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BAWRT 2004

Week 12 — Attack of the Authorpreneur

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?

Moi

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
http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/821

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?

Carla Hoogeveen, 1975 – Inn of the Damned

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?

Drinking a Manhattan – in New Jersey. Ironic photo by Alvin de Leon

Holden Sheppard

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.

12 replies on “Week 12 — Attack of the Authorpreneur”

Hi DJ

If I were hunting for the things that lurk beneath undisturbed rocks I think I would have come away disappointed. You seem to have covered a lot of ground in this final post.

I’ve heard that some ‘writing machines’ are capable of churning out 10,000 words a day. For a professional writer 10k words a day is not considered abnormal, although I seem to recall somewhere in the annals of my memory that that amount of writing often comes at the expense of quality. Do you think this would also fit in with the amount social media posts by some ‘authorpreneurs’ or is that just part and parcel with their particular style of branding?

I once met someone who went down the path of the vanity press or publisher. He was convinced his $16,000 was a good investment. I wasn’t quite convinced because although not a Ponzi scheme per se, it still raised the heckles on the back of my neck–if you know what I mean? I lost touch with that person so I can’t comment on a follow-up.

You make a good point about writing under the guise of an alias. It would really defeat the purpose of creating a brand.

I think your choice for a Facebook profile pic may indeed attract a fellowship. The only requirement I can think of might be the need to find somewhere to hang all their raincoats on book review days!

It was great to see so many Australian writers in this week’s material. And, arguably, I don’t think you can get more Australian than a Holden.

Darren W

I’ll say ne thing for blog booker, it does show you the comments you should’ve answered. So here I am, answering. Only hope I can get it don ein time.
In this final post, the topic seemed to deal with marketing, in which I’m on much firmer round than I am with, say, automediality or autobiography studies. So I could wax a little lyrical, or prolix, about the authorial persona. Then Threasa said we had to cover one of the author pages she linked to, so that added a bit of extra verbiage.
their persona of the author is very important these days, not only as one of a number of marketing tools, but also as a means to get to a publisher. If controversy and publicity are already there, you’re more marketable as an author, and thus more likely to get published. Further, since the character of the author is more important than the quality of the writing when prizes are given out, making yourself a prize-winning persona is important. That’s why I put ‘Helen Demidenko’ in there, as she is the pinnacle of this achievement in making up a persona that was going to get a prize. (apparently her book is crap, too.)
I might be cynical about advertising and marketing, but am I cynical enough?

Hi D J,
I really appreciate your detailed and thoughtful meditation on this weeks content. You’ve really unpacked what we covered in class and have reflected back to your own thoughts and experiences with digital writing. Your exploration on brand and automediality through your facebook image was interesting and makes a good point, it made me wonder if an author could get away with such a drastic change of online presence compared to their physical selves. But then again, I listen to the Gorillas, and they’re avatars! I imagine though that people would want desperately to uncover their ‘true’ identity, also. That all plays into branding, and you’ve covered that really well in this post. Wishing you all the best in the future -Bianca

Hi, Bianca,
I suppose the comparisons between the author and the brand go back to ‘George eliot’ who was really a woman, and to whoever really wrote Shakespeare’s plays 🙂 but it is perfectly possible for a modern author to stay reclusive, as Thomas Pynchon has kind of done. At leat, he has created the opinion that he’s reclusive, when in real life he is apparently quite approachable if you’re the sort of person he would want tot talk to. I’m told. I’m not of that set… Another example is Thomas Ligotti who is so reclusive people have assumed he is made up. Since the authorial persona is the thing most seen, it would be possible to be completely different to your physical self for a long time and still maintain a lot of publicity out where people can see it.
I wish you all the best, too. You’re a good and patient editor, and the world needs a shitload more of them.

Holy smokes, DJ, the level of detail you put into your blog posts are on another level. I can feel every line and see the passion and care you have for it. I love the section about the brand and how you can become anything you want simply by saying it. Shows, how you can never be 100% sure of anything. Fantastic work, brother.

Also, big love for the Inn of the Dammed mention. Awesome horror movie. Don’t mess with bounty hunters.

I do have the problem of being a bit prolix, I think. A more careful writer could cover the same topic in fewer words, but my authorial persona is someone conversational and avuncular, which I sort of am in real life particularly if I’ve had a couple of nicely piquant and convivial schooners of the amber fluid. or, ‘Bad as your bloody father’, as my mother would say. I was also on more solid ground in this topic than in some of the other ones, and I think my problem is that I know little and understand less of the formal theories behind this stuff. digital writing as a whole genre, really.

Well, I thought I’d be the only one who would even know about Inn of the Damned, but it seems there’s another person in this class who’s from the ‘H R Pufnstuf cohort’, those people who remember dancin’ Jack Wild, a dragon in local government and the somewhat strange conceit that somebody with a talking flute would automatically board a talking boat. As slow as the movie is by toda’s standards, it’s a nice cignette of the way we made movies in Australia back then, with better sound than most of the movies on at the time, and Ms Hoogeveen is gorgeous.

Wow. The detail and explanations in the blog post are great! it really left me with a feeling of profession! you are so thoughtful with everything you write!

You’re too kind. I’m only professional when I’m on solid ground, and Threasa has pointed out that I lack the theoretical background for this stuff. But in this post, apart from the annoying crap about ‘Moi’, I was at least on the solid ground marketing, even thought I can barely follow Emma Maguire’s arguments in her article. The observation that an author can lie their head off in their writing, thus indirectly presenting an authorial persona, was made by Larry Niven in 1979. J R R Tolkien disapproved of the type of criticism which sought to find out things about the author from their writing or, worse, used details of the author’s life to inform on their writing. Nivnen acts to preserve his ‘brand’, ie his name, these days and you cross Tolkien Enterprises at your peril. But easy access to the author these days has meant that the author needs some kind of persona, or they’ve got nothing to sell. An author uthor is public property nearly as muh as an actor is.

As to being thoughtful in everything I write…er, no. It just looks that way because I’ve picked up a few tricks over the years. I’ll fake it…til I break it 🙂

Hey DJ,
Wow, I agree, you’ve covered a lot of ground in this final post, but going out with a bang never goes out of fashion. Speaking of fashion, as authorpreneurship and digital personas go, I do wonder where we’ll be on this topic in another 20 years.
For now, I can see a use for having different online personas. It isn’t just our professional lives that are online nowadays, but our personal ones too and I can see merit in wanting to keep those separate. Also, an author whose class I took a few years ago has at least two different online personas because she writes and publishes book in wildly different genres. Historical fiction and children’s books.
Of course, it isn’t only authors who are expected to have personas. Actors, singers, pop stars, sport stars, even administrative professionals are expected to have online representation of some kind and the whole things gives me the heebie jeebies a little bit.
I still see a slightly concerning link between online personas in and people’s aspirations of fame. From the research I’ve done, fame isn’t good for you. It causes many neurosis to form in the human psyche and these days, everyone has a bit of it through their social media. Here’s hoping it’s a small enough dose to take.

Thank you for your previous thoughtful comments on blog and best of luck for the future, DJ. Cheers. Kirsty
(also, Bianca, Gorillaz rule!)

Well, I will say that in terms of personæ in the future, Neal Stephenson has done some writing on it. In a wold where facial recognition is universal, people create personæ by wearing veils’ which create a false face for the surveillance cameras. These can then be embellished to create alternative identities. (My persona is suc that I put the ‘æ’ on the plural.)
As the workplace intrudes more on our private lives, and into our social media, such that we all become 24/7 spokespeople for our employers, the necessity to develop separate work and off-work identities becomes greater. A kind of dual personality is necessary. A John Jakes story called ‘Beyond Bedlam’ dealt with this in the 1950’s. There’s alos a John Brunner story whose name eludes me where people have two identities to maintain two different families, as one family is too small a consumption unit to keep the economy ticking over.
SF thinks about this stuff.
Fame requires work, as William Goldman observed. The fame people get is proportional to the effort they put in. His example was Jennifer Lopez – she’s getting fame all the time, and is rewarded by fame. robin Wright didn’t want it and wasn’t prepared to do the 24/7 hour to get it, and is not as famous as ‘Jenny from the block’. It’s probably the maintenance of fame that causes the neuroses. But would you trade places with J K Rowling if it meant a few neuroses?

Hi DJ, I really like how you gave an example at the start of your post, it really makes your final piece feel complete

Hi, Sarah,
You mean the paper wasp’s point of view? I nearly forgot about it. I was more enthusiastic about this topic than maost of the others we’ve had this semester, especially Soundscapes which I didn’t even post about, so I jumped right in there and kept on typing. Then Threasa said we ha to look at someone’s ‘persona page’ so I tacked Holden Sheppard on at the end. This is why it’s longer than the other posts.
I’m glad that you enjoyed it.

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