Publishing my first book in 2019, I often find myself daydreaming about what it must have been like to do this a hundred years ago when there was no internet, no blogosphere, no Twitter or Facebook or Instagram to manage. I don’t know why, because I have absolutely nothing in common with him, but I always picture F. Scott Fitzgerald, scribbling away at his writing desk, blissfully ignorant of how his latest book was doing. I mean, sure, he’d see some reviews when it came out, and he’d figure out eventually from the royalty checks whether or not it was selling, but he didn’t have to be like us. He couldn’t fritter away his writing time making Instagram giveaways, stalking other writers on Twitter, and endlessly refreshing Goodreads to see how many shelves he was on. He didn’t have to know anything about all the other, cooler writers and the conferences they were attending, the accolades they were getting, the awards they were winning. (Well, I guess he could learn some of that by reading the paper, but you get my drift.)
Sometimes I go back even further in time and imagine Jane Austen, sitting at her eighteenth-century writing desk in a fabulous empire dress—incidentally I believe I, too, would look fabulous in such a dress. Jane wouldn’t even have a telephone ringing with her publisher’s latest bad news. Mail about her book would take ages to reach her by horse (or carrier pigeon). In the meantime, she could drink her tea and work on her latest tome in peace.
I fancy myself a more current Jane Austen, with a somewhat lesser dose of genius, of course, and jeans instead of the dress. I do drink the tea, though. And I sometimes long to be a writer in a different time, when no one would expect me to have a “brand,” to be chatty on social media or clever in radio interviews (not that I’ve done any, haha), to somehow develop a big following of people who listen to me online even though I’m just a shy writer who would rather watch Netflix alone in her pajamas.
I mean, that word is not lost on people, is it? Brand? When I think of branding, I think of cattle. As in, it’s not really something I want to do or have done to me. Things that are branded are owned by someone else. A cow is branded so it can be identified. I know a store brand—or an author brand—is not exactly the same thing, but I sometimes wonder if they’re a little too close. After all, when we brand ourselves, we are trying to sell ourselves and our product, our books. We are trying to think of ways for the book-buying public to imagine us, ways for them to recognize us. Almost as if we belong to them.
Then again, a cow is also branded so it can be found. As authors, we really do want readers to be able to find us, to recognize us and our voice in the vast sea of books out there. Because even though we don’t belong to the readers, our books do. Is that the value of a brand?
When I was querying, I was SO SO grateful to learn that platform and personal brand are necessary for non-fiction authors, but fiction gals like me could let it slide. And I did, which I’m sure you could guess if you’ve been following this blog and you know me at all by now. That being said, as soon as my book sold, both my editor and agent got together while we were on a conference call and told me I pretty much had to join Twitter and start tweeting it up with all the other authors. I was already in my forties—I couldn’t imagine becoming a tweeter.
I’m not really hopelessly anti-social. Even though I’ve been moving every two years for the past decade, I’ve always made an effort to find friends in every new place. That’s actually the only reason I could amass a few hundred facebook friends over the years, since I added fifty or so every time we moved. But apart from that, social media didn’t interest me. And Twitter? What the heck was that? I use facebook to keep track of family and friends, but Twitter? That was just a bunch of strangers. What could we possibly have to say to each other?
Then, my agent got me started by introducing me to some of her other clients. She told me I could look for people who interest me, like other writers, to follow. And the next thing I knew, I was on there all the time. I’m terribly shy when I find myself at a party in a roomful of strangers, but this was a roomful of strangers online. I found myself jumping in and commenting on any thread that interested me. I never took a course in how to gain followers, but gradually I added them just by being there and interacting with people. And it was so much fun. Suddenly, I got it. The great thing about Twitter is precisely that it is a bunch of strangers. In some ways I don’t know them at all, and in some ways I feel as if I know them intimately. And in the community of writers, we’re there to support each other and celebrate together, to brag about each other’s accomplishments, answer questions, and commiserate when things go wrong.
When I first thought about branding, this was the upside of social media that I’d never considered. Writing can be lonely. In my little town, there aren’t too many people I can share this journey with, and none of them happen to be at the same mile marker on the road as I. Getting into social media in an attempt to “put myself out there” actually brought me something I think is far more valuable—writer friends and community.
It turns out that I genuinely enjoy frittering my writing time away on Twitter, and I’ve even gotten into Instagram a bit. I don’t know if I’m making any headway with my “brand” (I was hoping for snarkastic, but I’d take sweet cross-stitching grandma writer who tweets while drinking tea), but I feel less alone. And I’m having a really good time.