Tuesdays with Ana: On Creating an Author Identity

Author identity. Branding. Finding your voice. All of these are favorite words in the writing and publishing business, but what does it mean on a practical, personal level?

Lately, I’ve been asked the following questions:

  • How did you decide to write F/F?
  • Why don’t you write sexual books?
  • Was it a deliberate choice? Why?
  • How do you decide what to write about?

Similarly, I hear questions from new and aspiring writers:

  • How do I know what I want to write about?
  • How do I become a better writer?
  • I have lots of great ideas, but I don’t know how to put them into one story. How can I do that?
  • How can I decide what kind of author I want to be?

Today, we’re going to look at this last question.

How can you decide what kind of author you want to be?

As I’ve said before, my author identity kind of happened on its own. I’m a niche (nonsexual F/F DD) of a niche (F/F DD) of a niche (DD). πŸ˜€ But at the same time, I transcend categories (or at least I like to think that I do!). Sometimes, being a PITA has its benefits: I know what I want, and I know what I want to be. On the other hand, if that author identity is not the most easily marketed one at that particular time, things can get a bit challenging!

If you are unsure what kind of author you want to be, view it as a positive.

You get to actively choose your identity, rather than having to work with what’s already been determined. Look around. Do some research. Investigate publishers and authors who appeal to you. This is a time for exploration, getting to know different styles, and spreading your wings.

Clarify YOUR goals and passions, not what someone else defines for you.

Although we all envy the authors who strike it rich with their first multi-million-copy bestseller, few authors write for a steady, substantial paycheck. Even fewer will be able to quit a day job and write full-time with the first book. For that reason, it’s all the more important that this be YOUR endeavor from the very beginning. Take out a notepad (or open a new blank document). Jot down some of the reasons you daydream about being an author. Can’t think of any? Here are a few of mine:

  • I never found a story that completely satisfied me, so I wanted to write a book that would fulfill my own needs for a good story.
  • I want to write stories for other people who also haven’t been able to find what they want.
  • I want to make people think, to smile, and even for a small moment feel as if the world were a better place.
  • I want to get better and better at my craft with each piece of writing.
  • (honesty time) I still harbor a secret (no longer secret) fantasy of becoming rich and famous. πŸ™‚

Your goals might be similar, or they might be radically different. Is your goal to hit bestseller lists? Get accepted by a top six New York publishing house? To earn a certain amount of money per month or year? To publish a certain number of books within a certain time frame?

There is no wrong goal (unless it’s to rob a bank). The only wrong goal is the goal that doesn’t work for you. For me, to be named as the best new erotica writer of 2013 is probably not the most realistic goal. For one thing, I don’t write sex scenes. πŸ˜€ Hoping to sell ten million copies of your first book is probably not realistic, either.

What will make writing and publishing worthwhile for you? What do you hope to achieve?

Clear out the distractions.

Paradoxically, over-focusing on your goals can put so much pressure on you that you lose sight of what brought you to writing in the first place. One of my favorite scenes in Editorial Board is when editor Rachel forces author Spring to look deep within herself for what makes Spring an author. (If you want to know more about my philosophy on writing, you may want to read this book. Formerly writer-blocked Spring’s re-discovery of her identity as an author is the heart of the story.) Spring remembers a scene so simple, so ordinary, and so small that she wouldn’t have noticed it in an everyday setting: bringing her mother dandelions. That tiny image of dandelions centers Spring, brings her back into touch with herself, and frees her to begin writing again.

Not all of us are lucky enough to have a Rachel to help us in the process, but we still can practice small moments of silence to remember who we are.

Hold onto the joy.

After the initial elation of becoming an author wears off, the work can quickly feel like drudgery. Sending your poor, neglected book out for review after review, only to receive zero or negative responses. Bothering your poor, overworked friends in the hope that they will help to promote your book. Appearing on endless social media circuits giving the same 30-second elevator pitch to bored strangers. Endless revisions, fights with your editor, gnashing of teeth over the cover art and blurb and formatting. Did I mention endless revisions? Lighting the Way, the second of the Kat and Natalie books, will be published on June 6th. I wrote the book in just under two weeks; I’ve been editing and revising for eight months.

As I mentioned last week, author burn-out is a serious risk for all of us who work in labor-intensive jobs. I work on multiple projects at multiple jobs at once, and the workdays are long. I can’t remember the last time I took an entire day off from work, but I can remember the last time that the stress and overwork made me ill.

Yet I still consider myself lucky. I’m writing the stories that burn inside of me to be told. I get to connect with people who enjoy the stories I write. I’m surrounded by a community of fellow authors who each offer his or her own wisdom and talents. I am blessed with wonderful readers who enrich my life with your stories, notes, and correspondence.

And most of all? I get to write.

Yesterday, after celebrating a significant milestone in a project that has stretched over endless months, I sat down to write a scene for an upcoming novel. Four hours later, I found myself in a curious writing hangover, half in this world and half out. Consumed by the lives I had created.

After a day like that, I could write for weeks.

Are you looking for how to create your author identity? Relax. You’ll find it.

Just be prepared to be surprised.

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36 thoughts on “Tuesdays with Ana: On Creating an Author Identity

  1. Natasha Knight says:

    I always have to think of Tuesdays with Maury… πŸ™‚ Nice post, Ana. I was talking to a friend this morning about writing and as lovely as it sounds to say ‘I’m an author,’ there’s a lot of hard work that has to go into it. Months and months for a book that takes someone a few days to read. All that aside though, it’s still fun to say I’m an author… πŸ™‚

    I like your point at the end to relax. I believe everything comes in time – or some form of the everything you imagined at least. (Just an aside, be careful what you ask for…) After finishing a project, I used to immediately – I’m talking that very day – get going on my next one. Then I’d wonder why I was getting frustrated when the ideas didn’t flow and I was just tired and grouchy all the time. This point to relax is a big one for me. I’ve now set a mandatory week of goofing off after typing The End on any project. Oh, and a bottle of something with bubbles – that’s the best part. I goof off on Facebook and go shopping and have coffee with a friend (or drink the bubbly stuff) and I make a point of not setting any other expectation for myself for that week. No work – just relax.

    As far as writing goes, I always want to want to do it, you know?

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I debated changing the date of this feature to not have that connection, but the problem is that Tuesday is the perfect day. Ah, well.

      Exactly! We work for ages on a book, and then a few hours after it’s published people start asking for sequels. I guess it is a nice problem to have!

      I have the same problem with not taking a break. I get further behind, and because I am behind I think that I can’t take a break. That becomes a big problem when we never take a break. I don’t know if I could ever take a full week! Wow. But it’s probably a good idea.

      Mmm, champagne. I wish. I did have my very first margarita yesterday, though, to celebrate finishing a project. πŸ™‚

      Finding motivation, for me, is always about centering myself and remembering why I got into this in the first place. It often means giving up things that I wish I could have but aren’t in my master (mistress) plan. It’s disappointing, but then the path is cleared toward where I really wanted to go.

      Like

  2. Joseph McNamara says:

    Thank you Ana for a wonderful insight into your own persona and a look and feel for what an aspiring author may have in front of them. As one who came into this world through personal circumstance it is essays like yours here that give the novice hope in a world that is foreign and a bit impalpable at times.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I’m looking forward to the wonderful writing that you will bring to us later this year, Joseph! Can’t wait for your wonderful insights and lovely writing to be in book form. You may not be published yet, but you are hardly a novice.

      Like

  3. Joelle Casteel says:

    Wonderful article, Ana. it makes me think of the incident with my author shirt the other day at the gaming store. I’m hanging out with my Master and my son after having been too sick to see our friends there for weeks. Not really a friend, more an acquaintance, comes up to watch the game that my Master is playing with another guy. The acquaintance overhears me joking with Master about my tshirt; he looks and starts reading aloud. Reads my blog url, mispronounces my name, then he gets to “BDSM erotic romance author” and he goes “Oh!!” Because as an author, heck even as a person, I’m THAT person, that person who fearlessly talks about the sex I write, the sex I have, and is always over the top (of conventionality)

    Like

      • Joelle Casteel says:

        lol, mostly I think it’s a “ha! My mom writes porn! I can tease her about 50 Shades!” Almost like I’ve surpassed some “Cool mom cred” or something πŸ˜€ yeah, mostly I hear about 50 Shades. His favorite is the “50 Shades of Chicken” cookbook he found at Target and the obnoxious “Laters, Baby” tshirts.

        Like

  4. katherinedeane says:

    Thanks so much for sharing with us, Ana.
    I am one of the aspiring authors still searching for my voice, my goals, etc…
    And being, slightly hyper active (along with a few focus issues πŸ™‚ ), I am finding that all of this changes frequently for me. I guess that means I have not found my true niche yet, and probably need to keep searching.
    But this is fun.
    I am enjoying it immensely, and finding a lot of cathartic release in writing, whether it be scene playing, blogging, bantering on fb. It’s all writing, and is giving me a whole new world to experience!

    Thanks for your insights, and for supporting the authors and wannabes.
    hugs πŸ™‚

    Like

  5. Maren Smith says:

    Wonderful article, Ana! I occasionally get emails from other authors, some of them asking these very questions. Last night, for the first time, I supplied one with your blog’s address. You’ve done such a wonderful job here.

    Katerine Deane, the inner search for who we are as a writers should be an ever-changing concept, one that becomes a little more solidified and refined with every new book we write. May the Muse never fall silent, the pen never dry up, the printer never run out of ink–or if all three of those things happen to you as they’ve just done to me, may the local Sonic never run out of hot fudge, because I can already tell it’s going to be one of those days! πŸ˜€

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Oh Maren, how sweet and thoughtful! Thank you. I’d love to hear from authors who get asked questions. I am learning all of this stuff myself, and it’s heartening to find out that others are dealing with the same questions. All we can do is take small steps toward finding out our identity as an author, right/

      Poor Maren. I hope that your hot fudge was a much-deserved comfort on a frustrating day.

      Like

  6. Cara Bristol says:

    Writing is like other careers in that some people luck into the right one at the onset, while others go through a period of discovery before finding what they want to do when they grow up. As an author you might start in one genre and end up in another. You learn to compromise, and when to dig in and hold your ground. You balance creativity and business. You learn to believe in yourself when other people don’t appreciate what you’re writing or when you can’t tell people what you’re writing. When your belief slips little, you keep writing. Most days it’s a joy; some days it’s not, but that only makes you appreciate it all the more.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      As I travel further along this road, I find more and more things to be thankful for. What might seem easy (from the outside) may not be as easy in practice, and vice versa. Lately, I’m particularly struck by the variety of talents and gifts that we all bring to the table.

      I like your comment about believing in ourselves despite lack of outside recognition. That’s where our greatest strength and creativity come from.

      Like

  7. Rollin Hand says:

    “I never found a story that completely satisfied me, so I wanted to write a book that would fulfill my own needs for a good story.”

    That describes my initial motivation to a T. Great article, Ana. And yes, later I wrote to entertain, but initially it was the frustration of not being able to find what I wanted in a story. I found myself saying ‘no, no, it should be like THIS’. So I wrote my own.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Not all of our stories will appeal to all of our readers, but that’s okay. We all write different types of stories, and it’s that breadth of available books that makes epublishing such a wonderful age. No matter what we write, we should write it well.

      Like

  8. Celeste Jones says:

    In the midst of all you have going on, you still have the ability to write thoughtful and heartfelt posts. Thank you.

    I think this post also goes along wonderfully with your post from last week about comparisons and burn out. It’s so important for all of us to remember who you are and who you want to be as a writer, but it’s easy to get sidetracked.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I love the discussions that these posts generate, so it’s really a self-serving endeavor. πŸ˜€ I agree that remembering who we are is how to deal with burn-out. If we are absolutely in tune with who we are and who we want to be, it’s a lot easier to withstand the stress and drudgery of our jobs. πŸ˜€

      Like

  9. PK says:

    You have so much good stuff here Ana. I need to read it again and again and work on all that you have said. I do want to be a writer when I grow up. Being published would be a hoot for sure, but regardless I love the writing itself. I’m lucky that I have the joy of it and that there is a possibility it could even get better.

    Thanks,
    PK

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Now, PK, be honest. You don’t really want to grow up. πŸ˜€ Some of the simplest life lessons are the most difficult ones to put into practice. I write these posts because they are good for me, too. πŸ™‚

      Like

  10. Minelle says:

    See I am glad I just do this for fun…. Actually I can relate since this is how I feel with my art. When I am creating I am in a zone. Once I awaken I feel a sense of satisfaction…and exhaustion.
    You are good girl! Thanks for making me think.

    Like

  11. pao says:

    I agree with Minelle and you that it’s applicable to anything one is passionate about. I think if you’re true to what you do and are passionate about it, it’ll infect other people and carry you through.

    Robbing a bank is not a right goal? What if the loot was distributed to the needy?

    Like

  12. Roz says:

    Such wonderful advice Ana, and also a great insight into your journey as an author. I too liked your point about holding onto the joy.

    A lot of this can be applied to other aspects of our life or other goals we may have as well so thank you for sharing this.

    Hugs,
    Roz

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Absolutely. All of us participate in creating something beautiful in one way or another–whether that’s something that may not seem beautiful to other people (like balancing a checkbook or performing surgery). And the part about goals is certainly applicable to most of us. πŸ™‚

      Like

  13. Alta Hensley says:

    I still feel like a fraud when I say that I’m an author. Like it isn’t true. I haven’t wrapped my head around that term yet. I know I am…it just feels weird to say.

    Like

  14. Sherilyn says:

    Wow, Ana, that was some post! I want to address so many points in it! Thank you for the reminder of Mr. Rogers (he was never on most of the places I live, but he was there for my kids) and his powerful commitment to children.

    About this “author” thing. I spent 25 years writing things like procedure guides, user’s manuals, training guides, and online help. I wrote programming specifications for systems that never happened. I managed a technical publications department for a network security company. I know just about everything needed to produce print books (still learning about ebooks). When I mention that I’m a writer, what people want to know is “Aren’t you ever going to write a real book?”

    All that said, I struggle like any other beginner when it comes to writing fiction. Since my focus was always writing well and producing readable books that people’s jobs easier, I have this nasty little voice that says fiction is just another type of writing.

    It’s not. The people and stories in my head have to be real when they hit the page. Computers may be stupid and contrary, but they are far easier to write about than people! So we’ll see. Maybe I can make this leap and maybe that chasm is too wide. We’ll see.

    Thanks again, Ana, for creating a place like this. I love everyone I’m coming to know here and I’m discovering more facets of me. Chocolates (or comparable treats for those who don’t indulge) for all of us!

    Like

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