Don't let the “b” word scare you ~ building your own bodacious brand is totally doable!
I've broken the endeavor into four bite-sized pieces with a few exercises thrown in to help you put the lessons to work. Take the time now to read through and to brainstorm ~ then join me at 5:00. We can talk about your questions and maybe even get to work on some of your specific brand-building questions. Time's a wastin', so let's get going!
WHAT IS A BRAND?
You've heard it at every writer's conference. Read about it on agents' blogs. Had nightmares about it.
We are often told that no matter where we are in our writing journey, we should have a blog. Build a platform, establish our online presence so as to (presumably) help sales when our book is published. We nod our heads and take notes . . . only to go home and think, “What the heck is a brand?”
Webster’s says a brand’s purpose is to “Impress indelibly. To label or mark as if with a brand. A kind or variety of something distinguished by some distinctive characteristic.”I like that last part and that’s what I like to focus on when helping authors develop their brand.
Let's begin by learning to recognize a brand, and one way to do that is through look and feel.
Check out Beth Revis’ header . . . you can tell a lot about her right away. What she writes and who she is: she probably writes young adult, sci fi, probably for girls (color), but maybe for boys too, and you also catch a bit of whimsy and nerdiness.
Elana Johnson’s header tells us about her, too—she probably writes dystopian (barbed wire, unique text), stuff about girls and/or freedom (butterflies), and she’s really into publishing and helping people get a leg up (tagline).
And Brandon Mull–you can pretty much guess that he probably writes fantasy adventures and it’s probably for boys—just from its look and feel. And/or you can have a logo. Nathan Bransford’s logo tells you he’s a writer—but for him, it’s not so much what it says as it itself establishes his “look and feel”. For instance, even when he updates his profile picture, he’s always wearing an orange shirt. That’s not an accident—that’s marketing! Wherever you go online, if you see that pic of Nathan, you know exactly who he is.
Rick Riordan’s logo says stuff about him and his writing—he’s into ancient things, probably Roman or Greek.
My logo says I’m a ninja who doesn’t take herself too seriously, and I’m a kind of whimsical.
The last thing that we get from a brand is reliability and consistency. We know exactly what we’re going to get from Stephen King or JK Rowling. There's a lot of confusion as to what a brand means. I think it means being true, honest, and legit. When you build your blog, your online presence, and even your books, it's very easy to think “I want to be a blogger like Awesome Blogger,” and then model yourself in their image. Which is great—except, it won't last.
Your readers won't stick around and you won't be able to maintain itbecause . . . it's not YOU.
SO HOW DO YOU DISCOVER YOUR OWN BRAND?
Get a pad of paper and a pencil. This is your opportunity to figure out who you are and how to present yourself online.
You'll need to ask yourself a few questions . . .
Who do you write your books for?
- Jot down your thoughts and be as specific as you can: Do you write for housewives who need a little excitement in their lives? Do you write for teenage boys who want to feel powerful and in control of their lives? Do you write for children who are struggling with social issues? Do you write for middle aged men who want to relive the glory of their youth?
What message or theme do you hope your readers will take away from your books?
- Again, be as specific as you can: Do your stories convey a message of hope? Do you want readers to forget about their regular life—to escape in your story for a bit of time?
Why is that message important to you?
- Have you experienced something that makes this message important to you? What was your experience? How did it make you feel? Why does it stand out in your mind?
What do you have to say on the subject?
- Think about everything you know and believe about your message. Jot down everything that comes to your mind.
HOW TO USE YOUR BRAND IN SOCIAL MEDIA
This concept is best discussed as an example. Imagine you’re a romance writer who writes about love conquering all. About how love can help you overcome anything. You likely have a strong core belief that love is important and can prevail no matter the odds. You probably have a personal story behind your message—a moment in time, or a series of experiences, that helped you learn the value of love. And from those experiences you have learned important truths. But what does it all mean for you as a blogger, Twitterer, or career writer? Let’s break it down. BLOGGING:
Perhaps once a week, you'll post about the things you've learned. Just one little life lesson a week.
This week you might talk about how you and your significant other had the chance to go on a date, and how you noticed that when you told your partner the things that you appreciated about them, they brightened, grew happier, were able to let go of their work week and enjoy being out on a date with you. In your post, you'll talk about the importance of showing gratitude to the ones you love. Exercise: Brainstorm as many blog post ideas as you can can using the above example as a guide. People who read your blog will come to trust you as an expert on love. When your book—a love story, of course—comes out, your readers will already be able to recall and recognize the brand you have built, and they will trust that your book will deliver the message of love they have come to expect from you. TWITTER:
You will extend your brand of love into Twitter. You’ll tweet about love stories you’ve read and enjoyed. You’ll share bits of wisdom. You’ll celebrate love.
Not every single time, but often–about 25% of the time you’ll tweet about love in one form or another. Exercise: Take a moment to jot down as many thoughts as you can on your topic. Think of articles or books you’ve read that you could share with your followers. Your Twitter followers will come to look forward to your thoughts on love. When you blog about love—and tweet about your post—people will have an interest in reading what you wrote since they’ve enjoyed your tweets. Your Twitter followers will come to your blog. And when your blog readers follow you to Twitter, you’ll provide more of the uplifting, inspiring thoughts on love they’ve come to expect from your blog. And when your book comes out? They’ll expect it to be about love. And guess what? You won’t let them down! Of all things you can bring to your marketing efforts, honesty and authenticityare paramount. No matter how big your blog tour, how many signings you do or how many followers you have—you will not grab and keep readers unless they believe you. And the time to start being trustworthy and believable isn't just when your book is out—it’s right now.
REPRESENT YOUR BRAND IN YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE
This is where we put everything we've learned together.
Take a moment to think about what your message is. Close your eyes and experienceyour message. What does it feel like? Is it confident? Strong? Or soft and loving? Open and inviting? Full of hope? What color represents those feelings to you? Red? Pink? Black with tiger stripes? Jot down any impressions you have. These ideas will be the basis for you building your brand. Now let’s talk about logo. What image represents you? Again, close your eyes, and think about it. Let your mind wander over the possibilities. Have you always been an admirer of oak trees? Roses? Ninjas? It’s easier for me to demonstrate this by relating it to me, since I know myself best. I knew my message was hope. Courage. Determination. I knew I loved the martial arts and that they influenced my life in many ways. I also knew that I loved girly things and whimsy. I’ve wanted to be a black belt more than anything else. I’ve taken martial arts for years, but always struggled because of my fibromyalgia. I’d do great for a while, then have to take a long time off because of a “flare” (lots and lots of pain). I was crying about it to my husband one day a few years ago and in an effort to console me he talked to me about what it means to be a black belt. Why did I want it so bad? What did it represent to me? I said I thought it r
epresented determination. Fortitude. Sticking with something hard to come out on top. Courage. A black belt, to me, would mean I had overcome my weaknesses and made myself BETTER.
Of course he (being an awesome hubby) said to him, I already had done all those things, I already had achieved a black belt. In my life. In my writing. So maybe I’d never have a real live martial arts black belt. But I could be a black belt in my life. When I saw my ninja girl on the T-shirts at the Spy Museum in Washington, DC, I knew she was me. She looked like me, she was cute and whimsical like me (ha!). She was a ninja. LIKE ME. 😀 I did some research and found that she was a stock image I could purchase rights to, which I did. And now she’s mine :D. I’ve since done some things to her to change her from the original image, which means she really IS mine. Okay, so think about your message again. Think about your colors. Your image. How can you combine all three so they work together? You should already know and feel relatively confident about your message. Now you need to see if you can represent your message or what you stand for with a color and/or a logo. Not everyone is going to need a logo, but a look and feel should be discovered and used faithfully. You might need to do some research to come up with a look and feel and a logo. After I came up with my image, my ninja, next came my message—hope that one can change themselves into something better.
Next came my look and feel—the whimsical tree which represents hope and growth.
Put it all togetherand you have my brand.
I represent my brand on my blog:
My business cards, even my email signature:
When people see these images, they know it belongs to me. It has recognition and, if I’ve done my job right, it tells something about me. And that something is true across all my interactions—whether online or in person. Some people’s brand will be specific to them as a writer, like, say, Brandon Mull. He reveals very little about WHO HE IS through his brand. But his stories always deliver what you’d expect from his brand. For me, however, my brand IS ME. I extend my brand into my stories, as opposed to my stories extending into my brand. Does that make sense? Take Kiersten White for example. SHE is cute, funny and cheeky. Her blog is cute, funny and cheeky. Her books are cute, funny and cheeky. Her books are an extension of herself, her brand. Remember being true to who you are as a writer, and as a person, is the essence of your brand. Don’t be afraid to mix things up sometimes (like how my tree changes with the seasons and my girl sometimes wears a Santa hat or whatever), just don’t lose sight of the integrity of your brand. It has to remain reliable, true and authentic. Absolutely avoid creating a gimmicky brand for yourself. You won’t be able to maintain it throughout your career. And you're done! If you need or want, we can brainstorm together here in the comment trail or by email and I can help you put it all together.
You’re almost there! It’s going to be awesome! When you're finished, let me know so I can come visit you online!
Remember to come chat with Ali at 5:00 with all your branding questions!
Ali Cross is the sensei of the Writer's Dojo where she holds a black belt in awesome. The Dojo offers support and encouragement NiNoWriMo-style for writers in all stages of the publishing journey and throughout the whole year.
She's the author the young adult paranormal romance series Desolation, and the middle grade science fiction Jump Boys.
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