Monday, 29 April 2013

Do authors really need a brand?

I came across a blog post called Discover Your Author’s Brand by Philip Martin. In it, he says that “for an author … [brand] is what people expect when they hear your name attached to a book (or story).” We instantly conjure an image of the author when we hear a (famous) author’s name, not necessarily of their work. And that, according to him, is an author’s brand. He encourages all authors to build their own unique brand.

So should we?

Brand, as a word, instantly sets my teeth on edge. Who wants to be a brand? A household name, perhaps, but brand is for vodka, as the person who originally shared the post pointed out. However, what Martin really wants us to do is to identify ourselves as unique authors. That can only be helpful.

Ask yourself, what makes you special? Among a million authors, how do you stand out? Perhaps you define yourself with your genre. But how many authors there are in your genre? Too many still to make you stand out.

And stand out you must, if you want to sell your books. Ideally – as was pointed out to me – the quality of your work should do it for you. And there are authors for whom things happen that way. Their quality writing wins them awards, readers and publicity. They are given chances to make sure that readers remember them when their next book comes out. The big name authors have built their ‘brands’ like this, gradually, over the years.

What Martin suggests is that authors try to make themselves stand out before they’re famous, while they build their author platform, as a tool for fame. He identifies seven steps for doing that. They’re taken from the advertising world but he has helpfully adapted them to suit authors. The brand's purpose is to make sure that the author, you, stands out among equals.

Assuming you read Martin’s article and decide to build a brand of yourself as an author following his advice, what then? You have to sell the brand, of course. The article doesn’t really tell how you’re supposed to do that. You can write a wonderful creation story, one of the ways of building your brand Martin suggests, but if no one buys it, it’s useless.

The advice Martin offers may have been taken from the advertising world, but how many brands you actually identify by their creation story? I most often remember the design, typography and maybe a slogan – things that aren’t very useful for making a brand of a person.

So should we abandon the idea of a brand?

Not so fast. At the end of his post, Martin sums up by saying that “you can use them to help identify, refine, and present yourself as a writer more clearly to the rest of us.” The idea is that if you know who you are as an author, you can tell it to the rest of us. Very useful.

And where would you do that? Social media comes to mind as the most obvious.

Every profile page you set gives you a limited space where to tell something about yourself. Twitter, for example, allows 140 characters with which to do that. If you know who you are as an author, you can really make those characters count. The same with Google+, where the space offered for a catchy tagline is even shorter. 

And do we make the most of the space given? Write a catchy tagline that instantly profiles us as a 'such and such' author?

No, we don’t. A quick sample of authors I follow on Twitter, established and self-published, shows two kinds of profiles: those that are funny and witty, and those that tell a lot of unnecessary information. Mostly the latter comes from mixing the private and public person. Women, especially, like to identify themselves through their many roles: mother, wife, entrepreneur and writer. Some add hobbies to the list too. There’s nothing wrong with identifying yourself through those things, but they don’t really tell your readers anything about what kind of an author you are. Branding yourself could help you to formulate a consice tagline. You would know what you really need to tell about yourself and what to take away. For example, if you write children’s books, adding the mother part would be essential.

In my brief sample, there were a couple of taglines that might come close to branding. I found the “author of Horror and other stuff”, the “author of funny novels”, and the “itinerant writer of weird fiction.” There were a few who told they were best-selling or award-winning authors. Some were more poetic: “Unveiling unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, & historical secrets.” It's imaginative, but perhaps difficult to relate to, let alone sell.

I checked up a couple of big names too. Joe Abercrombie tells us he’s a “Raconteur, Bon Viveur, Witch King of Nihilism deep in a jaded literary sewer.” And Neil Gaiman can perfectly well tell in his profile that he “will eventually grow up and get a real job. Until then, will keep making things up and writing them down.” We know who he is.

So what does this all boil down to? I think branding may be too much for authors. But knowing your 'brand' yourself is essential. So first, make sure you know who you are and then take a look at all your online profiles. Do they mix private with public? Do they tell more about what kind of a person you are than what kind of an author? And if you want to mix those two, think how you can do it so that it sets you apart from all the others. You have 140 characters, make them count.

And what about my profiles? On Twitter, it’s “independently publishing paranormal and contemporary romances written as Susanna Shore and Hannah Kane.” Not terribly catchy. On G+ it’s “author of contemporary and paranormal romances.” So, obviously, I need to work with those. I may take Martin’s advice. It can only help me if I’m more aware of myself and the author I am.

What about you?

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