by Kate McLachlan
Hey, have you heard the news? Jane Austen has a Facebook page!
As soon as I found out, I immediately ‘Liked’ her because I love her and it makes me feel closer to her now that we’re “Friends.” Can one ever get close enough to Jane? Real intimacy has been difficult, though, because, well, she’s been dead for nearly 200 years. Besides that, nearly all her private letters were destroyed after her death, and nobody even really knows what she looked like. Out of her very large family, she’s the only one who never had a portrait done, except for one brother who was apparently ‘developmentally delayed’, to use a modern term. Rumor has it Jane may have been (gulp) ugly, and the family didn’t want to waste good money on a portrait to memorialize that.
In any case, Jane probably preferred the anonymity. She was a very private lady. But that’s all right, because now she has a Facebook page!
You know what else? When I found out Jane had a Facebook page, I checked to see if one of my other long-dead favorite authors might have one too, and she did. Georgette Heyer, the icon of Regency romances, who refused to give interviews and once famously said, “My private life concerns no one but myself and my family,” now has a Facebook page. Guess what, Georgette? Your private life concerns all of us now.
Jane and Georgette are not all that’s dead. Privacy is dead too.
I’m Facebook friends with lots of authors, not just dead ones, and I have a Facebook page myself. Readers look for their favorite authors on Facebook, and if they don’t find them there, they’re disappointed. It’s not just on Facebook either. Readers look for author websites and Twitter accounts and Pinterest Boards and probably other social media venues that I’ve never heard of. If authors want readers to find them, they’ll be there. It’s good business sense.
Martin Brossman, co-author of the book, Social Media for Business, says, “Transparency is a dynamic exchange between you, the online world and the in-person world. Transparency helps build more trust, makes you more real and deepens your rapport when you later meet in person.” A first cousin to transparency is authenticity, which Brossman defines as “being genuinely who you are representing yourself to be.”
Now Brossman was talking about small business people, but you can’t find a much smaller business person than a writer, so it applies. In order to connect with readers, to build trust, become more real, and deepen rapport with readers, authors have to be transparent, they have to be genuine, and they have to be authentic. “People have an authenticity meter inside,” Brossman says, “and it lets them know when someone is being fake.”
Gone are the days when authors could rely simply on the quality of their writing to sell their books. Being an author is a business, and it just makes good business sense to have an on-line presence. It’s good business sense to be on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and the like, so that readers can have that authentic and genuine connection that they crave.
Many of the living authors who are Facebook friends of mine use pseudonyms. They’re lesbians, after all, and it’s not always safe for lesbian authors to write under their own names. Depending on where they live, they could lose their families, their jobs, or even their safety or their lives. Still, somehow they manage to create an on-line presence that is genuine and authentic. But it’s not transparent.
I, on the other hand, write under my own name, and my Facebook page is under my own name as well. I’m Facebook friends with readers and writers and publishers and others connected with the literary world, but I’m also Facebook friends with family, friends, co-workers and more. When I post a status update or a question on Facebook, I may get responses from a co-worker, a niece, a student I once taught in middle school, as well as from writers and from readers who like my books. Sometimes I’m caught off guard at the variety of people who respond.
How much transparency is too much transparency? I’m not just talking about privacy. I’m an employee in the State of Washington, which has the most liberal public disclosure laws of the country. If a prisoner I’m litigating against wants to know how many squares of toilet paper I use in the state’s loo, he can make a public record request and find out. I’m over privacy. Transparency is something else.
I don’t usually get political on Facebook, but this November Washington is voting on a Referendum to approve same-sex marriage. It’s a cause very important to me, so I posted on Facebook urging people to vote yes. I got likes and positive comments from readers, writers, and friends. Then my little brother from Texas (not that there’s anything wrong with Texas—some of my favorite publishers live in Texas) chimed in with a not-so-positive comment. I responded the way big sisters do. He responded. I responded again, and our exchange got a little heated. Then one of my good author friends, who shall remain nameless—oh, what am I thinking? There’s no such thing as privacy anymore! My good author friend Lynette Mae chimed in with some choice words for my brother, who responded to Lynette with no idea who he was talking to.
And all those posts were being shared with everyone who’d already posted one of their nice positive comments. Not only were these readers being exposed to my very transparent private life, but they were interacting with it too. When you “Friend” me, you get to meet, discuss, and argue with my friends, my family, my co-workers, my past, and my present.
Is it too much transparency? I confess I was a bit uncomfortable arguing so publicly with my brother, and I was a little embarrassed by his opinions. We came from the same loins? Really? But I was thrilled when Lynette jumped in and schooled him. Thanks, Friend.
Whether my Facebook page is too transparent or not, I can’t do anything about it now. For better or worse, I’m out of the on-line closet. If the slings and arrows of outrageous siblings are too much for my Facebook Friends, they can un-Friend me, I guess, though I hope they won’t. In the end, all I can do is be myself as genuinely, authentically, and transparently as I possibly can.
I don’t really have any choice. If I ever post a status that isn’t authentically me, I guarantee one of my sisters will step in and call me on it.
By Kate McLachlan, www.katemclachlan.com, author of Rip Van Dyke (2010 Goldie Award winner), Rescue at Inspiration Point (2011), and Hearts, Dead and Alive (2012).
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