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Michael Jordan was amazing- the best basketball player ever. And certainly the most naturally talented. What was his brand? Smack down superiority. Consistent championship-winning ability. Natural talent that couldn’t be stopped.

I’m originally from Kentucky where basketball is king

but this image pretty well sums up my basketball ability.

A basketball player is NOT who I am- as a person or as a brand. When it comes to defining my own brand I don’t want to be like Mike- or anybody else. I want- in fact I MUST- be ME and only me.

But why is authenticity so important? Why can’t I photoshop a few pictures and portray myself on my website as the sportiest kid’s writer on the block? Why can’t I recolor everything pink and say I’m the next Meg Cabot or Cecily von Ziegesar? They have successful recognizable brands. They’re really successful. Or even better why can’t I just think up my own very commercial brand and say that’s who I am?

“An inauthentic brand is not sustainable,” says Joelle Ziemian, vice president of the international marketing firm Lipman Hearne. “Your brand must be authentic because over and over you are going to have to bring it to life. The second you try to fake it everybody knows and you lose credibility.”

Lately the big buzz in the world of branding is both Barack and Michelle Obama’s success at defining and communicating their brands. William Arruda, author of Career Distinction: Stand Out By Building Your Brand recently said “Obama is ‘perhaps the best example of personal branding we have today.’ Effective branding is ‘based in authenticity, and the thing that makes [Obama] so successful and so confident is that he is being who he is.’ “

Obama has won over many supporters in part because they believe he is the person they see- smart, perhaps a bit nerdy, ethical, trustworthy, forceful and practical. We regard him as an authentic leader so we are willing to follow.

All right. I know I’m not Michael Jordan, Meg Cabot, or Barak Obama (big surprises there) and I know it’s no good faking it.


Some writers say they are afraid of branding because they’re afraid of being pigeonholed.
I believe that’s a cover up for their real fear. A brand that doesn’t pigeonhole you- that in fact frees you to be everything you are and everything you dream of being- is based on the authentic you.

But who is that authentic you?
This is the question that terrifies most writers. We’re used to coming up with personality traits and defining our characters by their actions, but sometimes we hide behind those imaginary characters. We’re scared to take a long hard look at ourselves.

Start looking, honey. 

I promised you a branding worksheet today so let’s get started.

I’m taking a fantastic class at MediaBistro, Brand Yourself, taught by Laurie Sheer. Some of these questions I’ve derived, in part, from work we’re doing in class. Most are questions I’ve come to from reading dozens of branding articles and speaking to a variety of media experts, agents and editors. Again I’m not a branding professional- I’m a children’s writer. But I think this checklist can send you on your way to knowing your own personal brand.

1) Describe your five most significant qualities?

Fine. I’m sometimes lazy. I procrastinate. I spend too much time on the web and I eat way too much pasta. Oh and apparently I can’t count. What kind of brand is that?

Stop right there. The other thing I see almost every day in writers is massive insecurity and a violent desire to be way too hard on themselves. Give yourself a break. What are your good qualities? If you truly have none- well that’s a symptom of something way more serious than needing to define your brand.

Start again. For today focus on positives- although don’t turn a blind eye to negatives. Be honest and specific. Your answers don’t have to have anything to do with your writing or books, although they may.

1)    Describe your five most significant qualities. (things like efficient, well organized, nosey, quiet… )
2)    What are five things you are an expert at? (for example model trains, nursing, cactus growing, cats, punctuation) (um have you noticed I’m making these lists up? Okay. Nosey is true. But punctuation clearly defies understanding in my world. Spelling too. Cactus? yeck!)
3)    What are five other things you enjoy a lot? (lemonade, snow skiing, a well balanced checkbook…)

Stop here. Do these things relate to each other in any way? Write a paragraph about consistencies and inconsistencies.

Start again.
4)    In a short paragraph describe yourself as you see yourself.
5)    In a short paragraph describe yourself as you believe others see you.
6)    Take a deep breath. Contact four or five friends or colleagues and ask them to describe you or to list five qualities/attributes you possess.

Stop again and think. See any themes? Any surprises? Do others see you as you want to be seen? Are there changes you want or need to make on either side of the equation- either as far as living up to people’s perceptions or changing their expectations? How does this analysis make you feel? Happy? Satisfied? Despondent? Ready to ditch a couple alleged “friends”?

Start again

7)    What themes or areas do you tend to explore in your writing?
8)    What kinds of books would you like to write in the future? What audience?
9)    Describe three of your ideal readers/ consumers (might be a parent or librarian but that’s up to you), with the kinds of detail you’d give characters in your books. Don’t necessarily limit yourself to books you’ve already written or sold.

Great.  Gathering this data should take a while. It should be a real exploration- a mixture of off the top of your head reactions and soul searching. Tomorrow we’ll look at a few familiar authors and see how their brands convey the promise. And we’ll start taking all that information you’ve developed to shake it, bake it and reveal your brand.


So now I’m climbing up on the hire wire... My assignment for branding class this week is to ask friends and colleagues to describe me. Some people who read this blog know me personally. Some know me from my posts here or from the work I do with Vermont College. 
Tollbooth readers- help me with my homework! List a few words that describe me in the comments.
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( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 5th, 2009 12:08 pm (UTC)
This may sound strange, but one of the first things I think of is your physical voice. It's unique, and I would recognize you speaking anywhere. Second, I always believe what you're saying. (So, um...sell me a gold mine or something!) Seriously, you have authority in you. Also, the ability to convey knowledge to others in a way that doesn't make them feel intimidated or stupid.
May. 5th, 2009 01:21 pm (UTC)
The voice thing is funny, Sara. For years, esp. when I was a kid I HATED my voice (for those of you who haven't spoken to me I have a fairly heavy distinctive Southern accent) I even took voice lessons to moderate it... but finally gave up. Now I'm seeing it might be an asset(!)
The other funny thing is it's not unique. My sister's voice is identical and we used to fool people, including our mom, on the phone all the time.
May. 5th, 2009 12:27 pm (UTC)
Indomitable. Irreverent.
May. 5th, 2009 08:16 pm (UTC)
Irreverent made me laugh Stephanie. I think that's true... and the kind of thing that maybe my good friends recognize... a dry sense of humor doesn't always go over super well.
May. 5th, 2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
Loyal. Especially to other women and causes.


I agree about the voice. Kids are going to love listening to you read Shiny Key.


(I think all these characteristics are also embodied in your wonderful characters!)

May. 5th, 2009 08:15 pm (UTC)
thank you thank you my darling!
May. 5th, 2009 02:06 pm (UTC)
Just a thought: How is branding like coming up with a fictional character???

May. 5th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
Listing the character traits and how behavior reflects those traits is REALLY similar- but with branding you really can't- or shouldn't- make things up out of thin air. A smart personal brand is a reflection of the real you.

The other HUGE similarity comes in the next step which I'll try to talk about tomorrow- definitely by the end of the week. Once you gather all this personality trait stuff you literally write your story as a brand. For Stephanie Meyer (in my opinion, at least) that was "Mormon stay-at-home mom writes sexy yet chaste romance (about vampires, although there is wiggle room here for her to branch out into new romance protags)". It's that "story" that becomes your personal elevator pitch etc.-- the answer you can give when someone says "Tell me, what do you do?"
May. 5th, 2009 02:47 pm (UTC)
Knowing you only through this blog and the event on Sunday, I feel underqualified to describe you. But here goes anyway. My limited impressions are that you are intelligent, approachably friendly, generous in the sharing of knowledge, and willing to work long and hard to succeed. Oh, and you left me hoping I'll get the chance to know you better.

May. 5th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
Gee thanks Jeanie! I'm looking forward to getting to know you better too!
May. 5th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
From the few times I've shared your company, I'd say you were relaxed, welcoming, and open, willing to share your own vulnerability. That's part of what makes me perceive you as authentic.
May. 5th, 2009 08:14 pm (UTC)
Wow... this has turned into a great ego boost. I was honestly afraid people would post "you're a scatterbrained lunatic"

Thanks Kathy!!

I think you project a really sincere, down to earth personality. Uh not that you asked. But you seem very authentic to me.
May. 5th, 2009 10:39 pm (UTC)
Tami, I think you are a scatterbrained lunatic--! Okay, just kidding. Really you do have all those great qualities already mentioned and I would add gutsy to the list. And while being very smart and savy you also possess a childlike quality that carries into your writing and makes it so charming.
May. 5th, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC)
In terms of scatterbrained I will not mention your border crossing and Canadian navigation skills.

And yes branding really IS accessible and pretty easy when all the PR/marketing jargon is stripped away.

Another reason I think developing an author brand has to be simple is we children's authors are doing it ourselves. We don't have teams of PR execs like they have at Coke or Xerox. And really we don't need a team. Who knows you better than your friends and acquaintances -- and you yourself.
May. 5th, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC)
I like that you're making the idea of branding so accessible in your posts. Thank you!
May. 6th, 2009 12:57 am (UTC)
Tami, I only know you through here and the meeting on Sunday, but I agree w/ the voice thing! It's so distinctive and I loved listening to you talk :) I also feel like you really want to pass on your knowledge and help those around you. It's not a competition for you, you're not trying to "beat" any other writers, you're trying, through this website and your work with Vermont College, to grow a community and I think that's very admirable. I also think you are very brave. Having just quit my "real" job of engineering to venture into writing, I find it takes real courage to jump off that ledge and you were a lawyer! Quitting that to pursue you're dream is very admirable to me :) And like Jeannie, you left it open to keep in touch w/ you on Sunday even after I forced you to talk your ear off about Vermont College and I really appreciated it and look forward to getting to know you in the future as well :)

May. 6th, 2009 02:01 am (UTC)
It's sad but true that I'll talk about Vermont College until the cows come home. I really really enjoyed our talk Kristin! And I can't wait to see you in Montpelier in January.
May. 6th, 2009 01:35 am (UTC)
Tami - this is terrific. I've had such nightmares over this, because my published Book 1 and coming Book 2 are SO different. You have really helped me! Thanks. Janet - current VCFA student and big T-booth fan.
May. 6th, 2009 02:05 am (UTC)
Thanks Janet! The whole commercialism of it might rock a few socks at VC but I'd love to do an alumni or even open to nonVC writers workshop about this sometime. I think it's just the kind of thing that people could wrap their arms around and end up with the fully developed real deal brand with just a little prep before hand and a nice weekend seminar.
May. 6th, 2009 02:24 pm (UTC)
I'd be there in a heartbeat! My agent talks about it all the time - but writer colleagues say "stop thinking about it". I think there's a happy medium!

May. 6th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
Yay for those other writers because we're going to be way out front while they're still wandering around lost!!!
Forget branding all you other writers!!!! Stay anonymous!!!
Seriously it doesn't take a ton of thought and zero worry. All we need to do is think about our personal brand once, get clear on who we are and what message we project, then live it- which won't take additional thought because it's an expression of our authentic selves.
May. 6th, 2009 02:03 am (UTC)
Cool week, Tami!

Here are some more words about you: dedicated, hard-working, passionate, smart, humble--and you've got the gift of gab, in public and in conversations.

I always think of you pushing your bangs out of your face. I don't know what that's about!
May. 6th, 2009 02:08 am (UTC)
How sweet you are, Liz. Which is exactly how I think of you. Sweet and incredibly talented in a humble package.

Yeah there's that bangs thing. Body language study people have a not so wholesome interpretation of it. Maybe I should start wearing a barrette.
May. 6th, 2009 11:34 am (UTC)
You have a great laugh, Tami,and you're funny, smart and passionate about children's books and writing. It was great to catch up at Jackie U's reading at Politics and Prose. BTW, I loved your YouTube clip on that old TV show "Branded." And since we're on the subject of branding ... interesting that Hester got marked with a Scarlet A in Hawthorne's tale and the Chuck Connors TV character got stripped of manhood's so-called symbols. That broken sword--ha!

Mary Quattlebaum
May. 6th, 2009 12:20 pm (UTC)
Re: branding
That branded clip is hilarious, isn't it. Can you imagine a TV show with a two minute intro these days? When they ripped off his patches my reaction was he's sort of been "unbranded".

It was WONDERFUL to see you and Jackie yesterday!
May. 7th, 2009 12:29 am (UTC)
Re: Branding

I have to add that you have the gift of making everyone feel instantly at ease. You know how to convince people that all things are possible. You are fearless, incredibly smart, tireless, loyal, dedicated and yes, passionate about children's books.
May. 7th, 2009 03:05 am (UTC)
Sarah, you are an angel. Reading this makes me weepy... and it makes me feel like a little bit of a jerk for posting "tell me about myself" but still, dang, it's nice to hear!
(Deleted comment)
May. 13th, 2009 01:12 pm (UTC)
I haven't read Lovemarks but I'll take a look. Glad you're enjoying the posts!
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )

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