What Price an Author’s Politics?

 

I don’t believe I’m the only one disenchanted with the current state of affairs on FaceBook. Rather than launching a campaign in broad strokes of generalities from a supercilious pulpit, I will keep things simple and try my best to articulate where I’m coming from as an artist, for writing, to me, is a high art.

 

Like legions the world over, I joined FaceBook to stay connected with many people I’d lost touch with over the years. I grew up in Memphis, which means I’m a Southerner, and Southerners are raised in packs attendant to other packs. The domino effect of this reaches into the hundreds. And I care about all my pack members, so I considered the advent of FaceBook a gift that kept me connected, now that I’m a transplanted Southerner living in California.

 

And then I cultivated a writing career. I, like other writers, was therefore obligated to do my share of marketing and promotion for my books, and Facebook is, perhaps, the most viable avenue to do so. In short order, my list of “friends” grew longer, and I, wanting to help my fellow writers, turned around one day to discover I was connected to unfathomable numbers of authors I would have never known otherwise. And it thrilled me. I will always be fascinated by those who create, be they a writer, musician, dancer or painter. Give me your art, says I; it softens the blow of the human experience. In my opinion, there is such beauty in this world, and it is the artist’s God-given aptitude that points this out. It has been my pleasure and honor to help promote other authors, and there is safety in numbers in this business of living, if one is lucky enough to come across others of their ilk. Like begets like, or so it seemed to me, but lately I’ve become soul-sick and heart-confused while looking at FaceBook, and I’m trying to get to the bottom of why.

 

I feel hoodwinked, led into the miasma of a bait and switch. I came to Facebook because of friendship and art, but now it seems I’m being held prisoner for political ransom. I know the arguments: freedom of speech, a forum for “voice,” and all the other rights people stand up for. I’m not suggesting any of this is wrong, but I do question its appropriateness. Just because one can doesn’t mean one should, and the irony for an author is pontificating politically automatically polarizes their followers. There’s no sense in not admitting this, and those that don’t might be assuming their followers completely agree with their views, yet if this is the case, then why preach to the choir?

 

I think authors should seriously think through posting their political view on FaceBook, and weigh it for the potential ramifications to their career. After all, the way an author shows up in the world begins with deciding how they want to be perceived. I had this question posited to me recently, when my literary agent asked me to articulate “my brand.” It’s going to matter when my next two novels come out, and currently there is wisdom in establishing and investing in my base. I’m thinking the more streamlined and specific I can be, the better.

 

Readers align with us for stories. Reading stories gives many suspended quarter in a hectic world. Readers don’t necessarily need to know who the person is behind the story. If an author is doing it right, their stories will speak volumes to answer the question, without detracting from the author’s mystique.

 

I’m not saying I long to be seen as mysterious, only that I like the idea of my stories speaking for themselves. As for who I am, I’ll let the readers decide, and willingly leave politics to the political pundits.

 

 

 

The Gifts of Online Community

What’s important for an author to consider is once their novel is out in the world, the repercussive work that ensues becomes all about connections. It happens organically from the state of affairs at play in today’s publishing world, which is to say that authors are expected to be actively involved, not only in promoting their books, but in simply getting in the online traffic and more or less presenting themselves.

Readers want a face with a name, they like to discover similarities between themselves and the person behind the words, and they can find this via the social media community, where edges are often blurred. Pinterest, for example, is a great author platform on the one hand, but on the other, an author can establish boards that declare their love of dogs, their affinity with a certain region, the city or town in which they grew up, and a myriad other creative possibilities that give a follower something in which to connect with an author as a person first.

Twitter affords similar opportunities, and what is imperative to keep in mind about Twitter is that it is an ever-expanding network with endless connective possibilities that come in all manners. The ethos of Twitter goes beyond the act of following someone who follows you back; it’s all about staying engaged, promoting books by other authors, retweeting something that resonates with you out of the goodness of your heart, and basically staying in a flow that lets you present who you are as well as your interests.

I’ll venture to say it is the same with Google+, Facebook, the WordPress blogging community, Tumbler, About.me, Instagram, and a host of other platforms. All are online forums in which an author can make themselves known, and have it be about way more than just their books. The way I see it, with regard to authors, as long as they’re on these social media outlets, they may as well have fun.

I think there’s much to be said for authors coming to the social media table without an iron-clad agenda. They can let their contacts with people be about sharing, connecting, and supporting those with similar interests. Certainly social media is a great place to promote books, but at social media’s foundation is a sense of community, and this can be its own reward.

Of course, all this is not to say that authors shouldn’t come to social media without a plan; just that it doesn’t need to be a constant, self-orientated agenda. I think it’s best to consider social media and online forums as a place to connect with people who share common interests, and to stay engaged out of that sense of that commonality for its own sake.

Certainly, there are different vantage points from which to engage in social media. The good news for authors is that all of them create a ripple effect through the habit of that engagement. If your contacts regularly see your posts and like what they see, it stands without question that they’ll look into your profile, which is where they’ll get the great thrill of discovering your books!