Shiloh Walker on Author Presence

Best-selling author Shiloh Walker pens this bi-monthly column of online advice for writers. Walker is a full-time author who is published in both e-book and traditional print formats. Now she shares her experience and advice to help aspiring and published authors figure out the "Writes and Wrongs" of the digital world.

Author Presence… what is it? When do you start building it? How do you protect it, maintain it… eek!

Author presence—well, this is mine. It’s your image so to speak, how you present yourself to your audience/soon-to-be audience.

Author presence… what is it?

It’s almost like your author voice, I guess, but it’s not being used to convey your story, but rather who you are.

My author presence? It’s kind of formed from my own personality.

I’m blunt. I try to be diplomatic, but I’m known for speaking my mind. Basically, that’s just me. In real life, I’m a little more blunt and if it’s not work related, I drop the diplomacy. Hey, it’s real life—I’m not always worried if I anger people. I don’t intentionally try to hurt feelings, but I don’t really see the point in sugarcoating things either.

I’ve also been called mischievous. So much nicer than trouble-maker… ;) And yes, there’s definitely that.

We can’t forget stubborn AKA headstrong.

These traits have kind of formed into my online author presence. I’m not known for saying things I don’t mean. I’m known for being a bit of a brat (especially those who’ve known me for a while). I’m also known for speaking my mind, and I’m not afraid to do so, regardless of the subject…and um, I don’t like to back down, either.

What will work for me?

So, blunt, diplomatic, bratty, opinionated…that is basically my presence, and it’s something I’ve built over time, since I first came online back in um… 2003? I think? Will my presence work for somebody else?

Probably not the way it works for me, because it’s mine. Also, if somebody who is totally knew came out and just blurted out some of the things that I’m known to say…well, it might not go over well. 

Why? I’ve established a presence and those who’ve been around me are aware of how I am. I guess there’s also a level of trust there. Take of some of the lovely (cough cough) kerfuffles that happen with online conflicts—yes, I’ll speak my mind and I often will state an unpopular opinion. I’m not doing it for shock value—I’m doing it because it’s my opinion and I’ll stand behind it—I’ll try to be fair, and I’ll try not to be unkind, but I won’t keep quiet on my opinion just because it’s unpopular or because it might be considered ‘mean’ or whatever.

Newer authors might not be able to make this work for them the way it works for me.

That’s the thing—you have to find what works for you. Maintaining ‘my’ presence is fairly easy because it’s just me. I do have an ‘on’ thing—yes, when I’m online or at an event, I don’t forget that I’m SHILOH… which isn’t hard because SHILOH is still me. I’m just ‘on’, meaning I’m going to be professional, save anything ranting I might have for between me and the DH or me and a friend, and try really hard not to put my foot in my mouth.

That’s something you might want to think about if you set out to develop a ‘presence’ that isn’t really ‘you’. A costume, per se. Some authors do this, and hey, if that’s what you think will work for you, that’s fine.

But remember, costumes might get itchy, so to speak, if you have to wear them for a long time.

Protecting it

Have I messed up? Yes. We will do that—it happens. We’re people, too, and we make mistakes. The thing with authors making the mistake? If you do it in public? 

Trust me—your audience will forgive you quicker if you own up to it. No mistakes, no excuses. Just apologize and move on. 

Don’t try to hide it, because it never goes well. 

Don’t try to brush it aside, because that doesn’t do well. 

Don’t excuse it—we’re not kids and part of being an adult is accepting responsibility for your actions, big or small. 

From what I’ve seen, readers are more forgiving of those who accept their actions… and you’re far less likely to end up one of the infamous authors behaving badly. Hard to make a spectacle of somebody who owns up to her mistakes and gives an apology. 

Admitting you’re wrong isn’t easy, but if I have to chose between ‘not-easy’ and looking like an idiot? Give me the ‘not-easy’ option, please.

It doesn’t take much to go from a liked, likeable author if you make a mistake, turn into a raging idiot and instead of doing the adult thing when you’re called on it… you attack. Now this doesn’t mean there haven’t been times when people attack (or over attack) and the author ends up lashing out, and yeah, I know there are times when it’s likely justified. 

But you have to remember, no matter how upset we are, there are likely people reading whatever is going on that don’t know the whole story, or even half of it and likely what they are going to remember the most? The author’s actions.

Which is why it might just be the wisest action to not lash out, whether it’s justified or not. But if you know you screwed up? The easiest way to make it blow over, and the easiest way to keep from looking like a fool? Apologize. And move on.

Maintaining it

Easiest way to maintain an author presence? Just do that. Don’t build it and then disappear for months on end. 

Don’t constantly try to reinvent yourself. And about inventing yourself, finding your presence, yadda yadda yadda… show some originality. Don’t try to use some easy way to fame and mimic another author, their persona, their name, copying their actions or whatever—yes, this happens a lot and it’s lame. You might think it will score you readers, but it’s also going to lose you readers—they notice this. It costs you credibility, because other people see the lack of originality and wonder at it.

Find what works for you because only you know that answer. And build on it.

Okay, does that sound vague enough? Complicated enough? Were you looking for easy answers? Wince…sorry. Like most other things in this business, there really aren’t any. It’s a matter of finding the right thing, for you…and building on it. Like sooo many other things.

Got a topic you want me to tackle? Let me know!

- Shiloh Walker

Check back for the next installment of Shiloh Walker's column in two weeks. Seeking more specific advice? You can ask the author any questions about the "writes and wrongs" of online behavior here. Your question might even get featured in an upcoming article. And of course, you can also follow the Shiloh Walker online daily at her website, on her Facebook page and via Twitter.