5 tips to use Google to the benefit–rather than the detriment–of your writing career

They’re great, they’re covert, and they’ll bring heaven, hell, and everything in between right to your digital doorstep—Google Alerts. After a lunchtime conversation with another editor about a recent Google Alert adventure, I rooted around and dug up a short piece I ran in WD magazine last year on the subject. A prompt follows—happy Wednesday!

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You’re a wired and proactive writer, and thus you’ve gone and set up Google Alerts (google.com/alerts)—automatic e-mail notifications that pop into your inbox every time someone drops your name or your book’s title on the Web. The good news and bad news is that everyone else has them, too, including your editors and potential employers. Here are five quick tips to help you use Google Alerts to your advantage—rather than the detriment of your career.

1. Expect instant gratification—any time you’re mentioned in a favorable light, you’ll know. Namedrop back or respond on the website for bonus props, or to strike up a relationship and potentially expand your reach or flex your platform. At the very least, when you mention someone you’re a fan of, you can rest assured he’ll probably read it. Brown-nosing, or at least paying a well-earned compliment, has reached new levels.

2. You’ll also know whenever you’re bad-mouthed, so be the bigger writer and fight the urge to reply to mindless slams. If there’s an opportunity to reply without sinking to your antagonist’s level, do so constructively and cautiously.

3. Be very, very careful. Don’t sign into your blog and badmouth the editor who rejected your writing, because she’ll probably find out. And nothing kills your potential to land a future assignment or book deal like a 9 a.m. Google Alert notifying an editor that you just called her “the poison in the Random House stew.”

4. Know where your writing has ended up the minute it, well, ends up. Has someone posted your material on a website without your permission? Tackle the problem the instant it hits the Web.

Get to know and monitor your Googlegängers—your digital doppelgängers with the same name. It could come in handy when your editor asks why you’re always blogging about long-cancelled TV shows, and why you never mentioned the cameo you made in that ’70s rollerskating movie.

(This piece rain in our July/August 2009 magazine — click here to check out the rest of the issue, which also features interviews with Anne Tyler and Rick Steves, and a survival guide to publishing.)

Image: Google.com

* * *

Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your story to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

Your e-mail pings—it’s a Google Alert notification about your name. You click the link, and end up on an unexpected family member’s website.

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4 thoughts on “5 tips to use Google to the benefit–rather than the detriment–of your writing career

  1. Martha W

    Okay, I’m a day late but I used "bridge", darn it!

    Mark, I agree with Zac — awesome piece.

    Hope everyone has a great weekend!


    He stared at the computer, tugged his beard then reached for his coffee. Somehow when he took this job, he thought being Father Time would count for something. But no. He didn’t even get respect from the Tooth Fairy.

    And now this.

    Three days before Easter, the Bunny up and quits. Something about not having a day off in three weeks and his paws being dyed blue by one of the chickens helping color eggs.

    Who could he get to replace him? Maybe the Briar Rabbit? No, too impetuous. He’d be off frolicking across a bridge somewhere, breaking all the eggs along the way. If bunnies could have ADD, Briar had it.

    Maybe the leprechauns could help. But they’d want gold and he didn’t have any extra in this year’s budget with the cutbacks coming down from Mother Nature Headquarters. And they were pranksters.

    Father Time sighed, watched the sand dribble through the large hourglass in the middle of his office. If only he would slow time. Then anyone could do it.

    He straightened in his chair. "Ms. Peep? Could you call the Easter Bunny into my office, please?"

    "Yes, Mr. Time."

    "Father Time, Ms. Peep. FATHER Time."

    "Yes, Mr. Father Time. I’ll get him right up here."

    Rubbing his temples, he willed the headache away while he waited for his employee to show up. The loud knock echoed through the chamber, followed quickly by a large brown rabbit bounding into his office.

    "Father Time." A little wheezy, a lot whiny. "You called?"

    "Peter." He swiveled his monitor so the rabbit could see his email. "What is this about?"

    Peter’s fur stood on end. "That chicken dyed me on purpose. I’ll not work like that."

    "Is there nothing I can do?"

    "No. My mind’s made up."

    Father Time nodded slowly, clasped his fingers under his chin. "I see. Then could you show the Tortoise what your route is so he can take over the Easter Egg drops?"

    The silence grew thick. Peter shifted back forth on his paws. One ear twitched like mad. "The…" Peter cleared his throat. "The Tortoise?"


    "You can’t be serious."

    Large, bushy white eyebrows shot up. Father Time laughed. "Why on earth not?"

    "He’s too slow. He’ll never get those eggs done in time."

    "Under normal circumstances, but I’m going to slow down the sands of time. He’ll be okay."

    "What? You know what that will do." Peter bristled. "For every second you tamper with, you lose a year from your own life. You can’t do that."

    "It’s my life to tamper with, I can do that if I like."

    The heavy wheezing of Peter’s breath was the only sound for several ticks of the clock. Then, "Fine. You win."

    Father Time let out the breath he’d been holding as Peter raced from the room. For a moment he’d been worried. He chuckled, clicking on the budget file for the next year. He added extra gold to the Easter account.

    The leprechauns wouldn’t mind.

  2. Zac

    Mark, I can neither confirm nor deny that statement 🙂 And dig the piece — especially the kick and the secret element hook early on. Awesome read. Hope you have a great weekend!

  3. Mark James

    Zac, "the poison in the Random House stew"? Did some poor unfortunate (not to mention unpublished) writer really do that?

    “Get up.”

    I rolled my eyes to my digital clock. Ten fifteen. Sunlight on the wall. “Come on, squirt. It’s the middle of my night.”

    “I’m hungry.”

    I turned over. “Make cereal.”

    This couldn’t be good. I felt the weight of her sitting on the edge of my bed. If my little sister was doing that, she thought she had something pretty good on me.

    “I know a secret,” she said.

    “You already told Heather I sleep in my Spiderman underpants.” I pushed her off my bed. “There’s milk in the fridge. Don’t stand on any chairs.”

    “I know how to open your email,” she said.

    For almost two seconds, I thought about wrapping my hands around her throat. “What were you doing at my computer?”

    “Looking for bunnies,” she said too fast. “You didn’t find me any pictures for Easter.”

    I sat up. “So you went rabbit hunting in my e-mail?”

    She was twisting my sheet between her little hands. “It’s your page. The little house.”

    I’d taken Heather to a late movie last night and then parked under the bridge way too long. A headache was driving nails through my eyeballs. “Yeah. My home page. What’s your secret?”

    “Who’s Aunt B?”

    Something wasn’t right. I rubbed the grit out of my eyes, saw how my little sister was all tense, like she was ready to spring off my bed any second. “I don’t know.” I kept my voice low and soft, like when I read her fairytales at bedtime. “Mom doesn’t have a sister.”

    She swallowed, shot me a quick look. “Okay. I’ll go see what cereal mommy left out.”

    Britney was halfway to the door before I realized what was wrong. “Brit, wait.”

    She whipped around, her wide eyes fixed on me. “Yes?”

    That one word told me everything, that I’d broken a promise to myself, that I’d scared her. “I could really use a good secret this early in the morning.”

    She tilted her head, squinted at me. “You sounded like daddy.”

    “I know. Sorry.” I moved over, patted my sheets. “Come tell me.”

    When she tried to sit on the edge of my bed again, I pulled her close, stroked her hair till she laid her head on my shoulder.

    “How come there’s naked lady pictures in your e-mail?” she said.

    Because our dad’s swamp slime, I thought. “Just my friends, playing a joke on me.”

    “The ladies, they look like mommy,” she said. “I couldn’t read all the words, but it was signed, like grown up writing, Aunt B.”

    The divorce had been uglier than Brit would ever know. Dad tried every dirty trick to get custody of us. He didn’t want me or Britney. He wanted to win. The e-mails were holdovers from the first fight he ever lost to a woman.

    “Still hungry?” I said.

    She jumped off my bed, ran to the door. “Race you,” she said.


    I let Brit stand on a chair and help me make pancakes and eggs and bacon for breakfast. The batter came out lumpy, and she got egg yolk on her Cinderella PJ’s, but she didn’t have that scared, haunted look in her eyes anymore. That was good enough. I ate all the pancakes my little sister dropped on the griddle, lumps and all.


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