10 Things You Should Know About Having A Persona

It seems there are two main camps when it comes to having a persona as a writer: those who practice it every day and those who have never considered it. Furthermore, there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to the term and what it means for those of us in the writing/editing/publishing/public reading world. What follows is both my attempt at throwing some light on the subject, and a way to share my experiences and explain why I recommend having a persona if you're a writer. Neither of those things are easy to do in ten short paragraphs, so bear with me. Let's get to it.

10. You don't need to have a persona

Maybe you're cool with everyone knowing you just the way your friends know you. Maybe you have nothing to hide and no preferred traits that you want to emphasize. That's all cool. There's too much discussion surrounding what makes someone a writer, and a persona—like everything else except sitting down and writing—has nothing to do with it. You can have one or choose not to have one. It's entirely up to you. 

9. Persona, brand, and platform are not the same thing

This can be confusing, but I'll keep it simple so you can go back to reading and writing. Your platform is like a structure: the stuff you have to build on. Twitter and Facebook, for example, are part of your platform. The way you manage those accounts? That's your brand. If you have an eagle holding a flag and gun as a profile picture, that's your brand. If you went with a booze bottle or a cartoon lady with gigantic breasts rocking a microkini, the same things applies. The posts you make, the things you say, and how you react and interact with readers and fellow writers? That's you...or your persona. An easy way to envision the whole thing is dressing up and standing on a stage. The stage is your platform and whatever you decide to wear is your brand, but the words that come out of your mouth and the way you move are going to be your persona.

8. If you're a writer, you're a marketer, and a persona helps

If you think writing a book is hard, you should try selling one. Yeah, the hustle never stops and, if you stop, then your career is over. You know, unless you're one of those King/Steel/Patterson authors. Having a persona makes the marketing aspects of your career easier to handle. In fact, I've found that having a persona that regularly interacts positively with readers has helped me acquire a better understanding of the fine line between consuming an author and consuming their persona.

7. Readers are a very special type of consumer and most will consume you as much as they consume your words

The stage is your platform and whatever you decide to wear is your brand, but the words that come out of your mouth and the way you move are going to be your persona.

It sounds strange, but when you think about the amount of time and the emotional and intellectual investments that reading can lead to, it's easy to understand why a lot of readers want to like the author of the book they're reading. I already mentioned him above, but take Stephen King. Sure, the man is a giant who has written too many horror classics to list here, but I also find him likeable and know many other people feel the same way. He's funny, approachable, humble, and I've never not agreed with him when he talks politics. On the other hand, I've heard many readers say they were going to stop supporting an author because he or she said something they strongly disliked. Sure, some will say "All I care about is the story and the writing." That's fine. However, trust me on this: being an asshole rarely works.

6. Your persona is completely up to you

If you look up persona in a couple of dictionaries, you'll find it defined as a public voice or face that someone adopts to communicate with the public. Those definitions seem to suggest that a persona is something separate from the author that is used to deal with readers. This could be true. Many authors have entirely separate personas that may or may not be the same sex/gender/age/etc. However, what I've seen work best and what has worked best for me is a persona that is mostly a curated version of yourself. This is something I learned early on from Brian Keene. The Keene you get online is pretty much Keene in real live, but he picks what he shares and maintains his privacy and keeps his family life separate from the writing game. In other words, he magnifies certain aspects of his personality and keeps others to himself. Whether you go this route (like I did) or decide to have a different persona or even two (like fellow columnist and author Christoph Paul/Mandy De Sandra), your persona is one of the few aspects of your writing career that is entirely up to you.

5. A persona can be a superb tool for shy/socially awkward people

Having a persona allows you to perform it, and that can be the difference between giving awful readings and leaving a mark on those who listen to you. Carlton Mellick III, for example, is one of those authors who walk a fine line between being himself and being his persona. Carlton is a gentle giant with a soft voice and a mellow attitude. Then he gets up to read and transforms into a loud, hilarious monster with a plethora of masks and a bottle of whisky on the table. If you see him perform, you'll remember it, and that leads to wanting to read him. In any case, having a persona that you feel slightly separated from can allow you to leave behind your social anxiety and rock a room like you own it.

4. It's easy because maybe you're already doing it 

My online persona rarely debates music or movies. I'm a musician who has lived in three countries and I wrote professionally about music for two years in Austin, which is known as the Live Music Capital of the World. I know people rarely listen to "everything" and that the bands they're in love with are the bands they're in love with regardless of merit, talent, musicianship, etc. The same thing applies to movies. I grew up on a steady diet of horror movies and then wrote a few movies, took some film classes, and became a film critic. All of that means that I have no desire to sustain a conversation with people who want to "explain" to me why I didn't like a movie and why my subjective opinion of it is "wrong." You know what I will talk about with anyone anywhere at any damn time? Books, and so will my persona. This thing I already do in real life was easy to extend to my author persona.

3. A persona is an extra layer of protection

It's easy to take it personal when someone goes on Amazon and drops a spiteful one-line one-star review. If you have a persona and that persona is too damn cool and so happy about being a writer that he or she doesn't care about that, you're already winning. You know what I do? I check for the "Verified Purchase" on top of one-star reviews and think "Thank you for your money!" Likewise, when folks start getting into arguments, engage your persona, that way you won't be able to take things personally.

2. Your privacy matters

You post on Facebook and Twitter and your blog and Instagram and before you know it, your privacy is gone, people know what you do all day, who you do it with, and even where you live. Fuck that. The idea here is to get as many people reading you as possible, but you probably don't want all of them to be aware of where you are at all times. Crazy people are everywhere. Talk to a few pros and you'll hear stories of stalkers, weirdos, violent detractors, etc. Your privacy matters. Most importantly, the privacy of your friends and family matters. You want to be a writer, they don't. Maybe they want nothing to do with crazy haters and stalkers. You owe it to them to protect them from any negative aspect of your career, and having a persona can simplify all of that. 

1. It's a hell of a lot of fun 

Because I learned it from my mentor, Brian Keene, my persona is just me with some stuff left out and some parts pumped full of steroids to be bigger and stronger so they can fill in the empty spaces. I inhabit my persona all day every day. This means that when I go somewhere, I can start performing in a second. It also means that I've been able to develop a reading style that I'm happy with and that folks say they enjoy. I can read the second I'm asked to without nerves, and that's a lot of fun. I also allow myself to do things the real me doesn't do when I'm inside my persona. The point is that having a persona can help you open doors and play around with elements you hadn't considered before. Your persona is an integral part of your career, and it can and should be one of the fun parts. Get to it.

Gabino Iglesias

Column by Gabino Iglesias

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of ZERO SAINTS, HUNGRY DARKNESS, and GUTMOUTH. His reviews have appeared in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, 3AM Magazine, Marginalia, The Collagist, Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, Out of the Gutter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HorrorTalk, Verbicide, and many other print and online venues. 

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Tony McMillen's picture
Tony McMillen from Mostly glorious Tucson Arizona but now I live near Boston. is reading Not, I'm writing June 12, 2017 - 11:38am

I agree with all 10 of these and so does my persona. But seriosuly, I don't know how anyone does this writing thing and doesn't apply this a bit. Hell, most folks online do the curation bit just out of want to look cooler or not bore people. Anyways, great read. 

NinaS's picture
NinaS from France is reading Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk June 12, 2017 - 3:51pm

Thank you. Very interesting. I find having a Pen Name helps and may prevent from a waste of time as well as from a waste of privacy. It also creates a persona in a way, changing name can be part of shaping an artist's personality.

It is true readers prefer liking their favorite authors. What a disapointment when the author is a jerk ! But why shouldn't they be themselves ? What about the other way round, what should the author do when the reader is a jerk ! 

Merci for all those good words ! 


Teri's picture
Teri June 13, 2017 - 3:17am

I found this to be an interesting write up. I started out with a pseudonym for a variety of very good reasons. What I was generally met with was not a little resistance on some fronts and the attititude that being "authentic" was preferable to cultivating a persona. One editor went so far as to goad me into sharing more photos of my life, at the time, on my facebook page so that I might appear to be more "real" and more of a "complete" person. When you don't know what you're doing or how to go about navigating any of it, it can be difficult. I regret having listened to a lot of the ( bad) advice that I recieved early on about such things, word to the wise.

I've also seen others continue to opperate under pseudonyms completely unfettered, having found people willing to play into or along with their persona.

Being "authentic" is also a "persona." Even those who seem to be putting it "all" out there, aren't.

It's a very individual thing, it can take a while to find what will work for you, and that is the part that matters. My persona finally figured that out.

Good write up