This blog is the second in a series on the 2015 Writer’s Digest Conference
One of the more unusual panels that I’ve ever seen at a conference was “Act Like a Writer” presented by Keith Strunk. The material focused on the author as a person and not on his/her production of material or marketing attempts. Mr. Strunk is a scriptwriter, actor, and marketing pro so he definitely knew what he was talking about.
The tall gentleman stood up, clothed in a relatively loud printed button-down and tan slacks. As he spoke, he radiated enthusiasm and an energy level that the rest of the tired audience lacked as we were crowded into a small and overly warm room. I liked him immediately and he drew most of us into the interactive discussion.
Turns out that his “act” was the point of the panel. He seemed like a guy you would want befriend. Certainly he would be hard to forget. His purpose on that day was to teach authors to be aware of their reputation and presentation, and he did it beautifully by example.
Of the multiple ideas he presented that day, one really struck home with me. All authors should create or at least understand the persona that they present to the public. Part of this concept involves the philosophy of “don’t be a douche bag,” as he stated it. However, the idea encompasses more than simply behaving yourself in public. You should actively sculpt this outward facade and use it as part of your marketing plan every time you go into author mode at book signings or presentations.
For me, this notion involves a hat. The first time I went for professional pictures to use in my writing career, I dressed in my Sunday-go-meeting clothes and full makeup. The photographer put me in front of a library-like screen with a book in my hand. After all, it’s literary looking, right? I knew it was boring but didn’t have any better suggestion.
The pictures looked okay except I had a certain deer-in-the-headlights, mindless glow to the eyes. The problem was that it wasn’t me. It looked, blah, boring, 2-dimensional, devoid of creative personality, and… you get the idea.
A couple of years later, I tried again. Having just moved from my long-term Texas home to lovely Northwest Indiana, I was missing my western roots. I felt Texas to my core, from the constant use of “ya’all” to the tendency of wanting to put up barbed wire fencing all around my property. A person born and bred in the west has different perspectives and ways of thinking from those born in the south or New England. Like anywhere, the land and culture molds the personality of that individual. Therefore, I wanted my western heart to show through in the photos.
This time, I still dolled up my hair and put on makeup but I donned jeans, a country-style shirt, a denim jacket, and my favorite white cowboy hat. Although I fought them on some of the poses they wanted to use, a few of the pictures really reflected the heart and soul of me. No deer or headlights around. I still use these pictures today and you’ll see them on this website.
So now when I show up, I’m the Texas Chick. The hat and I go together to every author event, even if I lay it on the table when we are indoors (I wasn’t born in a barn). People recognize me because of the hat and comment when it is missing.
For Keith Strunk, it was his visually engaging shirt and his bouncy attitude. He said it was his trademark, reflecting both his personality and presentation. To give you more marketing examples, check out Heather Graham who showed up for her panel at ThrillerFest 2014 looking like she just stepped off a romance novel cover. Famed author Terry Pratchett (may God rest his soul) also had memorable hats and a distinctive beard. Both made him easily recognizable on posters and book covers.
So as you publish your first book and set up your author appearances, think about your presentation. What can you do or wear to make people remember you? What visual impact on you or your table will catch people’s eyes from across the room? Find that persona, develop and embrace it, and you’ll see an impact in your marketing.
As always, happy writing!
Post note: If you get a chance to meet or hear Mr. Strunk at any conference, I highly recommend it. He is wonderful.