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Point of View: Being On Brand


In just two more days, I’ll be releasing my book about indie writing, sharing everything I’ve learned over the last seven years. You can preorder Suck a Little Happy Juice here. I’ll be sharing some of my most popular columns that are now in the book to whet your appetite…

Every now and then, an author should give some thought to their  “brand”—the sum total of how they are perceived in the world as an author.

I had reason to do so recently because of a few unrelated events.

First off, in a con panel on “going mainstream,” we discussed authors’ social media presence, and how any agent worth their salt is going to comb through it before offering to work with you. It makes sense, right? How many times have we seen old posts come back to haunt people years later? Even when those posts might have been justifiably called “youthful indiscretions.” On the internet, your past lives forever.

The second thing was watching a famous fantasy writer read a fantastic sci-fi short online, live from his home. It was fascinating—the story of an alien encounter as seen by a cabin boy. The story managed to include both a sly space opera reference, an actual opera, and Humphrey Bogart. The thing is, I never even knew this author wrote sci-fi. I have only ever read his fantasy books. So it seemed “off brand” to me, but nevertheless I was like, “Dude, you need to do more of this.”

And the last thing was this, a snippet I found on an agent page while reading her wish list:

“Lastly, I enjoy working with authors who show social media savvy and who haven’t alienated one half of the nation or the other with intolerance.”

So yeah. I kind of get it? Corporations (and all the big publishers are corporations) are risk averse. They want authors who write beautiful things they can sell, and who only share pictures of puppies and flowers on social media, keeping their political opinions to themselves.

They make it quite clear. Stick to your brand, and keep your damned opinions to yourself.

And yet…

In so many ways, this is a seminal moment in the history of the planet (which needs a big overhaul in the way we live if it’s going to have any future human history). This is the time when everyone needs to stand up and speak out against what’s wrong in the world.

Anyone who knows me also knows that I have not been shy on this point.

I want to make this part very clear. I am talking about myself and the way I have decided to present myself in the world, both personally and professionally. Each author has to make this choice for themselves, based on their own lives, their friends and family, where they live, and their comfort level—I’m not going to criticize anyone who feels like they can’t make the same kind of public statements that I do, or who chooses to separate their public author persona from their private one with a pen name.

Those are both valid choices—and in all honesty, I might have been better off using a pseudonym from the get-go for this very reason. But I chose to publish under my own name. My Grandpa John told me to always be proud of my family name, and I nodded and said, “Yes sir.” Besides, there’s no going back now.

You can probably tell I’ve given this a lot of thought. Yes, I have been outspoken—and will continue to be—on social media about my politics. And yes, that might hurt me with some agents or publishers.

But here’s the thing. Being outspoken on behalf of Latino kids in cages, of Black lives and trans lives, against corruption and for the health of the planet are my brand, or at least a big part of it. I am an openly gay man who writes a very diverse cast of characters in my fiction, and who portrays and works for a more hopeful future.

Any agent or publisher who doesn’t get that about me, who thinks those are issues that should be stripped out of my social media pages and hidden away from public view, is someone I don’t want to work with.

History will judge whether I was right or wrong, but this is a hill I am willing to die on.

My public, activist persona is part of my brand, and I’m good with that.

I hope when you figure out your brand—whatever it is—you feel the same.

To my writer friends, how do you define your brand?

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