“Be yourself” has been ingrained in our heads thanks to social media and graphic T-shirts. We all love books, movies, coffee mugs, or anything else that inspires us to live out those two words. But application of that phrase isn’t always easy, and oftentimes we end up being an entirely different person than we really are.
No one should be afraid to let their true colors shine—least of all, writers. Every book we write is a small portrait of our personality. Each page offers a glimpse into our heart and soul. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? We want readers to see our characters’ souls, not ours. We want agents to see our confidence and proficiency, not our weakness and emotions. But whether we know it or not, and whether we like it or not, our personalities are the door to making our books bestsellers.
Unlike most writers, I’m not exactly a bookworm. I’m more like a bookworm in dormancy; someone just waiting for the right book to come along and jar me awake. But the quirky, lovable stories I crave are far and few in between. I would line my entire house with books if only I had the right ones to fill the shelves. So, since no one else was doing it, I decided to start typing and filling those shelves with the stories I wanted to read. And that is exactly what I’ve been doing the last three years.
However, I hit a roadblock when I realized my stories weren’t easily marketable. I couldn’t list a bunch of comparative titles when I was approaching an agent. I’ve often considered setting those stories aside and writing something more “marketable.” Maybe you’ve felt that way too. Have you ever considered writing a story in a certain genre because it’s popular? Or incorporating a certain theme because it’s trending? Well, trends don’t last long, and by the time you’ve actually finished writing the story, it may not be popular anymore.
Even if fads lasted for a lifetime, would you enjoy writing that popular story? I could write all kinds of books that would be more mainstream, but my heart wouldn’t be in them. Whenever we write something with our head instead of our heart, the words will be cold and dead. Some readers can sense this and will not want to read your book, even if the story is crafted well.
Give them something fresh, something new, give them you. Writing a copycat story is like giving a friend the same shirt you bought them last year except in a different color—they’ve read this story before. However, creativity needs to be balanced by order, and we must always be careful to adhere to certain rules on grammar and structure. If we dutifully use industry guidelines and our imagination, we can take our stories to unbelievable heights.
So you’ve let your personality bleed into your writing, and that’s where it ends, right? Not for a long shot. You are your greatest selling point. Your readers want you—even your frizzy hair, tea addiction, and love of fairy-tale retellings—not some stuffy author who seems more fictional than her characters.
Whatever marketing avenue you choose—website, email list, social media—give readers a piece of yourself. Show them what makes you tick. Show them your greatest pet peeve. Be friendly and personable—unless you’re not, then be insulting and sarcastic (in a nice way, of course). Let them know how you feel about things, and don’t be afraid to let people see different aspects of your character. I can be a witty, random person, but I also have a serious, contemplative side I don’t often show because I’m afraid it will break the image people have built of me. Both sides are part of me, and I must be willing to equally share them if I want to live up to my fullest potential as a writer.
More importantly, don’t be afraid to show readers the raw you. It’s easy to put a facade up and try to (hopelessly) pretend that you’re perfect. This doesn’t mean you have to tell your audience about your seven most deadly sins or anything, but that you should show them you are human and not an angel author in training. Sometimes you don’t write perfectly. Sometimes you don’t even write. Tell your readers about those times. Tell them how you are overcoming your mistakes. Your readers, like you, have flaws, and they want to know they are not alone. By pretending perfection, you will distance yourself and become cold and unapproachable to them.
Showing the real you is a tricky business—especially when sending out queries. We don’t want to show agents who we are. If they reject the letter, that means they will also be rejecting us, right? We don’t want agents to see our imperfections or insecurities, and we especially don’t want them to smell the sweat dripping off our forehead onto the letter.
I don’t advise writers to ignore query letter guidelines just because it’s their personality to be rebellious. Neither do I recommend writers drown agents in their emotions. But that doesn’t mean writers should abandon their personalities when approaching agents/publishers either. We need to combine our creativity with professionalism. Think of it as a job interview—you certainly aren’t going to wear a Darth Vader T-shirt because you love Star Wars, nor would you explode into laughter because you thought of something funny. However, you may wear a nice blouse that’s your favorite color or crack a joke or two during the conversation.
That is how we should carry ourselves when pitching our work. Follow guidelines and sneak your personality under the cover of formality. You don’t want your query to sound like a million others. Let your voice sing clearly and subtly through your word choices, sentence arrangement, and tone.
We all know we should be ourselves, but sometimes we can take the advice too far. To create an impact, we must show the world our heart, but that doesn’t mean we have to tear out all our guts in the process. Your audience does not need to know everything about you—after all, you are supposed to treat your readers like friends, not family. We do not know how many of our readers are simply stalking fangirls and how many are simply stalking. Some information you may not want to reveal for your safety and privacy. And some things are simply unnecessary. Does your Facebook audience need to know how many times you used the Starbucks restroom? There is such a thing as dignity, you know.
Also, sometimes we accidentally end up trying to be someone else. “Be yourself” can easily be translated to “be unique.” We are all different, but we needn’t flash our quirks like a neon sign. Nor should we embellish quirks or invent new ones to become unforgettable to readers. Some writers are more low key. They may not seem to have a particularly interesting life and maybe they don’t become emotionally entangled in everyday affairs. Well, that’s fine too—we need calm writers as much as we need spicy ones. Just because you don’t spend hours building fantastical worlds doesn’t mean your story isn’t fantastic. Being yourself means being who you are—whether you think you are boring or not.
Believe me, if you are truly yourself, the right kind of readers will come.
God is a god of creativity. Every stripe on a zebra, every snowflake, and every fingerprint is different—and I haven’t even begun talking about the thousands of unique threads God has sewn into His creation! You know that God has created you uniquely to be a writer, but He’s done so much more than that. He created you to write a specific story. A story only you can tell.
Now, pour yourself onto the page and let that story come to life.
Thanks for reading, friends! Don’t forget to leave Mariposa a comment and visit her epic blog, dinosdigest.com.
The Introvert (A.K.A. Gabrielle R. Pollack)
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Mariposa Aristeo is a self-taught artist and aspiring children’s author who captures the glories of God’s creation on paper. She is a graphic designer and the Instagram manager at Story Embers and desires to encourage other storytellers in crafting novels that ignite the imagination and warm the heart. Her assistant, Aberdeen the Authorosaurus (a book-eating dinosaur), helps supply her with her ideas. If you want to read about his exploits in her office, writerly dinosaurian advice, or nonsensical sense, please visit: DinosDigest.com.