Friday, March 21, 2014

Public Face: Who's it all about?

Recently I spend some time investigating some writers I'd never heard of for a friend who is handling the programming for a convention. Two websites and a few blogs later, I noticed a pattern of not-goodness. I'm keeping this super-generic because I don't want anyone assuming (wrongly or otherwise) that it's them. I don't want anyone to go hunting for a rock to crawl under. Nor would it be any fun if people assume I'm talking about them and get all defensive and decide that they're an exception for whatever reason.  I just want to offer some advice that hopefully everyone can use.

There are a lot of writers who blog about writing out there. Writers write, and writers obsess about how to write, when to write, why to write, who or what to write about, what music to write to, where to write, etc. I went in with that knowledge and expected that a writer's blog will involve writing on some level. So that's fine. It's natural for writers to obsess about writing on their blogs.


Assuming that a writer blogs because they want to connect with their audience, it seems to me that it might be a good idea to make the blog about the audience. Impart useful information, write teasers, talk about cats [because the interwebs were created for cute cat pictures, instant information (right or wrong might not matter as much as getting it right away) and porn, as we all know] or whatevs. Get excited about the latest book coming out, or report on the awesome that's the convention, book signing, movie that came out, fab new writing haunt, etc. But I would suggest avoiding what these authors did, which was make it all about themselves. I don't mean, don't make it personal. Personal is fine. But there's a difference between sharing and narcissism. These websites seemed very narcissistic to me.

Most readers tolerate promotion so that they can find out the latest about the writer's new work. There's the work, which readers like to read about so they can snag the latest info about the story they love, and there's the author, who is the respected creator but not the focus of the reader's interest.

The posts had nothing to do with me as an interested party who wanted to know more about the author's work, and the author themselves. I didn't care about how hard it was to write the synopsis for the person's latest work, though I've been there and it does suck. Discussing an imagined slight of The Author's craft by some unwashed, unworthy fellow author or a critical reader or whoever–I wanted to bounce off the site but I was doing research, so I reluctantly read on. I do enjoy reading about stuff like that sometimes, but usually only if the author is a celebrity and is misbehaving. In other words, I read about that at their expense, usually through a third party. (See the Anne Rice example coming up shortly.) I also like to hear about famous authors being awesome, but again, through a third party.

I did actually want to know about the authors. And I found out plenty, though probably  not what the author intended. Reading between the lines, the authors sounded more interested in themselves as authors than they were their own work, or anything else going on in the world for that matter. They may be perfectly fine writers, but I'll never know because their web presence didn't inspire confidence in their writing. I'd expect that their books are in keeping with the level of self-awareness and insight into the wider world expressed in their blogs. Which is to say, they seemed to be using really tiny windows to look out at the world, and there were a lot of mirrors outside those windows.

I think an author-focused blog can work very well. Jay Lake famously blogs about his cancer journey. In fact, he's stated that he has more hits on his blog from others wanting information about his battle with cancer than his books. I think it's valuable to study how Jay talks about his cancer and how people respond, especially others who are facing cancer or have family with cancer. The information he gives helps people feel less alone, and prepares them for the things they'll have to face and decisions they'll have to make. This is valuable (and generous, and courageous.) I've also enjoyed author blogs when the authors discuss their trips to foreign countries, antics with their pets (again with the cats!) and stuff they've learned through research.

Contrast that to talking about how mean someone was when they offered unsolicited criticism of the author's work. If there was some insight, humor, something to entertain me, as a fellow crazy writing person I might have felt a connection. I've certainly had my share of weird, cruel and off-putting critiques. But as a reader, a potential buyer of the author's books, those posts turned me off more than anything. And, sadly, even as a writer sympathetic to the plight of other writers, my main reaction was to wonder if the author had a thick enough skin to survive in the business. That, and I had a flashback to Anne Rice's reaction to a bad review on Amazon. I still get a chuckle out of that. As entertained as I was by that whole debacle, it didn't endear me to Anne Rice, no matter how much I can sympathize with how hard it can be to deal with a bad review. She looked terribly unprofessional.

And these websites and blogs were just that. Unprofessional. It's not about the author. It's about the work.

And cute pictures of cats.

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