I’m curious about something. It’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for a long time, too. I’ve always believed that readers prefer honestly from authors. I’m a fan of authors like John Irving and Anne Tyler and Fannie Flagg. Although they are each different, and have different styles, I’ve always been impressed with the way they keep it honest when they give public interviews. If anything, they’re all too humble. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But I don’t see that all the time on social networks, especially in these heady days of strong competition, where unknown authors seem so desperate to sell a book they’ll do anything. I see authors on facebook posting status updates I know aren’t sincere. They aren’t actually outright lies, but I can tell they’ve been crafted very carefully, in such a way that they mislead readers into believing things that simply are not true. It’s all done for the sake of promotion. Let’s face it, if you write m/m romance and you post about meeting a famous Hollywood male film star who is in the closet, and this film stars tells you he’s a huge fan of your books, no one is ever going to be able to prove you right or wrong. But it will make you look a hell of a lot more interesting to your readers.
Of course I start to wonder when I read some of the things/events certain authors post. If the author who posted about the closeted male film star is so well-connected and he or she has this kind of readership, why aren’t they more famous? A lot of people on the Internet lead people to believe they are famous, but if you go out into the world and ask anyone about them no one has a clue. If I feel like I’m being scammed, I start to wonder about the author’s overall sincerity, which leaves me with a bad feeling and I tend to stay away from their books. In other words, if you’re going to post something in public that has a certain amount of awe factor to it, I think you should be able to stand behind it and prove it if questioned about it. Ambiguity doesn’t work for me. I like facts. And some of the authors who post these outrageous things simply aren’t rich or famous enough to get away with it. It’s not believable.
Then there’s the sympathy posts on social networks. I’ve seen authors save puppies from the middle of highways, carry kittens out of trees, and once I even saw an author save a baby from a burning building. I’ve seen them hock cupcakes, chocolate, and all kinds of “yummies.” I’ve seen authors promote books with the “quality” angle, leading everyone to believe their books are a better “quality” than other authors. And some people seem to be buying all this BS. Maybe it’s all true. Who knows? But I’d like to see a little more information. And if X. K. Sweetwater, m/m author, saves a puppy and a kitten and a baby from a burning skyscraper, while on his way to the cupcake store to get his “yummies,” I want to see pictures of him climbing down the ladder.
Even without proof, I do see readers falling for it. I see it all the time and I wonder how far an author can actually go until people start to realize they are full of shit. To me, outright lying about personal experiences is a dangerous game to play. Because even if you’re able to persuade 10% of the public you’re sincere, and even if no one can disprove you, the rest of us are going to wonder about you and anything else you post is always going to be scrutinized. We aren’t dumb. We may be used to lies from the media and politicians. But most of us know when to spot a fake.
Maybe I’m wrong about this. I’ve never actually seen it addressed anywhere. Maybe some of these publicity posts I see are valid and I’m just too cynical. I have a journalist background. I can’t help being that way. But I do remember one very well known person in the m/m community who lied constantly. At first, I believed this person. I thought it was all true. This person had me hanging on every word in social media. I’d never mention names, and this person has already gone through enough shame, trust me. And no matter how much damage control this person has tried to do, it’s never going to be enough to get people to believe them again. And that’s sad, because this person didn’t really have to lie.
My grandmother always had a handful of old sayings. One in particular always stuck with me: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” And I can’t help wondering if other people feel the same way I do.