Thursday, January 30, 2014

The public persona dilemma of author branding

Finding time to create and maintain a "brand" is a tedious task. I did it when I started my bookstore, and it was hard then. I had to determine my niche, create a logo and style that matched what products I offered, and draft a marketing plan that outlined my goals. But as a writer, I'm not branding a store that sells books, I'm branding myself and the writing I create. Yet I still have to define what my niche is, what my style is, and what my marketing goals are. Yuck. (This is a long one!)

I read up on how to create an "author brand" and a "writer's platform" and my eyeballs about popped out. It was overwhelming to think I am now a product, and my name is my brand. It nearly gave me a panic attack. This is because I am not, ever been, or most likely will not be an attention seeker. I knew this going into a writing career, and I knew that the goal WAS to get name recognition. But, like most first-time authors I'm sure, there's that tiny ray of hope that "if you write it they will come" and you, the writer, will not have to do much in the way of self-marketing. Unfortunately not all of us can be J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon. Sigh.

So, flipping through my January edition of Writer's Digest, I came across an article "Branding Like a Master," which talked about how writing legends self-branded. It was a great piece and very relevant to my situation. It also forced me to take a REALLY hard look at who I am and who I want the public to see. I grabbed my handy-dandy notebook (come on, you know this...who has little kids??) and started jotting down ideas for my own path to legendary. Ppffth!

  1. Know what your individual writing style says about you, and lean into that.  My whut? I have no idea what my writing style is. I'm certainly not a "lean, hard, athletic" writer like Hemingway was once described. So then what am I? I would like to think that I am witty and engaging, as hopefully evidenced by this blog post. But my style is supposed to be consistent, so can I consistently - and successfully - show the public that I can be witty and engaging?
  2. From
  3. Throw great gatherings.  Now, I love parties. If I had the time and Martha Stewart creativity, I would have a party once a week. But this would be just family and friends. What this article talks about are the soirees that literary greats like Gertrude Stein threw. If I could invite famous people that would show up, I think I could relax on this whole author branding thing. So where do I start? Apparently, I need to attend more writers' conferences and host online chats with talented colleagues. Hmm, let's see..."Um, hello Mr. Koontz and Miss Atwood, you don't know me but I follow you on Twitter. Would you like to join my Google Hangout?" Yeah. But I do know talented writers. They are just like me, still unknown with a lot to share. We SHOULD all get together in a public setting, at the very least for moral support!
  4. Live your work.  The subject matter of legendary authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald often mirrored their lives. I would prefer to not be memorialized as the author of loosely moraled characters who lived a loosely moral life, as Fitzgerald was, but then what does my life say about my writing? My novel Circles is about the consequences of choice (and in tandem, who gets to decide what those consequences are). So, is my life all about the choices I make? That sounds a bit underwhelming, since every day is basically a series of choices: what to have for breakfast, what task on your to-do list gets done first, what brand of shampoo are you going to buy, should you also buy a bag of M&M's while you're at it. Instead, maybe my public image could be about being responsible for decisions made? (If I buy that bag of M&M's I will 1 - have to share it with my husband, 2 - have to share it with my son, or 3 - eat them all myself, most likely in one sitting, and feel very sick.)
  5. Copyright Twitter
  6. Be witty. Wait, didn't I just go over this in number 1? According to the article, I need to say things other people are going to want to repeat, like the often quoted Dorothy Parker or Oscar Wilde. I should be sending out witticisms in less than 140 characters, and retweeting and name dropping to the Twitterverse with hopes of finding my own following who will then want to retweet and name-drop me. Well, I tell you what, I am not ashamed to say I retweeted and favorited big names and hashtagged my way into twitter feeds. When the day finally came and I got retweeted, I really did jump for joy (scared my cat) because finally - out of the bazillion tweets that hit the internet that day, someone thought mine was worthy.
  7. Corner the Market.  Jane Austen cornered her market by writing about what she knew best: the struggles of being an upper-middle class woman. I need to become the public's go-to source for what I know best. Which is...oh dear. Well what do I know? I know writing, but I am no expert compared to the multitude of bloggers, instructors and authors I look to for guidance. I am an avid reader, but there are too many good books I want to read and share. Not to mention reading takes a chunk away from writing. I pride myself on being a supportive and involved parent, but I have my moments. So who is going to look to me for advice? I do know that my passion is getting people engaged with reading and writing. It is such an important part of communication that sometimes gets lost in our 140-character-limit world. I see kids sitting together and texting each other, rather than having a vocal conversation. I read forum posts by adults that sound like a middle-schooler wrote them, with exactly the same attitude. We are losing the ability to talk to each other. Not just to disseminate information, but to Would people see me as someone who can bring back conversation through written works?
There was a number 6, but this was where J.D. Salinger was involved and definitely did not pertain to me. But the bulk of the article gave me quite a bit to chew on, don't you think? No, really, what DO you think about my author brand?

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