Creating an Author Persona

Not a well-known writer’s photo.

One thing you will find yourself doing in the writing life is to create an author persona. You are doing this when you write the various author bios you may be asked to do. You may be doing it on an unconscious level much of the time. But it’s best to think of this with full awareness and using your critical thinking skills.

Your author persona is probably just an edited version of you. Some parts of you contribute well to your status as an author. For example, if you are an author of hard science fiction, and you have a Master’s degree in physics, that degree should be part of your author persona. If, on the other hand, your degree was in philosophy or French literature or gender studies, your degree is better not mentioned.

Other parts of your real life are left out of your author persona for privacy reasons. If you are the parent of twin children named Raoul and Elzire, that fact will be left out of your author persona to give the kids some privacy. You may mention you are a parent, but the exact names of the kids, pictures of the kids and other information about them may be something you don’t want floating around online. For a similar reason, you may not give out your home town, especially if it’s a small town like Peshtigo, Wisconsin. Or you might not mention the fact that your loving wife hates every single thing you have ever written.

Things that embarrass you or humiliate you are things that are not part of your author persona as a matter of self-protection. I have things like that— but I won’t give an example because that would be too embarrassing for me, even if every single comment about it is supportive. Let’s give a made-up example: Jenny the writer, whose Dad always called her ‘Fat-Face.’ Now, Jenny was never actually fat, the lucky b-tch, she just had a round face. In Asia that would have made her a great beauty. As a little girl growing up with a beer-swilling father in Tacoma, Washington, she got called ‘Fat-Face’ as if it were her name. As a grown-up she knows with her rational mind that there is nothing wrong with her face and it was her father who had a problem, not her. And she’s able to use that negative experience in her writing. But it’s not something that’s part of her author persona, because talking about it would make her feel too vulnerable.

Your job may dictate that certain things be left out of your author persona. You probably won’t be giving your job title and the name of the company you work for as part of your newest author bio. In some careers, your writing may be toxic. For example, if you are a professor of English literature and you gleefully pen low-brow novels just for fun. If you work for a public school and you want to write Christian fiction with Christian values, you may need to use a pen name to keep the two versions of you separate.

Should bits of your author persona be fictional? I’m not big on actually telling lies. But if you are a fiction writer and some fiction leaks in to your author bios, I’m not sure I’d want to judge you on that. Some genres may be helped if you hint at certain life experiences you haven’t in fact had. If you write Westerns, you may mention that you once worked on a Texas ranch— not mentioning that you set up their web site. If you write police procedurals, you might imply that your knowledge of law enforcement came from being a police officer and not from being a police station janitor or a youthful car thief.

You may also add details that make you feel more powerful and more competent as a fiction writer. You may need to concoct much more self-confidence that you would ever actually feel. And that’s not really telling a lie. It’s like repeating an affirmation. In the privacy of your writing area you may have all the self-confidence of a damp bar rag, but when you are stepping out in public, or in the online version of in public, you need to be Superman. Or at least Batman.

Writing an Author Bio: Oh, the Horror!!!

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My Official Author Photo

I’m about to submit some poems to a publisher for the first time in years— this particular publisher, I submitted poems to about 24 years ago. And now that I’m submitting again, for some markets I need to have an official Author Bio. And, well, I’m working on it.

The author bio from the back of my book ‘Where the Opium Cactus Grows’ was the first place I looked. I corrected it from first person to third:

Nissa Annakindt is a crazy cat lady from the state of Upper Michigan. Want a kitten? No, you can’t have that one. No, not that one either. And don’t even think about that one there— the one that hisses and bites everybody. That’s Nissa’s favorite.

Nissa’s hobbies are world domination, Doctor Who fandom, having an autism spectrum disorder (guess which one?), and collecting organized crime ties.

This is what I had on the back cover of ‘Where the Opium Cactus Grows’ as an author bio. It needs work, I’m thinking of replacing ‘Doctor Who fandom’ with ‘zombie hunting’. By ‘collecting organized crime ties’ I’m referring to neckties, which I can’t actually afford to collect.

I then read up on writing author bios and came up with some good advice even though one is from (gasp!) Huffington Press:

Ten Tips on How to Write an Author Bio

Writing an Author Bio

How to Write an Author Bio when You Don’t Feel Like an Author…. Yet

Armed with the information in these articles, my computer, and my new purple Uzi (just in case), I came up with my Version 2 author bio:

Nissa Annakindt is a published poet, impoverished sheep farmer, and person with an autism spectrum disorder. Her poems were first published in ‘Struggle: A Magazine of Proletarian Revolutionary Literature’ in the Winter 1989/90 issue and her work has appeared since in ‘Social Anarchism’, ‘HEATHENzine’ and a fair number of outhouse walls. She lives on the land— well, on a house on the land— in Menominee county, in the state of Upper Michigan, USA, with her 35 or so barn cats— Umberto, Consubstantial, Scylla, Charybdis…. and her pet turkey Imelda.

This one is slightly more informative though it keeps up the weird-and-quirky author persona I’m going for. I don’t really like the phrase ‘person with an autism spectrum disorder’ but just putting ‘autistic’ would lead people to believe I had low-functioning autism and overcame that which isn’t true. I would have put ‘Asperger Syndrome’ but that’s been abolished by the government I think. (I want to include that factor because of the weird-and-quirky thing, and also because it gives me credit as a ‘minority’— disabled person— with the kind of people to whom that is important.)

For cases where I need an Even More Serious short bio, here is the stripped down and boring-ized version of the above:

Nissa Annakindt is a published poet and person with an autism spectrum disorder who lives on a small farm in Upper Michigan, USA. Since 1989 her poems have been published in various magazines including ‘Above the Bridge’ and ‘Struggle: A Magazine of Proletarian Revolutionary Literature’. She has cats.

Anyway, I’d appreciate any advice on my new bio, which I shall likely ignore in favor of including more weird cat names.