This is part of the Bittersweet Book Launch case study, where Dan Blank and Miranda Beverly-Whittemore share the yearlong process of launching her novel. You can view all posts here.
by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
When Dan and I last spoke, he said something that really intrigued me. We were talking about my brand, the essential part of me I want my readership to know, the part that can be consistent on Twitter and Facebook and my website, etc, eg. my new Twitter bio, “Novels about searching to belong” (shout-out to Shirley Showalter for helping me find the right words).
Strange as it may seem, I have a hard time (as I think many novelists do) finding the obvious, one-line link between myself and my work, but I think I’m getting closer. I also have a real diversity of interests, many of which have wound up in my work. It’s funny, even though I’ve lived my life, it’s hard sometimes to know how to weave that narrative into a satisfying, cohesive whole. How do I mention in the same breath that I spent three of the first six years of my life in rural Senegal with my anthropologist parents, and that I’ve been a fine arts model for two well-know photographers, Jock Sturges and Mona Kuhn? That my first novel, The Effects of Light, was based, in part, on this photographic experience, while my second novel, Set Me Free, was based, in part, on my experience on a highschool exchange program with the Crow Reservation in Montana? That the seed of Bittersweet came from the summer house my grandparents built long before I was born, and where I’ve spent every summer of my life? How do I talk about my filmmaker sister, and my writer mother, and my anthropologist father? What about my son? Or my desire to make: film, books, delicious meals, a beautiful home?
I think part of the problem is that I’ve been living under the belief that my biography should read something like this (screenshot below, though it’s hard to read):
That’s from my current website. My website hasn’t changed since 2007, even though in the interim I’ve sold a book and won a few things and my view of my own career has changed. Beyond all those substantive changes, my bio, the pictures, the colors, are all pretty bland. Not to mention that I’ve never felt much of a connection to this author photo, or to either of these book covers. So this version of me, which is what I’m presenting to the world, says a lot about what I’ve done but it doesn’t say anything significant about the true me- what I like, the experiences that have made me who I really am, what I believe. Not to mention that the bio is written in the third person; strange to think my online billboard has been keeping my readership at arm’s length, with no hints as to what really makes me tick.
So what did Dan say that really made me think twice?
“I think your website bio wants to be 3000 words long. It wants pictures and anecdotes. It wants to be funny and completely about you—all that stuff that makes you you.”
It sounds so obvious when put that way. Why wouldn’t I believe that giving potential readers a little more insight into my core self would make them invest in me? Why did I think I wasn’t allowed to share pictures or reveal what is closest to my heart? And why would I think that if I kept that “personal” stuff in hidden place, I’d still be able to present my essential self honestly?
The obvious answer is fear—the notion that if I share something truthful about myself, it could be used against me. This fear isn’t rational; I don’t have any concrete ideas of how my revelation that I love to cook could be used as a weapon of destruction. But I do think that so much of this Author Platfor process is about overcoming fear, and fear is a habit I’m doing my best to break myself of. Dan often talks about being as generous online as you are in real life; of extending yourself on the internet as much as you do in person. This can be hard to do, and hard to name.
But I think being honest about who I am is a really good start.