Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Author Brand and Social Media: Should the Real You Show Through?

I was listening to Stephen Campbell's The Author Biz podcast this morning (Episode 7) and the subjects of author brand, platform, and social media came up. This is a highly educational podcast (I recommend it to all authors!) and in this particular episode, there was a statement about something that should really be obvious: that your online presence should reflect the brand you want to convey. I believe the specific comment was something to the effect of, "If you write mysteries and thrillers, you probably shouldn't be posting cat pictures on your social media sites three times a week." On the one hand, duh. On the other hand, guilty.

The thing is, there is more to an author, particularly a novelist, than the novels they write. Many of us write in one particular genre, as we certainly should do, but we still love to read and discuss all kinds of books. And, (gasp!) reading and writing are also not the only things we do.

Personally, I try to stick with my brand online for the most part. But I have to admit, I do have a split personality on Facebook. My Author Kristen Elise page is for all of those brand-related posts (along with all of my other channels, including this one.) But my personal Facebook profile is mine. Not the author's. This is where I post twenty seven pictures of my dogs per day, tell goofy stories about things my family said or did, and laugh with my old friends about things that happened when we were little kids. It has nothing to do with author-biz marketing and promotion.

So it doesn't surprise me that a lot of my friends and family don't follow my author page--because they aren't all readers, or readers in my genre, and that's OK. On the flip side, a lot of my author page followers don't friend me. I guess they're not into dogs. It all seems like a reasonable idea, but perhaps worth a bit of discussion: Is letting one's true identity out of the bag, when parts of that identity are incongruous with a brand, potentially harmful to one's online presence?

It's possible that the answer is a resounding "yes." As thriller and mystery authors, we write stories that are dark and serious and a little bit sick. Perhaps our fans like to think of us as being a bit sick-in-the-head ourselves, perhaps right on the verge of snapping and carrying out whatever we've described in our novels. Perhaps the MOST successful author branding strategy would be one that leads readers to that belief, whether that persona is real or invented. Perhaps a mystery author should herself be a mystery. Perhaps a thriller author should seem... well, thrilling. Perhaps it damages one's credibility as an author in the darker forms of the art if one reveals that the figure behind the curtain is actually a total clown.

With that being said, an important part of one's brand is what was referred to in the podcast as "your special sauce." This is what makes you you. It's what makes you unique as an author, what gives you a "niche," to use some business-ese--and it's also what makes you human to your audience. I might not be the only mystery/thriller author in the world, or even the only historical medical mystery/thriller author with a background in science in the world. But I just might be the only one who has three dogs, speaks Arabic and Spanish, played lead guitar on a metalcore album, and has ridden a camel. Somewhere in there, there's something that makes me me.

Does that qualify as special sauce? I'm not sure. Does it damage or help my image, to let readers see the human side of the author? Time will tell. But what I will say is this: a lot of my Facebook friends, the ones whom I speak to about things beyond books, became my friends through my author platform. So they must have decided that they like the human side of Kristen Elise enough to hang out. And I think that's awesome.

If you're reading this post, you obviously know me through Murder Lab or through some form of my social media platform (all of which is linked on the right hand side of this page.) I'd like to hereby extend the following invitation, and with no obligation, of course...but here it is: If you only know me as the Murder Lab Mistress, or as the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex, but you're curious about the human behind the books, please feel free to friend me on my personal Facebook page. I don't bite. Or kill. Except in writing.

Authors, do you let the real you show through in your social media sites? Do you think it's helpful or harmful to your brand? Readers, what do you think? Are you more or less likely to pick up a book because the author shows a personality that doesn't necessarily fit with the genre he or she writes in?


  1. Excellent post. I have a mixed identity, writing mysteries and SF/fantasy and having dogs plus cats. As writers we must be the sum of all parts. If readers want to follow me as an author they can on Facebook, but if they want to know about the complex me then they can discover more on my personal page - so I've sent you an invite. (My writer friends seem to be discovering more about me than my work friends.)

  2. Hi Roland,
    Thanks for the comment, and for friending, and for joining the page! It's good to have you with us. I'll follow your author page as well. And yes, my "real" colleagues (at my day job) know very little about me, unless they stalk me online that is haha. -Kris

  3. Hey, Kris - First - thanks for the shoutout. Second - terrific post!

    One of my favorite authors to follow on social media for branding purposes is Hank Phillippi Ryan. Much like you did in your post (I may be the only Mystery/Thriller writer with a background in science, with three dogs, who speaks Arabic and Spanish and played guitar . . . ) Hank's brand is unique to her and extends to everything she does, from writing, to social media, to in-person appearances. Her message is always on brand, even when it's a picture of the ducks in her swimming pool.

    1. Hi Stephen, thanks for the reply and for friending. I have become a full-blown groupie of your podcast. It's just fantastic and - yes, actionable - land the greatest interviews with the most interesting and informative people, and you ask great questions and seem to have read everything ever written. Bravo! Very glad to have you here in my little world. And yes, I love Hank Phillippi Ryan. Apart from her work ethic, which is almost unbelievable, she offers a ton of inspiration when it comes to brand.