A to Z for Indie Authors is a collection of posts containing tips, resources, inspiration and cautionary tales alike for indie authors old and new. Click here to see all posts.
In the current year, social media has largely overlapped, if not outright replaced not just our perceptions of ourselves, but our perceptions of others, not to mention its effect on our methods of social interactions. When I was a kid, you made plans with friends by calling them up individually or meeting them in person. These days, you create an event on Facebook and invite people. While, admittedly this has culminated in events both wondrous and catastrophic, it has had an undeniable effect on a very human behavior that I believe many of us have taken for granted.
With that said, it has opened up amazing opportunities for Indie Authors. Before, if we wanted to get published, we were relegated to limited options. However, the only viable ones usually involved luck, knowing the right people, or investing large amounts of capital. Since the advent of Amazon, a wide array of Print-on-Demand services and the very social media culture that has, in my view, robbed many of us from some of the experiences of human interaction, it has traded it for a culture which has allowed the Indie Creator (generally-speaking) rare opportunities.
However, there are a number of bumps in the road that come with this. Things that many won’t be prepared for. The internet can at times be a dark and scary place, and when you put your name out there, things can go horribly, horribly wrong. This is one reason, among many, why I suggest authors adopt a pen name, although this advice could apply to many different fields.
Perhaps more importantly, I suggest authors adopt a brand. Now, brand is one of those broadly-defined terms that have been cropping up as of late over recent memory, so it may seem confusing for anyone unfamiliar with marketing lingo. Marketing guru Heidi Cohen’s article, 30 Branding Definitions, shows us clearly that there are a number of often inconsistent definitions for the term. As writers, that just doesn’t work for us, so for the purpose of this post, we’re going to specifically use the definition favored by the American Marketing Association:
A name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.
A brand is not so different from a pen or stage name in concept. Moreover, it’s an identity we can easily step into when it suits us, and step out of when things become too much. And, as an author I can attest to the fact that if your creation receives any sort of attention whatsoever, there will be times when you’ll want to step away from it, even if only for a short while.
I suggest a brand for two reasons: Your own mental health and well-being, and because you can manage a brand much more easily than you can manage an identity online.
The moment you put your work out for public consumption, your brand is in the aether. When it’s your real name and identity, it becomes difficult to extract yourself from certain situations. Even when it’s a pseudonym you put out, things can become hairy. With little more than some small amount of renown and a Twitter account, you could find yourself as enemy number one of internet outrage culture, who will often jump at perceived slights and make you out to be the for second coming of Adolf Hitler. Just look at what happened to Justine Sacco as the result of a bad off-color joke.
And what’s worse is that this happens regardless of whether you’re left wing, right wing, or center of the road. I have yet to see a single person of any sort of renown on the internet who is active on social media forgo this rite of passage.
So, it’s very important to separate your brand from yourself. Do not internalize the experience you have online. Keep it light and fun, and be forewarned that when, not if, you express any opinion, especially political or religious, you will end up on the receiving end of this. And please, don’t fall into the trap of believing yourself to be a rare victim. Yes, they’re treating you unfairly. No, your experience is not unique, and public sympathy carries little in the way of reward, and can be a hard addiction to break.
One might wonder at this point whether I was trying to discourage new authors from putting their work out, but far from it. Putting my work out for the world to see was among the best choices I’ve ever made in life, regardless of whatever tradeoff came with it.
Also, this isn’t an argument for self-censorship. I think we should live in a world where people are free to speak their minds. That’s the only way we can really weed out the bad ideas, after all.
But there is a silver lining to running a brand. Firstly, you have a much easier time separating yourself from your online persona. You’ll spend less time thinking about the trolls, the extremists, the permanently offended. When they attempt to attack or get an emotional reaction out of you, it’s easier to strategize a response than it is if they’re attacking you personally. Because even when they try, they can’t. They’re not attacking you. They’re attacking an avatar, a representation of you that they’ve built up in their minds.
And furthermore, it’s remarkably easy to benefit from. As Oscar Wilde said, there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. Regardless of what social media has done to the human condition, it’ll never do away with one of our oldest vices: gossip.
Your opponents will make you out to be a slayer of puppies, and a stealer of baby’s candy. Your supporters will defend you, make you out to be a saint. People will come out of the woodwork in support of you, and people who have never heard of you will believe everything they hear. I myself went through this experienced when I offered some words of defense to the Sad Puppies campaign, suggesting that they may not be as evil as so many make them out to be, and I’m certain that opponents of the campaign experienced much the same.
Some of you will already have worked out how to turn such a thing to your benefit. My own moral compass prevented me from utilizing it for all it could have brought me, but that was a matter of personal comfort. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable blatantly using a controversy to sell books, but I have no moral dilemmas when it happens organically as the result of a controversy. The difference between the two, for me at least, lies in what I feel comfortable with.
In the end, what you do with your brand is up to you. And while it offers a degree of separation, your brand is still a projection of yourself. So do what you, the individual feel comfortable with.
And most importantly, have fun with it.