The writer’s persona – does it matter?

Often when you pick up a new author (or, more preferably, their book ;)) you don’t know anything about them beyond the carefully-agonised-over bio (which might make them sound fabulously witty, fabulously whacky, or fabulously normal) and perhaps a mug-shot. And so you come to the text without any author persona pre-colouring the page. This is how I’ve done most of my reading; I was never particularly interested in the person behind the text. I always read for the story.

But I’ve had a couple of experiences that make me wonder about how much that author persona can affect the reader’s experience of the text.***

The first was at the Brisbane Writers Festival a few years ago when I saw John Ajvide Lindqvist on a panel. I’d never heard of him before, but he was funny and engaging and I liked him as a person. I immediately bought his book (Let the Right One In), and long before it was made into a movie or I knew anything about it otherwise, it was one of my favourite books. It remains there today. Another author whose launch I went to a few years ago was lovely, and I still have a positive vibe about their book, even though I didn’t actually like it. Which is a bit odd.

Flash-forward a couple of years and I was at AussieCon and eagerly went to a panel with fantasy/urban fantasy authors. I had my finger on that purchase trigger again. And I was actually taken aback at how poorly presented two of the newish authors on the panel were, both in actual dress/grooming and in speaking. I know people roll out of bed and straggle into cons in trackies and T-shirts, but they’re usually in the audience. Alright, I don’t remember actual tracksuits, but I do remember ungroomed, untidily dressed and timid. I can certainly understand finding that kind of situation daunting; but for me, it didn’t matter how much those authors flashed the covers of their books – I just wasn’t interested. Persona said boring … so the product was boring. And this was despite them already having impressive sales. I can’t even remember their names now.

Now, I might be being unfair – after all JAL was a stand-up comedian for a number of years. He was used to being in front of a crowd and making them love him. But that’s not really the point. I think that the author persona can be so powerful an influence (at least on me) that maybe it’s best left a secret if there’s a chance you’re going to make a bad impression on the audience. Tricky though … if you don’t turn up at all, the audience doesn’t even see you. Maybe the best thing is just to make sure you’ve bothered to dress properly – including brushed hair – and fake enthusiasm if you need too. That might have been enough for me.

***Here I’m not including cases where you already know about the book from the rumour mill; that seems to quash the persona influence for me.

About Charlotte Nash

Writer and editor, loves Australia

Posted on July 20, 2012, in Charlotte Nash. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

    but they got your attention didn’t they ? and you remember ed them enough to write about them…and they made you think….
    this was a good read …
    made me smile, because i always wonder if they looked in a mirro before
    they walked out the door…
    Take Care…

    • Haha … yes, the mirror thing was what I wondered. And true, they did get my attention at the time, but not enough to buy or remember the name, so perhaps a blogging win, but marketing fail 🙂

      • LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

        and you will know them the next tim you see them LOls…
        Have a Great night!
        and again I enjoyed your postThank You

  2. A thought-provoking piece, Charlotte. It made me wonder about earlier popular writers, like Dickens and Austen, and how much their readers knew about them, in the days before ‘image consultants’ and air-brushed personas.

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