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Your Author Brand- It's Only You

Today we’re going to push farther in our quest to uncover our own unique brands.

Your brand is made of your core beliefs, your passions, and your abilities. It’s what stands out and what you stand for. If you’ve probed deep enough and been honest enough it will be as unique as your fingerprint.

So how do you pull this unique brand together? First pull your completed worksheet- the questions I posted on Tuesday. Study your answers. Really ponder them.

Now lets get going with a Venn Diagram. You remember these from fourth grade math. Three intersecting circles.

Are you ready?

Fill circle A with what you do better than anyone else. What really sets you apart- whether it’s comforting a friend, writing dialog, meeting deadlines, growing flowers… list them here.

In circle B list what you’re passionate about. It might be teaching, scary movies, feeding the homeless… whatever.

Finally in circle C list what your brand audience cares about. Readers pretty much all want to be entertained… but go to your response to the “imagine three audience members” answer and focus on specifics that those people want. A publisher wants creative, marketable work delivered promptly, for example. A librarian wants engaging literature. A third grade reluctant reader may want to get through chapters fast.

So… now you’re going to write your personal brand statement. This takes a good long time, even for us accomplished writers. It's not supposed to be a slogan. It's a distillation of your promise

Where does the content in those circles intersect? Do you love to garden and write snappy dialog better than anyone? And your reluctant potential readers want a book they can finish along with the rest of the class? There’s good synergy there. You could say “Organic author delivers stories kids are proud to read”.

I’ll give you a couple examples from the non-writing world.
Let’s visit the Food Network.

Rachel Ray’s might be something like “regular gal makes cooking fast and fun”.

Paula Deen could be “Southern momma nurtures with home cooked recipes”.  Is Paula Deen really who she appears to be? I'd say yes. Her personality is as warm as a buttermilk biscuit fresh from the oven. Having a defined personal brand hasn't made her fake. It's made her authentic qualities stand out and project.

It’s interesting that those Food Network personalities are easy to tag… why do you think that is? Because television- and the Food Network, particularly- puts a high value on their host’s personal brands. It works for them. It’s a very big part of what made these stars into household names. HONESTLY AND TRULY it can work for you, too.

Your personal brand statement will become your compass- the guide for everything you do. The books your write, your website, your appearance... all will reflect this personal brand statement because it is a word picture of who you are and what you're about. Paula Deen doesn't have to strain to keep up the "Southern mamma" image because she's the real deal.

Let's move on to a children's writer. Today, I'm talking to Shawn Stout, a fellow Vermont College alum, and later this year, a debut author. Shawn's new website is up and it's a doozy. Once you visit I challenge you to get that whistling cow song out of your head.
Most writers come to branding through their website, so let's start there. Shawn, what was your goal when you began to think about your new site?

I had a single goal for my Web site. It was simple, really. I wanted it to display my personality—my voice—so that both kids and adults would get a sense of me as a person, and then (hopefully) want to read my books.
When I first started thinking about my Web site, I checked out a lot of authors’ sites. The ones that spoke to me were simple but creative and revealed something about the writer—their distinctive voice. Sara Pennypacker’s Web site is a good example.
Of course, I had no concrete ideas of how to translate my personality into a visual design, but I figured that I would know it when I saw it. And I did. (which, readers, is what will happen for all of us as we work through the exercises and come to the point of framing our personal brand statement)
When my husband first saw my site in development, he said something like, “It’s random and makes absolutely no sense at all [the wandering cow, whistling music, barking dog]—it’s totally you.” I’m pretty sure he meant that as a compliment. I think it works because its whimsy and playfulness fit in well with the humor of my middle grade series and its protagonist, Fiona Finkelstein.
If I were a nonfiction writer, or a vampire novelist, I don’t think my Web site design would necessarily work…well, maybe if we put fangs on the rabbit. Which makes me think that if I ever plan to try my hand at an edgy YA novel, I most likely will have to redesign the site…but I suppose I will jump off that bridge when I come to it.

How did it feel revealing the "real you" to the rest of the world?

I have to say, it is such a weird thing for me to have a Web site. I never got into the whole personal blogging about yourself thing…what you ate for breakfast, what you did on the drive to work, etc. I just don’t think I’m that interesting. I’m also a very private person – I’m much more comfortable talking about anything or anybody other than me. So, the idea of having a Web site about me, promoting myself—hey, check me out!—goes against the grain. But I thought back to the olden days—before the Internet—when I was a kid reading Judy Blume and how I wanted to know more about her, not so much about her writing necessarily, but her as a person. Did she think peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without the peanut butter were much better than with it, just like me? To me, writers were like stars in the sky – mysterious and unreachable. Web sites, as I see them, serve to reveal a bit of the mystery, making you more relatable to your audience—an extended hand to readers, so to speak—to bring them in closer. So, my marketing strategy is to be myself, and present myself in an accessible and (hopefully) fun way to my readers.

That's a great thing to remember, Shawn. Websites and our personal brands are ways we reach out to child readers, make them more excited about our books and reading in general. Whenever I do a school visit I'm reminded how special it is for a kid to actually get to know someone who writes books- and especially to see I'm just an ordinary person. They see they can follow their personal dreams- even write books. Reaching kids in this way changes lives.

I feel like I've barely started down the road to personal branding but our week is almost up. We'll finish the branding exercises tomorrow and I'll have suggestions for how you can project your personal brand to the world. I'll also answer your questions. So what is it that still confuses or confounds you about finding your personal brand?
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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 7th, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)
Tami - I must confess, I haven't been keeping up with the exercises. But I look forward to coming back to them when I have more time. They're going to require a lot of thought. The Venn diagram in today's post looks like it'll be particularly helpful.

I've been wondering, is it possible to brand yourself too early? At what point in the development of your writing career should you begin to think about branding? Should you have several works completed first? Should you have something published?

May. 7th, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC)
No problem on not doing all this as I've been posting Jeanie! This really isn't the kind of thing to quick do it all in one week!! Obviously I'm moving through all the steps day after day to fit the blog format- sort of like those tv cooks with three pies made. But take your time with this. It's not a race.

As far as branding too soon... there's a difference of opinion on that. Here's a Slate article that argues, in part, that you have to "have a platform" to build a brand from. http://www.thebigmoney.com/articles/dead-trees/2009/01/28/advertisements-yourself
I pretty much TOTALLY disagree with this article. You ALREADY have a brand. You just haven't personally sat down and puzzled out the words that describe it. But it is you. It's who you are. No blockbuster book required. That article actually makes me really MAD.
All this said, brands evolve over time. It's important. Ten years ago my brand involved who I was as a lawyer and that's slightly different from who I am now as a writer. I hope to continue to evolve as a writer. BUT in many essential ways I'm the same person today as I was at age seven. So I think if I'd tried to define my personal brand ten years ago there would be many key ingredients that are the same. And I would have saved myself a lot of headaches no knowing which direction I was headed half the time. If you ask me it's always good to be self aware. So really this brand identity isn't so much for "your public", which you maybe don't have right now, with no books to your credit. It's helpful to YOU.
May. 7th, 2009 11:07 pm (UTC)
I want to chime in that I agree with you, Tami. This question came up in my writing class, where a student wanted to talk about building her online platform. My basic argument was that she didn't actually HAVE a platform yet. When you're starting out, it's less about having a stylized blog or site or one handle/photo that you use everywhere, in my opinion. It's about 1) getting out there, figuring out what you DO want to put out there, and making connections with the other writers/bloggers/readers who are already in conversation, and 2) making DAMN sure not to put anything out there that could ultimately be construed as unprofessional, inappropriate, or in any way damaging to those connections.

I know there are people who've done very well by attending to their brand development right from the get-go, and that's great, but as I say below, my own web presence has really shifted as my presence in the market has shifted, and I find that it hasn't been too difficult to ultimately unify all of my different profiles and platforms. That's actually the easy part. It's building yourself as an author, I think, that can be a tad more grueling....
May. 7th, 2009 08:55 pm (UTC)
Yay, Shawn! I LOVE her website-really distinct and definitely "voicey."
I hear what she says about possibly having to evolve as your brand evolves--my beta website was cute, but very basic, and when I upgraded, I used the art from the paperback of EMILY GOLDBERG as inspiration. It's served me well, tonally, but I'm aware that there may be a time when a complete overhaul is in order.
May. 7th, 2009 09:28 pm (UTC)
We all evolve so our brand has to evolve with us. Plus freshening a website every once in a while is always a good idea. Design styles change, not to mention technology. What looks new and hip today will first look tired then genuinely dated.

Maintaining two relatively distinct images works for some people. E. Lockhart/Emily Jenkins has two separate websites.

I looked at Neil Gaiman's kid book website today.http://www.mousecircus.com/
It's marvelous and while similar in tone to his adult website it's definitely youthful. I'm really intrigued by the Mr. Bobo's Mouse Circus...not directly related to his books, at least not that I know of, but it captures Gaiman's dark whimsy.

Edited at 2009-05-07 10:09 pm (UTC)
May. 7th, 2009 11:01 pm (UTC)
I like the idea of two distinct websites for different genres/age ranges, which seems to be the case for E. Lockhart and Gaiman. It's always a conversation. For me right now, we're building a dedicated sub-page for my upcoming hybrid graphic novel, since it is very different from all the other froufy, girlie stuff on my page. Depending on where my writing goes, I could see the main page evolving into something more streamlined and these little subpages being more and more reflective of the individual books. I'm spoiled, too, in that the Bradford series has been so effectively branded by S&S and given its own dedicated website. Of course, that's the best way to keep it simple. :P

But yes to things eventually looking dated. In this day and age I am always astonished by authors who can't be bothered to create even a basic, appealing website. Like Shawn says about Judy Blume--I would have KILLED to be able to email my favorite authors as a kid. How can you *not* make use of the technology? There are ways to do it that are much lower intensity than what has been done, for example, with Bradford, and therefore fairly painless!
::steps off of soapbox::
May. 8th, 2009 01:05 am (UTC)
Yep Yep Yep
The "publicity isn't in my job description" idea that some authors have... it just doesn't cut it. Not these days. Not ever. Did Samuel Clemens say "all I do is write. It's the publishers job to see my books get sold"? No way.

I consider the "I don't market. I don't do websites or blog." the Marie Antoinette version of being a working writer. Fine honey, whatever works for you. Just watch your head.

That doesn't mean you have to be a commercial hack, flogging books on street corners. Or write only books about body parts and gas. It just means it's YOUR career so it's your job to promote it.

um maybe I better be quiet now.
May. 8th, 2009 01:31 am (UTC)
No need to be quiet--but you're preaching to the choir!
I DO think that if you're going to blog you ought to be consistent and have a point of view--two things I'm not great at when it comes to my own author blog. If you're not going to do something interesting with your blog then why bother to add yourself to the white noise of the cyberverse? (That's why I think what you guys do on this blog is so great!).

But blogging is a tiny fraction of it and if you're not going to be the next Justine Larbalestier or Maureen Johnson (two of my favorite examples of good, distinct author blogs), that doesn't excuse you from the rest of the promotional process.

...Says the person who spent yesterday afternoon emailing with my web designer about site updates and contacting people about upcoming author appearances. I don't relish being a traveling sales(wo)man, but yeah--it IS part of the job. Assuming you are doing the job right.

Or so says I.
May. 8th, 2009 02:33 am (UTC)
Tami and Micol - This has been one of the most useful threads I've read in a while. At least for me. Even your comments are dead on accurate. Children's writing I think is really hard for the branding-minded, because one minute we're doing a PB, the next trying edgy YA...

So these suggestions and ideas are so terrific.

What really struck a chord for me, Tami, was your comment about how you are the same person you were at 7. Yes! Now I get it!

Thanks again for this excellent series.
May. 8th, 2009 11:45 am (UTC)
Great, Janet! I meant to include the point about being the same person inside earlier in the week... it's something that I feel very strongly. But being the same person I was at seven (I wish I could show you a picture of my 2d grade classroom desk overflowing with papers) I'm a little scattered.

Finding the internal consistency shouldn't feel unfamiliar to a children's writer. We hear "I'm still a nine year old inside" all the time. So channel that nine year old and ask "Who are you?" I bet it will yield some interesting and helpful answers.
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