Writers are often told they need to develop a platform and establish a brand. Many writers wonder what that means: Why would it be up to them to define their brand? Why is it their job to worry about marketing, branding, networking, and public relations? They merely want to spend their time and resources on pursuing their craft and perfecting their art.
But given today’s competitive market, a modern author must become a brand to succeed in the long term. Here’s how to go about branding yourself while staying true to your writing.
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What exactly is a brand?
A brand is your image, persona, voice, writing style, and backstory. It is how others perceive you and how you choose to project yourself. Plenty of critics will seek to define who you are, but you get the first crack at it. Determine how you want others to see you and your body of work, and then filter all of your future activities and initiatives through the lens of that brand.
How do you express your brand?
Your brand shows up in big and little ways, from website design to social media content to physical appearance. Be consistent. Your blog content should be in line with your books, your public appearances, even how your email signature appears. Think of your brand as a string of colors, words, sounds, and images that should always match each other.
Isn’t branding just for companies?
You are a company. Your writing career will span decades, and you will build up a body of work. These writings become your storefront, your company. You may not become as well known as Amazon, Coca-Cola, Nike, or Delta, but even at the individual entrepreneur level, you need a tagline, a logo, and a certain style that distinguishes you. You are never too small to have a brand.
Can branding hurt me?
When your writing and branding synergize, it’s a beautiful thing, but when writers try to stretch who they’d like to be from who they really are, they come off as lacking depth or believability. Branding has to ring true to who you are. You can’t have a lilting, lyrical style and say you are gritty. You can’t write thrillers and say you are a poet. You can’t be 5-foot-4 and say you are a tall man.
How do you rebrand yourself?
You are not stuck with a brand for life, but the longer you stay with a brand that you’ve developed, the harder it is to change brands. Some changes can be subtle or natural evolutions over time. But if you switch genres or styles dramatically, it becomes much more challenging. Consider creating a brand that allows for flexibility. For instance, if you write in multiple genres, use language and imagery that links you to both areas so you don’t pigeonhole yourself.
How do you define your brand?
If you had to describe your writing style, what would you say? In essence, what makes your writing unique, better, or special? If you had to pick your writing out of eight other samples, could you? Write out a 50-75 word description of your writing, and use this synopsis to steer your branding decisions.
What’s your story?
No, not what your book is about, but what are you about? How do you describe you, the person, in a way that puts your writing into context? How do you summarize your life’s accomplishments, experiences, personal challenges, professional victories, and personality or looks? Think of yourself as a superhero: How did you become Batman – and what special skills, talents, or abilities do you possess?
What should your brand consist of?
In a nutshell, your brand consists of:
- Media appearances
- Social media
- Author website
- Business cards/stationery
- Published writing (both books and other media)
- Public speaking appearances
- Voice and appearance
- Business cards and stationery
Business cards are still needed and useful in the digital era. I can’t tell you how many authors lack or run out of them. These cards not only make it easy to give contact information to people, they allow you to highlight a site or link, share your photo, and list a tagline that is catchy. Even the feel or look of the card goes a long way to express your brand. Everything you give others says something about you.
When it comes to the news media, the higher the number of interviews, book reviews, and stories about yourself you can net, the better. The quality of the media outlet and the exposure level are just as important as the quantity of your coverage. How you come across or project yourself in these appearances will set the tone for how others view you. Start locally and expand regionally and nationally. Seek out opportunities to write articles for established publications on topics related to your books and your brand.
Public speaking can come in many forms, from bookstore signings and library presentations to writer conferences, commercial events, or appearances at nonprofits, churches, and schools. You use these appearances to sell books and build a portfolio so you can eventually approach paid speakers bureaus. How you represent yourself at these events will help define your public image.
Your social branding starts with having a presence on the main platforms, including Facebook Twitter, and YouTube. Pinterest or Instagram may also be right for you if your books are visual, like a cookbook, travel guide, or beauty and fitness handbook. LinkedIn is good for professional networking. Having your own blog or podcast or video channel allows you a controlled space to shape how others see you. Guest-posting on others’ blogs can also help give your brand a solid boost.
Networking is vital to any professional, but it’s especially important for writers. The more people you know, the more opportunities can present themselves to you. Networking can be done anywhere, anytime. All you need is to introduce yourself to someone or to ask acquaintances to introduce you to others. Networking requires you to take good notes on people, to stay in touch without constantly asking for something, to volunteer to help others, and to be valuable to others.
Your website is your home base. I don’t care what anyone says: You need a website. Facebook is not enough. A blog is not enough. You have to have a place that is about you and will be around forever. It’s your chance to dictate your image, based on the videos, photos, audio, and written content that you decide to place on your site. This is where you get to say – and show – who you really are.
Getting content published in any medium – newsletters, newspapers, magazines, blogs, professional journals, industry publications, and books – increases your profile and builds your media resume. Look to fit your writing into a category or theme that matches your overall brand
Voice and appearance
Lastly, your brand is not just what you do or write, but what you say and look like. Branding is not a beauty contest, but people do observe your demeanor, voice, age, sex, race, religion, clothes, vocabulary, attractiveness, and lots of things that help them formulate an impression of you. Your ethics, your relationships, your finances – all of that could feed into your brand. Even your handshake says something about your brand.
You don’t have to be perfect, and you can’t please everyone. In fact, a great brand may only need to impress a small percentage of the population. Be who you really are, and be the best at it, and then let others come to realize your value and appeal.
Brian Feinblum has served as a book editor, publicist, and marketer since 1989. A published author, he has been the chief marketing officer for Media Connect, one of America’s largest book promoters, for the past 17 years. Find him at BookMarketingBuzzblog.blogspot.com or on Twitter @theprexpert.