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Blogged and Burned

Sometimes the Internet can be a writer's worst enemy.

Sandra Scoppettone was an award-winning crime and young-adult fiction writer with more than 15 novels to her name. Her blog, sandrascoppettone.blogspot.com, detailed the specifics of her writing life (debates on cover art, anxieties about current projects) with a healthy dose of self-deprecation. It was a diary of her thoughts and opinions for friends and family to enjoy. But not everyone enjoyed it.

Two Novembers ago, she blogged about her editor's departure from publishing and laid bare her anxieties about her future as a published writer. By day's end, Scoppettone had been pilloried in the comments section of her site—as well as on others' sites—for her "ageist" attitude and for complaining about the lack of follow-through on promised marketing plans. What she believed was an honest, thoughtful post brought her nothing but scorn.

Did Scoppettone's public comments result in lost sales or, as one commenter put it, "making [herself] look like what editors call a nightmare author"? It's hard to tell, but in an age where bloggers can be fired for blogging on the job, and where a stray comment can be all the incentive necessary to provoke nasty, long-running arguments, writers must pay special attention to what they post.

"Once you write something and send it out into cyberspace, it's probably going to be around forever. So make sure you're not going to regret writing it," says David J. Montgomery, the mystery and thriller columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, who blogs at the Crime Fiction Dossier (crimefictionblog.com). "When you consider that a simple Google search can instantly turn up the dumbest thing you've ever written, it really pays to take a second and third careful look before you hit that 'post' button."

One writer who's paying extra attention is Jason Pinter, whose debut novel, The Mark, will hit bookshelves this year. While he's a soon-to-be published novelist, by day, he's an editor with Crown, an imprint of Random House—the same company that fired an assistant managing editor last July for openly ridiculing her colleagues on her MySpace blog. As a result, he says, public comments about private workplace goings-on at his blog, The Man in Black (jasonpinter.blogspot.com), would be unprofessional at best, catastrophic at worst.

"I always make a point to be mindful of my day job when I write, because it's important to me that writing and editing are separate entities," Pinter says. "While I try to use them to enhance my empathy toward both sides of the equation, I wouldn't be doing my job as an editor if I commented on certain aspects of the job. My authors and colleagues trust me with sensitive issues, and I need to keep that trust. And because I respect the editorial profession, I have to respect that."

Last June, Pinter inadvertently found himself part of one skirmish when chick-lit mystery writer Elaine Viets complained on The Lipstick Chronicles (thelipstickchronicles.typepad.com) about the lack of women nominated for the International Thriller Writers' inaugural awards, using the comments of an unnamed ITW judge as a springboard. Pinter stepped in the fray in the comments sections of other blogs (which were long and contentious and spread to more blogs) by posting "Are there any Jews nominated? African Americans? Why isn't anybody up in arms about this?" This led to others imploring him to "shut up." The resulting allegations of sexism, bias and violations of confidentiality raged in the comments sections of that and other blogs, opening up old wounds in a new—and nakedly public—way.

Sometimes courting controversy can have advantages—that is, if more readers tune in and stick around. It's an approach Barry Eisler took with his blog The Heart of the Matter (barryeisler.com/blog.html), to distinguish himself from the pack, which tends to shy away from more political topics. "I've blogged about some sensitive subjects, such as how things are going in Iraq and what we ought to do about it, but so far haven't managed to put my foot in my mouth—at least not that I've noticed," Eisler says, adding that the trick is to listen to what people are saying and respond respectfully.

A writer's voice is supposed to be strong, independent and unique, and healthy debate on a blog never hurts. But when more publishers, editors and agents are scouring blogs, always remain professional. You don't want to burn anyone who helps get you a paycheck.

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