A few weeks back, John blogged about a New York Times essay on author brand-building. Inspired by the same piece, The Awl—one of the greatest things the internet has done for humanity—found some amazing YouTube videos of authors hawking others’ wares. These days I feel like I hear (and, let’s be honest, talk) more about brands as extensions of individuals than about the term’s traditional product- and corporate-oriented definition. In some ways that makes me sad for us all, to be sure. The intrusion of marketing psychology and corporate speak into the realm of the individual has always felt a touch Orwellian for my liking.
On the other hand, I’d love to see authors finding new revenue streams, since they should get to be just as disgustingly, appallingly wealthy as musicians, actors, athletes, and the other people who provide us entertainment. That said, actually, Mickey Spillane pushing Miller Lite kind of makes author Twitter accounts seem more…honest. Do I think Mickey Spillane cared if I drank Miller Lite or that Kurt Vonnegut believes sincerely in the value of a Discovery card? Not at all. No more than I think that Britney Spears or David Beckham wants me to drink Pepsi. (It occurs to me that I really have managed not to watch commercials for quite some time—thanks, technology!—since the reference I just pulled out is presumably a touch outdated. Unless they both still shill for Pepsi, in which case, let’s just ignore this parenthetical and pretend that I’m totally with the times.)
But you know what I do believe? I believe that authors want me to read their books. They really, really, really want it. And not just so they’ll get paid. They want me to read because they’re passionate about what they do for a living. And because they just want me to read in general, because they care about the written word and storytelling and narratives. So, you know what? I’m going to brush aside that last vestige of cynicism that lingered about as I talked to authors about the importance of authenticity and connection in social networking. Trusted “authorities” have always been used to shill—and authors are traditionally undercompensated for the good they do for us all—but it’s not really shilling if you genuinely believe in what you’re selling.