Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Defining Your Public Persona

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.

Use Publishing

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?

Group Blogs

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?

Get Personal

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?



MeganRebekah said...

My blog definitely reveals the personal side behind writing. Yesterday I talked about book advances, today's post is how I sprained my ankle by walking. It's a matter of balance. I never tell anyone what to do or think, just share a side of me. I can't imagine not being open. If I didn't get personal it would feel very sterile and cold.
Some authors have great blogs about the technical side of writing. They're nice and informative, but that's it. I love the blogs that show the writing with the personality.

Stephanie, PQW said...

I have two blogs. One is a place for me to work through my thoughts on my writing process and craft. The other is addressing issues of culture in writing. The culture blog is a little bit more difficult. There I have to balance emotion and thought, and take care not to overwhelm my readers while keepingn it interesting and genuine. Quite an undertaking. I fear I don't always make the mark

Remus Shepherd said...

For years, everyone giving advice to new authors has said, "The quality of your writing is the only thing that counts."

Now -- just today -- I'm seeing multiple sources say that an author's personality and net presence are a deciding factor in whether or not they get published.

Was the earlier advice a lie? Or was the publishing industry in denial, and they've only just now accepted their own socially elitist behavior?

Riley Murphy said...

Well, I can honestly say - after hanging around this blog since December 08...THANKS GUYS for getting me hooked with your posts on innovating. (sigh) to be that blog illiterate again. (pine) I have mulled over a few ideas about what could and would make a blog successful because I do totally agree with Theresa. There has to be a palatable balance - and enough varied content to broadly appeal. Unless you’re happy with your own little cyber world - here also I agree with T - if that’s the case than go ahead and laugh at your own jokes, right?

So, your question was how many baby pictures before a blog gets boring? Hmm...? I don’t know about anyone else but I need to be learning, thinking and absorbing things - not that I’m ADD or anything - but I have to be invested and if the most you got is a recanting of your daily life...unless you’re the Dali Lama or someone like that (don’t tell anyone I said this but I’d probably find his wisdom annoying after a while so, maybe not even him okay?) You’ve lost me. Putting a whole pile of links on there - Nope. I can find those places on my own. I think the key is a varied menu with plenty of room for interaction. That’s what makes life interesting, right?

The problem, the way I see it (and this is only my opinion so PLEASE don’t email with your buts) many people who have a blog turn it into their own little soapbox. That’s not real life. In real life there’s accountability and a certain amount of respect that is required (daily) when you head out in public. Why should your blog be exempt from your internal radar that normal picks up what’s acceptable and decent in everyday life? My worry is that new standards are being set - and to answer one of the comments previously posted. Maybe these standards have been slowly declining over the few years since the internet markets became mainstream. And maybe this is why - before, you only had to be a good writer to succeed, but now the industry is having to put their collective feet down and stop this nonsense before it becomes worse - Is it wrong of them to want to stop and take a good look at the individual they may want to hire? I certainly don't think so. But who knows? Maybe writers within the industry - seeing a few examples of highly opinionated and obnoxious individuals who are left languishing in a pile of their own unpublished works will do the trick and get people behaving in a career minded fashion.

Unknown said...

I think too much personal inclusion is a problem. Your suggestions are topnotch and can help someone looking to get started to stay focused.
Good information thanks!

Whew! I don't have to ask what put the twist in your knickers. And I liked your phrase about personal accountability. Just when I think you're a reincarnation of E. Bombeck, I’m sure you've heard that before, you come out with something like this?
Said Babs, shaking her head with a smile. You go girl!

MitMoi said...

I started my blog long before I even considered I could be/was a writer.

Honestly - I read an author's blog - followed a few people's links and thought ... "I can do that!" <-- ignorance is bliss.

In year two of blogging, I realized I was blogging for me, because I wasn't too interested in (doing all the work) it takes to gain a wide readership.

It was my (very rough) storytelling ability that lead a fellow writer to challenge me to grow in this craft. And so I have begun the learning process. (minus figuring out punctuation, grammar & spelling)

The more I read about public/private access - the more I think I'll keep "Mit" for me - and if I ever get close to a public writing opportunity, I'll start a different blog. One that's more focused.

(Of course, you are SHOCKED after reading this rambling manifesto that I would acknowledge my *focus* isn't so sustained!)

Finally, what I've learned the semi-hard way is that although I try to keep my opinions to myself - sometimes I relate a story - only to find out someone within the story views it differently. And that's where it's a challenge to gage "opinion and view point".

Sometimes it is far more subtle than just leaving religion, race, and politics out of the discourse.

< / far too long comment >

Natasha Moore said...

I can't speak for other group blogs, but at Fierce Romance we often have "theme" weeks where our posts for the most part focus on a certain topic. We all make suggestions including subjects like the craft of writing, family fun and eye candy (no one has ever suggested anything political, etc.)

Blogging with a group certainly lessens the pressure to be brilliant daily and I think the personalities of the bloggers still shine through. Great post! Lots to think about.

Riley Murphy said...

Erma Bombeck? Holy crapatola -- am I that old? (insert my shoulders sinking with dejection)...Hang on a minute. What am I sayin..er I mean, typing? Thanks. I'll take that as compliment. Thanks Babs

And no, my knickers weren't in a proverbial twist. I'm sorry if sounded that way. I'm cool. Well, truth be told I'm frying my ass off here in Florida, but what the heck. It's my own version of sweating to the oldies. Instead of songs though, I just peruse the population...theoretically, it's the same thing isn’t it? It's all good! ;)


em said...

Murphy! LOL!

Julie Harrington said...

I don't read a lot of blogs, and those that I do read are more instructional in nature (like this one) where I can read opinions on a specific topic (publishing/writing). I don't like reading blogs about people's vacations. I don't like looking at baby pictures. I don't particularly care what anybody has to say on a political opinion or what they're favorite recipe is for zucchini/chocolate chip cookies. I find that kind of thing boring. Always have. So for me blogs that are professional for a purpose are great. Those that just kind of ramble? I never go back.

There is one blog I do read that has more exploratory questions when it comes to books. It's run by multiple people (authors and editors) and every day they tackle a new topic. It can be anything from Do You Believe in Soul Mates to Here Are Our August Book Releases -- Which Ones Are You Interested In? To just random musings about women's safety, marriage, what makes a good series when it comes to books, what kind of settings do you like, etc. So it's not just "author" focused and gives general readers a place to come and play as well.


Edittorrent said...

What I find interesting about this discussion is that we all look for different things in our online reading. That's wonderful news, because it means that we can generate our online material any way we see fit, and it will find its readership.

I love the Theme Weeks at Fierce Romance. It's fun to see how the different people deal with the same themes.

Mit, long comments are sort of standard around here. We're interested in what you have to say, so don't hold back! I love what you said about how viewpoint influences what we write. It's so true.


Glynis Peters said...

I have my author blog and my everyday blog, both are me. I cannot change. I am me, smiley faced, niave, hopeful old me!

Interesting post, thanks.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with JewelTones, a blog has to have a purpose I'm interested in for me to follow it. I have my own cardmaking blog with lots of faithful, albeit lurking, followers. In turn, I also lurk many cardmaking blogs. However, having recently discovered your awesome blog, I've stumbled across a whole new blogging community which is far more online interactive. I love it, and Edittorrent opened my eyes. Thanks! Your kntting blog sounds intriguing :)