Why the Author Persona is a Reductive Concept

There is a great deal of pressure in to stand out as a creative, and this is mostly due to an oversaturated market and overflowing media feeds. Marketing-savvy authors are expected to create a certain kind of image, a brand. “Brand not only tells the world who you are and what you stand for, but it also encourages target customers to align with your brand.” (1) “As an author who is fully in control of their brand, you can more easily attract your ideal readers and they will form a deeper connection with you.” (2)

Can you think of any authors who have been aggressively labelled as something, usually as a result of their success, who are now unable to escape their brand? J.K. Rowling will mostly come up in conversation next to Harry Potter. The same way, Stephen King is generally known as a horror writer. Matt Haig is the ‘mental health guy’ on Twitter. Their author persona has been defined by their brand, genre or discourse.

However, in all three cases, these authors do so much more than what they are most famously known for. Rowling wrote under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith because she wanted “the books to be judged on their own merit, and to establish Galbraith as a well-regarded name in crime in its own right.” (3) Similarly, King said that the reason he wrote under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman is “because back in the early days of [his] career there was a feeling in the publishing business that one book a year was all the public would accept.” (4) Haig is more than an advocate for toxic masculinity and mental health, although that has been a big part of his online presence in recent years. But is it fair to reduce authors to a label or a brand? And should their public persona be a deciding factor on whether or not we pick up one of their books?

When I read articles on creating a writing persona I instinctively think of something one needs to assemble, something that is not already there, yet when I look at an author’s “persona” I search for one thing: for them to be sincere. I appreciate reading about both their achievements and their struggles. Seeing other writers deal with similar issues creates a sense of reassurance, of companionship. Victoria Schwab and Jeff Vandermeer are the type of authors who don’t seem to have carefully constructed online personae. They share trips to the vet and personal opinions. They invite the readers into their lives without putting up a contrived wall between themselves and their audience.

Fabricating an alternative image in order to distinguish yourself from other authors implies that you aren’t interesting enough already to be worth the time of readers, and that’s just an absurd thing to imply.  You are who you are, and whether you try to escape it or not, you will always transplant your personality and your beliefs into your writing. You don’t need to go out of your way to create a new identity in order to be worth the attention. The content of an author’s work should be enough to encourage readers to make a connection to that author.

Many writers currently navigating the Twitterverse seem to agree that honesty is the best policy.

When you think about your persona, “consider it an essential element in a performance of sorts. To take part in a performance may seem like a fanciful— and somewhat devious— thing to do in your writing. But most of us perform a variety of roles every day of our lives, given the different people we encounter— at one moment with friends, at another with the boss, at another with colleagues, at another with loved ones.” (5)

It should be a given that you present yourself differently in various situations, but that doesn’t mean you actively create a different persona for each of them. “Indeed, you can make such different versions of your persona that they might seem to be written by distinctly different persons […]. But that’s not surprising when you realize that we all have so many sides that a single unchanging persona couldn’t really do justice to the complexity of our lives and of our selves.” (6)

The multi-faceted nature of the human character renders the concept of an author persona a reductive and simplistic way of thinking about public figures. We should not subject ourselves to the pressure of creating a different identity, nor should we impose this notion on other people.

Featured image by John Noonan on Unsplash.
(1), (2) Penn, Joanna, 7 Best Ways to Build an Authentic Author Brand, The Creative Penn, November 10, 2017.
(3) About, Robert Galbraith
(4) King, Stephen, Frequently Asked Questions
(5), (6) Klaus, Carl H., A Self Made of Words : Crafting a Distinctive Persona in Nonfiction Writing, University of Iowa Press, 2013.

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