“Be yourself” has been ingrained in our heads thanks to social media and graphic T-shirts. We all love books, movies, coffee mugs, and anything else that inspires us to live out those two words. But the application can be complicated, and oftentimes we end up being an entirely different person than who we really are.
No one should hide their true colors—least of all writers. Every book we write is a small portrait of our personalities. Each page offers a glimpse into our hearts. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? We want readers to see our characters’ souls, not ours. We hope agents will notice our confidence and proficiency, not our weaknesses and emotions. But whether we realize it or not, and whether we like it or not, our personalities are the door to making our books bestsellers.
1. Being Yourself Breathes Life into the Plot
Unlike most writers, I haven’t always been a bookworm. The quirky, heartwarming stories I craved were rare during my teen years. I would’ve lined my parents’ entire house with books if only I had found the right ones. Later I decided to start typing and fill those shelves with the kind of stories I prefer, which is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last five years.
However, I hit a roadblock when I feared my stories weren’t marketable. If I couldn’t list a bunch of comparative titles, would I be able to get published and sell my books? Or would my originality hinder my stories from hooking an agent?
Maybe you’ve wrestled similar doubts and considered writing in a different genre because it’s popular. But trends fade quickly, and even if they lasted a lifetime, would you enjoy writing that type of story? I could churn out dozens of books that would be more like the mainstream, but I wouldn’t be passionate about them. Whenever we write with our heads instead of our hearts, the words will be cold and dead. Some people can sense this and will stop reading even if the story is crafted well.
Instead, give readers something fresh—give them you. Writing a copycat story is like presenting a friend with the same shirt you bought for her birthday last year, except in a different color. However, creativity needs to be balanced by order, and we must always adhere to the rules of grammar and structure. If we carefully listen to industry standards and our imaginations, we can launch our stories to incredible heights.
Look at Dr. Seuss. His stories are full of crazy plots and out-of-the-box characters, yet he’s adored by children and adults. A more recent example would be Fawkes by Nadine Brandes. Although historical fantasy is rising in popularity, the genre is relatively new—especially for the Christian market. Both of these authors prove that unusual ideas can be just as successful as conventional fiction.
2. Being Yourself Connects You with Readers
Since you are your greatest selling point, you should strive to be authentic in your marketing. Readers are interested in learning about you—even with your frizzy hair, tea addiction, and love of fairy-tale retellings—not some stuffy author who seems more fictional than her characters.
Whether you choose to use a website, email list, or social media to build your platform, put your personality on display. Be friendly and personable—unless you’re not, then be insulting and sarcastic (in a good-natured way, of course). Share your feelings, opinions, idiosyncrasies, and pet peeves. Don’t filter yourself. I can be a witty, random person, but I also have a serious, contemplative side. I need to embrace all my traits equally to reach my fullest potential as a writer.
More importantly, don’t pretend that you’re perfect. This doesn’t mean you need to broadcast your seven deadly sins, but you should allow readers to see that you’re human and not an angel author in training. Sometimes you write clunky sentences. Sometimes you don’t even write. Post about those moments and how you’re overcoming your mistakes. Your readers, like you, have flaws, and acknowledging yours makes you more relatable. If you feign perfection, you’ll only distance yourself from your followers so that you seem cold and unapproachable.
3. Being Yourself Helps Your Pitch Stand Out to Agents
Querying agents is nerve wracking. When they reject our work, we feel like they’re also rejecting us (even though that’s not true). We’d be mortified if they noticed our imperfections and insecurities—especially the stain from the sweat that dripped onto the paper.
I don’t advise writers to ignore submission guidelines just because they’re nonconformists. Nor do I recommend that writers drown agents in emotion. But neither should writers abandon their personalities when contacting agents/publishers. You need to combine your creativity with professionalism. Approach the task like a job interview—you certainly wouldn’t wear a Darth Vader T-shirt because you’re a Star Wars fan, nor would you explode into laughter because you remembered a humorous situation you witnessed earlier. However, you might wear a nice blouse that’s your favorite color or crack a joke in an appropriate moment during the conversation.
That’s how you should carry yourself when pitching a manuscript. Follow guidelines and sneak your personality in 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 structure, and tone.
Don’t Go Overboard
To have an impact, you must show the world your heart, but don’t tear out all your guts in the process. Your readers don’t need to know everything about you—you’re supposed to treat them like friends, not family. You won’t be able to easily distinguish the stalking fangirls from the creepers. Some information should be kept confidential for your safety, and other details are simply unnecessary. Does your Facebook audience need to hear how many times you visited the Starbucks restroom after you drank three Frappuccinos? I think not.
Unfortunately “be yourself” is frequently misinterpreted as “be unique.” We’re all different, but we needn’t flash our quirks like a neon sign. Nor should we embellish our quirks or invent new ones to become unforgettable to readers. Some writers are low-key. They may lead seemingly uneventful lives without displaying much emotion. That’s fine too—we need calm writers as much as spicy ones. If you feel called to write contemporary fiction, don’t discount yourself because you’re not spending hours upon hours constructing fantastical worlds like your friends. If you commit to being yourself, the right readers will find you.
Created for Individuality
Every stripe on a zebra, every snowflake, and every fingerprint is distinct—and I haven’t even begun talking about the thousands of unique threads God has sewn into His creation! He designed you to be a writer, but He’s done much more than that. He created you to write a specific story—one only you can tell.
So, pour yourself onto the page until that story bursts to life!
Mariposa Aristeo is a writer of quirky characters and fantastical adventures filled with heart, humor, hope, and, very often, dinosaurs. If you can’t find her in one of her own imaginary worlds, try combing the pages of a great middle-grade fantasy novel.
At Story Embers, igniting (and sometimes imploding) ideas is her favorite pastime, so she often uses her creativity to make graphics for articles and writing quotes, as well as implement new strategies for SE’s social media channels. Explosions aside, she loves getting to know each and every writer here at SE by running the popular #embersgram hashtag on Instagram and responding to your questions and emails.
Besides being a co-owner of Story Embers, Mariposa is an ACFW First Impressions contest finalist, a children’s book illustrator, and the host of the IGTV series #middlegrademagicwithmari. You can check out her book recommendations (and shenanigans) on her Instagram page or her character sketches on her art account.