I’m starting a new series of blog posts where I interview authors about aspects of the author experience. I’m hoping the posts will be useful to authors and writers breaking into the industry.
The first topic I wanted to explore is how, as authors, we should present ourselves online. This is a topic I think about a lot and I don’t feel is discussed that often.
Personally, I’ve had my @zoe_writes Twitter and Instagram accounts for years, way before I became an author, but once I got published, I began to feel torn between being me and being ‘author-like’. I am a pretty authentic person and this has often been reflected in my social media posts. A friend messaged me at one point to tell me to stop tweeting about my period pain. Do you see Jojo Moyes tweeting about her periods? He had a point. Ditto the time I posted Instagram stories about getting a smear test (an important thing for women to talk about if you ask me). I’ve posted #ThirstyThursday selfies a few times. And in the middle of a complete panic attack at the start of lockdown, I may have tweeted some questionable Covid conspiracy theories, leading me to be instantly called out by a couple of authors for being inappropriate. Sometimes it can be hard to identify when you're taking being your authentic self too far and no longer being author-like. After all, in the age of social media and oversharing, a lot of people seem to value authenticity. So, what's the right way to go about it?
I reached out to other authors to see what they think. I was surprised and comforted that many authors have also given the topic a lot of thought – it turns out, I’m not alone in struggling with this! Here are their thoughts.
Have a personal account and a separate author account
Some authors find that having author accounts where they present themselves in a professional, curated way and separate private accounts for friends and family to be the best way to navigate social media.
‘I have two accounts - one for my private life and connections, where I personally know each person I friend, and this one, where I express my writerly persona. It is not a different personality, but certainly a more curated experience,’ says E.V. Svetova, author of Print in the Snow
‘I do have separate social media so I can concentrate on “writerly” stuff… My personal account is for all the other day to day stuff. I like to keep my author socials 'on brand' when it comes to the look, whereas my personal is just a free for all!’ says erotic romance author Sarma Burdeu
‘I am Effie, here and in the writing world which I inhabit when I'm not being Sharon. This persona is one I have cultivated for fifteen years and this page is full of writers, readers, and everyone connected with that. My other is everyone I have known in my life, family, friends, colleagues, anyone who has known me as Sharon. I have some crossovers but I am almost two people making up one. Sort of. Some people only know me as Effie and I like that. I prefer Effie on many days. Effie is fun and fabulous, Sharon is staid and boring and serious and real,’ says Effie Merryl, author of A Bowl of Cherries
'I always joke that my alter ego, Fay Keenan has better dresses and is three stones lighter! I do feel some division between 'her' and 'me' at times, which seems a little odd, but that's probably more to do with the fact I have a 'teacher' persona as well - another job that can require a certain level of filtering in certain contexts. They're both me, but different versions of me,’ says Fay Keenan, author of The Second Chance Tea Shop
‘When it comes to social media and my authory stuff, I keep things very separate. I have separate profiles for myself (family and friends) and my author persona… I get a lot of requests to my personal Instagram for follows but I will always refuse them if I don’t know them (they’re usually already following my author page) because of my daughter… I don’t judge others who use their kids to promote their businesses, it’s their choice and that’s fine, but I don’t want to do it,’ says Debbie Ioanna, author of Blind Date
Being yourself wart-and-all is okay
Some authors aren’t interested in filtering themselves too much or adopting an author persona; they prefer to just be themselves warts-and-all, and hope that people don’t get too offended or put off from buying their books.
‘I don't know there is such a thing as oversharing - in fact, I prefer people who do (both on social media and in real life),’ says Adrian Sturrock, author of Random
‘I joined Twitter and Facebook before I was published, so when it happened, I had to make a decision about whether to carry on being 'me', or try to develop a more 'authory' persona. I did try for a while, honestly. But in the end, I gave up - I was 'me' long before I was a published writer, and basically, what you see is what you get. I'm too old and grumpy to be anything but the real me on these sites… I would rather people follow me because they like the whole package, (or enough of it to put up with the bits they don't like) - and if they do, I’m happy with that,’ says Margaret Kirk, author of Shadow Man
‘I do present myself as me, warts and all, because I'm not perfect, but I can be interesting! I’ve found that those who follow and engage, enjoy knowing about me, not just my writing,’ says Ritu Bhathal, author of Marriage Unarranged
'For me, being authentic crosses both my author and alter-ego's persona. It's non-negotiable. I sense it may be frowned upon at times but keeping it real (and heck, I'll just say it!) shining my light, is the only way I can be true to myself in my personal AND professional life. Anything less and I feel I am dimming who I am and what I'm about. I keep some things back, definitely (husband/kids related talk)... but not all that many. I'm pretty open about the stillbirth of my middle child, for example. I'm pretty vocal about a number of things I feel passionate about. That's just me!' says Nicola May, author of Oh! What a Pavlova
'What you see is what you get with me... You've probably noticed that though.... I say, be yourself all the time. Of course, as an author you need to be more organised and professional but do not lose who you are because for me, being yourself is a gift and if some people don't like it.... As Ron in Harry Potter says "Who cares?!"' says YA author, R.E.Brooker
‘Just be yourself, people are quick to see an actor rather than the real person, but always be polite,’ Richard Frankland, author of A Cast of Hawks
I think I’m pretty authentic, even if it means sharing some political sorts of things that really have more to do with human rights. It’s just not in me to keep my mouth shut!’ says Cat Hickey, author of The Bellhop Only Stalks Once
Don’t talk about politics or religion
Despite having a range of different approaches to presenting ourselves online, almost all the authors I spoke to agree that politics and religion are no-go areas! Many authors have strong opinions but don’t want to risk alienating half their readership for the sake of making a point.
‘I also try to avoid any political, and religious ranting, because anyone out there is a potential reader, and I can't afford to alienate any of them,’ says Duncan Brockwell, author of No Way Out
‘One thing I do try to avoid is politics. I have a lot of US followers and learnt the hard way that Trump jokes lost me readers. I try now to keep my views to myself, certainly on my author page,’ says Keri Beevis, author of M is for Murder
‘I don't adopt a persona, but I do filter. Nothing political or religious. Nothing controversial. I love what Dolly Parton said when someone asked her about her political views. “I'm not going to tell you that! I'm not going to alienate half my fans!”,’ says Sally Berneathy, author of The Triple Chocolate Murder series.
‘My first lesson as an indie author or writer from another author was never discuss politics and religion. As an indie you cannot afford to alienate readers. Also, as a reader I’m generally not interested in an author’s political or religious views, I just want to read their work,’ says Tammy S Peterson, author of Moribund
‘I find myself veering away from anything too political or controversial - not because I don’t have an opinion, but because I am very aware that as a horror author - which can be a bit of a niche genre at the best of times - social media diplomacy is everything. The few times I have waded into anything a bit controversial, I have seen it come back to bite me on the butt so steer clear now,’ says Mark Woods, author of Fear of the Dark
‘I have found myself sharing less political posts - or rather, angry political post, since I began to promote myself as a writer. I certainly don't put any on my author page,’ says writer Amanda Giles.
‘I take the view that if someone wants to read a book I've written (when I finish one) I don't care if they're Tory or Labour, or Labour or Coalition, or Republican or Democrat. I just want to give them some joy and for them to give me some money in return. So why piss off a whole pile of readers just because you want to rant about a politician you don't like?’ says author Sara Hood.
Don’t be too promotional
A few authors raised the point that while we all want to sell books, bombarding people with book posts all the time is not the way to go about it. If we’re simply klaxons for our work, we'll rapidly get boring.
‘I see so many authors using their accounts to bombard people with ads for their books. I do it, but I try not to make it only about the writing,’ says thriller author Duncan Brockwell.
‘While I do post some promo, I try not to go over the top. I may be a thriller author, but I want people to engage with me, so I try to keep it as light as possible,’ added D is for Dead author, Keri Beevis.
Be a tweaked version of yourself
Some authors may not have separate public/private accounts, but they consciously present themselves in a certain way online, knowing their readers will see it.
‘I have a self-deprecating sense of humour and have almost created a caricature of myself. Yes, I am a klutz, yes, I love red wine and pizza, yes, I am single and live with two cats, but I ham it up. Any mishaps I have get played up to full effect to try and raise a laugh,’ says author Keri Beevis.
‘I found I have pulled back a bit. Readers don’t need to know the ugly and nitty gritty. But they still need to know ME. So it is a fine line. I share my sunflowers, my Bulldogs, funny stories about my daughter. I keep it real but not diary-real,’ Trisha McKee, author of Beyond the Surface.
Mental health risks of adopting a persona
One author highlighted the adverse mental health impact of adopting a persona long-term. The author asked to stay anonymous but drew upon his own experience of trying to be something he wasn’t in a civil service career, a decision that ultimately caused what he described as a ‘mid-life crisis’.
He said, 'I got very upset and mixed up, and would wake up in the morning and realise that something I was doing that day was part of the fake me - and that I didn't want to do it any more.'
‘The main thing that came out of it was that I learned above all that you MUST be yourself. Because trying to be someone/something you're not is actually rather dangerous to your mental health. I realised that, so long as you don't hurt people, you shouldn't care what they think about you, and you shouldn't do what you think is expected.’
When he got published, the author decided to be his authentic self on social media.
He said, ‘I've seen authors who've admitted to trying to adopt an "author persona"; it wouldn't be good for me, and I'm not sure it would necessarily have a positive effect on people online. I think being yourself is just easier. It doesn't mean you have to overshare stuff you're uncomfortable about - but that boundary is about who you are too.’
I was relieved when working on this post to find that different people feel different ways about being an author online; there’s no right or wrong approach and it seems that everyone chooses to do what feels appropriate for them.