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Branding for Writers: An Essential Step to Building Your Author Platform

    Categories: Marketing and Promotion

OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn

Branding is something I think about a lot, especially the personal branding that authors have to consider today.

It’s not an easy process to create a brand.

We are complex people and our writing may span different genres. We also have other facets of life that are important, so how do we combine it all into a coherent brand?

To discuss further, I’m very happy to introduce this guest post by Dan Blank from WeGrowMedia.com

To help develop their readership, many writers want to jump right into blogging, social media, and various other means of engaging others. Now, I am a huge fan of these tools because they connect people in powerful ways. But, for a writer who hopes to grow their career based on these interactions, I often find that they jump in a little too soon, that their are key elements of their own message and purpose that need to be worked out first.

Branding is communication

Enter: branding. I know, it’s a scary word; doesn’t it just send shivers up your spine?

I totally understand why the word “branding” can make you cringe: you don’t want to be a brand, you want to be a person; you don’t want to market to others, you want to connect with like-minds; you don’t want to become a product, you want to create art. I 100% agree on each of these things.

To me, branding is not about any of those things, it is about communication. Effectively understanding your own purpose, that of your audience, and the ways to connect the two. That’s it, just a word to describe a much deeper and more meaningful process.

I teach a course for writers on how to develop an author platform, and we don’t get to the topic of actually joining social networks and creating blogs until halfway through the course? Why? Because you need to get the basics down first: identifying your goals, defining your purpose, and understanding who you are trying to reach. It’s in that second one, defining your purpose, where branding is born.

If you can’t clearly communicate your purpose, then how can you engage a readership?

I recently spent three months digging into what my own brand means. I worked with others, did tons of thought writing on the topic, it honestly felt a lot like therapy. But what I worked away with was a clear understanding of why I do what I do, of how my work helps others reach their goals, and the language by which to connect the two. But it did so much more than that. Every decision is helped by understanding my brand. The font to use in a presentation, the look of my videos, photos of myself, the places I need to be, etc.

Companies often have what they call a “brand book,” or “brand bible.” It is a document that they go back to again and again that helps ensure not just that they are consistent, but that every element of their company works to a common purpose. It is why companies known for their exceptional branding or customer service are so consistent in their high quality. Why nearly every experience with Zappos is effortless, and at times, delightful; why nearly every experience at Disneyworld is surprising and pleasant; why the Apple Store seems more like a gathering place than an electronics store.

As you develop your brand as a writer, here are some things to consider:

Embrace that you are a writer.

This may sound basic, but many writers have a hard time embracing that identity. They see themselves as a writer only after the definitions of their day job, role in their family, etc. When speaking about your work, own that identity of being a writer.

Speak clearly.

Every word counts. 
Too many writers clutter up their purpose with divergent messages. They try to represent every aspect to who they are, to hope they will be. What happens is that the core message is lost. This happens everywhere from one’s Twitter bio, to their About page, to how they introduce themselves to an agent at a writing conference. The more words you remove from your description of your purpose, the stronger the words that remain become.

Be focused.

Few people want to be pigeonholed, but when you are just starting out, when you are still developing that core audience – err on the side of being specific. Focus the topics you discuss, the audiences you target, the way you describe your work. Too many writers feel that their work should appeal to everyone. And while this may happen, some day, build your way up to that. Focus.

Create core messages you will go back to again and again.

Determine the best ways to communicate your purpose and describe your writing. This helps you to determine what it is, and what it isn’t, and ensures that various people hear the same message. It also lets you hone and evolve how you describe your work.

The value of repetition.

This is branding 101: repetition helps people remember what you are about. Many writers are a bit sheepish to even say once what their work is about, let alone repeat it over time. Never take for granted that many folks are learning about your work for the first time. You are always in the process of helping people learn about the power of your work, about your viewpoint as a writer. Don’t assume people know, repeat those core message when in situations to meet new people.

Tell your STORY, that in and of itself engages people.

Yes, your writing is the key here. But don’t forget that your story as a writer is part of what engages people. How your purpose extends to the work you create. Shape your story as it relates to your work, and share that when you meet people or on the About page of your website.

All of this is about surfacing your purpose as it relates to your writing, your goals, and your audience. This goals beyond surface level interests or demographics. Far too many authors begin and end their purpose, their brand, with vague statements that could apply to thousands of writers. They settle on broad genre definitions instead of really personalizing their brand and considering how it connects with others in meaningful ways.

Branding is connection

In the end, this is about connecting your work to readers who will appreciate it most. In one form or another, this is about story. When you consider your identity as an author, consider framing your own story, of using elements of branding to help communicate this more effectively to potential readers.

What are your thoughts on author branding? Please leave a comment below.

Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia.com, which provides writers and publishers the strategy and tactics they need to impact their communities and build their legacies. He has worked with more than 500 writers, a wide range of publishers, and regularly speaks at conferences about branding, content strategy, social media, and marketing. He teaches an 8-week online course for writers called Build Your Author Platform. You can follow him on Twitter at @DanBlank and read his blog at http://WeGrowMedia.com

Image: iStockphoto

Joanna Penn :

View Comments (45)

  • Excellent article Dan in the process of writing a book and branding has always been on the agenda, found this article inspiring! Thanks

  • Thanks for this article! I am a freelance writer non-fiction writer and I'm targeting my work mostly to magazines. I write on multiple topics, namely higher education, arts and culture, social action, and public affairs. I also blog about personal inspiration. So I'm wondering how to brand all of that in a way that allows me to keep all of those different topics as a part of who I am as a writer, because those are my interests as a person. I've read about using a pen name for different topics, but I don't want to do that because I really feel like all of these topics represent me. Any thoughts on this issue, or do you know of any examples of freelance (non-fiction) writers who have successfully branded their writing while respecting the fact that they are interested in a variety of topics? Thanks!

    • Hi Courtney,
      Thanks for sharing this. I would bet that there are underlying values or connections between each of the topics you write about. A thread that runs through each. A core motivation that drives each. Focus on that when describing your "brand." I don't have examples on hand, perhaps because it is 6am on a Saturday. :)

      Thanks.
      -Dan

      • Thanks for the early morning response Dan! I've been working on finding that thread. I think it boils down to my interest in what inspires people in each of these genres--telling their story to inspire others. I appreciate your feedback!

  • Great tips! I have really learned a lot thanks to your site. I am at the beginning stages of branding myself. I have a long road ahead, but thanks to you, I won't make too many mistakes.

    • Rick,
      Sometimes the mistakes are where we find the biggest leaps forward! Don't be afraid of them or of sticking too closely to "the rules."

      Thanks!
      -Dan

  • I recently had a prospective guest blogger come to me asking for a spot on my blog - to post her take on branding. She said she was "new" in the business. I checked out her website - it was sterile. I checked out her Fan Page - the last post on the page was November 18, and that post was from someone else. She had only five tweets, ever. To me, part of branding, like Joanna says, is engaging people. I also like that Joanna mentioned core messages, understand your purpose, and who are you trying to reach? I'm re-evaluating my "message." Great blog.

    • Thanks Karen! You make such a good point here, that our "brands" can be easily researched by others, they exist in small conversations and actions, not a pretty website design. That we each control our brands by choosing to interact... or not!
      :)
      -Dan

  • I liked this question very much, "If you can’t clearly communicate your purpose, then how can you engage a readership?"
    Truly, branding for writers is very important. I recently had interaction with several aspiring authors and guest bloggers. It's amazing how many people still are not aware of the value of creating their own platform, their own following and their own platform. But this article has a lot of good tips for those who want to learn. Thank you for sharing these awesome tips.
    Regards,
    Kumar

  • Excellent article! I'm in the process of trying to develop a single personal brand amongst the multiple genres I want to write about. This article gave me great advice in that I need to determine what my brand is BEFORE I start my freelancing career. Thank you.

  • The word "their" in the last sentence of the third paragraph should be "there". Sorry, I read like an editor. Otherwise, I the article was great!

    • On that same note, "This goals beyond surface level interests or demographics" in the second to last paragraph should be "This goes beyond surface level interests or demographics."
      Otherwise, well written. Cheers! :)

  • I really liked the article. it definitely got some wheels turning in my mind. I am highly motivated to develop my brand as a poet and author. I would like to read more on constructing that brand book that companies use

    Thank you for the good read

  • I keep coming back to Joanna's work because of its simplicity and focus. Often times when I finish one of her posts I'm no longer shy about calling myself a writer. Thank you.