Snowland Deck Update
Plural S vs. Possessive S

On Authenticity, Authors and New Rules for Social Media – Or, Cultivating the Happy, Productive Author Persona

A realization has dawned and a lesson has been learned.

It has finally occurred to me that authors are respected and revered entities—so much so, that we cannot “act” like the rest of the world on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Google+ (and certainly not on LinkedIn!).

It doesn’t matter if an author like myself doesn’t place herself on a pedestal, doesn’t want to be looked up to and figures herself “just like everyone else”.

MaskOur readership doesn’t buy it. They refuse to buy it.

For some bizarre reason, public personas—and make no mistake, a persona it is—have certain expectations placed upon them. Those expectations may vary a bit according to genre—after all, readers don’t expect the same things from a Self Help author like myself as they do, say, a Horror writer--but demanding different standards of Authors, even if largely unconscious, still remains.

I have discovered that readers expect Body/Mind/Spirit authors to:

  • Never write critical reviews of fellow authors. “The Public” think it’s awful for a author to do so (even if said author was a reviewer for years prior to becoming traditionally published). They don’t see reviews as a public service to consumers. No, once you become an author, you’ve signed on an unspoken dotted line requiring you to speak highly of all colleagues and competing titles—or, at the very least—remain neutral and say nothing at all. Naming names is anathema.
  • Never display deep anger, hurt or despair. “The Public” expect you to be upbeat, resilient and strong at worst—and show them how to successfully navigate such difficult states with a step-by-step map at best. Having a really bad day? Save it for your real friends and family. Don’t post about it on social media. It will come back to bite you in the behind if you do.
  • Never say what you think. Freedom of speech doesn’t apply to Authors on social media. Well, technically, yes, it does—but there will be a price to pay if you say what you actually think or know…especially if it’s an unpopular opinion. You will attract stalkers, gain haters and lose readers. Trust me.

And so, in light of this revelation, I present to you…

The New Rules for Social Media

  • Never criticize a competing title, author or colleague. Absolutely do not name names. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. “The Public” doesn’t want to know. They only want to know the author or artist “Persona”…and they despise anyone who tries to move aside the “Persona Curtain”.
  • Never show your dismay or disappointment, especially if it involves writing or publishing. There is a sparkly veneer covering the publishing industry—especially for hopeful would-be writers—and “The Public” doesn’t want to hear about your Publisher-from-Hell, shoddy Editors, absent Proofreaders or clueless Marketing “team”. You must pretend that your relationship with your Publisher is a match made in a New Age Heaven…or don’t say anything at all.
  • Never show hurt or indignation at 1-star shill reviews, gossip, lies or slander against your name. You are an Author (capital “A”). You may whine and cry to your real friends and family—off social media sites, of course—but never, ever to your followers or fans. You may, objectively, correct a misperception—but you’re still treading dangerous waters here because you’ll be showing that you actually read your press. Which brings me to…
  • Never let on that you read gossip, blog posts or reviews about you or your work. “The Public” expect you to be above that, toiling on your next magnum opus. Pretend that you’re oblivious to criticism. This will help contribute to your Happy, Productive Author Persona. The Public loves, and wants, a Happy, Productive Author to follow, read and enjoy. Nothing else will suffice. (Bonus Advice: Actually avoid reading your press. Remove all Google Alerts with your name and books. If you’re truly confident and happy in/with your work, you don’t need to know what readers think, anyway. If you really need to know something about your writing or work, get that information from your writing group, beta readers, fellow author pals, editor or agent.)

 (Very) few of you may be wondering “Why?”

 Why must it be this way?

Cracked earthSimply put, we live in tumultuous, uncertain times.

Individuals are searching for—and clinging to—a sense of certainty and safety. For an Author—especially a Self Help or Body/Mind/Spirit Author—to show any weakness or “cracking” is to send existential tremors through his or her readership (mostly unconsciously). Authors tend to be viewed as gurus and are put on pedestals for this very reason.

To point out any cracking or misrepresentation in another author or artist is to do the same…with even more negative fall-out. This is because of the “Child” effect (Emperor’s New Clothes). If another person vocalizes what some suspect or fear could be true, it amplifies the existential “fear factor”. What is “real” for an individual may be fundamentally undermined when another points out an illusion or delusion.

In short, the Persona Curtain must stay firmly closed to ensure a delighted, loyal readership and fan base.

It’s not that readers don’t care about Authors. Quite the contrary, they do. Most will say they prefer when Authors share personal tidbits on social media—pics of the kids, the pets, the latest supper dish, daily struggles, etc. These types of postings make Authors more relatable, more “human”, readers say.


But what The Public says—and what they truly, really want—are two different things.

Like 98% of the population, readers prefer a lie that makes them feel good to a truth that makes them feel uncomfortable.

LighthouseReaders, especially of Mind/Body/Spirit books, want Authors they can look up to—who are anchors, lighthouses, and thermostats.

They do not want Authors who are thermometers, reflecting the temperature of the zeitgeist.

Oh, sure, it’s OK if our books are thermometers. That’s fine.

But authors themselves?

Negatory.

We set the desired temperature, maintain the anchor, pulse a steady beacon.

We give our readers hope. Assurance. Stability.

Thus, if you want to fall apart, rant about marginalization or point out falsehoods in your peers…do it behind closed doors. To real friends and family. Not on social media.

After all, you have an Author Persona to uphold.

-- Janet

Comments

Lorraine Roe

Wow! Now I must ponder this very, very interesting idea. Thanks for your thoughts. I've heard something similar once. But it wasn't said this outright.

Janet Boyer

And the truth is, Lorraine, that I hate it. I hate fakeness and I hate bullshit. And that's one reason I'm moving away from Self Help writing into fiction-- a completely different reading demographic and set of expectations.

Elle Carter Neal

I was going to comment to ask if you thought there was a different set of rules for fiction authors, but you've answered that above.

I wonder if we've done a loop, if not come full circle. When I was eight years old and making the decision to become an author when I grew up, such venerable creatures were unknowable enigmas. Most of my friends didn't really think about who had written a book they were reading (if they actually cared to read it). I, myself, went a number of years refusing to read the author blurbs at the back of favourite books out of fear that it would shatter the magic of those books to discover how human and normal the author really was. So I think it's entirely possible that some readers feel that a particular author persona is part of the magic, while a jarring persona strips it away.

On the other hand, I think of poets and authors like Sylvia Plath and Hemingway - people who had huge problems and poured them into their works. Knowing the details of their private (not so private) struggles adds to the poignancy of their writing. Self-help authors like Sean Stephenson actively use their disabilities to inspire their readers.

Lots to think about here. I think it's a very fine line between being authentic and being overwhelming. I think taking the approach of looking for the positive in whatever one wants to talk about - the way one solves such a problem or the new perspective one gains despite a bad situation - can go a long way to help readers feel comfortable.

Craig Conley

Even real friends and family can demand the comfy persona they're accustomed to. Recently, I emailed a friend about several current world events that had gotten me down, feeling that I could be honest and safely express my true feelings. His response: "I hope everything is okay, as you seemed so uncharacteristically negative about things! I only say as a friend, because it worried me." His seemingly friendly concern felt like a nudge to get my act together and put my mask back on for *his* comfort level. My online persona is indeed happy-go-lucky. I'm smiling in virtually all of my published photos. Sure, I prefer to present a positive image of myself, and to be thought of as fun and funny and even a little (or a lot) quirky. But the bright persona comes with a price -- no shadows!

Janet Boyer

Wow, that's something that you were aware of the "veneer" at such a young age, Elle...to the point that you didn't even read the back copy! :o)

The thing with Plath and Hemingway (and most geniuses, really) is that there only lauded AFTER they died. I mean, can you image if a (now) celebrated author or artist who had mental illness (e.g. Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Fitzgerald) was on social media TODAY? They'd likely be flayed alive! A recent piece in Smithsonian mag addressed the "mob" mentality of the web these days: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/What-Turned-Jaron-Lanier-Against-the-Web-183832741.html

I really think Self Help authors have it differently. I know that *I* have judged Self Help authors harshly, in the past (before I became one!) when I heard of a "failing" such a divorce. Ack.

Janet Boyer

You hit the nail on the head, Craig. ::wince::

You can always email ME when you want to comment about the sad state of humanity or world events; I'll be right there commiserating with you--no judgement. ;o)

Christianatarot

I'm not sure this is a new concept, a "social media" concept or one that is reserved only for authors.
I remember being a young child and asking my father who was pastor of a church about this very issue. He gently explained to me that public figures need to be very careful about how they present themselves. At the time I reacted with the same dismay that you have shown in this post.I was all for honesty and authenticity. In my private life I still am. But now that I am (much) older I understand the need for those in the public eye to make an effort to act with some grace and decorum. I don't think this means that we can't express ourselves, but I do think it means we have to be aware of how we might hurt others and how we might hurt our own reputation. I haven't always been perfect with this - I don't think anyone can be. But I am not sure that it is bad to make an effort.

Janet Boyer

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Christiana!

One man's decorum is another man's straight-jacket...but it certainly doesn't hurt to be kind to everyone you meet (unless they give you a reason not to).

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