Thursday, June 01, 2006

Blogger Learning

Last week the NY Times had an article called, “Interns? No Bloggers Need Apply,” that addressed the growing concerns companies have about their interns’ (and employees’) online activities. This coincided with an announcement from my own ranks that I might soon find out what my company’s own stance might be, and both events got me thinking on the nature of blogging, the internet, and the openness that we allow ourselves (or should allow ourselves) depending on our respective jobs.

Increasingly writers are asked to put themselves out there on the net (start a website, blog, MySpace) and share their struggles, their joys, and their overall experience. By building a net following before their books are even released they increase their selling potential and can offer insights to parts of the book that might otherwise be troubling (or been messed with in the editing process). While this image of the writer is one of the self-employed and free to say whatever, they still owe their advance to the publishing company, publicity help to their publicist, etc, and talking smack about any of these people might be detrimental to their future writing career. So despite this illusion of openness fostered by the ability to hit post and send your words to the world wide web in less than a second, there is the unstated rule, “thou shalt not burn any bridges that you many need to cross again in the future.”

Unless, of course, you are one of those people that call another a bitch to their face and get them to laugh with you: a talent many of us do not possess.

With company blogs larger issues come into play. Not only do you not want to anger those above you, but suddenly (whether you want to or not) you are acting as a representative for the company to the outside world. You can give a bad impression of your company as a whole if you have a bad day. You can be fired for releasing information if the company deems said information for internal use only.

Still there are company sanctioned blogs out there that improve the image of the company: the Boeing blog we discussed previously, the Powells.com blog, and others that demystify the process of the world they write about without giving away the company’s secrets. And why shouldn’t the process be demystified? Why shouldn’t everyone be allowed to educate themselves on the basics of these businesses when it directly affects them?

The question really is where to draw the line.

When I started this blog it was merely to keep a group of friends laughing about my adventures gearing up for Harry Potter. Nothing big. No plans to explain the book universe or my own thoughts and feelings about the future of bookselling. I was a novice when it came to blogger with no knowledge of trackbacks or site meters or what the hell Technorati was. I never thought that other people (outside those friends) would be interested in what I had to say because for the most part I figured the whole thing was common knowledge. Replace bookseller with barista and books with coffee and the daily ins and outs would be the same. There’s the good and the bad in every job.

Quite randomly this blog caught on—despite the fact that I’m nowhere near as eloquent as Robert Gray, the Written Nerd, and other booksellers who express their thoughts on the future of books and bookselling—and I find myself wondering if I’ve done the right thing. I know that I don’t get near the amount of hits of other sites, and that even if I put my real name out here my company may never find out. But if they did?

Would they be proud of the words I’ve written?

Would they find fault in those issues that I felt needed to be commented on and discussed?

Did I accidentally give away company secrets somewhere in these posts?

It’s something I’ve definitely thought about more now than I did before when my shell of anonymity was strengthened by the ignorance of not knowing my company’s blogging policy. Would I have been as open on calling people on bad behavior or discussing co-op marketing had I known that one day I might have a chance to put my name on this?

I don’t know.

I love how this blog has evolved from a place to post my opinions to an open discussion about bookselling, book writing, and a celebration of the written word. I love that people who have never met me feel comfortable asking questions, trading opinions, and pointing out the flaws in my arguments. I love how we all have a chance to educate ourselves through the process.

I’m not an expert on any of this, none of us are, but together we seem to do pretty well, and I’d like to let that process continue whether my name is attached or not.

And I’d like that openness to continue.

So whether or not this Bookselling Chick gets to use her birth name in the future, I want to thank you all for helping me create something so much more than the sum of its parts (and its start). I hope that you get as much from the process as I do.

7 comments:

lady t said...

You've been very careful in regards to talking about your job,BSC-I wouldn't worry about it. My former job didn't know anything about my blog and I made sure not to use any names either. Plus,your experiences as a bookseller are relatable to anyone working in the field,indie or chain.

Anonymous said...

I've appreciated your posts and information on Bookseller Chick.

I do think that people tend to feel an intimacy blogging and forget that the information they're writing is open to the world and cannot be taken back.

Would you put the same words on a billboard by the freeway? Would you be surprised if you dissed your employer or your clients on a billboard or a magazine article and they got upset at being publicly criticized?

It's one thing to tell your pals, "My boss is a jerk," and it's another to tell the world.

Re: the issue of employers telling staff to create blogs with photos, opinions, etc., that seems very invasive to me. Why should their employees' lives and public personas be free for the employer's use? Why should a job, which may be short term, subject one to posting information in a public venue?

Robin Brande said...

Blog on, BSC! I love what you're doing here. As a writer, I want to know what you think and what other writers and booksellers think, and you've created a great forum. I quote you probably more times than you know. If you ever stopped doing what you're doing, there'd be a BSC-sized hole in the universe. I don't think you want to be messing with that.

jason evans said...

I'm thankful for your blog and have loved seeing it grow.

I know it's natural to worry about blogging when horror stories have been splashed over the news (like folks fired for blogging), but I can't imagine anything objectionable could be found in your pages. You don't disparage your company in anyway. In fact, you haven't even named it.

Eileen said...

Blog baby blog. I've found your site to be very educational and insightful to your industry. I haven't seen any spite or revenge blogging, although I am certain you come across those who would sorely deserve a blog lashing

Christine Fletcher said...

I read this blog daily because you aren't afraid to discuss things like coop, or book covers, or authors behaving badly, or the impact one customer can make on your day. And it's not only the topics you choose, but the thoughtfulness of your discussions. I've never felt this blog to be about you, or even about your company; it's so clearly about the books, the love of books, the business of books.

Odd as this sounds, until my novel got published, I never thought about booksellers. Been going to bookstores all my life, and yet as a writer, I took them completely for granted. I don't anymore, thanks in large part to this blog. And the more I learn, the more appreciative I become.

Thanks again, BSC.

The Whining Stranger said...

A mighty grrr to companies that restrict blogging. I only wish I'd had a blog as an undergrad (in the pre-blog jurassic period of the internet) and was suffering as a retail-drone for a corporate bookstore. What sweet relief those rants would have been!