I guess I got ahead of myself.
I’ve been talking about author branding, but I didn’t describe or define it. And in this world of author branding, you may be wondering, “Uh…what’s an ‘author brand’?”
Sorry to leave you full of questions. Like:
- Is it the logo you design and the colors you choose for your website?
- Is it the font you use for your name?
- Is it the banner image you use on Facebook or the photo that shows up in Gravatar?
- Is it the art on your book cover?
- Is an author brand more about voice and style?
- Is it tied to the subject matter you’re known for? The topics you tackle?
- Is your brand revealed in the way you manage your Instagram feed and select images for your blog?
Maybe all this talk of “brand” sickens you. “Seriously?” you’re thinking, “Brands are for jeans and perfume and hotdogs, not writers!” Thinking of yourself as a brand feels slick, commercial, and product-y. “Brand” sounds like marketing manipulation or sales-speak.
“I’m a Writer, Not a Brand!”
“I’m not a brand!” you’re shouting. “I’m a person! A writer! An artist!”
And of course if you’re shouting that, you’re right—absolutely right. We are not neon signs to flick on and flash in a window or a color palette and typography design hoping to entice interest.
We are people—people who love words.
We tell stories. We pour out our hearts and hold out hope to the world. We’re essayists, memoirists, novelists, poets. We are artists.
(But I Would Love Readers to Read My Work)
And yet, if we seek publication, we’re trying to draw interest. If we’re doing more than write in a journal, we must be hoping to find readers for our articles, our poetry, our short stories, our books.
If we write for the public, we want to impact people. If we’re honest, we’d love readers to read our work, wouldn’t we?
Readers Default to “Brands”
And readers face a lot of choices. When a person shells out money for a book or sinks time into reading an article, she wants to be pretty sure it’s worth it. So she’s choosy.
Sure, she’ll read someone new, especially on a friend’s recommendation, but she tends to gravitate to the writers she has come to know, like, and trust. She turns to those writers who turn out content that consistently addresses her need or lifts her up or makes her think or laugh or sigh. She reads the writers she knows will help meet her need.
She probably doesn’t think of it this way, but she turns to author brands.
A Brand Is a Promise
So that’s a way to think of brands and writers. How can we become that trusted writer who consistently addresses a reader’s needs or lifts her up or makes her think or laugh or sigh?
How can we offer an unspoken, informal promise of sorts, that when a reader finds us and reads our words, he will get to know us and we’ll deliver content in the same general vein.
If, for example, I don’t use four-letter words in my content then suddenly spew a stream of them unexpectedly, I broke my “promise,” so to speak, and went off brand. I blindsided my readers who had come to trust my tone and turn up my podcast or read aloud my articles within earshot of their conservative grandmother or grade school kids.
A Brand Accumulates, Forms, and Strengthens Over Time
Whether intentional or random, everything we write and send out—from social media updates to podcast episodes—is leaving people with an impression about who we are and what we’re like.
Over time, one blog post, magazine article, short story, or poem at a time, you’re becoming known for something. Over time, you gain visibility. And over time, your brand is forming and strengthening into something. A group or groups of people are beginning to recognize you.
You can see how it does involve a lot of different elements, including our subject matter, our tone, and, yes, even the colors on our website, our author photo, the cover art on our book covers, and the style of our logo.
What Comes to a Reader’s Mind
One way to figure out what “brand” you are (or are becoming) is to ask people currently reading your work what they think of when they think of you and see or hear your name.
Let’s try it with writers you’re probably familiar with.
When I mention Stephen King, what comes to mind? For me, creepy horror novels.
James Patterson? Thrillers…lots and lots and lots of thrillers.
John Grisham? Legal thrillers.
J. K. Rowling? Wizardry fantasy stuff.
Wendell Berry? Let’s see. He’s an essayist, poet, and novelist writing across genres, so I think more of his topics related to environmental issues, rural and small town values, and the idea of “place.”
Ann Kroeker? She’s a writing coach. Curious, creative, and productive. Well, I hope that’s what comes to your mind for me.
Veering Off Brand
Let’s say I continue as a writing coach, so that remains the overall “brand” that comes to mind when you hear my name, but suddenly I shift my tone to sound more like a Bobby Knight kind of coach. You read an article or hear me on a podcast shaming and scolding writers for not following through, for being lazy procrastinators. I speak at a conference and suddenly hurl a chair across the room and shout, “Why aren’t you following through??”
You’d be shocked.
I’d be off “brand.” I’d be inconsistent. “That’s not Ann,” you’d think…at least I hope you’d think that. My brand is a writing coach with a positive tone who offers advice in an encouraging voice to help you make progress and achieve goals.
When you can figure out what would feel off brand about your own writing—that is, you discover what your brand isn’t—you’re on your way to defining and refining what your brand is.
That’s when the tangible things like color choices and typography associated with a logo or book cover are naturally narrowed.
The other day I clicked through to Brené Brown’s website and saw a splash of yellow. That felt right.
Wendell Berry’s website, which is no longer accessible, was simple. It wouldn’t make sense for a man who writes of simple times and farm life to end up with a slick and flashy website peppered with pop-up forms and highly produced videos filmed in a modern studio.
Think of other authors—even lesser known writers—and you’ll probably be able to summarize what they’re known for. Even if they didn’t intentionally set out to create a so-called author brand, they have one. They are one.
You and Your Brand
Now think of yourself. Talk to others who know you and your work. Don’t be scared by their responses—be curious. Don’t you wonder how they see you? Don’t you want to know how you’re perceived and summarize what you’re known for? Ask them if you’ve written something that felt “off brand” and how it felt to them.
Even if you didn’t intentionally set out to create an author brand, one is emerging and forming. Like it or not, if I’m writing for publication and sharing my work with the world, I am a brand. So are you.
Be aware and be deliberate. Steer your writing—and consequently your brand—toward an audience and a look and a feel and a tone and topics with the choices you make as you write and share and design your work.
What Is an Author Brand, Really?
And of course, in the end, we are people—people who love words. We tell stories. We pour out our hearts and hold out hope to the world. We may be a brand, but that’s because of our work as essayists, memoirists, novelists, poets.
We are brands, yes, but that’s because we’re writers who love to reach readers.
- Posts about Author Brand
- Brené Brown’s website
- You Can Impact Readers Right Now Through Social Media (Ep 57)
- Now Is the Time to Start Building Your Platform (Ep 85)
- Ann’s Patreon account
- All podcast episodes
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