The other day, I was having coffee with Matt Mullin, Manager of Digital Content at Barnes & Noble, and he made an interesting observation. We were discussing writing conferences and he was saying that they are often broken down into tracks: writing and marketing. How to create great work, and how to find an audience for it.
He mentioned that the one thing that connected these two tracks was the value of VOICE.
Voice is an interesting, and sometimes controversial topic. Christina Katz warns that while voice is critical, you want to be wary of creating one “branded” voice that MUST remain consistent throughout your books:
“Do not make the mistake of thinking that a writer’s job is to come up with one trademark voice and serve that voice throughout a career. That’s just ego talking. Beware of branding experts in this regard. That is not the kind of advice that is going to serve your writing career in the short run or the long run.”
So let’s talk about the value of VOICE outside of the books themselves. What is your voice as a writer, as someone building connections with your audience? How does your skill of creating voice in stories relate to crafting the voice of your writing career?
Oh, I know, some of you are already screaming: “DAN! IT’S ALL ABOUT BEING AUTHENTIC! VOICE IS CRAFTING A FALSE FRONT! THAT’S ICKY MARKETING STUFF!”
And I think about that all the time. But why do I tuck in my shirt, ensure my hair isn’t a total mess, why do I not curse out loud when in mixed company? Why do I refrain from constantly talking about my son who just did something really cute? Why do we speak differently when at our jobs – a different tone, pacing, language and interpersonal skills – than when we are with our closest friends at a barbecue?
The truth is that we edit ourselves all the time. We craft the person we WANT to be perceived as. There is no trickery going on here, identity is a fundamentally important part of who we are. Well, it IS who we are! And this is a useful skill to “fit” into a wide range of situations. You adjust, and perhaps you are able to explore the complexity of your personality by acting differently in different situations.
Voice encapsulates so much more than just WHAT you share with your audience. It’s HOW you share it, and as Simon Sinek tells us, WHY you share it.
This voice can be crafted. I am always shocked that we talk so much about the craft of writing, but not the CRAFT of developing and engaging with an audience. It is a craft. Have you ever been a part of an organization and discovered someone who was an inspirational embodiment of it’s values? A subtle leader who was charismatic in all the ways you appreciate? Someone who was so painfully honest that it resonated with you to your core?
I watch a lot of vloggers on YouTube, people who have amassed a following of thousand or even MILLIONS of subscribers, just by talking into a camera about their thoughts. Here is one of my favorites, Charlie McDonnell. This is him telling his 1.5 MILLION subscribers that “yes,” he does indeed have a girlfriend, something he has hidden from them for an entire year:
Now, Charlie is being COMPLETELY authentic. He is himself, and makes a pretty big deal about his own social awkwardness. But, when you watch video after video, you see the subtle ways he has crafted a “Charlie” voice for YouTube, that is likely different than the one you hear sitting around on a couch with friends. The way he cuts/edits the footage removing breaths, the way he moves, the tone in his voice, the pacing, etc. A lot of thought, a lot of takes and edits went into this.
Want to see something even more “authentic,” his girlfriend’s video response:
She is obviously being 100% herself and honest here, but it did take five takes to craft the right kind of honest response. You see the similar talking and editing style as Charlie has in his videos. She admits she got dressed up for the video, and is even wearing perfume. She crafts a voice that honors the relationship she wants with others.
And you know what, people LIKE their voices. Let’s compare Charlie’s “voice” to a YouTube video he shared 5 years ago:
HUGE difference, isn’t there? And I will say this: what I love about voice is that it can EVOLVE, it can be multifaceted, it can represent many sides of you. It should not be restrictive, but it should be considered.