Put Your Best Foot Forward on Facebook

National Grammar DayI promised the folks who run National Grammar Day (it was Tuesday, for those of you who are keeping track) that I would write a post for IU about grammar this week. And ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about.

I mean, Cathy Speight does a great job with her grammar-related posts. She explains the rules better than I ever could. So what’s left?

I thought and thought. Nothing came to mind. I gave up and went to Facebook to kill some time – and as I cruised the various writers’ groups that I’m a member of, it hit me: I could write about grammar on Facebook!

All right, I hear you guys muttering. And don’t think I don’t see you guys way in the back who are flexing your brass knuckles and checking the edges on your knives. Just hear me out, and if you think I don’t have a point, I promise to slink away quietly and we can all pretend this never happened.

Here’s the thing: We, as authors, present ourselves to the public with our words. When people form an opinion about us, that’s all they have to go on. You may think, when you’re responding to a friend’s post on Facebook, that you’re just dashing off a quick joke to people who already know and love you. But your friend may not have his or her privacy settings adjusted the same way you do, and your words may end up being seen by a whole lot of people who don’t know you from Adam or Eve.

I’m not just talking about coarse language or double entendres or photos in questionable taste. Sure, anyone who’s dumb enough to post that kind of stuff on Facebook pretty much deserves what they get, if their current or potential boss digs it up later. Right?

But we’re selling books. We’re selling our words. Words are the raw material we use to craft our characters and plots. Grammar and punctuation are the tools we use to corral our words and make them do what we want them to do. And if our public posts on Facebook (or Twitter) indicate that we can’t string together a coherent thought, using punctuation and grammar in more or less the prescribed fashion, what do you think is the likelihood that a random stranger will buy one of our books?

The muttering’s getting louder. I think I heard somebody say, “Oh yeah? What about a closed group? I post in there when I want to blow off steam with my author friends! No random person can see those posts!”

True enough. But some of the authors in your closed Facebook group may well be editors, too. And you may be looking for an editor, one of these days. I’m not an editor (right now, although I’ve done editorial work in the past), but I can’t help thinking that if an author whose Facebook posts are rife with errors came to me and asked me to edit his or her book, I’d think twice about taking on the job.

I don’t mean to say that every little thing you post has to be utterly perfect. Everybody makes mistakes, especially when writing quickly, and particularly when fat fingers are hitting virtual keys on a teeny-tiny smartphone keyboard. But just keep in mind that you’re representing your personal brand when you post. So be careful. Proofread your posts. And if you spot an error, go back and fix it.

I’m going to slink away quietly now. But I’d love to hear what you think about this.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

35 thoughts on “Put Your Best Foot Forward on Facebook”

  1. Timely post for me. I uploaded a photo to Facebook just minutes ago with the text “My brother and me sitting on the porch…” Then I decided that what I was actually saying was “This is my brother and me…” I edited and changed that “me” to “i.”

  2. Lynne! I loved this post about grammar–or putting your best foot forward. I catch errors often when posting and where possible delete the entire post rather than allow an error to go live. I use expletives sitting here in front of my keyboard in my writing cave, but I don’t use them on FB or in my blogs because once I’m on FB or Twitter I’m in the public arena. I read a FB comment only this week from an author who often used the F word and was now worried that underage readers might have read the post. Her colleagues commented it was the parents’ responsibility to oversee what youngsters were viewing. I don’t buy it. Nope. FB and Twitter are communities for all ages.

    1. To be fair, the kids are probably on Tumblr. 😀 But I get what you’re saying, Jackie. I’ve been known to drop the F-bomb in my books, but I try to keep my Facebook and blog posts PG.

  3. I am obsessive about correcting grammer and typos on Facebook posts and comments. I’ve been known to delete a post and redo it at times. As authors we should all be careful and proud of every word we put out there.

    1. And yet people get testy about it. Not here (so far 😉 ) — but the subject recently came up in an author group I’m in, and some of the respondents clearly were not on board with the idea of watching what they post.

  4. So true, Lynne. I can’t tell you how often I’ve winced at the misuse of words or the use of the wrong form of a word. It makes the writer look incompetent. Now I know I’m far from perfect and often hit ; when I should hit ‘ . I make mistakes, but some mistakes are more than typos and those ought to be minimized. I also find that staying aware even in casual situations such as FB keeps me from making errors in my ‘real’ writing.

  5. Yes, exactly! I definitely remember when authors don’t seem to put effort into their blogs, Twitter, etc. I see this on writing forums a lot, too. I thought a writing forum would be the last place to see sloppy writing, but it happens. Even when people are asking for help, like in beta read swap threads.

    Also, if you struggle with grammar, the best way to get better at it is to practice. That means every text message and Facebook post is an opportunity to work on your basic writing skills. If you’re lazy in your regular writing, then you will struggle more when you try to write correctly for a story (or a school assignment). The way you use language on a regular basis forms a habit that can be difficult to break.

  6. Thanks for this, Lynne. I know there’s always a big hoo-ha going on about “grammar Nazis” and the like, but you’re right to point out that words are our business, and we should at least bear in mind wherever we post that what we write will/may ultimately reflect on how we’re seen. It’s the little things that count (said the nun to the vicar :))

      1. Well, barring an asteroid strike that impacts and creates a huge piezo-electric pulse that wipes out all terrestrial magnetic devices, yeah, it might be forever.

        Or at least until the Cubs win the World Series again.

        1. You got one of those pizza things? There’s a few comments I typed in my early days I’d like to zap
          😉

          If the web/civilization/Earth goes down irretrievably, then I won’t be worrying about a few hasty comments… I mean, after the heat death of the universe, it won’t matter anyway!

  7. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Each time a writer types something – anything – that is displayed for the general public to see (like on FB, G+, Twitter, etc.), he/she should be conscious of the fact that he/she will be judged on the content. If it is rife with errors, others WILL form a negative opinion of said writer.

    The same principle applies to emails, too!

  8. Excellent post, Lynne. Seems like so many writers think it’s unimportant in the causal forums, but they forget that everywhere they write and everywhere it’s seen is a job application and a marketing opportunity. Don’t waste it!

  9. I agree completely. I have been complaining about poor grammar and spelling on posts and e-mails for years. If I can’t write a couple of lines without several mistakes, I think it’s time for me to throw the “pen” away and give up any idea of writing. It would be like an accountant posting something to do with math, adding up the numbers and ending up with the wrong answer. Who would want him to do their books? As you said, we never know who might read what we have written. How would we feel if we discovered that a publisher we had just submitted a manuscript to read a poorly crafted post on FB or LinkedIn just about the time he saw our name on the next submission he was about to read? It would probably end up in the slush pile unopened.

  10. Well said, Lynne. I think your advice is relevant to absolutely everything we post online because nothing is ever lost, which means it can come back and bite you when you least expect it. I make it a rule never to write anything, anywhere, unless it’s something I truly believe in, and am prepared to wear if necessary. Being grammatically correct is part and parcel of that.

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