Yesterday's little vent-fest gave rise to some interesting comments, both in the comment thread and in my email. So much food for thought, but what surprised me most was how many of you confessed to not being sure you could control your public image. There's a lot of concern out there about how to avoid making mistakes, and, to my surprise given the folks who hang around here, being interesting enough to get any attention at all in a saturated marketplace.
So let's turn yesterday's negative into a positive and talk about ways you might define and control your public persona when it comes to blogging or other similar forms of PR.
Let me start by saying that nobody is suggesting anyone should pull a Clark Kent. You don't need to be two different people. You don't need to keep your writing life secret as if you were a serial killer hiding bodies instead of manuscripts.
What we're really talking about is focusing your public image in a way that will be helpful to your audience.
Have you given any thought to this? Or have you assumed that whatever your personality might be, this is the personality you will display online? There is an argument in favor of the natural approach. You can access any thoughts or events from your life for a blog post, magazine article, or newsletter piece -- and more raw material means more finished material. You won't be pretending or hiding anything at all, not even a little bit, so slip-ups and gaffes might be fewer.
But the downside is that most of us have personalities and interests so diverse that any blog or interview or other PR efforts might lack focus if they are allowed to be as broad as we are. Focus helps to build audience. Like-minded people congregate around shared interests. This is my editing blog. I also have a knitting blog, which few of you would be interested in. Does this make me schizophrenic? No. It just means that I have focused my content around a theme for each blog.
For non-fiction authors, this process of focusing comes naturally. If you write cookbooks, articles about woodworking, business reports, or the like, you can easily focus any public discourse around your chosen subject.
But it's a little trickier for fiction writers. Our topic doesn't control our content, either for books or for any PR associated with them. So how should we design a blog and similar material to keep it focused and entertaining?
There are a couple of different approaches I've noticed fiction writers using. Keep in mind, I'm not in the PR business, but I have picked up a few things over the years, so ponder this but don't take it as the final authority. And please, share your ideas in the comments. Discussion can only help. But these are some strategies I've seen others use with some good results.
Use Your Research
Some authors write books that require a lot of research, and they use their blogs as a place to discuss things they've discovered along the way. They write magazine articles on their research topic. They post scads of links to research sites on their own website. They craft themselves into experts on a topic, and people who are interested in that topic might also be interested in novels featuring that material. This is probably an effective way to reach new readers. Anyone see any downsides to it?
Use Your Hobbies
Hobbies can be a bit tricky because you might lose interest in them over time. But if you've been an avid scrapbooker, gardener, pastry chef, etc., for five or more years, you're probably safely out of "trend" territory and into "enthusiast." Talk about your hobby on your blog, and reach the people who share this hobby. Let them know you write books, and they might just become fans. Hobby enthusiasts do tend to support one another. God knows I've bought a lot of novels over the years for no better reason than that they were penned by a knitta.
I see lots of writers who blog on writing and publishing. This is an easy avenue for many writers, but there are two downsides. First, your audience will be other writers, and because they already follow publishing new releases, they may already know about you. You'll possibly reach some new readers, but not as many as you might through other channels. On the other hand, writers are great proselytizers for other writers. I know that friends and family are always asking me to recommend new books to them, and it's mainly because they figure I'll know where the good stuff is hidden.
The second downside? If you're trying to break in with a new house or agency, your target people might read your blog or newsletter for a sense of what kind of person you are. Sniping, disclosure of confidential information, and a poor understanding of the business side of the business can all be marks against you. The flipside of that, of course, is that good material can tilt the scales in your favor. We all want to work with people who are smart and upbeat, right?
Nothing like a good group blog to take the pressure off a single writer but still net you some positive exposure. Most group blogs are focused on book promotion with a dash of writing/publishing information, usually anecdotal but sometimes informational. Readership for these blogs and websites may be keyed to the popularity of the authors on them, but having even one star in a group will shine more light on all the other members, too. If everyone in the group is new(ish) to publishing, getting guest posts from big names might build readership.
When you're in a group, your individual persona is probably less an issue than it is when you stand alone. So you might gain the freedom to reveal several different facets of your personality instead of focusing on just one. But perhaps those of you in groups can offer some insight on this. How do you decide what kind of content can go on a group blog?
A smallish number of people use their blogs to reveal the person behind the novels. They blog about their kids, family traditions, dates, wardrobes, dieting efforts, sex scene "research" -- all manner of personal content. In that case, a little common sense can be a good thing. It's one thing to say, "My family always attends Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve." It's quite another to say, "And so should you, you filthy heathens."
Here's a question for all of you. Do you find these kinds of blogs interesting? Or are they interesting only if you already know the person behind the blog? How many baby pictures before a blog gets boring?