Our Author Brand—The Choice Between Meaningful and Empty, Sad Imitation
When I saw this meme on Facebook, I though my husband was going to have to scrape me off the floor I was laughing so hard. And, like most things in life, if I’m left long enough to marinate on something, I frequently discover a hidden truth or a lesson we can all apply to life, our work and our art.
There are a lot of lessons out there about author branding (I’m right, though :D). There are those who hail the genius of automation, or claim we should be outrageous, shocking, and rattle The Establishment (whatever that is). I suppose all paths are viable, though all will yield different results.
The Automated Path
There are marketing technophiles who will gladly (and often for a fee) set up our social media to act on its own. We spend an hour writing clever snippets, plug them in and POOF! A machine can tweet, post on Facebook, post about our blog and we can happily do whatever other more important thing we have to do without ever worrying our pretty little heads about social media.
Yet, I would say that, whenever we consider our author brand, we need to also consider whether it is authentic, because in the Digital Age, authenticity is something people are desperately seeking. In the sea of 0s and 1s we long for that human touch and voice that gives information its meaning.
As Jaron Lanier states beautifully in his book You Are Not a Gadget:
A computer (social media) isn’t even there unless a person experiences it. There will be a warm mass of patterned silicon with electricity coursing through it, but the bits don’t mean anything without a cultured person to interpret them.
I’ve often stated that social media (like all forms of communication) is meaningless unless there is another person engaged on the other side to see and then act. Five or even three years ago, we had a hard time spotting people from bots.
Now? We’re far more sophisticated and not easily fooled.
Plant seeds of automation, and we shouldn’t be shocked if all we harvest are bots using the same tools, algorithms and tactics. When we rely on tools and gadgets, we are imitating being human, so why are we expecting to gain anything real in return?
Back to the meme above (*still giggles*), there are people who can pull off knocking over apple carts. Shock-and-Awe is, of course, an option. I’m never here to tell anyone what to do, only to help you do what is right for you and your brand and educate you on possible outcomes.
We can rant and rave and shock and push buttons, but I will warn you. There is a cost. Nothing in life is free ;). Being shocking or controversial will gain attention, but it’s a gamble. Will it garner enough positive attention to outweigh the bad?
As artists and writers many of us fall in the INFJ or ENFJ sectors of the Myers-Briggs. What this means is that we process information and interpret our reality through intuition (N) and emotion (F). We have a heightened sense of empathy.
This can be a good thing. It makes for great actors, writers, songwriters, dancers, etc. We are emotional creatures. This said, the sensitivity we feel toward emotion is far higher than, say, someone who is a natural accountant, who is logical and processes their world analytically.
We can say we’ll remain rational, but we also say we’re going to go to the gym five days a week and only have one cookie. Everyone is human, but artists are particularly human. It’s what makes us good at what we do, yet it’s also what makes us vulnerable to negative energy.
Sure, Miley Cyrus took a gamble on her career and she’s laughing all the way to the bank. But there are other stars who made similar wagers and shattered. Time will tell if Miley’s antics will be worth it. Or, will we one day read headlines about the ruined wreckage of a once-lovable Disney star now in jail or in rehab or dead?
Since I’m wagering I’m mainly speaking to writers and not former Disney child stars contemplating dancing nude with leaf-blowers, I’ll stick to author branding. Being outrageous comes with a lot of negative energy, criticism and trolls. If this is a path you want to take, make sure you have the skin to take the heat.
I, personally, am a total wuss and admit this with pride. I think it is possible to be shocking, outrageous and controversial without inviting in mass negativity. Don’t believe me? Just blog about the Star Wars Prequels, LOL. People feel VERY passionately about a made-up universe.
The Authentic Path—Be the Best You, Not an Imitation
I think the meme above is so clever because it shows how, when we try to copy, we can end up looking like fools. It’s one of the reasons I spend so much time in Rise of the Machines having you do exercises to mine the genuine YOU and then showing you how to connect those unique aspects of your personality, loves, likes, dislikes, hobbies, strengths and short-comings to a reading audience and to cultivate a community.
I’ve been told my humor blogs remind people of The Bloggess, my informative posts sound like Seth Godin or even some of my craft teaching is resonant of Larry Brooks (which for me is very humbling because these folks are all fantastic writers). I can honestly say I never copied any of these other writers. In fact, I never heard of ANY of them until commenters made the observations.
Yes, it is a compliment to be compared with other peers. When we get TOO different, too odd, we lose people. Being authentic doesn’t mean we have to be so bizarre we can’t be compared to other writers or artists. It just means being the best us that we can be.
And if that “best you” is licking a red pen suggestively and then, while nude, running your first WIP through an industrial shredder, please make a vlog…or maybe don’t.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think Miley is all that shocking. Hmmm, a former Disney star hits seventeen, starts being seen in bars drinking underage, wears less and less clothing, “accidentally” releases a sex tape, amps up antics to outdo previous Disney child star, etc, etc, etc. It’s gotten to the point it is boringly formulaic.
But that’s my two cents.
What are your thoughts? Are there some artists or writers who’ve won your heart with being outrageous and controversial? How did they do it in a way that didn’t make you run screaming the other way?
Are there some who’ve lost you? Maybe you once loved them and then the controversy spoiled it? Are there some writers who’ve won or lost you through knocking over apple-carts?
No need to name, names, btw.
Are you a wuss, too and not a fan of being troll-fodder? Or, do you have the ability to brush off trolls like dust? Maybe you have some tools or suggestions for the rest of us still growing emotional heat-panels capable of reentering theEarth’s atmosphere.
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU–including the LEGEND Les Edgerton.
Get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE for $149 and all recordings for anything you miss or need to hear again. Sign up today, because seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.
For those who are total newbies, I am running a Writer’s Guide to Social Media Class tomorrow for $39 5-7 EST (NYC time). Use WANA15 for 15% off. We will cover the major platforms, what they do, and which ones might be right for you and your brand.
I am also holding ACHOO!! The Writer’s Guide to Going Viral 5-6:30 EST (NYC time). This class is $49 and, again, use WANA15 for 15% off. Not all content is created equal. This class helps you understand how to understand how search engines work, how to gain favor, and how to create content that will give you traction. Feel like you are blogging to the ether? This class can help.