Truth versus PR: The Consequences of Relentless PromotionJune 9, 2015
I haven’t wanted to blog lately. I kind of … just didn’t want to talk to you guys. (Uh, sorry.) I think it all started somewhere in the middle of the book tour — as the trip started picking up steam, I booked a few extra dates that I hadn’t originally planned on. That was great for the book and great for adventure, but it meant that the little time I’d set aside to write was gone, and pesky details like “How in the world am I going to get to New Jersey” started filling those moments instead. I’m sure my reluctance also had something to do with the fact that I was spending a LOT more time extroverting (I’ve decided it’s a verb — deal with it) than I’ve ever done before, and the last thing I wanted to do with my moments alone was try to reach more people.
Connecting with people is sort of hard for me, and as I connected more in real life I found myself being more hesitant to connect online. But that isn’t the whole problem — the main reason I haven’t been blogging is that I got scared to tell the truth.
I got into blogging in the first place (over at Shop Small) because I wanted to explore the difference between local shops and corporate stores. I didn’t have an agenda; I just wanted to tell the story of what actually happened. When I wrote The Localist book, I did it as a local shop advocate — I wanted to share something I really believe is true that isn’t being talked about much. My messages were a little different, but in both cases I was motivated by a desire to write about the truth, or at least my perspective on the truth.
But when I started promoting the book, my focus switched from truth-telling to public relations — and while those things can run parallel to each other, they can be different in pretty important ways. That doesn’t mean I’ve been lying — to be clear, I haven’t been lying. But take social media for an example: According to Instagram, I did nothing but smile and eat great food and drink great coffee for my entire tour.
I certainly did those things. The Localist tour WAS an incredible adventure. But while it was wonderful at times, it was also annoying and exhausting and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Writing about those problems, though, seemed whiney and disrespectful to everyone (from Kickstarter backers to booksellers to my friends who hosted me) whose support meant so much to me.
And it’s not just social media. This blog hasn’t really been groundbreaking lately. “Visit this charming bookstore because it’s great and you’ll love it” might technically be true, but it’s not exactly investigative journalism. I really, truly enjoyed the bookstores where I stopped. But to be honest, even if I hadn’t enjoyed them, I wouldn’t have written about it on the blog. I would’ve sidestepped the bad stuff and only talked about the good, because biting the hand that feeds (or the hand that invites you to a book signing, in this case) isn’t usually a great idea.
In the very beginning of my blog, it was pretty easy to tell the truth, partly because my only readers were my really good friends. They got me. They forgave me. If I was overbearing or emotional about a particular topic, they balanced that reaction with what they knew of me as a person. But now, thanks to a book tour and some very good press for The Localist book, I’ve no longer met most of you readers in the real world. That’s the wonderful magic of the Internet (and the wonderful magic of books and writing), and I love it. But it also makes me more insecure about being truthful, less brave speaking my mind even when it might offend someone, and more vulnerable to trolls and social media attacks.
I can’t say I regret being promotional while I was … well … promoting. But I’m going to have to stop that and reconnect with honesty, because that’s my motivation to write in the first place. Being nice all the time isn’t working for me; it’s making me hate blogging and sharing on social media. Maybe that means my book won’t sell as well. Maybe it means I’ll offend some people and they’ll say mean things about me (in real life and on the Internet). But I’m starting to realize that my options are either to get past all that fear and write the truth anyway, or not write at all.
This doesn’t mean my blogs are going to change all that much (I always prioritized being kind in my writing whenever I could, and that isn’t going to stop now), but it does mean that I might not do as many fluffy pieces, I might limit the super-promotional stuff to social media-only, and I might get things wrong from time to time, because writing to figure things out doesn’t mean you’ve already got it all figured out. I still have a long list of ideas and experiences from The Localist tour that I want to write about, and I have a lot of new ideas for blogs, too. I’m hoping to start sharing again, to be less afraid of posting a blog or sharing an Instagram picture. I’m hoping I come back a little sloppier, a little less polished — and a little more honest, too.
Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist: Think Independent, Buy Local and Reclaim the American Dream, creator of 30 Days of Local Praise and co-founder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @crollwagen.