Early last week, one of my fellow writer/net-friends, Samantha Willis of Pagecurl Publishing, put out a call for pictures of indie authors posing with their books. I snapped one (okay, fifteen and used the best, I’ve admitted before to a bit of vanity) and sent it off in time to be featured. It was really cool, got me a few new followers who will hopefully try my pieces and become new readers. The one thing I found funny about it was that the other three authors looked posed and professional, while I looked like I was clearly about to go day-drinking. Picture evidence below.
Now I thought this was hilarious, so when I went out to my Wednesday night trivia game, I pulled it up on my phone to show my friends. Most laughed with me, but one was completely aghast.
“Aren’t you worried about looking unprofessional?”
The answer was, obviously, no. I’ve never really tried to look professional. Even the author photograph I use in all my books is me poking fun at myself for trying to look dignified. Honestly, not having to put on airs and seem more dignified than I am is one of the parts I like best about this job. But, as I thought about her reaction and question, I realized they were both perfectly valid.
The simple truth of the digital age is that, when you create and exist online, you are a persona that is tied to your work. I’ve had several fellow authors bemoan the fact that they had to manage so many social media accounts (a lot of writers are introverts, so interaction tires them out), but the fact of the matter is it’s necessary. It’s become the expectation for us to interact, to put ourselves out there, no matter how small of potatoes we may be. I’m as guilty of it as any of us, I’ve found myself genuinely confused when authors I liked weren’t on twitter, and I’ve written whole blogs about the importance of making yourself reachable as an author.
So, what does all of this really mean? It means that once you put work out there: books, art, comics, videos, any of it; you have reached a point where you need to be at least vaguely aware of image management. To be honest, this one was a tough topic to write about, because pretty much all of the stuff I say and do comes from autopilot (I am very much an extrovert). That’s why it took me a week of thinking after the incident to put down a few good rules to follow; I had to take several steps back and really break down what I’d done that I liked and what I wished I could take back.
Now that we’re finally past the prologue, here are my few basic tips for image management in the digital age.
This is the most basic, core tenant I think I can pass on. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not, or your social media existence will turn into another job. No one can fake being anything for that long without getting drained, and honestly there’s no reason you should.
I’m not saying you have to talk about everything (we’ll cover that in a moment) but you should at least feel comfortable being you. I’m a both literally and physically gigantic nerd who likes drinking and funny stories. If that statement shocked any of you, then welcome to the site first time visitors and thanks for checking it out; hope you enjoy the stories! The reason I wasn’t worried about how I looked silly in that photo collage was because it fits with the image I’ve always portrayed, because that pretty much is me. When you’re being honest, you don’t have to worry about something not meshing.
No matter how weird you might think you are, this is the internet. I promise, people have seen weirder, and there’s a good chance that being you might end up getting you connected to similar people. That opens to the doors to new readers and new friends, so it’s win/win.
Here is where I flip things over slightly. Being on the internet is like baking, you want to be really careful what you add, because once it’s in you can never truly take it out. You should certainly be honest online, I still stand by that, but that doesn’t mean you need to put out every part of your life for public consumption. This could manifest in hiding your more hateful prejudices, not advertising an orientation you feel will get you trolled and flamed, or simply not telling people about your cats. Understand what you’re adding in, because once the internet has it, it’s there for life.
You folks can see this with me most often regarding the people in my life. I often joke about my old corporate days, but I’ve also been careful not to ever talk about where those occurred, and I definitely haven’t ever named any of my coworkers or friends. A lot of them are professionals, and when they go on interviews they don’t need their boss googling their name only to find drunken stories by a guy who writes books online. Rest assured, if I use a name on here (unless discussing a fellow writer/online person), it’s a fake. This isn’t me trying to hide my friends from my readers, it’s me keeping them disassociated from me in general, just in case. If you thinks that’s going overboard, be glad you haven’t been on the hiring side to see some of the horror stories I have.
A quick addition to this point: I already know what a lot of you are thinking. “Aren’t you way too small online to take these kinds of steps? Ego much?” My ego is as magnificent as a dragon riding a phoenix, but that’s neither here nor there. The reason I’m taking such precautions for my friends is because yes, I’m small now, but that might not be the case in 5/10/30 years. I do have goals and ambitions, after all. That’s my point, you see. Even when you’re little, even when it seems inconsequential, once you put something out there, it’s never going away.
Be A Person
I’ll be honest; I’ve unfollowed/hidden other writers, even ones I was partial to, because all they did was post links to their work. I’m not alone in that, either. Many of my net-friends have expressed similar sentiments. More than anything, it’s disappointing when you see someone whose entire image is just their body of work. It feels like trying to shake the hand of a cardboard cutout.
Promotion is wonderful, and social media is a great place for it… in doses. But, to me, the whole reason we look to these images of artists we like is to see more than their body of work. Honestly, we probably already know about that if we’re interested. We want to peek behind the curtain and see the truth of the wizard. Even if it’s a managed, discreet, truth; we still want it more than just the big head and fireworks.
Your work is great, and should be a central focus of the stuff you talk about, but we all know there's more to you than that. When you never show some humanizing aspects, it makes the observer wonder if there's really anyone human running the image. There are auto-tweeting services, after all.
Existing online opens up a lot of great communication options for authors and readers that weren't there even a decade ago. Use the ever-loving shit out of it, just do so with a little care about what you're presenting.
P.S. For those wondering: yes, I totally was about to go do day-drinking in that picture. Image captured it perfectly!