Rachel Hollis demonstrates what not to do when it comes to marketing & publicity. I share my thoughts as a book marketer & publicist, and fiction writer.
I didn’t hear about this online “controversy” until one of my peers in book publishing mentioned it. Whether it’s mindness drama, hype, or a trivial matter—the point is that word spread. Sometimes, I tend to ignore it. But other times I don’t. This is a perfect example of what not to do. As authors, here’s what we can learn. Any of us can flop if we don’t watch ourselves.
Building author platform isn’t a popularity contest. Years ago at a writers conference, I listened to a session about building author platform. The presenter said that, “It’s a popular contest and it matters, and you should care about winning.”
I disagree. The purpose of platform building is to position yourself so that you’d attract your target readers, and you want to attract as many target readers as possible. Then, you cherish your community of readers, bookstores who hold your events, and reviewers. It’s self-sabotaging to view yourself as a competitor in a popularity contest, and win everyone over. That’s not only unrealistic but also the easiest way to get discouraged, overwhelmed, or frustrated.
Rachel Hollis surely acted like one of those popular girls from my middle school. Like most people’s adolescence, my school too had the popular girls clique. The popular girls assumed that every kid is dying to be invited to their group. They assumed that girls in other cliques are not as close-knit or having as much fun.
One day, Popular Girl sent party invites to everyone. When it came to her event responses, she simply cannot fathom why a few would decline. Some girl she invited said, “I don’t wanna come to your lame party.” Popular Girl got resentful, bent out of shape, and gossiped about the girl who called her party lame. She harbored negativity. Were a few declines worth her time and energy towards hostility? Why not live and let live and instead put energy towards the people who are coming to the party, especially those who gladly accepted invites?
Rachel Hollis, on the other hand, is a grown woman and should have known better. Was that one commenter worth Rachel’s foolish rant?
For authors, ask yourself: Is that one person who doesn’t approve you worth your time and energy? Be the better one. If you get a negative comment or critique, first breathe. Process it. Then choose the appropriate response. Ignoring that commenter who called Rachel “irrelevant” would have been a better response.
Not everyone will care for your book or ideas, and that’s OK. Seasoned authors are aware that you cannot pitch to everyone. Being ticked off by a few commenters is ludicrous for an author who’s sold millions of copies and held a spot on the bestseller list for months!
There is nothing wrong with her style, approach, or topics—just not for me. I found her annoying. The title itself was off-putting. Girl, Wash Your Face! What does that even mean? Generally, I don’t like the hybrid of memoir and self-help by those without proper qualifications, and not interested in religion or bible scriptures. Based on the critiques and what I heard from those in my circle, her book does fail to address certain issues. It’s geared towards middle class or individuals with some privilege and those who hold certain ideas as “truths.” Her wisdom isn’t universal. It’s short-sighted in many ways. It’s only relevant to her target audience.
Rachel Hollis’ success shows that she has fans who find her inspirational. She found her audience. She found a path to her success. That’s what we all strive to do, which is finding your own path. What more could we ask? Once you’ve achieved your goal in meaningfully reaching your target audience, then it’s about basking in satisfaction and focusing on continuing to build that trust and rapport you built with your fans. Then, you’re less likely to get irked by criticism.
As for Lifestyle brands… When I was young, Martha Stewart was recognized as the ultimate lifestyle entrepreneur. Today with social media, many people have access to pursue their ambitions. A talented person now has the means to pursue something that was once reserved for a few. That also means there’s more competition. So that’s where lifestyle branding comes in.
The idea behind lifestyle branding is to depict an aspirational lifestyle for marketing purposes. The idea is to create something that resonates deeply with a reader.
We’re seeing it everywhere. It isn’t just a cookbook anymore, it’s The Pioneer Woman, The Woks of Life, Cupcakes and Cashmere, and others. Once lifestyle branding for cookbooks was reserved for celebrity chefs. Now it’s an open call. Lifestyle branding is what distinguishes your cookbook from the large pile in the marketplace.
That doesn’t mean every lifestyle will appeal to all. It’s important to recognize that. If you are thinking that most influencers are narcissistic tools, it could be that you don’t resonate with them. It could also because some people are amateurs at marketing. And none of us will have a perfect plan from the beginning. Since social media provides an open call, there’s a lot of choices.
Consumers have the choice. Authors need to keep in mind that consumers have a choice, and authors are competing for consumer attention. No one owes anyone a platform. Authors have a choice in how you present yourself and the crowd you want to attract.
Don’t waste time chasing those who aren’t your target readers. That’s a waste of time and energy. In a competitive marketplace, the best strategy is to go for people who’d be interested. That’s grabbing the low-hanging fruit. This is especially true when writing about hot-button topics.
If you are writing about political topics appealing to independent voters, focus on attracting indie voters instead of trying to sway voters who already made up their mind. You may talk about endorsements from indie voter organizations or interviews with recognized people of lesser known political parties that will appeal to your readers. Don’t waste your time, fretting on your blog about being excluded—or if someone declines to review your book or host your book launch. It’s not only unprofessional but pity-partying serves no purpose other than repelling people, including your target readers. It will make you sound petty.
If you’re writing a home & garden blog featuring your large house and yard, you cannot expect 20-somethings living in the city with limited space to find you relevant. Young people living in the city have limited space and budgets, don’t own homes, and maybe inexperienced or busy.
So you could either include a “urban gardening” subpage and talk about container gardening, easy to care plants, or gardening on a budget. Or you could decide that you prefer to stick to gardening for suburbia-dwellers with yards but consider adding topics of affordable garden projects or gardening on a budget to appeal to a wider audience.
Or do nothing. Keep your home & garden blog as it is.
What you choose to do with feedback is entirely up to you. Just don’t take it personally and then go on nonsensical rants and compare yourself to Harriet Tubman or Malala. It’s about practicing appropriate boundaries.
Respond appropriately to feedback or criticism. That is vital for every person when they’re in the spotlight. This is a subjective area because there are different views on what appropriate responses and netiquette involves. Some people think women have to sit pretty and smile when they’re getting vulgar attacks. Standing up for yourself and setting boundaries is always appropriate. The important thing is not to sink your own ship. Here are a few things that comes to mind when it comes to responding to feedback.
- Grow a thick skin. If you are a people-pleaser and must thrive on constant praises and attention; then, you may want to reconsider writing a book until you fix your attitude. Being in writing classes, workshops, critiques for almost 20+ years, I’ve seen this happen repeatedly. Some people sign up for critiques but take feedback personally—even when given respectfully. I can’t help wonder: Why did they even bother signing up for a critique group? Some authors even after being published don’t seem to understand the difference between criticizing an idea versus personal attack. Ideas will always be talked about and criticized. Freedom of speech isn’t a protective bubble from criticism or consequences of your words.
- Don’t sass someone who gives genuine, honest feedback. Take that hypothetical home and garden blogger mentioned above as an example. Genuine feedback would be, “Only if I can afford to buy all these things…this isn’t for me. Everything here is too expensive.” The right response is to leave that comment alone or let the person feel heard. The blogger could reach out to the person and ask questions on what would help them and hear their perspective. The responses could inspire the blogger to write a Budget Gardening book or blog section. Or the blogger could choose not to change anything. The commenter may not be the blogger’s target reader. Even if the commenter has unrealistic expectations, it’s important to avoid ridiculing them.
- And, this includes encouraging your followers to ridicule them. Don’t do that. There is a YA author who encouraged her followers to bully a college student over an opinion. Oh boy, lot to unpack here. She could have addressed it privately. Sarah Dessen took that college student’s opinion completely out of context, made herself out to be the victim, dragged other authors into a Twitter drama. Another important lesson, dig in deeper to find out what really happened before sounding off. I’m disappointed by how other authors reacted.
- The only exception is harassment, personal attacks, or disrespect of boundaries. You don’t have to respond or accept it from anyone. You don’t owe them an explanation or debate. Simply click the delete button, ignore, and block. Thats works for me about 80% of the time. If you feel it’s important to let them know that such behavior won’t be tolerated by you, do so. Report to local authorities if necessary. Freedom of speech does not apply to threats or harassment. If someone send me racist comments, dick pictures, or anything along those lines, I’ll take a screenshot and then post it publicly without withholding names. Consider yourself warned!
- Take critiques as an opportunity. When you get criticism, you could use it for your benefit. Example, Amalie Howard an author of historical romance is an example of handling criticism in a way that I can’t help but respect. Writing historical fiction during colonial era and depicting marginalized characters in a genre that’s meant to be guilty pleasure is challenging. Getting such critiques and feedback is definitely not easy. Yet, I admire her response. It’s worth earning respect.
- Be slow to react. Do you have to respond right away? Nope. Do you even have to respond? Nope. Take a break from social media. Take your time. If you want, ask another person you trust if your response to social media is appropriate. Example, your authors group, a social media professional, a close friend or family, or mentor.
- Difference between being fake versus discretion. There’s a clear difference between the two. Having discretion or choosing not to say anything has nothing to do with being fake. Being real does not mean lacking boundaries. Example, Sarah Dessen could have avoided saying anything. She should have addressed her concerns privately with the person involved, talked through it with her authors group or publicist, close friends and family, or a therapist before choosing to post online. If she chose to talk about it online, could there have been a better approach?
Check your ego at the door. It’s no surprise that narcissists are attracted to the roles of motivational speaker, self-help guru, preacher, and author. It promises easy access to followers and a platform. Honestly, nothing wrong in enjoying well-deserved attention. If you love sharing something you love and have an engaged audience, there is an incredible feeling. Enjoy it. No shame in that. We’re all innately social beings and desiring recognition is normal.
The problem is when people want constant attention and unearned respect that’s driven by a sense of entitlement. As the saying goes, “Pride goes before a fall.” When arrogance is behind someone’s poor choice, it’ll lead to embarrassment. Being the spotlight will bring out personal issues. There is no shame in seeing a therapist to keep your ego in check.
Boundaries are vital. One sign of poor boundaries is worrying about things you cannot control. You have no control of how others think, act, or feel. You have no control over the content someone chooses to post. Don’t try to fix and change others. Instead, focus on what you can control. That’s your choices, response, and behavior.
Being in the public eye is challenging for anyone. It is important to self-care and be aware of your mind and emotions. Having a sense of healthy and appropriate boundaries are important. Media training is not a bad idea for authors. The truth is that most of us have said dumb things, whether online or in-person. However, when you have a large platform, the dumb things you do have real consequences. Since it’s posted online, there’s a record that’s easily searchable.
Narcissism is the Achilles heel not advantage. At first, narcissism appears to be an advantage. It seems that narcissists are getting the attention, media mentions, books sales and success—even when they’re assholes. The truth is that narcissists are great at charisma, getting attention, and working up a crowd. They can do it quickly. Arrogance can also be interpreted as confidence. Getting attention is great for short-term. But then the question is how do you hold your audience’s attention once you got their attention? How do you continue to build rapport and a consistent fan base? That is where most narcissists fail and fall flat. Narcissist tend to want a permanent spotlight, which won’t always happen. That is why most of them react vehemently when they sense a drop in attention.
The crowd that was once captivated is now starting to disperse. As authors, it’s important to accept that moment can occur anytime. When that’s happening, the choices are either to self-reflect and adapt or try a different approach. Example, teaching classes on different topics, starting a new program or nonprofit organization, or others.
Arrogance or narcissism is the Achilles heel of any author’s success because the very nature of it is self-sabotaging. That includes: unrealistic expectations, poor boundaries, inability to self-reflect and learn from mistakes, and much more.
Get over yourself. Drop the egos. Accept and embrace reality. Do what it take to protect your mind and emotional well-being.
Indu Guzman is a book marketer, fiction writer, and Associate Fiction Editor of Pangyrus near Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Before settling down in the Boston suburbs, she lived in 5 countries (India, Dubai U.A.E, U.S.A, Argentina, Singapore) and traveled to many others. Experiencing the larger world helped Indu see the universal themes among the human experience. In other words, we all have much more in common than differences. She explores third-culture kid experience, family dynamics, trauma and loss through her fiction. She can be found at the-penlife.com