Over the past three decades, I’ve helped a number of writers reach the point where they’ve become international bestsellers, and I’ve spotted a trend. Most bestsellers attract an audience in part because they are charismatic. But what does charismatic mean?
Some people think that in order to be charismatic you need to be physically beautiful and that certainly won’t hurt. But most charismatic people don’t seem to possess any supernatural beauty.
Instead, they’ve got a combination of character traits that invite us to follow them.
Here’s how I define a charismatic author:
Charismatic authors show a rare degree of competence.
Years ago when I was asked by the managing editor of Scholastic to help pick a book to push big for the coming year, I picked a little novel called Harry Potter. I won’t go into all of the reasons why I thought it would be a bestseller, but there was an awful lot to like for a first-time author. In much the same way, when I saw Brandon Sanderson’s first assignment in my writing class at BYU, I told him that I’d give him a cover quote for the novel. When looking at Stephenie Meyer’s assignments a couple of years later, I recognized that she had a wonderful voice as a writer and thought, “If this young woman ever falls in love with a story that she wants to tell, she could be dangerous.” Immediately, all three authors (and many more that I’ve taught), commanded my respect.
Charismatic authors are not afraid to show their vulnerable side.
I’ve found that as talented as they are, the authors that are most charismatic are also a bit vulnerable, and they’re not afraid to show that side of their personality. I remember sitting next to Shannon Hale at her first panel at a convention and saw that she was so nervous, she was trembling. I asked if she was okay, and she said, “I’m afraid that they’ll know that I’m not a real writer. I’ve only got one book.” So I bought her book, read a few pages, and assured her, “You’re a real writer.” It didn’t surprise me when her publisher began pushing her on national television a year later.
Vulnerable authors recognize that there is always more to learn, and they’ll listen to others and thoughtfully consider their questions and opinions. So you get a person like Kevin J. Anderson, who is obviously brilliant, who will always listen to other writers and treat them with dignity. Vulnerable authors never come off as “know-it-alls.” No matter how many books they sell, they tend to engage with each new reader and at least try to let that reader know that they’re important.
A charismatic author is confident in his or her opinions.
A charismatic author is confident in their abilities that they’re willing to share, but is also perfectly willing to listen to others—and even change his or her mind.
A charismatic author is friendly.
He remembers to smile, to be outgoing, to joke, to laugh at himself. When you’re talking in front of a large group—say a thousand school children or a million viewers on television, it can sometimes be tough to be as casual as you would be among friends. After all, you may be exhausted, worried, or self-conscious, but it’s a skill that you constantly work at to develop.
You, of course, may have your own list of attributes that you want to consider, but you should know that with each author, their abilities will vary. I know authors who are so talented, for example, they don’t worry about being friendly. I know others whose smiles and energy are so captivating, that no one worries about whether they’re the most talented critters on the planet.
So find your own balance, and may you succeed beyond your wildest dreams!