Monday, July 4, 2016

Does an author need a personality? (Part 1: platform & publishing)

There is a classic stereotype of a writer, locked away in a dim room, staring at a single screen as they shut the world out in order to produce a new one. And honestly, I'm okay with that.

Why? I am an introvert. No matter which personality type test or quiz you show me, I will always come down heavily on the "people drain me" side of the scale.

A lot of people are a little skeptical (or just scoff outright) when I admit that. I enjoy people. I get along well with people. I can take on a crowd from a platform with relative ease, and can even do the mix-and-mingle well. I do a fun presentation with classrooms of all ages and sizes, and enjoy Q&A sessions and signings.

But when I finish those events, the quiet room with space for my imagination to be free sounds pretty sweet. And from my quiet space I see  the publishing advice that says I need to have "platform" and be active in social media and I wish for a world where I didn't have to be a personality.

But that's wishful thinking, and I realized it when I took a query letter to my wonderful critique group the other day. The advice I got was, "You have a vibrant personality - you just need to convey that on paper." The nutshell? My writing had personality; my writing about myself did not. Good advice (as always) and it has had me thinking: how does personality really fit into a writing career?

For an author, there are different areas where personality shows up:

1. Voice (Personality in your Writing)

Ah, the elusive element that every editor wants but can't really define. And in fairness, I don't blame them. It's rather like true love - it can captivate you when you find it but it probably won't look like you expect it to either. The charm is often in the unexpectedness of it.

Voice goes beyond having the basics of writing structure mastered, and is really where the personality of your writing shows up. Voice comes in combinations - how you mix all the possible ingredients of writing to create a sound, a style, a feel that is unique to you as a writer. It might show up in your story pacing, in a visible richness to your prose, in a lyric phrasing that carries a subtle motif,  or a unerring connection to the subculture of your characters. It might be your mastery of effective or unexpected punctuation, or a bare-bones clarity that cuts away all extraneous fluff.

Personally, I think there is freedom in finding your literary voice. It will reflect you in some way as a person but can go so far beyond your personality. How fun is that? The limits are lifted when you find your voice as a writer.

Do some writers seem to have a natural grasp of voice? Absolutely.
Can you develop voice? Certainly.

By reading - prolifically - and saturating yourself in other writer's styles. And then, by writing - continuously - until the words and worlds that you produce contain echoes and flavors of the masters but create your own particular blend of  story, vision, and word.

But once you've mastered your voice, and unfortunately for the introverts, you have to step outside your room and away from your screen and engage with the rest of the world if you want to see your dream of being an author take flight. And personality becomes a very different beast. 

2. Queries, pitches & cover letters (Personality in your Presentation)

This is another "on paper" part of the equation and is arguably one of the hardest types of writing any writer has to produce. I personally think the reason it's so hard is because it straddles the line between our personality as an individual and the personality of our writing. Because we're supposed to be selling our idea and ourselves in the voice of our manuscript. And if those don't mesh, it sounds stilted and unnatural and has us pulling our proverbial hair out as rewrite stacks up on rewrite. (If you ever want to cringe over your writing, look back at your early cover letters. Youch.)

It's self promotion. To the introvert, it feels like self-aggrandization. (I have no idea how it feels to extroverts.) It really does make it seem easier to deal with live people. Which brings us to ...

3. Conferences, workshops & writing events (Personality with Peers)

Well, here's where we should be able to breathe easy among our own kind, right? Well, yes and no. You'll find your tribe. You'll connect with wonderful kindred spirits that "get" the excitement and the frustrations and the realities of being part of the writing world. You'll hear speakers and teachers that challenge you to the next level and remind you why you love what you do. You might even find the dream contact that lands you an incredible contract.

You'll also find the nervous, the ambitious, the aggressive, and the borderline narcissistic writers that have the constant question lurking behind their eyes, "How will you benefit MY career?" You'll find the usual mix of personalities. And depending on your own personality, you may walk out thinking, "I'm in the wrong line of work ... "

Hang in there, because at some point, you'll be the one in the limelight ...

4. Author events (Personality with the Public)

At some point, whether you are traditionally published or an indie author, you will have an opportunity to do an author event. (Here's where the introverts curl up or break out in a sweat (or both) and the extroverts say "YES! This is why I'm a writer!" :) ). It might be a book signing, a classroom visit, an author fair, a reading, or your own book launch. People enjoy meeting their favorite writers and hearing about the process of writing. Meeting a real live author can help teachers boost literacy and inspire classrooms. Think about it - the public is why you publish!!

Your own personality will play a big part in how you view these events, and knowing that can help you play to your strengths in these events too.

Or you can just swear off them entirely and stick to on-line interaction with the public through ...

5. Social media (Personality as Platform)

This is still the public, right? Yes. And no. Social media - blogs, FB, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and so on and so on - is a great place to connect with peers, with fans, with industry experts, and to provide a consistent arena for your writing while still maintaining a little distance. It, too, straddles the line between our own personalities and how that reflects in our writing. It's not on paper, but it's an "on paper" (written word) form of expressing our personalities.

Here, too, your personality will play a role. Can you be scintillating in 140 characters more than three times a day? Can you produce quality content on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? Can you connect with enough people to provide immediate connection to your latest and greatest publishing news? When you can, that's platform.

So let's review: does an author need a personality?

Really, in the end, it's a trick question. Every author has a personality. It's just that who you are as a person is not always irrevocably tied to your personality as a writer. Your combination of experience, training, motivations, and character traits will always be reflected in your writing but in your writing you can also step beyond your reality and into your imagination where the limits are lifted.  

For aspiring and experienced authors, the question, then, is how can you mesh your writing career with the type of person you are? More on that soon.

*All photos courtesy of

1 comment:

King Mirchi said...
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