Indie his window, he’s staring at the lighted box and sweating profusely. He keeps rubbing his hair, and must have been doing tha for a while because ost of it has come off. He keeps mutterng about digital stories, and automediality, and how it used to be about the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd. He stops he asks us why he is thinking about circuses when the subject is Digital Writing Genres. He asks himself why he is asking us that, then rubs his hair again and water starts to com eout of his eyes. ‘Chew fences, make paper’, we buzz at him, but it seems he has lost all hope.
This week’s tremulous toe-test of the waters of the digital writing genre talked about the author as entrepreneur, and the notion that said author, as part of their entrepreneurship, needs to have an online platform for their persona.
Yes, the electric Internet has given us an ideal combination for presenting ourselves and our works: the speed of electrons down the wires, and via radio waves and laser light where available, and the best advertising of all: word of mouth. Social media has now allowed people on it to broadcast word of mouth to people vaguely interested in what those words might be, and modern advertising has jumped on that bandwagon in the social media fostered belief that an ad on social media is indistinguishable from the word of mouth of the person on whose wall it appears.
Midway between traditional, oral word of mouth and the literal noise of social media we have the blog post, like this one. If you’re reading this and you know me, you can trust what I say, right? It’s word of mouth, particularly if it’s written in a conversational style with lots of contractions, like this is.
But do you know me? Assuming that you’re reading this because, like me, you’re learning about digital writing genres in BAWRT2004, then only one of you has actually met me in real life, and that only for a couple of hours. Some more of you may have seen me in our online classes, a couple of you have had emails from me unrelated to the course content, some of you may have googled me (God, I hope you have a more vivid life than that suggests). But do you know me?
Or only the online persona I present?
To be heard above the pink noise of writing on the Internet, and even to stand out on a bookshop’s shelves, it’s important to develop the author as a brand. Kirstie Taylor makes this point:
As a writer, it’s important to create the same personal branding for yourself. Whether your goal is to land clients or build an audience, having a personal brand is essential to the process. It doesn’t matter if the content you write is posted under your name or a company’s, a personal brand extends far beyond the words you put into the world.KirstieTaylor, Why It’s Important To Build A Personal Brand As A Writer, https://writingcooperative.com/why-its-important-to-build-a-personal-brand-as-a-writer-170c9daa762c
Her article offers good reasons for getting your ‘personal brand’ out there. They are largely to do with a professional writer, or rather a writing machine that puts words out there just because you like to type. It seems, from my reading of her article, that it isn’t about fiction writing, but simply supplying the written word for people too busy to do it themselves. It isn’t about telling stories, it’s about appearing on various websites and, it seems, getting paid for it.
That’s not enough, apparently. The modern author can’t let their work stand for itself but has to become an ‘authorpreneur’. In case you thought for a nanosecond that I;m responsible for that hybridised Franco-Latin neologism, I can tell you that it was coined by Paul@Lulu, the online persona of the chief copywriter for print-on-demand publisher Lulu.
This company is partly what we used to call a ‘vanity press’ or ‘ego press’ and I know them only for their printing of two legendarily unpublishable works: Atlanta Nights and My Immortal. I say ‘partly’ because it looks like they’re trying to remodel themselves as an author platform, as Amazon has done with its author pages and Goodreads does, too (but it’s an Amazon subsidiary nowadays).
According to Paul@Lulu, the modern author has not to act like an entrepreneur but be one. Remember when it used to be about the writing? Remember when Stephen King and J K Rowling, acting separably, published under pseudonyms to see if they could still do it? Authors on the Internet can still use pseudonyms, but they’d better be well-marketed and constantly visible.
Are you any closer to knowing me yet?
If I put up a blog, or a personalised webpage (such as captlychee.com or this thing) I can put anything I like on it. The authorial persona might not be the real me. A string of lies won’t stand up to grained interrogation for long, but where’s that trained interrogation coming from?
Part of it comes from autobiography studies. Emma Maguire has this to say
For example, although we might have trouble trying to read a Facebook wall or a Second Life avatar as “an autobiography” in the traditional sense, these performances of self-identity demonstrate ways in which users are taking up technology in order to engage in the business of autobiographical representation. And they are interesting for what they might be able to tell us about cultural understandings of selfhood and what it means to “live” a “life.”Emma Maguire, Home, About, Shop, Contact: Constructing an Authorial Persona via the Author Website
As autobiography moves away from the printed book, the personas that can be created by a Facebook wall or a Second Life avatar become examples of automediality. You can study my autobiography by referring to the persona I create online – by referring to my brand. Maguire goes on to cite a case study of Erika Moen’s authorial persona – i.e., her brand. Ms Moen draws comics about her life as a Lesbian, and so we enter back into the world of gay rights, depression, anxiety, racism, vegans…the cause celebres the intelligentsia want you to empathise with.
“Blogging is selling” somebody once said. You’d think Google would know, but if it does, it ain’t sayin’. But, as a white, cisgendered male in real life what have I got to sell? Not much. I don’t fall into any of the empathy categories mentioned above, so in theory nobody would be interested in my brand if I presented as myself. But I don’t need to, do I?
So, here is my Facebook profile pic. It doesn’t resemble a cisgendered male, although it is white. I’m not very photogenic, but the lovely Carla Hoogeveen certainly is. An autobiography student might read all manner of things into that, but for the moment we can limit ourselves to seeing it – her – as my brand. By branding myself as a woman, whole new fields of commentary and fiction are open to me, because I can now legitimately comment or write about them. The new viewpoint I can lend to the lives of paper wasps adds value to whatever writing I happen to do on the topic.
With the picture up there, I can now add, or presume the reader will add, detail to the persona. I am now a 23-year-old woman. If physiognomy is your thing, I’m of Dutch origin. Do my photogenic looks add something to the persona, and does that then affect how people will see the writing? There may be all sorts of fashionable issues that can be generated from these factoids.
So, the online persona, the brand, or the automedial expression – whichever term you use – has a kind of life of its own. This is important, because the brand can outlive me, much as the brands of V C Andrews and Edgar Rice Burroughs have done, and the authorpreneurial brand could also do so. If (and it’s a big if) we get to be posthuman, it will be my brand that you other posthuman entities will be interacting with. Who would you rather interact with, that svelte ultravixen of the 1970’s, or this guy?
Holden Sheppard is a Western Australian authorial persona who may bear some resemblance to a real person, so it’s reasonable to attempt some discussion of their website in the terms Emma Maguire used in reference to Erika Moen’s website.
The website is set up to sow that the author is a no-nonsense bloke who writes it like it. There are numerous photographs of him (ot a persona) in short-sleeved shirts with bare arms. In bogan there is strength, and with that strength comes the power to speak the truth. This is emphasised by the stencil-like, mechanical nature of the site’s title’s font, and the links below in stark sans-serif font. There’s no nonsense in Holden Sheppard;s writing, because what Holden fan would ever write bullshit? (It’s a pity they never actually bought the cars.) His Instagram name is @V8Sheppard. The site titles and links are set up to show that He Speaks The Truth.
Having established credibility, or at least sorted readers by credulity, we are shown athe cover of his book, Invisible Boys. We’re told that when he learned that boys weren’t supposed to talk about feelings he wrote his down instead. (Presumably he also learnt about Microsoft grammar checker as well.) He didn’t make up these feelings – they were real and, since the site titles have established that he speaks the truth, thw hole truth and nothing but the truth, the feelings outlined or possibly dramatized in the book must be real. And it’s important that he’s from a country town (Geraldton) because they’re keeping it real out there in the bush.
As Raymond Carver and the dirty realist ilk have demonstrated, nothing succeeds like squalor and thus he has won an award of some type, proudly blazoned on the top left corner. The people who award these things are such tender flowers that mention of a dirty singlet will send them into paroxysms of admiration that have done irreparable damage to Australian literature for all time to come. But if you’re the sort of person whose credulity has been developed to such perfection that giving awards on the basis of the author’s persona is more influential than the book, then Holden Shepppard is your author.
That last part is important. Remember when ‘Helen Demidenko’ won the Miles Franklin award? The automediality of Holden Sheppard’s site present the sort of author award committees want to reward. The book might have literary merit. It might even be truthful or interesting to read. But the website is clearly intended to present an authorial persona that a certain class of reader would want to read. Or else, why would you buy his book? If you’re a writer, you can model yourself on Holden Sheppard because Holden has acquired Haylee Nash as an agent. Every author wants an agent, because publishers won’t listen to you without one. The Nash Agency hasn’t got any pictures of its staff up, and is all business, with a friendly font that doesn’t look like a book font at all.