Public Self/Private Self

I subscribe to a daily newsletter about the publishing industry; it is comprised of articles from both the company that oublishes the newsletter, and other industry professionals on various topics.

Today’s email included an article by a PR person (who shall remain nameless because I felt rather disguated afte reading her $.02). who listed the major mistakes authors make with regard to marketing/PR (and what she allegedly tells her clients). One of those mistakes was oversharing on social media. She emphasized that politics, religion, or even what you had for breakfast/lunch/dinner. should not be mentioned on your social media, lest an author alienate potential and current fans. In short, keep it light and fluffy.

Pause.

Now, I understand the oversharing part. Some things don’t need to be mentioned, like your cat’s yeast infection, or even your yeast infection. But authors are more than just sales numbers on a ledger sheet. We’re people. We have hopes,fears (writers moreso than others ūü§£), likes, dislikes.

 I like it when my favorite authors share personal tidbits about themselves: pics from vacations, pets, favorite socks. It humanizes them and makes me even more inclined to buy their work, because they are not just robots sitting in front of a computer, churning out novels.

But to keep my thoughts silent regarding any issue that is important to me–be it Black Lives Matter or a BLT sandwich–for the sake of selling a book, does not sit right with me. And if someone doesn’t want to buy one of my books because I took a stance with which they do not agree, well…I’m not for everyone, and I wish that person well. 

It reminds me of the backlash when singers, athletes, actors, et al make their thoughts known regarding social and political issues. The mindset becomes, “Shut up and keep entertaining the masses. That’s your job, not expressing an independent thought.” Yet that is doing these people a disservice. They are human and have feelings; to try and shut them down for the sake of keeping stadiums, arenas, and theatres filled is hypocritical and oppressive.Yet many people concerned with an entertainer or athlete’s bottom line will attempt to do just that, all for the sake of making a buck (for themselves and their clients).

To paraphrase some quote that I saw on Instagram: I won’t dilute myself for those who can’t handle me at 100 proof. You shouldn’t either.

Thanks for stopping by.

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A Review By Any Other Name…

I have noticed a trend in book “reviews”, especially by independent bloggers such as myself: they aren’t reviews so much as puff pieces: PR-worthy paeans of praise for prose that is possibly putrid.

(that alliteration just rolled off my fingers. Yay, me!)

Seriously, folks: I was a professional (read: paid by legit publications & recognized as such) book reviewer for some years. While individual writing style may vary, a proper review always–ALWAYS–includes the good and the not-so-great things about a book. And make no mistake, there is always something not-so-great about even the most bestselling and/or popular book.

I would never have gotten even one review published had I just focused on how great (or not) I thought a book was; that’s how I learned to write a review, by having my drafts sent back and rewriting them to accurately reflect concrete, objective issues in a book versus my personal feelings about the book (there is a difference, but people often confuse the two under the guise of a “review”).

The people who paid me wanted balance, as that balance was what lent legitimacy to the reviews by both authors and readers alike. And yes, I have caught hell from authors when a review wasn’t as glowing as they’d prefer (“What…what do you mean, you didn’t like XYZ in my book? How could you find fault in it? Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews loved it! It’s on the NYT Bestseller list! It’s got over 500 five-star ratings on Amazon!  HOW DARE YOU?!”), but in the end they had to (grudgingly) admit that while the review wasn’t to their liking, it was at least fair. Plus, if an author is a true writer who wants to further hone his or her craft, the constructive criticism is necessary for future growth.

(if you’re a writer and you can’t handle folks telling you your writing sucks in some way, you’re in the wrong line of business.)

There is nothing wrong with giving a shoutout to an author when you’re digging her or his work. Our egos thank you for it. But keep it real and call the praise-only blurbs what they are: acknowledgements of fandom better suited for personal blogs and big-ups on social media, rather than a “(professional) review”.

Thanks for stopping by.

Don’t Believe the Hype

As an author, especially a self-published author, it’s easy to get caught up on numbers: sales ranks. Bestseller list position. Royalty amounts. Social media followers. Likes/retweets/Pins/shares. Trying to gauge these things will make you crazy, especially when you realize that the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Luvvie Ajayi, popular blogger, recently discussed the trend of bloggers purchasing followers, site traffic, and the like. She spoke of the need for bloggers  and other content creators to pay attention to the numbers in a different way: pull the curtain back and see if those numbers are real.

This is a problem I’ve run into when feeling out potential social media managers for myself. The ones I’ve encountered all all abut numbers, numbers, numbers. While there is some validity in that sentiment with regard to visibility, it’s not a one-size-fit-all approach. My writing really is geared toward a target demographic, which in itself is rather small. Because of that, I don’t expect huge sales numbers (but I am willing to be pleasantly surprised!). I know who likes my books, and who reads my books. Expanding that circle may net me a few more readers, but if the net is being cast across the waters of an audience that doesn’t really care–and therefore, won’t engage–that energy is not spent well.

For writers, those of us who sell books, it’s a bit different. Unless you are a big name (e.g., Stephen King, Terry McMillan, Nora Roberts, Eric Jerome Dickey, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) and/or on a major publishing platform, we don’t usually see the types of numbers provided bloggers–in terms of sales, that is. Not understanding this leads to a lot of unnecessary angst.

 

One of my old bosses once told me, “If you want a good review, write a good book.” ¬†Likewise, if you provide quality content, the “numbers” won’t matter because your loyal following will keep you afloat. So what if you don’t reach #1 on the Amazon Sales Rank? It’s better to have only a few hundred, or thousand, people buy EACH of your books, than tens of thousands on ONE book and nada on the rest.

So chill with the numbers game. Sit back, take a deep breath, and write what brings you joy. A Twitter follower of Charles M. Blow (author of Fire Shut Up In My Bones), said it best:

 

Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

 

I’ll Teach You, But I’ll Have to Charge: Valuing the Creative as Commerce

A few months ago, I¬†posted about a potential publishing client who wanted me to do her book marketing, and editing, for free, in exchange for a (nebulous) percentage of upcoming sales. The theory being that I would hustle to get her book in the public collective, which will in turn fatten my own pockets. This was clarified when said client stated that she’d already spoken with a marketing firm earlier but could not afford that firm’s fees. After further conversation with my potential client, I figured that it may not have been a question of affording that firm’s fees, so much as not wanting to pay the fees.

Yesterday, my potential appearance at a book club gathering, in another state, was cancelled when I asked about compensation. My contact balked, as her book club was one of the potluck-and-discussion variety, and the members would likely not contribute to any fees regarding my appearance (despite the fact that I was travelling specifically to their book club meeting–again, from out-of-state). My contact also informed me that in the past, authors had appeared at their book club for free.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. For some reason, our society has gotten into the habit of devaluing any type of creative work. No one would expect a physician to do free exams in exchange for future good health on the part of the patient. Attorneys are normally not expected to work pro bono, unless it’s a specific part of their contracts or corporate culture. Why, then, are people in creative fields expected to work for free? And, as a corollary, why are those of us who work in creative fields expect fellow creatives to hook us up for little or nothing?

A lot of this involves the overall low perception of the labor value of creative work. We are a society that was initially agrarian/agricultural, then switched to industrial, and is now technological. The first two industries required hard, physical labor; the latter, more mental labor and creative thinking, but within the parameters of science and math. Creative fields, which can be equally laborious from a physical and mental standpoint, are still seen as soft options because they don’t make an immediate contribution and/or impact on society…unless one makes money and/or receives recognition or fame. As a capitalistic society, America is all about the bottom line. If it doesn’t make money, it doesn’t make sense. Or, as the rap group Wu-Tang Clan once noted in their popular song “C.R.E.A.M.“: ¬†“Cash rules everything around me/C.R.E.A.M., get the money/dollar, dollar bill, ¬†y’all.”

Case in point: I do not blame my book club contact at this particular venue for the tight pockets of her fellow book club members. I do, however, blame the author(s) who have placed so little value on their work and time, that they agree to make appearances for free–which devalues the process for the rest of us authors. I didn’t understand this until I published my first book. As a self-published author, this is my livelihood now. I am at the point where if it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t really make sense for me.

As Kelis once sang in her song “Milkshake“: I’ll teach you, but I’ll have to charge.

Perhaps it’s because authors are seen as yet another venue of entertainment, much like professional athletes and reality TV shows (but minus the payoff). We should, I supposed, be grateful that anyone wants to read our work at all–this gratitude should, in turn, extend to appearing somewhere–anywhere–that will have us, because hey, we’re just people who wrote books for entertainment. It’s not like we’re doing brain surgery, right? Our profession is not on par with those who heal, or provide legal services. This is especially true of self-published authors–we are often not seen as “real” writers because we do not have a contract with a major publishing house, for whatever reason, and the author advance and PR push (if you’re lucky) that usually comes with it. ¬†Our gratitude should be doubly ample, because we really are seen as long shots.

Plus, creative types are seen as dreamers, livers in the ether, “woo woo” types of folks. This usually is a code for a lack of intellectual firepower. Ergo, any advice given or work performed would be on par with asking a toddler to do the same, since contributions allegedly don’t require much energy or many brain cells. Perhaps we creative folks should be grateful to be consulted at all, to let our society at large tell it. This may be a reason why arts and music programs are the first to be cut from public school funding, but I digress.

All that being said, and despite the more publicized contributions of our white- and blue-collar folks, being a creative person is a lot of hard work. Not only do we have to deal with narrow-minded perceptions, we also have to deal with the struggle to quantify work that is not normally meant to be quantified (e.g., monetized), since our work is usually subjective. The energy it takes to write, draw, dance, paint, etc. is just as valid as slogging in a trading pit on the New York Stock Exchange, or arguing a brief in front of a judge, or performing heart surgery (I just wish is was as lucrative in the short term!). In fact, in this age of digital media, marketing is an extremely difficult job, especially when it comes to social media: that’s a full-time job in and of itself. Asking your creative friend to create, for free, continues to perpetuate the notion that creative work lacks value–because we only value that which we pay for and the higher the fee, the more value ascribed.

Creative people, we are contributors to the problem as well. We have helped create our perception of being a bit “out there” because we don’t pay attention to business. Yes, we want to be left to create and leave the tedious stuff like setting rates, submitting invoices, and the like for other folks, but that’s not going to help us eat. We also want people to like us, and like our work as a result, and buy it, and recommend it to others who will, in turn, buy it as well. But the old adage is very true: people do not value what they can get for free. That whole cow-and-milk thing? It’s gospel. Like it or not, we are in a left-brain world and we need to adjust accordingly. If someone asks you to do work for free, don’t cave and agree because you don’t want to hurt any feelings, or you’re so desperate to be put on that you’ll do anything for recognition. Politely refuse the request and counter with a list of your rates for the services requested. The requester may be a bit peeved at first, but in the end they will respect you for respecting yourself, your time, and your work.

It’s always tempting to ask someone to do you a solid when your funds are low, but it would do you well to remember that time is money, even the time of someone who isn’t perceived as doing “real” work. So do THEM a solid and pay your way. Your pet creative will thank you for it.

Thanks for stopping by.