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Truth Be Told? Truth Is on Thin Ice

Image - iStockphot: StyxClick [1]
Image – iStockphot: StyxClick

‘Your Capacity for Change’

Go slowly. Makes it easier if you take this one line at a time:

Authenticity is equal to your unique voice,
multiplied by truthfulness,
plus your capacity for change,
multiplied by range of emotional impact,
raised to the power of imagination.

This is the “Authenticity Formula.”

51wjVjv9CCL._SX401_BO1,204,203,200_ [2]It opens designer and author Marc Eckō’s book Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out [3].

I’m looking forward to Eckō’s keynote at the HOW Live event in May [4]. HOW is a big conference. More than 4,000 attendees. And it’s not about publishing. Not about the industry! the industry! It’s about another industry! another industry!—design. I’ve spent some of my 418-year career near design. I know “design thinking.” When it comes to design thinkers, Eckō is a Rodin.

Look at his formula again, through your author-eyes:

Authenticity is equal to your unique voice,
multiplied by truthfulness,
plus your capacity for change,
multiplied by range of emotional impact,
raised to the power of imagination.

Which line is the most important? Let me ask that another way: Which line is the hardest to achieve?

Image: Marc Eckō, Simon & Schuster [5]
Image: Marc Eckō, Simon & Schuster

In his book, Eckō takes apart the traditional artsy lies about “brand.” He nails it: “I am a brand, but I’m also a creator.” Here’s one way he spins this:

When you unlabel and create an authentic personal brand, you will broadcast yourself differently to the world. You will think of yourself more actively, not passively. You won’t just use the social network, you’ll become the social network.

McLuhan-esque. Message and medium. And complex, to borrow a term important to Eckō. A branding artist if ever there was one. He makes it clear that Unlabel  “is not a how-to business book about how to make millions.” He’s made those millions. But Eckō is into process, principle, selfhood.

And the line that’s most important?—the second one: “multiplied by truthfulness.”

How good are you at truthfulness? That’s my provocation for you today.

Why don’t we tell the truth more in publishing? And especially in writing?

Praise in Daylight

Provocations image by Liam Walsh [6]
Provocations branding by Liam Walsh

What got me thinking about this—about how a lack of truthfulness undermines authenticity—was an interesting experience at Author Day in London [7]. That’s the new conference I programmed for The Bookseller to open our FutureBook Week of activities. Author Day was issues-driven. Not a how-to thumb-sucker. Not an inspi-vational communion service. We deliberately brought together trade authors, indie authors, and publishers to hear each other’s viewpoints. This first iteration of Author Day was a great experience. And Author Day sent a meaningful message [8] to our industry-facing FutureBook Conference [9], too.

An added burst of energy: many tweeteurs spotted our #AuthorDay [10] hashtag as we stormed the stream on 30th November. Especially with NaNoWriMo ending that day, the hashtag became a rallying huzzah. People in many parts of the world raised shout-outs to their favorite writers, booksellers, English teachers, patient author-spouses, faithful writing-studio dogs, you name it. Our room in Euston Square suddenly was surrounded by a trending international party of folks who simply liked the idea of it being “Author Day”. We’re proud of that effect. We look forward to rocking it again.

The truth-telling question came a bit later.

Some of the independent authors at the conference—and at least one who didn’t even attend—decided to get into a blog post and come up with reactions to the day. Criticism is just fine. In fact, we asked for it in a survey. What’s so striking about this group blog is that many of these were authors who had gone out of their way to say glowing things about the event as it happened. But once regrouped as indies-in-arms on their blog site, they seemed to pack their mentality into a clique. One slammed the conference for not being a how-to: this writer knew perfectly well that the day was designed to avoid being a how-to. We said that, outright, many times before the event and on the day itself. .One person wrote of leaving at midday because of not getting “value” from the event: this person must have forgotten telling our team weeks ahead about a schedule conflict that would require that midday exit. Oops.

So were the kind words to us at the conference venue the truth?

Or were the disparaging comments in the group blog post the truth?

No way to know, is there? And my example is just one anecdote. You see this, don’t you? The friend who praises a new book on Twitter, then confides in a direct message that the book is unreadable. Some folks in book culture seem to go far out of their way to throw garlands at everyone’s effort. Then when you speak to them later, they admit that they were “just being nice.” How nice is a lie? No one can trust such people either way. They’ve neutralized themselves. Bye.

Critique in the Dark

Image - iStockphoto: L Marelli Photography [11]
Image – iStockphoto: L Marelli Photography

Draft 3 is ready, right? Good. Who critiques it for you? That “crit group”?  You know what each of them is going to say already, don’t you? So how about that author-friend you always trade reads and reactions with? Uh-huh, that’ll get you an impartial response. And remind me, when was the last time that person really ripped your worst stuff the new one it deserved? #Cmonson.

What if you could access an actual reader? A good reader, mind you, but a stranger.

A doting mom is an author’s biggest enemy.

A sharp, thoughtful reader you’ve never met—and won’t meet—could be your salvation.

I joked that Author Day was my “truth and reconciliation conference.” Let’s call this The Truth Bureau. Here’s how it works:

Now you have clean feedback. Not a whiff of relational warp on it. Your unknown evaluator has no need to kiss your ass. No need to kick it, either. Double-blind input. A truth-enriched air mix.

If  you feel excited by this idea, then come and sit by me.

If  you’re thinking it might be much too cold, an icy day’s crunch through scary woods, too “impersonal,” then you’re the one I’m worried about. Truth may be hard for you to take, huh? And—unfairly to your associates—truth may be hard for you to give.

I see authors gushing over each other’s work all the time. And what does that do to their brands? What do we think of them then? Like the conference critic who wasn’t even at the conference in London, there are people ready to tell you your stuff is fabulous—or to run you down as soon as you’re out of earshot—without knowing what they’re talking about. How authentic is their brand now?

Truth scares us. You see that fear on Facebook. Fawning frenzies. Over that new novel. Or baby picture. Or haircut. Why do we feel that such hyperbole is appropriate?

We don’t want to trigger insecurity. We don’t want to send whimpering paranoiacs into their safe rooms. We don’t want to dampen spirits. We don’t want to be unpleasant.

Maybe there’s a reason that Marc Eckō’s philanthropy has included protection of the endangered rhino population. Maybe that rhinoceros logo refers to the thick skin of his astonishing success in menswear and culture.

How’s your “capacity for change”? When was the last time you were too nice about somebody’s work? It’s okay, we’ve all done it. Can you remember an instance? I can. What if this holiday season you dropped a little note that said, “You know, if you’re interested, I have a few more thoughts about your manuscript.”

You might get a chance to redeem your flattery. No reason to be mean. Every reason to be honest: you might offer your colleague some truth. Which, in our business, turns out to be a rare gift.

What do you think? Is it possible that we don’t like telling the truth because we’re not keen on hearing it about our own work? Or is something else at work?

About Porter Anderson [12]

@Porter_Anderson [13] is a recipient of London Book Fair's International Excellence Award for Trade Press Journalist of the Year. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives [14], the international news medium of Frankfurt Book Fair New York. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. Priors: The Bookseller's The FutureBook [15] in London, CNN, CNN.com and CNN International–as well as the Village Voice, Dallas Times Herald, and the United Nations' WFP in Rome. PorterAndersonMedia.com [16]