First off, thank you so much to Tina for inviting me to be a part of Seekerville! I’ve been voraciously reading many of your past posts and have found the site to be an outstanding resource for anyone with a love of writing.
Today I’m here to talk about Author Branding, which is a real passion of mine. So, I’ll spend just a bit of time on the overview of what Branding is, then jump right into how you can make YOUR Author Brand work for you.
And for those of you who don’t know me, a quick caveat: While I get very excited about Branding, I want to emphasize that the best part of the Branding process is that it should be FUN. The only reason to have a Brand is to engage your audience, and since YOU are your most important audience to start, you need to be engaged from the beginning. So this is not an all-serious-all-the-time, get-your-pencils-and-notebooks-out-and-buckle-down kind of experience. Give yourself the freedom to enjoy the process!
So, what is a Personal Brand…and an Author Brand?
I define an individual's “Personal Brand” as a brief, memorable statement of yourself that identifies you to your audience. This can be a two-to-three word description, or a saying or slogan that presents you uniquely to the world. For those of you who don’t think you already have a Brand—I’m here to tell you that this is not the case! If you interact memorably with any audience, whether it’s your family, your business peers, your agent or editor or your readers, you have a Brand: it’s simply the two or three words that jump to their minds when they think of you.
Need an example? For those of you who watch “American Idol”, there was a certain performer a few weeks ago who auditioned in swimwear. If two words sprang to mind when you thought of this performer, bingo: You have her Brand. Now, we can spend a LOT of time arguing about whether or not this singer’s Brand choice was a smart one for her, but bottom line… if you’re watching the show at all, you probably remember this particular girl. Which means her Branding effort worked, at least to get her noticed.
For Authors and Writers, our Branding process doesn’t generally involve swimwear (although it could!) Instead, we Brand ourselves in two ways, with our:
Industry Brand (how we present ourselves to the publishing world, industry peers, and our readers) and our
Writing Brand (how we present our work to the publishing world, industry peers and our readers). Writing Brands usually answer the question, “So, what do you write?” and often include a slogan.
In both cases, you want to ensure that your Brand is positive, engaging and memorable.
For a writing-related example, let’s consider the Brand of fictional author Madeleine Midnight, whom I use in my classes. Madeleine writes Vampire Chick Lit, and she’s known to throughout the publishing industry as someone who presents herself in a sophisticated, elegant manner—and that she always gets the job done. So, what’s her Author Brand? Let’s break it down.
Based only on what I’ve said above, we can safely assume Madeleine’s Industry Brand (which is all about Madeleine as a person) might be “Sharp, Elegant Professional.” As for her Writing Brand (which is all about Madeleine’s work) we could go with “Vampire Chick-Lit” which is snappy on its own. Or, if Madeleine wanted to get a bit more intense, we could amp it up to: “Darkly Humorous, Stylish Fiction for the Vampire Hunter in All of Us”. EITHER approach works, it all depends on how Madeleine wants to convey herself to her audience. And as for Madeleine’s slogan, she has a fondness for: “Wine, Candlelight… and a Well Done Stake.”
So, to recap the Brands for Madeleine Midnight
Industry Brand: “Sharp, Elegant Professional” Writing Brand: “Vampire Chick-Lit” OR “Darkly Humorous, Stylish Fiction for the Vampire Hunter in All of Us”
Slogan: “Wine, Candlelight… And a Well-Done Stake.”
Get the idea? Now… Think about your own Brand, and consider ways you can make it really sparkle!
Making the Most of your Author Brand
Once you’ve created an Industry Brand and Writing Brand for yourself, how can you express it to your best advantage? The following is just a brief list of Branding Opportunities, broken down by Brand type:
Your Personal Appearance/Demeanor at…
- Conferences or other Industry Social Events
- Pitch Meetings with your Agent/Editor
- Monthly Meetings with your chapter
- Volunteer Activities
Your Online Demeanor in…
- Blogs (I could spend HOURS on just this topic)
- Online Yahoo! Groups
- Online Classes
- Your Website (via your author photo) or Blogsite
- Your MySpace or other social networking page
- Your STORY (Your work is ALWAYS the most important part of your Writing Brand!)
- Your Website
- Your Pitch Materials (including your Blurb, your Query Letter, your Business Card if you have one, etc.)
- Your Promo Materials (if you’re published)
- Your MySpace/social networking page or Blogsite to the extent that it focuses on your Writing
- Your In-Person Pitch—in other words, how well can you define and describe your story? This is part of your Writing Brand!
For example, if you’re just starting the process of writing your first book—you don’t need a website. However, if you are actively marketing and promoting your work, a website can be very useful. This does not mean it must be EXPENSIVE, however. You can create your site yourself, or use a template provider, or seek the services of a web designer. You can even use a MySpace page to start if you choose. But in today’s wired world, some sort of web presence is becoming the norm, rather than the exception, for actively marketing writers.
When can your Author Brand come in handy?
Still on the fence about whether or not you want to take the time to create a standout Author Brand? In the past several months I’ve fielded questions on several Black-Belt Branding Situations… Here’s just one:
Situation X: What if I get a writing opportunities outside of my Brand, i.e., “Hey, how about dashing off a Vampire historical novella for me?”
In the publishing industry, the game is to stay published—with new work coming out on a consistent and meaningful basis. Therefore, it’s extraordinarily difficult to turn down writing opportunities even when they come out of left field. But what if you get an offer to do something that is completely off-Brand for you?
Generally speaking, it’s too facile to say “don’t do it—it’s not your Brand” without first exploring the possibility. There are of course some offers that are clean cut “no’s” – an erotica writer getting the chance to write inspirational fiction under the same name?? NO. But in just about every other case, your options are more flexible than you may realize. After all, you’re a professional writer—you’re paid to make new ideas work.
That said, it’s smart to make sure your Brand remains consistent in your new venture. Here’s how:
1. Consider your Brand first and foremost. What are the key elements of it? What makes you different or sets you apart? If you write gritty, detailed fiction with an edge of humor, can you do that as well within the dictates of the anthology or new writing opportunity?
2. Consider the writing opportunity next. Is this a good opportunity for you to work with other authors, bring in a new audience, meet new publishing professionals? Chances are, it is. But it is still an extension of your Brand, so consider the opportunity carefully. Generally speaking, you should not extend your Brand downward – for example, electing to do a self-published venture with a group of new writers, writing under the same pen name you use for your multi-published self. If the writing opportunity is a lateral move into a new genre with writers you respect OR if it’s a step up in either a new genre or your existing one, however, go after it.
This one seems obvious, but you may be surprised at the opportunities you’ll face that are downwardly mobile. Sometimes, these do make sense to do. For example, you may choose to work with writers who are not as far along as you to help them—and that is definitely a good karma decision. However, make sure that you are also spending significant time working on opportunities that will maintain and further your career, to keep things balanced.
3. If you make the preliminary decision to move forward, your next step is to consider how to incorporate the new work into your overall Brand/promotions. This means adapting/updating your site, potentially creating marketing materials, and highlighting the new project in your media kit. If you feel squidgy about this, like you’re not certain you *want* to incorporate this Brand extension, you may want to reconsider the project. You should be proud of all the work you do under your Brand name—even before you start writing word one.
4. If you’re still gung-ho about it after the first 3 steps, move forward with confidence and really make this fresh incarnation of your Brand work for you!
This is just one example, but bottom line: If you create an Author Brand that you love, it will not only help you present your work effectively—it can help you make decisions about your Writing Career that will have far-reaching impact on your work and success.
Questions, any Questions???
I thoroughly enjoy everything about Branding, so if you have any questions or would like additional information, ask away!
Jenn Stark brings a practical, accessible approach to Personal Branding to help authors at every level present themselves for maximum impact. A former vice president of marketing and communications with sixteen years' experience and a published freelance business writer, Jenn is currently the immediate past president of the Ohio Valley Romance Writers of America, and has also served as the chapter's publicity director, promoting chapter and author events. She is an invited speaker and instructor on Personal Branding and public relations topics, and has worked with several authors one-on-one to help develop their Personal Brands and publicity materials. Her articles on Personal Branding have been featured in the newsletters and online loops of more than 30 writing chapters in the U.S., Canada and Australia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org