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On Marketing and Intimacy in the Social Media Age

Photo by Keagan Henman on Unsplash

In one of the talks I heard at the London Book Fair, Lisa Sharkey discussed marketing for authors. She said that readers want to see the “backstage”—they want to see an authentic you. So, to market yourself as a brand, you need to create intimacy with your followers on social media. 

This idea stayed with me. Later that week, I saw Gabrielle Union in a robe in her hotel room. I think it was after the Oscars, but I couldn’t tell. Those are the kinds of things that work on social media. We want to feel like we’re friends with celebrities. 

You don’t need me to tell you this is fake intimacy. When I look at someone’s TikTok or whatever, I only see what they wanted me to see, edited and polished. Intimacy is created with raw material. We can develop intimacy with people we spend time with in person; when we get to see their unedited version.  

It’s a bit like thinking you know an author after you’ve read their book. I’m not talking about the formulaic ones, the entertainment books. I’m talking about the art books. The ones you read and feel like the author can see your darkest secrets. Sure, these books have fragments of our souls–those are the sentences you read and feel seen. But it’s not all of us. It’s a curated, edited version of us. And that’s really all you can ever show strangers, I think. 

All of that is fine. Here’s my issue, though. To what extent does this fake intimacy replace actual intimacy? Human beings need intimacy. We need a meaningful connection to others. We need a tribe. But, like I said, you can’t have true intimacy with someone who isn’t in the same room. The danger is that this fake intimacy can make us think like we already have that. I know that, for me, books have replaced friends for much of my childhood. I didn’t need to talk to people because I had characters in my head and would speak with them (silently, of course). It was mainly Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, but sometimes The Famous Five lived rent-free there, too. 

What if our children feel that they don’t need friends because they can sit with their favourite author in their kitchen, listening to them talk about their latest book? Why would I be interested in my friend’s PTA drama when I can spend time with Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade in their hotel room? It’s a bit like porn, isn’t it? Reality pales in comparison.

I don’t know how I feel about being complicit in this kind of thing. I get that I need to market my books and that people will not hear about them unless I do the work. But I feel like creating a fake intimacy with people who want to read my books is dishonest. I much prefer sharing my thoughts this way. Yes, it’s edited and polished (to an extent). But you know what you’re getting.

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