Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Mastering Your Author Persona

And I'm back because I FINISHED MY EDITS FOR HEARTSTRIKERS 3!

You're all in for it now!
Travis is reading it now, and given that he knocked out half the book in a single evening, I'm feeling pretty stoked about the finished product. I got to pack so many secrets into this book I've been waiting to reveal since the series started. The whole thing was author catnip, and I really really hope you enjoy it when it comes out in August! (And for those of you who are audio fans, I'm getting Audible the manuscript early this time, so the audio version should be out close to the ebook/print release date this time! Yay!)

Happy I was writing this book, though, I am very glad to finally be done with this project so I can move on to all the other stuff I have to do, such as writing blog posts! So, without further ado, let's talk about crafting an author persona.

Writing Wednesday: Mastering Your Author Persona


In the spirit of Travis's amazing posts on building your author brand and reaching your audience I wanted to talk about the part of all this book selling/marketing mojo that I actually think about as a writer.

To be perfectly honest, I don't even worry about sales/marketing/whatever until whatever book I'm going to be selling is almost done. Before that stage, my focus is entirely on telling the best story I can, because that's what really matters here. All the marketing in the world only makes a bad book fail faster, so clearly the Good Book is always our number one priority.

Even when the book is nearly done and it actually is time to market, I only really think about marketing in short bursts as necessary. This is partially because, important as marketing and promoting yourself is, nothing sells books like another book. Writing more is almost always the best thing you can do for your career.

That's great news for me, because by the time I'm done with one book, my brain is already miles ahead thinking about the next one. For me right now, that's Heartstrikers 4, which will probably be the final book in the series (I was planning on 5, but I covered a lot more of the meta plot than I was expecting in book 4, and I firmly feel that a series should end where it needs to, not where I want it to). When I do start a new series, though, I keep my brand in mind when sorting through all the new shiny ideas to find the new story I feel my audience will enjoy the most. I'm still writing what I want, just with an eye towards pleasing my fans and keeping my established brand strong.

So that's marketing, too. Really, though, there's only author promotion I think about at all stages of book creation and even in between novels, and that is my author persona.


What is an Author Persona?


Like this, but with more Amazon links and newsletter sign ups.

Your author personal is your public face. I like to think of it as the personification of my writing voice. It's still me, obviously, but it's me as I want readers to know me.

This is a very important distinction, because we as humans have a lot of different personalities. I'm usually pretty cheerful and easy going because 1) I have the best job ever, and 2) that's just how I am. But I'm not always like that. There are days when I'm an absolute beast to everyone and days when I just don't feel like talking at all. I have a temper and a macho competitive streak that sometimes leads me to do very foolish things (hey, Devi didn't get it from nowhere).

But while all of these flaws are also me just as your flaws are parts of you, they're not the aspects of ourselves that we want to present to our readers. When someone encounters me online, in print, or in the real world as Rachel Aaron, Author, I want to make sure they're seeing the best of me. I want people to meet me and think "wow, she was so funny/clever/nice/helpful! I'm totally going to check out her books!" 

And then when they actually do check out my books, what they find inside needs to meet the expectations that were set when they met me as a person. Or, vice versa, when people read my books and like them enough to come find me, the Rachel they find needs to match the voice who told them that story. Not the Rachel who's having a bad day or a mood swing, but Author Rachel, who is always consistently happy to say hello.

This the essence of an author persona: the presentation of the person your books paint you to be. This is why you see Hardboiled Crime writers posting author pictures of themselves with a glass of nice bourbon or Historical Romance authors posing in beautiful English gardens wearing a corset and petticoats. They're projecting a persona, an image of themselves that matches the voice of the stories they write. That Romance novelist almost certainly doesn't stand around in her garden in costume every day, and that Hardboiled author may actually prefer margaritas to sipping liquor, but that's just their mundane daily life, the same daily life where authors wait at the DMV and cut their toenails. 

Those aren't the kind of details most readers want to see. When we read a book, the voice we hear in our heads is the author we want to meet, and part of managing your brand as an author is making sure they you they see when they finally go looking matches that voice. If you write Sweet Romance and your blog is full of cursing and sexual innuendo, that's a mismatch. It might be the truth, there's no law that says you have to present yourself accurately in your books. At the same time, though, if the you you present to the world as your author face on your blog or bio or whatever isn't the same you from your books, the face of that voice your readers fell in love with, it can feel like a betrayal, and betraying readers is very last thing any author wants to do.

Wait, Rachel, are you telling us to LIE to readers?!?

Not at all. Aside from the obvious mismatch I used above to illustrate my point, most authors naturally write books that reflect who they are as people. When that happens, adopting an author persona that matches your voice is no more of a lie than cleaning your house for company. You're already that person. All you're doing now is making sure that your best foot is always forward, because when you're an author, part of what you're selling is yourself. It's not just a book, it's your book filled with your voice and your opinions. That's why rejection hurts so much, because telling your story is the most personal thing you will ever do in public.

For the introverts in the crowd, an author persona is also a form of social defense. As I'm sure you've guessed already from my word counts, I'm a super talkative person, but many authors are shy, sometimes to the point of bordering on anti-social, which is why they chose such a solitary art in the first place. For these people, an author persona can be more than just a way of presenting yourself, it can be a mask. I know authors who go so far as to create an entirely different personality, even to the point of wearing special clothes, specifically so that they'll have something to hide behind while they have to engage in the otherwise terrifying act of greeting fans and making new ones.

So if you have any kind of social anxiety, crafting a more outgoing author persona can be the difference between having a social presence as an author and not being able to. Having a set role to play, even one that's basically just a more social and confident version of your normal self, takes a huge amount of social pressure off you to perform personally, and for many shy authors, that can be the difference between a fun convention book signing and a panic attack. 

Even if you have no problem being social, having a known author persona to step into can still be a big help. It's sort of like having a style guide for behavior online and off (or a brand, if you want to get fancy). When you always know what's expected of you, meeting and even exceeding that standard becomes easier, and the more you practice, the better you get. I've had basically the same author persona for ten years now, and I'm so used to it, I can turn it on and off like a switch. I've had readers find me when I'm fresh off a miserable stint of traveling, vaguely nauseous, and ready to bite someone's head in two, and yet I still manage to be the author they know because I know how to be that person. It doesn't matter how grumpy I'm feeling IRL, Writer Rachel is always delighted to meet a reader and talk books. This is partially because meeting anyone who's read my books never fails to make my day, but it's also because I have an author persona to fall back on. Even when I'm feeling like crud, I can switch on Author Mode and instantly get the energy I need to be the funny, hopeful, happy writer that fan deserves.

So now that I've talked about all the ways having an author persona works for you, let's talk about how to actually go about building one.

How to Craft Your Author Persona

I have never met an author, or any public figure, who doesn't have a persona. That said, most authors never seem to plan theirs. Their author persona is something that grew organically based on their personalities and how they learned to interact with readers and potential readers of the years. But while the organic method is obviously going to give you the most natural result, the nature of the organic process means it not only takes time, but also trial and error, and error is what we want to avoid. No one wants to learn an embarrassing social lesson the hard way.

But this blog is all about not repeating the mistakes of the past! That's why I think that, the moment you start seriously thinking about publication, you should also start seriously considering who you want your author persona to be. You may not nail it right off the bat, but hopefully just going into the process with a plan rather than stumbling blindly will be enough to help you spot and avoid potentially embarrassing faux pas before they happen.

When you start thinking about building an author personal, there are three main issues you have to keep in mind:

1) Your author persona should match your writing style and voice.
Again, this goes right back to everything Travis said about branding. This isn't to say that if your book is grim and dark and gritty, you have to be, too, but you should still come across as the sort of person who would write that book. Fortunately, if you're writing books you love, this should be a piece of cake. Your feelings and opinions are already coming out on the page, which means the people reading that page and loving what they see enough to bother getting to know you as an author are already predisposed to like you. You're already the author they want to meet and read more of, so just keep being that person and you'll be right on target.

If you're one of those authors who writes in a very different style from how you normally behave (ie, you're a Conservative Christian who writes dinosaur porn (link obviously NSFW)), then you probably want to adopt an author persona that more closely matches what you write since that's the you readers know and expect. 

Just make sure you're careful with this, because the further your writer persona gets from your real personality, the harder it gets to keep up, which brings us to #2.

2) Chose an author persona you can live with.
Most writers are also good actors (hey, we're in the business of fiction), but even the best actor can't play a role forever. Unless you change your name and completely rebrand yourself, whatever author persona you adopt is a face you're going to wearing for your entire career. If you pick something that's hard to maintain (for example, adopting an extremely flamboyant personality when you're actually very shy), you're going to have a rough time. Unless you truly love playing that role, having to put on someone that's so fundamentally different from you for every tweet and blog post is going to take a lot out of you, and you need that energy for writing. Not to mention if you ever do crack the facade, your readers are going to be hugely disappointed. 

A much better plan, and FAR easier to maintain, is to adopt an author persona that's as close to your real personality as possible. A good way to do this is to just be yourself within a few simple guidelines, just like you would a brand. For example, if you write fun, positive, uplifting books, you might consider adopting a "no rants" policy. This doesn't mean things aren't going to piss you off, just that you're not going to complain about them in your public sphere because ranting and negativity isn't what you're about. On the flip side, if you write sarcastic, snarky books, then having a blog full of hilariously scathing rants about things that piss you off fits right into that brand. So go ahead, rant about everything! Another example would be if you wrote dark gothic vampire fiction and also happened to be into dressing goth for your own personal aesthetic, posting pictures of yourself dressed as a Gothic Lolita would be great personal branding. 

Steampunk authors in particular are great at the costume stuff, but anything that shows you authentically are the person your books suggest you are is good author persona material. To cite a personal example, I'm a giant anime and manga nerd. This love is obvious in my stories, which means a lot of fans love it, too. Because of this, I can squee about anime and it fits right into everything else. It's authentically part of who I am and what I value, and that is really key, because the last thing you want to do in any of this is come off sounding insincere or like you're pretending to be someone you're not. This is why sticking as close as possible to your actual personality and interests is so important. The more details of your actual personal life you can weave into your author persona, the simpler it is to maintain and the simpler it is convince readers that this is the real you, because it is! Just, you know, with all the bad parts conveniently missing.

For me personally, I think of my writing persona as "Rachel when the writing's going well." I chose this not just because it's the me I like best--happy, focused, technical, positive, excited, having a good time, etc.--but because that person, the happy writing Rachel, is the voice of my books. All the stuff I write when I'm not happy inevitably ends up on the cutting room floor, which means that by the time the readers see it, the only voice they get is me at my edited best. 

That's the Rachel Aaron author persona, and because it's the same voice I strive for in my books and here on the blog, it's very easy for me to maintain. It's just me, but at my happiest, best, and most positive. All the stuff that doesn't belong to that--the angry rants, the morose wailing over trouble spots in my books, the bad days--I try to leave at home in my private life. I'm not denying those parts of myself. All the bad stuff is me, too, but it's not the me I want to put out there for my readers. These people are paying money to let me entertain them, and just like a grocer wouldn't give his customers a bruised fruit, I try my best to make sure I'm always putting my best face forward, which leads us to #3.

3) Stick to it.
Once you've got an author persona you fell comfortable with, stay there. That author persona is now part of your brand, it's how your people--fans, reviewers, even the general public--knows you. Your coolness or interestingness as an author is as much a part of what you're selling as the books themselves, and just like you wouldn't switch genres in the middle of a series, you don't want to switch author personas on fans midstream either. Remember, these people only know you through your books and the stuff you post. If you suddenly change that public persona, you might still be the same to your meatspace friends, but to them, you're an entirely different person. A stranger wearing the face of the author they loved. And they're not going to take that well.

This isn't to say you can never change your public personality. You absolutely can, and authors do it all the time. But you have to be smart about it by either shifting your focus gradually or starting over entirely with a new name and brand. 

So as you can see, you never have to feel like you're stuck with a persona, but don't make the choice lightly, either. The way we choose to present ourselves as authors is part of our writing. Even if you become a bestseller, the vast majority of readers will never know you as more than a name on a cover, if they even remember that. But your best fans--the ones who'll read your entire backlist and buy your new books on release day and follow you from series to series and force your books into their friends hands--they're the ones this face is really for, and they deserve nothing lest than your absolute best.


And thus we reach our conclusion!

Thank you all so much for sticking with me through this monster of a post! Wherever you are in your writing journey, I really hope this post has given you some new perspective on a very important aspect of authorship, or given you something to think about. If you enjoyed this post, I have lots more like it in the writing tag and we do new writing business and craft posts most every Weds and Monday. If you're not already, please follow me on Social Media (Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Google+) to never miss an update!

Thanks again for reading, and as always, happy writing!

Yours,
Rachel

8 comments:

Faith Alexis said...

SOOOOO EXCITED FOR AUGUST!!!! Er since I've worn out my audible recordings of the previous two. How much of our money by the way do you ever see? Just in general terms. I wish I could support you more directly. ~ Vert Fey

Travis Bach said...

@Faith Having just finished reading HS3... I'm likewise pumped. I can't wait for everyone to get their hands on this book and start freaking out at all the awesome it contains. Minds will be blown. ^_~

To answer your question, we get a reasonable amount per book. What's really important is that you bought the book, listened to it, and liked it. That is direct support. We get the royalty and the sales rank boost, which helps sell more books. If you also left a review for the book, we could really ask for no better. Those are the things we need to keep doing this. Thanks for listening!

Kessie said...

Pioneer Woman talked about this years ago, and I've taken it to heart. She wasn't as specific about author branding, but she did say that a blog isn't the place to air your dirty laundry if you want people to keep coming back. I've tried to keep my blog fun, educational, and upbeat--although I do indulge in a rant now and then. Bad llama. :slaps self:

Also, having just re-watched all three seasons of The Last Airbender, I approve of your use of Azula.

Ken Hughes said...

ONLY TWO MORE HEARTSTRIKERS?

(Trust Rachel, trust Rachel...)

Excellent advice all around. I think much of it comes down to the test of, as you put it, what's easy to maintain. Finding which of the story-compatible pieces of your personality are enough honestly yourself that you can put them out there and know you can do more of without ever having to force them. Because of course, anything you present *should* be what you want the reader to ask for more of.

Denae Christine said...

Four books makes sense. I felt like 2 got further than Eli #2, even though I don't know the ending.
Author persona. I hadn't thought of it that way, just of acting professional (and hoping that someday I would BE professional).

Karen Robinson said...

I'm a woman and I'm considering publishing under a male pen name, which seems like it'd seriously complicate creating a persona. Have you any advice about that for me? I'm sure I could pull it off, but (1) it feels like lying more than just putting forth a best self, (2) it sounds like a lot more work, and (3) I worry that it would limit me too much - no photos, no attending conferences as Mr. Persona, etc. I know there are people who do this; men who write romance novels virtually always publish under a female name. I'm just not sure if my using a male name would be signing up to be James Tiptree, Jr. for the rest of my natural life and, if so, if that would be too complicated.

Travis Bach said...

A lot of women have taken male pen names before. Particularly in SF since SF dudes are famously biased against female authors.

If you aren't in Science Fiction, or even if you are -the times are changing- why do you feel it's necessary?

Because you are right. It's not just a brand, it's a style guide and, in a way, a character. It's gonna be a lot more trouble than just an author persona would be.

My best advice would be to talk to someone whose done this specifically. We don't have any first hand experience managing such an alternate identity.

David Mullin said...

Thank you for this wonderful post. I've never really thought about a persona, per se, but I do tend to have my online, social media type of voice which I have continued using on my blog. I'll be curious to how that may change after I publish and will keep your tips in mind when the time comes. Thanks!