Writers are chameleon creatures – we inhabit different skins when we write, and we play different characters in the world.
It's natural to behave differently when you're with a loved one, or with a new acquaintance, or your Dad or your best friend. And it's just as natural to create a persona to help you with the interactions necessary in the writer's life.
In today's article, Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker, two writers with 23 books between them, share their tips for coping with the amount of public interaction a published writer must do.
Pull up a chair, help yourself to the red wine and dark chocolate we set over on the table, and let’s get real. Most authors are more comfortable staring at a computer screen then at a talking, judging human being. That’s why we’re writers, for the love of Betsy.
First, let go of your belief that writers get to simply clack away at the keyboard, spinning tales and immersing themselves in story. Most successful authors have active social media accounts and go on blog tours, but they also complete interviews, participate in panels, set up book signings, and maybe even deliver keynote speeches.
These are great ways to build an audience, but a far cry from the reality most of us imagined when we dreamed of becoming authors.
Shannon Baker has published seven books and says she still finds it difficult to network at conferences and meetings. “Often, I’m hovering around the outskirts of conversation groups feeling awkward and dull-witted. Then I get tongue-tied or flat-out say the wrong thing,” Shannon says.
Fortunately, there is a way for an introvert to navigate this situation and maintain her sanity: create an author persona.
Jess Lourey, author of sixteen books, including Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction, recommends creating an author persona.
“I received some of the best writing advice early in my career,” Jess says. “It came from Carl Brookins, a gruff Minnesota mystery author with a background in television. He said that to survive, I should create an author persona. I told him I was no actor. He said it’s not acting; it’s taking that gregarious, unique person we all have somewhere in us, and shoving her on stage. The actor Ryan Reynolds recently spoke about how he’s adopted a persona to deal with his anxiety. It works the same for writers.”
1. When creating your author persona, try to keep your mask as close to your real face as possible, but make the public one cheerier and more upbeat.
2. Also, make a conscious decision about whether your public persona will discuss (online and in person) politics, religion, civil rights, i.e. important and potentially polarizing issues.
Shannon avoids these areas, Jess does not. You have to decide where your comfort level is, but make the decision consciously and early so your audience knows what to expect.
3. Choose one quality that you like about real you, and amp that up in your author persona. For Jess, it’s humor. For Shannon, it’s being an excellent listener.
Deciding what organic quality of yours you’ll rely on in public situations keeps it authentic while also giving you comfort.
4. Finally, have a special wardrobe that you save for author events. Don’t go out and buy something all new and expensive. Rather, use your regular wardrobe but make it a little bit more fun.
Some authors are known for wearing hats, or a scarf, or blue shoes. The item/wardrobe signals to you that you’re about to perform.
Most of us introverts need to recharge after being “on.” Make sure to schedule quiet time after you’ve trotted out your author persona. This is especially important at conferences and signings, where the amount of interaction can feel overwhelming.
Your fellow authors will understand.
According to Shannon, “The first time I met Jess was at Left Coast Crime in Sacramento. After a full weekend of peopling, I headed to the airport early to be alone while I waited for my plane. It’s not a big airport and when I sat in the open hub area where the gates spoked, I spotted Jess, also sitting alone. I didn’t approach her, sat with my back to her and we didn’t speak. I emailed her later and told her I’d seen her but I was full-up of being ‘on.’ She thanked me for leaving her alone since she was in the same state.”
The biggest benefit for having a public persona is that it’s a bit of armor. You may find that you rely on your persona a lot at first but then you become more comfortable in the spotlight.
Find what works for you, stay dynamic, and never lose sight of the real reason you’re doing this: to find the audience for your writing.
How do you cope with in-person events and lots of human interaction as an author? Please leave your thoughts in the comments and join the conversation.
Shannon Baker is author of the Kate Fox mystery series set in rural Nebraska cattle country, and the Nora Abbott mystery series, fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder. Now a resident of Tucson, Baker spent 20 years in the Nebraska Sandhills, where cattle outnumber people by more than 50:1. She is proud to have been chosen Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2014 and 2017 Writer of the Year.
A lover of the outdoors, she can be found backpacking in the Rockies, traipsing to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, skiing mountains and plains, kayaking lakes, hiking, cycling, and scuba diving whenever she gets the chance. Arizona sunsets notwithstanding, Baker is, and always will be, a Nebraska Husker. Go Big Red. Visit Shannon at Shannon-Baker.com.
Jess Lourey (rhymes with “dowry”) is a bestselling Anthony, Lefty, and Agatha-nominated author known for her critically-acclaimed Mira James Mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s Excellence in Teaching fellowship, a regular Psychology Today blogger, and a sought-after workshop leader and keynote speaker who delivered the 2016 “Rewrite Your Life” TEDx Talk. Mercy’s Chase, the second in the feminist thriller series Lee Child calls “highly recommended,” releases September 8. You can find out more at JessicaLourey.com.
[Airport photo courtesy Suganth and Unsplash.]