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 🤣), 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.

Advertisements

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.

Higher Levels, Bigger Devils

I love basketball. I get geeked for the start of NBA season, and March Madness is my personal holiday. I read sports-oriented publications, and I stan for Bleacher Report and its app, Team Stream.

Since its inception, I have enjoyed the online publishing portal Medium; specifically, its sports section, The Cauldron. While all and sundry can post their thoughts on Medium as a whole, certain sections such as The Cauldron are invitation-only, and if you’re selected, you have to show and prove.

I have never written about sports in an “official” venue, and never played sports a day in my life (unless you count high school varsity cheerleading, which many do not). Still, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and apply to write for The Cauldron.

My first article was rejected; no problem. As a writer, I’m no stranger to that. My second article was accepted, and has been getting good buzz. While I’m pleased, I’m also nervous. Medium reaches an audience vastly larger than my deliberately limited, personal social media presence. Suddenly, my ideas were exposed to a totally different audience…and along with the praise, came the trolls.

WHOA. What…who…WHAT?! To think that my six-minute read about granting NBA media access credentials to bloggers would strike nerves…it was interesting, to say the least, and at times amusing. And, I have to admit, kind of heady: that my words would make such an impact, become part of an ongoing conversation, and basically be  taken seriously (which is infinitely preferable to being considered a joke). That’s part of why writers write: to make that impact, to drive conversation, to call attention to an issue.

I’ve had people comment just to say they won’t read the article (huh?). I’ve gotten complaints that I didn’t take a firm stand on one aide versus the other (I did that on purpose). All this reminded me that when you strive for greatness, you catch more flak with each success. Or, as my late grandmother used to say, “Higher levels, bigger devils.”

Many of us say we want success but aren’t willing to pay the price. Part of that price, especially as a writer, is public exposure, and belief that someone out there wants to hear what you have to say. The flip side of that is opening yourself up to attack by those who aren’t feelimg what you have to say, or disagree with your right to say it. One article (so far) isn’t much of a down payment, but it’s a start. And the bill will only get bigger.

Thanks for stopping by.

The Paradox of Creative Silence

I spent my New Year’s Eve in typical nerd/getting older fashion: playing Words With Friends, eyeballing Twitter, writing down my goals for 2015, doing my vision board (via PowerPoint–makes a great screen saver/wallpaper!), and reading. While perusing my timeline, this interesting post came across it from author/activist Olivia A. Cole:

Now, I follow her on Twitter, and on her blog, so I know that she is a very vocal, passionate activist based on her posts.  Still, I was saddened by the fact that her author friends want her to focus on her writing and stop being so political.

Really? Where they do that at?

Creative people are creative because we have something to say, and we choose our preferred media in which to express ourselves. Indeed, the creative channel is sometimes (and, in some areas, the only time) we get to address the ills of our respective worlds without being immediately arrested or killed. However, by and large, the fruits of the creative’s labor is seen merely as entertainment–nothing more, nothing less. Much in the same vein as a professional athlete, our purpose is seen as providing an escape from the realities of everyday life–not reminding folks of them. It’s a paradox to expect us to express ourselves on paper/on the field/on the court/in a song, but to shut up outside of those prescribed parameters.

Hey, I get it: Ms. Cole’s people are looking out for her. They don’t want her to damage her “brand” for the sake of social activism. They want her to keep collecting as many ducats as possible, and to keep her reputation as pristine as possible in order to continue the fattening of her pockets–because hey, mad people don’t buy her books or follow her blog. This is a blanket argument/explanation for anyone with at least a modicum of fame, to step away from sociopolitical hot-button issues.

Last night, I rewatched (for the umpteenth time) the indie movie Dancing in September, starring Nicole Ari Parker and Isaiah Washington. The movie is a story about an aspiring TV writer (Parker) who wants to write a show that portrays Black people in a positive light. She is hired by a new network executive (Washington), who goes to bat in bringing her positive family show on the air. However, as the two fall in love, the personal affects the professional as Parker is increasingly pressured (by the network, via Washington) against her better judgment to “make it funny”, which turns her show from a highly-rated positive portrayal of Black family love into a declining buffoonery (and, dare I say–and she says–coonery), all for the sake of keeping the ratings high enough to keep the show going.  When she wins a Portrayal Award (a thinly disguised NAACP Image Award) for the show, she states in her acceptance speech that she had turned a blind eye to the personal issues of the show’s star because she was chasing ratings and if she’d paid more attention, she could have helped him more. She also stated that TV and other visual media producers had a responsibility to their audiences to uplift, educate, and encourage, instead of just entertain.

In the same vein, so do writers and other creatives. Yes, there is always the risk that you will lose readers and/or fans because they will not like what you have to say on social media. The same risk exists every time a new book/blog post/painting/etc. is put out there for public consumption. But we are in a new age of social awareness, mainly in part to the 24/7 cycle of social media. there is an ever-increasing group that wants to know the person behind their favorite forms of entertainment. They want to know what kind of person is getting their hard-earned money–or not. They want to know if they person that they see on a TV screen, or is on the cover of a book, is the type of person they’d like to hang out with in real life. They like being acknowledged by such people via replies, retweets, favorites, likes, shares, and forwards. And while boundaries must still be respected, this creator/consumer engagement is becoming even more preferable than admonishments to be like The Rock:

I say all this to say: to Ms. Cole, and the other artists, entertainers, and athletes who are not shy about saying what they think and feel: keep doing what you do. I hope more celebrity-types follow your lead because there are some things bigger than money and fame.

Thanks for stopping by.

The Weight of The Brand

I’ve been kicking around a post on branding, and how it’s affected me, but the draft I thought I’d saved is not there. This post isn’t flowing the way I’d like, but I’d better get it down before I forget the gist of what I want to say.

ANYway…

Not too long ago, I told a sorority sister on Facebook that she had built a brand without even realizing it, and that she needed to utilize this brand as she moved forward with writing and publishing her inspirational book. By virtue of her Facebook statues, she had created an association between her faith in God, the sorority, and her strong family ties.

Just the other day, I heard the COO of a nonprofit speak on branding , and how it was important for people to develop their personal brand. As an author,especially a self-published one, I see how true that is.

Branding goes beyond appearance. By dint of the nature of the job, most authors are pretty reclusive. We aren’t identified by what we wear (unless we look a hot mess at public book signings, in which case we will be known as “that author who can’t dress him/herself”), and prefer to be identified by what we write. Most authors who have come into their own have a signature style of writing, and avid readers can usually identify said writer (or a clone) just by reading a few passages. Few of us authors, however, give a lot of thought to how we are perceived overall. This is crucial for self-published authors to do.

We are in an increasingly visual society. It’s not enough anymore to write a good product. Now, more than ever, we need eye-catching book covers, thumbnails suitable for attachment in social media, a significant internet presence. Video is even becoming a must-have for some pages. The transparency afforded by social media means that authors can only be reclusive to a certain extent. Readers want to see you, hear you, know who you are before they pick up your book.

So who are you? What do you want the world to think when they hear your name, your publishing company, see your face? It’s sad to say but once you have put yourself out there as a public figure, EVERYTHING you say can and will be used against you. This is doubly true for current local and world events. While readers primarily pick up your book for entertainment (if you are a fiction writer), or edification on a specific subject (if you are a nonfiction writer), they will be paying attention if you are seen to take a stand (or not) on something other than publishing-related issues (e.g. Amazon/Hatchette). I’ve found that even on my personal Facebook page, I have tempered my normal “I say what I want, it’s my page” speech laissez-faire. Yes, most of the people on my personal page are friends and acquaintances, but they are also readers, and readers talk to other readers. And, on the business end of publishing, my job at the end of the day is to sell books. While I will not curtail my sentiments for the sake of selling a book, I can temper the way I say them. I do this with the understanding that some people will or will not read my books for whatever reason, regardless of what comes out of my mouth/keyboard. Still, for those who are willing to purchase my books, there is no need for me to deliberately antagonize them. In contrast, I keep my public fan page clean, as well as my “formal” FB account.

Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s maturity, wisdom, or business sense that makes me pause at the keyboard. I do know that it can become wearying to self-censor. However, that’s the price to be paid for entering the public arena.

Thanks for stopping by.

“That” Author

Here we are, two days past the official release of my first solo novel, The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille (informally known as The Camille Chronicles), and I’m trying not to be “THAT” author.  You know, the author who scours the internet for any mention of his or her name, book title, Facebook posts, Tweets, blog posts, Pinterest pins, Instagram pictures…anything.

Nope, not trying to go there. Even though I took a peek at my royalty statements to see what kind of activity my book is doing. And Googled myself (there are a LOT of people with my name…including a woman in San Francisco, where I used to live, who is also a cook, as I used to be. At least we look nothing alike !). All of which I’d told myself not to do, for the sake of my sanity.

I had to breathe, stop, and write this blog before I lost myself in tater tots and back episodes of NCIS, before Graceland comes on .

It’s not the writing that will drive you insane, though it is a close second. What drives a writer insane is the afterbirth, if you will, of the book being published. The postpartum depression, for most of us, that sets in when our books aren’t flying off the shelves like those of our favorite bestselling authors…most of whom have been writing books for many, many moons and are at the point in their careers where they can phone it in, if they choose (and some have done it. *Sigh*).  The realization that you can get the word out there via every social media venue known to man, but that’s about all you can do. You can spread the word to every warehouse, outhouse, doghouse, foxhouse and henhouse (to paraphrase US Marshall Gerard in the movie The Fugitive), but short of forcing people to click the “Buy Now” button, you can’t make people buy your work. Even if you think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, your opinion no longer matters. What mattes now is the court of public opinion, which is fickle on a good day.

Not to mention any reviews given. The positive ones are always great to get,but what about the not-so-positive ones? The ones that pretty much feed that voice in your soul that you managed to still, the one that whispered, “see, I told you this wasn’t going to work.” The internet makes it easy for people to spew invective behind aliases; e-gangsterism is the new black. It doesn’t matter if it’s a reader who just couldn’t connect with your work, or someone you slighted who sees this as a means of revenge, or someone who just wants to see you fail, for whatever reason.

Trying to keep up with all of this, AND continue writing, will make you lose it. So try not to do it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, time for tater tots. Thanks for stopping by.