A writer’s persona communicates to their audience who they are. It’s not only a chance to give writing a little personality, it is also an opportunity for writers to connect to readers by allowing them to imagine the person who wrote the text they’re now reading (or the character narrating that text). A writer’s persona doesn’t need to encompass every single aspect of who they are as a person—rather, it’s a way of presenting a coherent identity to their readers through their language.
—Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab
Look at it this way: your author persona is who you are on the page, how you connect with your reader, and how you help or inform or engage with people regarding your ideas. It should mesh with your goals for your book, especially your professional goals.
Let me give you some examples of common personas you’ll see in nonfiction. Your persona might be primarily like one of these, but with elements of others.
Guru: the wise sage, like Steven Covey or Jack Canfield
Coach: the in-the-trenches advisor, like Susan Cain (Quiet) or Tim Ferris
Explorer: the guide to new ways of thinking or seeing the world, like Cheryl Strayed in Wild
Cheerleader: the encouraging and confidence-building supporter, like Jen Sinceros in You Are a Badass
Researcher: the author who reveals important ideas and approaches through science, often their own research: think Brené Brown, Daniel Pink, and Amy Cuddy
Reporter: the journalist who shares others’ stories and research, like Malcolm Gladwell
Inciter: the motivator, especially focused on important topics and calls to action, like Gloria Steinem and Greta Thunberg
Drill Sergeant: the no-nonsense kick-in-the-pants instructor, like Dr. Phil or Dave Ramsey
Knowing the nature of your persona will help you write your nonfiction book. It will influence how you engage your audience, guide the type of content you’ll include, drive how you’ll tell stories and the kinds of stories you’ll tell, and determine how much you will reveal about yourself.
If you’re unsure how to define your own unique persona, note down your answers to these questions:
How do you typically share your ideas with people?
What is the source of your expertise?
Complete this statement: “I’m sharing this with you as someone who…”
What do your readers expect or want from you?
How do you want your readers to see you, and respond to you?
Why are you the right person to write this book?
Now based on your notes, describe your persona in 2-3 sentences.
This article is adapted from one of the lessons in my course (with co-presenter Lari Bishop) How to Write a Successful Nonfiction Book.
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