Monday 8 September 2014

Real Life Clashes with Your Author Brand

The situation: a professional contact wants to meet the real you; author biog doesn’t match truth.

You feel: fear; shame.

In the days of digital selling, brand is everything. Self-published authors rely heavily on their online persona. Readers are more likely to read your book if they like you. And when I say ‘you’, I mean a carefully processed version of yourself – a better you – a you that you would trust.

Branding can be as simple as being photographed with your pets – a dog on the lap can make even the most hostile person look lovable. Branding could extend further, such as offering publishing consultancy for £199 per hour. You don’t actually have to have clients to offer a consultancy service, but it doesn’t half look impressive in an email footer.

Then, suddenly, worlds collide and there’s a discomforting moment where real-you and author-you overlap. It could be a reader wanting to meet you, or going along to a newspaper interview and finding that you play football with the journalist.

If branding is done well, then your author persona will fit over your real life like a piece of tracing paper. It doesn’t contain as much detail as the original; neither does it embellish what is there. It’s the truth but not the whole truth, and that’s fine.

However, once in a while, you might ‘tweak’ your author persona. Supposing you write cosy mysteries set in the Lake District, you might occasionally photograph a fisherman and post it to social networks, despite being a strict vegetarian with an inability to keep quiet long enough to fish. You never said you like fishing, you just implied it.

Suddenly, a reader with whom you’ve exchanged dozens of messages suggests meeting for a spot of fishing. You feel your forehead prickle. Is your web of deceit going to cause your world to crumble around you?

If we’re talking about fishing, your world probably won’t collapse. All you need to do is admit that you’re more interested in watching fisherman than actually being one. You’ll have to be careful how you word it, but a reasonable reader will understand.

If fishing is a euphemism for something much bigger, such as forwarding your erotica career by pretending to be a young beautician when you’re actually an aging headmaster, you need to think very carefully about your plan of action.

Some people have false author personas that you’re supposed to take with a pinch of salt, such as children’s authors with blurbs that report that they live in castles in the sky. Others present realistic false personas, sometimes with good reason. If you’re a headteacher then your job will almost certainly be compromised if the PTA hears about your erotic sideline.

If you’re caught out lying, the best thing you can do is lay your cards on the table and explain why there are discrepancies between your author brand and the truth. If you haven’t been caught out, then you need to decide what is more important, meeting your readers or preserving the truth. Whilst the notion of meeting someone who thinks you’re great is appealing, what if she doesn’t think you’re quite so great in real life, and publishes the truth online?

Do not presume that you can trust a person simply because he or she enjoyed your book. Respecting your total brilliance is an important quality in a friend, but trust comes close behind.

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