Good morning authors and welcome to another #WriterWednesday, where we talk shop, business, and community topics. This week, hoo boy, I very much don't want to talk about this topic and, point of fact, today I am handling this topic in a sideways fashion. Before we get started I am going to add a Trigger Warning because we will be mentioning the very sensitive topic of suicide.
Recently in the writing community it came to light that an author who had allegedly committed suicide two years prior was in fact alive and well. I use the word allegedly because this author did in fact lie. They've come forward to admit this was an act, a grossly devised sales tactic, and that they had been operating the 'deceased' author's page under their pen name.
But we aren't going to use their name.
Fame: "The state of being known or talked about by many people, especially on account of notable achievements."
Infamy: "The state of being well known for some bad quality or deed. An evil or wicked act."
Writer Wednesday: Fame vs Infamy
Let's call them Jane Doe. Jane was a struggling author, trying to make a go in the trenches. The bulk of these events took place in 2020 when a lot of creatives were floundering in an uncertain world. Jane had built a small community online for themselves and sometime within that year, Jane's daughter signed onto the community page to inform the group her mother had committed suicide. Jane had an apparent history of struggling with depression and self harm. The group and the authors who considered her a friend were devastated.
This is where the details get messy. Jane had unreleased work. Her family sought to get her final novels up and encouraged the community to spread the word of their release in order to honor Jane's memory. There was a Gofundme for funeral expenses. Sympathetic members of the community worked to keep her page going, with a newcomer stepping forward to run the reading community.
Fast forward two years, and Jane finally reveals herself. At first, the reveal is played as an act of relief. Jane is tired of lying, tired of hiding. But this 'act' continues to spin out, and the hole continues to get deeper.
So why talk about this person at all?
The Myth of Any Press is Good Press
There is a long standing PR myth that any press is good press. This plays into the Fame vs Infamy argument of sensationalized reporting. The idea is rooted in the more sensational the story, the longer it lingers in memory. And there is some truth to this, but it is not necessarily a positive one. Negative publicity travels in a blink. A good reputation that took years to build and nurture can be destroyed by a single negative story. It changes the perception the public has of the individual and can quickly cast a person into a caricature of themselves.
In the short term, bad press may give you the spotlight for a time, and depending on the nature of your business, may generate the profits you desire, but that will eventually spin out of control and out of your favor as the caricature inflates.
The news of Jane's passing did generate sales and interest for a time. The revelation of her lie generated curiosity to outsiders that ran parallel to the disgust and shock within the community. That curiosity has quickly soured as more screen shots and conversations came to light. Jane quickly morphed from a troubled woman trying to reclaim her life to a conniving villainess with delusions of grandeur. Through her continued actions, Jane has destroyed her creative legacy, and shredded any remnants of goodwill for her readers and fellow authors.
Jane has become the villain of the week.
It should go without saying this is not a sound tactic to further your writing career. Yet, here's Jane. A person who truly convinced themselves that putting friends and readers through this emotional trauma was worth it.
How does Fame and Infamy apply to an author? In truth, very few authors are remembered, and those that are in the history books are not always in there for the best reasons. Its the stories that are remembered. Stories that survive to be discovered and loved again and again, that spark of curiosity and wonder. A portal, an escape into another world. Our fame is in the words we leave behind.
Infamy has a habit of dismantling legacy. The more infamy a person gains, the more their good works are forgotten. No matter how strong that initial light of fame may shine, infamy is a slow, dogged poison that leeches away that light, until all that remains is a bad taste in the mouth. We all know a few examples of this, some that are happening in real time.
The real truth is, that at the end of the day, even Infamy only lasts until the next sensational story arrives.