Author Branding: The You That Is Everywhere

by Joel Friedlander on August 12, 2010 · 31 comments

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We’ve been told over and over again that to market effectively as self-publishers, we have to start building our author platform as early as possible.

But even before you start hammering together that platform that’s going to support you and your book and your marketing efforts, you need to decide how you will brand yourself.

Creating an author platform is vital for a new author’s success, and creating a brand is the basis for the platform. You need to know what you are creating before you start!—Joanna Penn

What’s that? You don’t think of yourself as a box of Kleenex, a bar of soap, a transatlantic airline? That doesn’t mean you don’t need your own branding. It doesn’t even mean you don’t already have a brand of some kind if you’re active in social media now.

Here’s an example of a failure of corporate branding. When Fedex bought a ground delivery service, they only had to expand their brand a little to accommodate the idea of “secure trackable package delivery, express or ground.”

But when Fedex bought Kinko’s copy shops, they were reaching into unknown waters. Fedex is probably driven by the reality that many document transfers are now happening electronically, and Kinko’s looked like a good diversification.

But they didn’t keep Kinko’s as Kinko’s. They renamed it Fedex Kinko’s which really makes no sense from a branding point of view. Then they dropped the Kinko’s altogether.

Kinko’s is a terrific and idiosyncratic brand of copy shops. “Kinko’s” means one thing: copies and computer services 24 hours a day. What’s Fedex doing in there? Now, they are stuck with a real branding problem, as you can see by the photo at the top of this article.

But as authors and self-publishers, what lessons can we learn to help with our own branding?

We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.—Tom Peters

Personal Branding: The You that is You

The idea of personal branding has been around for a while. Some people trace the idea back to an article in Fast Company magazine by legendary author and business writer Tom Peters.

Now, in the age of full-bore social media engagement, when it seems that every author has a Facebook page, a blog, a persona that represents them, the move to personal branding is stronger than ever.

The Web makes the case for branding more directly than any packaged good or consumer product ever could. Here’s what the Web says: Anyone can have a Web site. And today, because anyone can … anyone does! So how do you know which sites are worth visiting, which sites to bookmark, which sites are worth going to more than once? The answer: branding.—Tom Peters

The first thing you’ll have to do is decide what your brand will be about.

Some Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Brand

What will be your brand?

  • You as an author?
  • Your book, as a solution to a problem?
  • Your publishing company, as a provider of education or entertainment?

What Exactly Makes Up Your Brand?

You are branding yourself all the time—whether you know it or not. When you design your website or blog, when you pick out business cards, when you establish a persona through which you communicate with readers, other authors, book reviewers, you are branding yourself.

I’m a writer, a marketing consultant, a wife and mother, a business woman, a coach, a loyal friend, a passionate seeker of new challenges and also someone who loves the quiet solitude of reading on a beach. That abundance of choices and gifts can sometimes muddy the waters when I’m trying to define my “brand” to myself and to potential clients.—Cindy Ratzlaff

How intentionally you do these activities can have a major effect on your own brand. The most effective personal brands for authors are:

  • Tightly focused
  • Consistent
  • In line with your subject matter

When I see the name John Grisham, immediately a brand leaps to mind—legal thrillers. Stephen King—horror stories. Robert Ludlum—action thrillers. Agatha Christie—genteel mysteries. Deepak Chopra—transcendental self-help. Are you thinking of your own examples? These are outstanding, consistent, tightly focused and congruent brands.

Your external brand is how you project yourself to the world. There is an element of choice here. You can decide what to say or write in order to convey a certain image. Your projected image will influence what others think of you and how they might choose to interact with you. You may stumble upon this image accidentally, or you can deliberately target a specific type of image.—Steve Pavlina

When book buyers walk into a store—online or off—often they are looking for a brand rather than a book. “The new John Grisham” book. Booksellers (and Amazon’s algorithms) offer possible books based on branding. “If you liked Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point, you might like Dan Ariely’s Predicatably Irrational.”

This is true of many successful authors. When they want to write outside their usual style, they often do so under another name.

Here are two main reasons why personal branding is becoming a core part of our culture . . . First, we are all being judged all the time, even when we’re sleeping (our online profiles are still up!). Second, we have to constantly sell our ideas to teachers, managers, venture capitalists, our friends and family, to make things happen in our lives. We have to convince them to take action.—Dan Schwabel

How do authors brand themselves? There are many ways. Your brand can be an expression of any part of your author presentation that ties people to your work. For instance, you could brand yourself by:

  • Region—“Author of Western Adventure Stories”
  • Genre—“Erotic Metaphysical Romances”
  • Recurring Character—“The Inspector Brown Mysteries”
  • Style—“Easy to Read Books on Woodworking”
  • Format—“1001 Ways to Manage your Career”
  • Persona—“The Gen-Y Novelist With Attitude”
  • Emotion—“The Feel-Good Books About Life’s Little Problems”
  • Notoriety—“The Trump Family of Casinos”

Really, any distinguishing characteristic can be the basis of a brand, if it’s emphasized consistently as part of your presentation.

Branding in the World of Web 2.0

We have accounts everywhere online. Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg, Twitter, on and on. But do you segregate your personal correspondence and postings from your author brand?

I’m not proposing that you let the crowd dictate, or that you work hard to fit in. Far from it. I’m proposing that you know the impact your choices are having and act accordingly.—Seth Godin

Brands establish trust. I grew up in a family that used Colgate toothpaste, that was our brand. Why buy a new or different toothpaste, one we didn’t know as well? We trusted our brand, and rewarded Colgate with our loyalty.

You want that trust from your readers and your community. If your brand is a sober, responsible and experienced tax advisor who writes books counseling people on the best way to save on taxes, how will your readers respond to those photos you posted of a wild weekend in Miami? This is the world we live in, it’s just a reality.

Personal branding is leverage: once you know me, you start to build a relationship with me. Once we have a relationship, I can share even more with you. The more we share, the more likely we’ll have other common interests down the road.—Chris Brogan

Branding matters if you rely on establishing trust and inspiring loyalty. From the way you dress to the way you leave comments on other people’s blogs, you are constantly adding to your brand, and that’s why consistency is so important.

So when it comes to platform building, first sit down and think about the brand you want to establish. How will you present yourself and your book to the world? How will you keep it consistent, tightly focused, and in line with your subject?

Figuring out your branding doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does need to be focused. I’m not talking about the kind of branding that requires hours of logo development. I’m not even talking about a brand that’s necessarily original. Yes, you want to be unique, but the key isn’t doing something no one else is doing, the key is doing it better.—Penny Sansevieri

After you’ve answered these questions you’ll be more prepared for your platform building. And to really find out how others see you, ask them. You’re likely to receive some really eye-opening feedback and advice. But if you care about the impression you’re making and how it reflects on your work, this is some of the most important listening you will ever do.

Resources

Here’s some great reading on personal branding that will help you get started.

Joanna Penn: How to Discover and Build Your Author Brand
Dan Schwabel: An Introduction to the World of Personal Branding
Chris Brogan: My Best Advice About Personal Branding
Cindy Ratzlaff: Five Secrets to Creating Brand: You
Steve Pavlina: Personal Branding
Tom Peters: The Brand Called You
Seth Godin: Personal Branding in the Age of Google
Penny Sansevieri: Don’t Be An Expert, Be A Filter (Secrets To Selling More Books)

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    { 13 comments… read them below or add one }

    Christi December 21, 2012 at 7:09 pm

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    Reply

    Ark Lady August 15, 2010 at 10:47 am

    My audience branded me–which makes my life easier, especially since I do a variety of different things. The main brand name associates me to my area of expertise whether or not it is about my books, my speaking gigs, or my consulting practice.

    Also, the problem with attempting to “brand” yourself as an author in a particular niche is that you lock yourself into that niche instead of a wider series of topics that might be available to you based on your skills and experience.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 16, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Diana, that’s almost an ideal situation for your readers to brand you, because they are telling you where your greatest contribution to them is. Pretty valuable stuff. And of course you are right in that you can get “locked into” a niche, but that seems to be a challenge inherent in niche marketing. There’s always the opportunity to move sideways into related niches also of interest to your readers, or to move “up” into a more general niche once you’re well established in yours. Thanks for your helpful comments.

    Reply

    Lovelyn August 13, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Thanks so much for the great post. I’m just trying to market my first novel now. I have a clear idea about what my message is. I have a similar thing in all of my fiction and feel like it is a clear brand. I’ve just been trying to figure out how to express that to others. This post contained a lot of useful information. I’ve been reading your blog a lot and have found it very helpful. Thanks for putting so much information out there.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 13, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Lovelyn, I’m glad you got some use from this. Honestly, the problem I had was not overdoing it because once I got started I felt I could just keep going into the ways people brand and the implications. If your books are consistently in the same genre with with recognizable themes you should be able to incorporate that into your branding. Thanks for reading!

    Reply

    Joanna Penn August 13, 2010 at 1:10 am

    Hi Joel, Thanks so much for the mention on this important topic. GREAT article!

    What is amazing about branding is how many people mistake it for a bad thing, a marketing gimmick but in fact it keeps you focussed and clear with what you want to achieve which is essential if you don’t want to waste time online and with your books.

    My first book was on career change and I built a site around it, and then spent about 9 months focusing on marketing that. I started to get some traction and become successful with that book, making national TV and radio and then I discovered that people were branding me as a career change author. That wasn’t how I say myself, and I had wasted time developing the wrong brand. It wasn’t sustainable and I didn’t even realize it. I had to start again in order to change my brand.

    So I recommend that people think ahead a few books. What do you want to be known as – what words, what images do you conjure in people’s heads? Then focus on this.
    I started http://www.TheCreativePenn.com specifically to build that brand and then write books later. It’s going a lot better now!

    Thanks Joel!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 13, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Joanna, thanks. It was your writing on author branding that was the catalyst for writing this post. Your story helps to illustrate so clearly that you have to take branding into account as soon as you can define your niche and the place you hope to occupy within it. And thanks for your contribution.

    Reply

    Alberto Diz August 12, 2010 at 7:32 am

    Great text!
    What do you think about my name (Alberto Diz). Mainly for writing in spanish. Lucky for english translation as well. I don’t know how would it work in english.

    Check with a translator the meaning in multiple languages. You might find a bad word. Mine: “Diz” means ‘Says’ in portuguese. However the way you pronounce it in other languages can give you a surprise.

    Regards

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 12, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Alberto, I like your name, although as an English-speaker, I might be confused at first about how “Diz” is supposed to be pronounced. But having a name that’s a little distinctive can help your “brand” stand out.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus August 12, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    In the US, “Diz” is the shortened form of “Dizzy” Gillespie, an important jazz trumpeter and singer who died in the early 1990s.

    Somewhere I have a record album called “Bird & Diz” recorded by Gillespie and Charlie “Bird” Parker 60 years ago.

    You might be safer with Deez, Deese, Dice or Diaz. I hope your parents won’t be upset.

    Reply

    Alberto Diz August 13, 2010 at 6:08 am

    Thank you both.
    ‘Diz’ sounds ‘Deez’ in english.

    I’ve forgotten you need to check domain name (.com) availability, Twitter, and who knows what else is coming.. before choosing pen name.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus August 12, 2010 at 2:09 am

    Any writer who expects to write more than one book, blog or article hopes that people who like one thing he or she has written will want to read more.

    The name that parents or friends use to address a writer may not be the best choice for branding. One good way to help people find your work is to have a distinctive name, like actors and singers.

    Jor-El, Superman’s Kryptonian father’s name, is unique and distinctive. So is Marlon Brando, who played the part. Marlon Brando was his birth name.

    Marion Morrison was less fortunate. He had to change his name to become John “Duke” Wayne.

    Stephen King’s name is not unique or distinctive. But, after selling perhaps 300 million books, he probably doesn’t suffer from the existence of others with the same name. (Wikipedia listed about a dozen including a Congressman, a pedophile and five athletes.)

    Some distinctive names are awkward. I think Jonna-Lynn K. Mandelbaum should drop the hard-sounding “K,” even if it upsets her family. Her name would still be unique and memorable.

    It’s not unusual for a writer to use a pen name (nom de plume in French). Mark Twain is probably the most famous fake. Twain’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but he also used Sieur Louis de Conte.

    There are many reasons for using a pen name:
    • To make the author’s name more distinctive, more glamorous, or more interesting
    • To disguise the author’s gender
    • To protect the author from retribution, especially if the book is an exposé
    • To avoid confusion with other authors or famous people
    • To hide ethnicity or alter apparent ethnicity
    • To develop different personas for different genres such as fiction and nonfiction, or chick lit and sci-fi
    • To have a name more appropriate to a genre (male western writer Zane Grey was born Pearl Zane Gray)
    • To avoid overexposure by having too many books on sale at one time
    • To avoid embarrassment, such as when a professor writes porn, or to shield the author’s family from revelations of an unconventional or illegal past
    • If your name is hard to spell, remember, pronounce or seems too “foreign” or “ethnic.” The original family name of author Irving Wallace was Wallechinsky. His kids write as David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace.
    • If you’re afraid that the book could jeopardize your success in another field

    If you have a bland name like “Arthur Williams,” you might be more easily found and better remembered if you change to Hamburger Williams or Xavier Nguyen Bacciagalupe.

    English punk rocker Declan MacManus morphed into a more-memorable Elvis Costello. On the other hand, film critic Elvis Mitchell was apparently born an Elvis.

    Don Novello wrote books as Lazlo Toth, and appeared on TV as Father Guido Sarducci. Punk-rock bass player Sid Vicious was born John Ritchie.

    Sometimes just a slight change can do the job. F. Scott Fitzgerald is probably a better choice than Francis or Frankie Fitzgerald. Bill Smith might be better remembered as William Harrington Smith or Billy D. Smith. Edward Jay Epstein has written more than a dozen books, perhaps with more success than hundreds of ordinary Ed Epsteins.

    For my own brand, I’ve chosen to include my middle initial, “N.” A Google search for “Michael N. Marcus” shows over 140,000 links–and most are for me. Apparently there are just two of us. I’m the writer. He’s a psychiatrist.

    If you are evaluating potential alternate names or just want some fun, take a look at http://www.WhitePages.com. It ranks name popularity based on listed phone numbers.

    When I checked, “Edward Epstein” was the #254,818-ranked full name, with 123 occurrences. On the other hand, Juan Epstein, from “Welcome Back, Kotter,” is unique, with just one listed person in the United States. And it may not be his real name.

    –From my new book, “Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company,” due on 9/1.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 12, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Very interesting Michael, can’t wait for chapter 2.

    Although your name is an important part of your branding, it’s really only one small part. Think of all the other things that make up your brand. Here are just a few:

    • The style in which you write
    • The tone with which you speak to readers and commentors
    • The look and feel of your product or your business graphics
    • The avatar or photo you use online
    • The implicit “promise” you make to customers or readers
    • The level at which you price your products and services

    I could go on and on. Added up together, they combine to “brand” you in a very specific way, and you can see that the name you write under is only one element, and not always the most important element, of your branding.

    Thanks again for your contribution!

    Reply

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