You are not cereal

Originally, this was the week I was planning to write about one of my favorite fictional heroes, Captain Kathryn Janeway, and try to explain why I find her so compelling. (For those who don’t know, she was a starship captain played by Kate Mulgrew in the science fiction series Star Trek: Voyager, and if you didn’t know this already, all seven seasons are available on Netflix.)

And I will still write about that (because Janeway=awesome), but next week. Because this past week, thanks to my friend ’Nathan, I came across this post on the website of a literary agency about a topic that’s somewhat close to my heart… well, if I’m honest, it’s probably closer to my spleen than anywhere else, because as I’ve discussed before, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. (I teach a class in social media for writers, and no, the irony of that is not lost on me.)

But, dialogue is always a goal of mine with writing, and I mean dialogue with the reader, not dialogue between the characters (although that’s a component of my writing, obviously). Social media is probably the best way for a midlist writer (or lower, like myself) to put a message in a bottle and send it across the sea to people who may open it and say yes, I get that.

So anyway, I read that post and my first thought was, “Well, what a load of codswallop.” Because codswallop is a word that doesn’t get brought out and used nearly often enough anymore, don’t you think? (Sadly, I wasn’t able to find an etymology for the word, but it makes a colorful alternative to nonsense, and it also makes me think of fish, which makes me think of chips, and now I’m hungry and clearly getting off track.)

Anyway, where was I? Right. One of the most important things I tell my students when it comes to social media, I think, is just be yourself. (Unless you can be Wonder Woman. Always be Wonder Woman.) People want to read your books and stories, yes, but when they come to places like Twitter or (ugh) Facebook, they want to read about you, about your work, and get to know you a little better. If you’re just a nonstop marketing mechanism and all you do is try to sell sell sell, people are not going to care.

So yeah when I read that article, I thought, what a load of codswallop.

(OK, if you must know, I also thought “what a bunch of f@&$ing bulls@$t,” because I learned my penchant for colorful metaphor from my dad and my dad is a U.S. Marine, and so I’ve always had a hereditary link to the profane.)


courtesy of, unsplash

But anyway, the idea that writers should keep themselves and their opinions out of what they’re saying online is such a bunch of twaddle, I don’t even know where to begin.

Maybe I’ll begin and end where I always do, at that queer junction I inhabit. To be honest, I consider my continued existence and happiness as a gay person in love with another man to be inherently political. I haven’t shed blood for my sexual orientation (yet), but I’ve been threatened, intimidated, and punched for it. These are things that I don’t set aside when I sit down and write. Totally the reverse. I call those things up, along with a bunch of other stuff about me, about my past, and about all the random and particular things I’ve learned along the way. I put that on the page, and I also put that on Twitter and Instagram and (ugh) Facebook.

But. (Come on, you knew there was a but coming, could you see my “but” face?) Yes, there’s obviously a risk with telling people what you think. Or telling people that you’ve had a bad day. Or mentioning that you got three rejections in the space of one day and that makes you want to have a drink. Or that you think a particular elected official is a witless dilettante who hasn’t the first clue what he or she is doing. Because people might not think the same things that you do, and they might get downright angry about it and unfollow you and not buy your books.

Are you really going to lose sleep over that?

Besides, I’d be hypocritical if I said I haven’t done the same thing, too. There are writers who I find highly objectionable because of their personal views, and I won’t buy their books. There are also editors and agents whose comments on social media have made me… reluctant to pitch to them. From what I can tell, none of them are exactly hurting from my exclusion. By the same token, my selection of books to read is not exactly shrinking by their omission.

There are lots of books and lots of readers out there. The trick is connecting with the ones who will get your work and will get you. It takes time, and consistency, and it takes being yourself enough that people recognize the you in your writing.

And it’s easier to be yourself than it is to try and be someone else.

Personally, I’m happy to see that someone like author Matt Bell is posting about running a marathon, author Rebecca Chance’s cats are sleeping in the Jacuzzi tub again and leaving muddy paw prints everywhere, and Jennifer Weiner is live-tweeting The Bachelor (I’m not going to watch it myself, but I could see myself live-tweeting the season finale of Supergirl). Or Chuck Wendig is being… well, Chuck Wendig.

Just be yourself, and be as genuine as you feel you can be. But for heaven’s sake, don’t obsess about your “brand.” You’re not a box of cereal.

4 thoughts on “You are not cereal

    • My pleasure! Glad it resonated with you. I know that authors have “brands” and “platforms” but I just thought, let’s be real about this and remember that authors are also people with opinions and hearts and aren’t always “on message,” and readers don’t want to be marketed to constantly, anyway. At least, as a reader, I don’t.

  1. This is perfect. It reminds me not to pigeon-hole myself and label myself as one type of writer. Who knows, right? If this box of Rice Krispies runs out, I might have to turn to Frosted Flakes or oatmeal for a bit.

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