talking about branding again because it’s an area most writers struggle
with. Last month an e-mail loop I’m part of talked about branding, and
it reminded me how confusing the issue is for many of us.
Frequency—hearing a message
again and again till it’s burned into your brain—turns thoughts into
(See my column from last month on Dr. Seuss’s brilliant treatise on
So even if you’ve heard me or
others talk multiple times about branding, let’s do the ol’ review to
make sure we’ve got it clear in our craniums:
• Your brand is who you are
• Your brand is who people think you are
• Your brand is your promise to them
• You must know what your brand is before you get published (and why
some editors and agents disagree with this)
• How to violate your brand (and how not to)
Who You Are
Have friends told you they’re going to create a brand for themselves?
Impossible. It can’t be done. Your brand is already created. It’s who
you already are, and unless you’re going for that whole multiple
personality thing, you can’t change your brand.
Let me put it in writing terms:
Voice is best expressed as our personality on the page. Each of us has
an individual personality—agents and editors want to see that
personality or voice come across in our writing. Should we try to
create a new personality for ourselves and attempt to express it on the
page? Of course not. Our job is to learn to express the unique
personality we already have.
Same thing with brand.
Establishing your brand is taking the interesting aspects of who you
are already and promoting those elements
Last spring I talked with a
multimillion-selling author who has done an exceptional job of branding
himself. I knew he had some marketing in his background, so I figured
he’d planned his brand precisely. I told him what I thought his brand
was and how smart it was to brand himself in the way he has.
His response was interesting.
“You know, I didn’t set out to brand myself that way—it just happened.
I’ve just been exactly who I am.” This author had been promoting his
fascinating personality (and we all have fascinating personalities) all
along simply by being willing to be himself in public.
(The greatest problem in
branding ourselves is not that we’re not fascinating; it’s being
willing to risk being our true, strange, wonderful selves in public
instead of letting peer pressure mold us into the way we think we’re
supposed to be—which is usually mundane and boring.)
Your Brand Is Who
Others Think You Are
You can control what elements of yourself you promote, but you can’t
control your brand. Why? Because your brand is not what you say it is;
it’s what others say it is.
Think about Paul McCartney.
Before you read any farther, consider what came into your mind when you
read his name. For
most of us, what popped into our brain's first was an image of Paul as
member of the Beatles, even though the Beatles broke up forty-one years
ago! Paul might say, “No, mate. I’m a painter (did you know that?), and
I’m a solo artist now.” But if most people think of him as an
ex-Beatle, then he’s an ex-Beatle first; a member of Wings, a solo
artist, and a painter second.
(This also illustrates how
difficult it is to change your brand once you’ve established
it—something we’ll talk about next month.)
What comes to mind when you
think Mercedes-Benz? Most people think luxury car. Did you know
Mercedes-Benz spent millions of dollars promoting its cars as safe? Of
course you don’t. No one remembers that campaign. Why? The public
already thought of them as a luxury car company. It didn’t matter if
told the public they were something else, the public had
decided luxury is Mercedes-Benz’s identity, not safety. (Plus they
violated the marketing principle of trying to brand themselves in a
position someone already owned. Volvo=safety, not Mercedes-Benz.)
Ready to do some work?
Wondering what the interesting, fascinating things about you are? Ask
family. Ask close friends. Jot down the answers and you’ll see a
pattern forming. Is it your underwater basket weaving? Your
papier-mache jewelry collection? Your love of extreme sports? Your
incredible comic timing? Your love of the outdoors?
A high-level executive friend of
mine fills his office with superhero posters and figurines. Does this
make him interesting? Yes! Worth promoting? Absolutely!
Discovering What Others
Think of You—Knowing Your Position in Readers’ Minds
Again, ask close friends and family, “What are my strengths? If you
were going to describe me to someone who doesn’t know me, what would
If you’re published you can ask
friends and family as well as readers. Don’t ask, “What kind of fiction
do I write?” That’s genre. I’m talking about brand. Ask, “What do you
think of when you think of me? What words or emotions come to mind when
you think of my books? What word or phrase do you think of when you
close the last page on one of my novels?”
The answers will be gold, and it
will give you direction on what to talk about and promote on Facebook,
Twitter, blogs, interviews, etc.
Whoops, we’re out of time, boys
and girls. So next month we’ll:
• Explain how your brand is a
promise you’ve made to the public
• Why it’s critical you know your brand before you get published (and
why some editors and agents disagree with this)
• How to keep from violating your brand—and how it can kill your career
if you do
And yes, if you want to shoot an
e-mail and say what you think of me, that’d be cool. It’s so tough for
me to read the label when I’m standing inside the bottle.