be someone who has a shaky understanding of ethics and confidentiality. That is not someone who is hireable and that is not someone a company will choose to continue to employ.
People ask me why, ages and ages ago, I deleted that YA Trends post I had. When I posted it, I had over two thousand hits in two hours. I felt a little drunk on power and attention, but it also scared the crap out of me. While I don't make it a point to say where I work, you can find this information online (easily, unfortunately) or hear it through the grapevine. I was not at all comfortable with the idea of appearing to speak for my Place of Employment. I'm an assistant and I've been here for a year. At the time, I hadn't even been here for a full year.
It was the right decision to take the post down. Trust me when I say that you shouldn't really be taking advice from an assistant or intern to begin with, because while we think we know things, we don't have the years of experience behind us to back up most of our claims. Yes, we are the front line, but, no, we don't ever really have the final say on things.
I hate to make an example of any one person, but a large part of why I have a problem with #queryfest or any of the other interns who are out there blogging/tweeting/what-have-you about submissions they get is that it's clear they usually don't have permission from their supervisor to be doing so. And while I don't mean to disrespect interns or belittle the work they do in any way (because lord knows I have toiled as an intern and some of my favorite people have been interns here at work--hi Lauren!), but you are there to work. You are there to learn. You are not there to publicly pass judgment on strangers using private business correspondence that is not addressed to you, but to your supervisor.
When I said on Twitter that I would be fired for participating in something like #queryfest, I wasn't kidding, and I certainly wasn't exaggerating. I liked agent Jennifer Laughran's response, which was, "When I was an intern, I was told to keep my mouth shut, my ears open, & never seem to speak for the company." This has been my experience as well. I can have an opinion and I can make suggestions, but I need to go about it in an extremely professional, cautious way. I can't stand up in the middle of a cover meeting and start talking about why I hate this cover or like that one unless my opinion is solicited, and even then I always defer to what my boss says. If I feel really strongly about it, I discuss it with her in private afterwards.
(By the way, my initial tweet was actually in response to agent Janet Reid's comment that if one of their interns did that, they'd be fired--and she wouldn't wait until morning to do it.)
There was an opinion piece a while back that was talking about how, in the future, kids will have to change their names when they graduate college if they want their histories online to disappear. If there's one thing I want you to take away from this, it's that the internet is forever. Always think before you speak. No one is ever really anonymous online.