When I get a really interesting query, the first thing I do is google the author’s name and try to find out a bit more about them. I know this is something the majority of agents do at a relatively early stage – whether it’s right after reading the query, or after requesting the partial manuscript, or whenever. I also know that searching for people on the internetz is a process authors are familiar with – after all, that’s how they usually find us. With that being the case, I’m completely astounded by how often I google an author and find that they have no web presence at all. No website, no blog, no Twitter account – nothing.
Maybe sometimes they’re just low in the search rankings (I’m lucky in that regard – as far as I know I’m the only person in the world with my exact name, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to have other people with your name clogging up your search results and knocking your website off the first page of Google). But sometimes they are really not there, and I can’t help but wonder what’s going on with that.
I asked one of my clients about this before I signed him. He manages social media as part of his day job, he knows his way around that side of the internet far better than I do and has more than enough wherewithal to put a website together, so I was surprised that his only web presence was a recently-activated Twitter account. He explained that he’d been working so hard on writing his book and submitting it to agents that he didn’t really have time to think about that kind of thing – his plan was to get an agent and then start work on the website when his book was ready for submission to publishers. The other day I heard the exact same thing from another writer, who as far as I know is completely internet-invisible (which seems kind-of impressive in this day and age). I asked him suspiciously if he was in any way anti-internet, and he assured me that that wasn’t the case at all – he just hadn’t been thinking about web presence at this early stage in his writing journey. I sensed that they both felt that an authorial web presence was a thing that Real Writers had, and that while they were just noodling about trying to get somebody in the industry to look at their manuscripts it would be fraudulent of them to put anything up on the internet claiming that they were Writers too.
Here’s the thing, though: the definition of a Real Writer is a very slippery one, and the more you tell people you are one, the more you come to believe it yourself. You are a writer and you are allowed to be on the internet as such – in fact, if you’re at the querying stage then you really should be on the internet in some writerly capacity. The idea of creating a web presence is often presented in quite a daunting way (I have seen some scary advice posts on the damage a rarely-updated blog can do to your Author Brand or whatever), but personally, when I’m at the very early stages of learning about an author, I don’t particularly care how often you blog or how many Twitter followers you have. All I really want is some kind of evidence that you have an actual existence beyond the query letter you’ve sent me. I’m not saying that being visible on the internet will necessarily be the difference between getting representation and not getting representation – your work should speak for itself, after all – but why take the chance? It’s frustrating for an agent not to be able to find anything out about an author. It’s especially frustrating for me as someone who is actively building my client list – I feel like I’m looking for excuses to fall in love with you and your work, and you’re just not giving me any. You guys are stringing words together all the time – so string some together about yourself, and stick them on the internet where we can see them.
I google an author because I’m looking to find out about:
– Their personality. I like to sign authors I think I’m going to get along with. The process of preparing a manuscript for submission can be a slog, and it’s a lot easier if you’re doing it with somebody you actually like.
– Their circumstances. You wouldn’t believe the kind of things that people forget to put in query letters. For instance, I am highly suspicious of books by white people set in Japan or an analogue of Japan – but if I read your website and find out you’ve been living in Kumamoto for the past ten years with your Japanese spouse, I’ll suddenly be a lot more convinced that you’ll be able to write sensitively about it.
– Their voice. Somebody’s internet-voice is never going to be the same as their writing-voice, but you can get some kind of idea of how they like to use language.
– Their tastes. I know what the book you’ve written is about – what about the books you read? Who are your influences? What authors do you admire, and why? What are you passionate about?
– Their hobbies. Nobody just writes all the time. I want to read about your Assyriology degree or your love of theatre or your prize-winning vegetable garden. I want to know what you’re like when you’re out on the internet being your internet-self, not just when you’re writing a query letter and trying to tell me all the things you think I might want to know about you.
There are other things I’m looking for as well, of course – agents aren’t the only people who google authors, and I know that clients who are competent on the internet, and pleasant and professional in their dealings with other denizens of internetland, are going to be more appealing to the editors I pitch to. That’s all a bonus, though – mostly, I really do just want to know who you are.