For Authors Brand is Everything

Photo by J Travis Washburn via Creative Commons
[Mark Twain]I’ve spoken about this before. One of the great challenges for an indie author is dividing time between actual writing and marketing. Sometimes I think about giants like Hemingway, Faulkner and Twain. How did they do it?

If I had to pick one person from history to travel forward in time though, it would be Mark Twain. That guy knew brand and I’m sure he would do very well using Facebook and Twitter. Can you imagine? Here are a few of his most famous quotes. And look—they fit into 140 characters!

All right, then, I’ll go to hell.
I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.
There are lies, damned lies and statistics.

Of course, this guy already figured it out—he likes to tweet as Mark Twain. Maybe I should tweet as Truman Capote.

Fame is only good for one thing—they will cash your check in a small town.

Getting It Right
Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the first thing this famous author did was to fix his name. Mark Twain has a nice resonance, doesn’t it? It’s easy to remember and it fits nicely on a book cover. I’m not sure that’s what he was thinking but it turned out well for him. Stephen King is another great name. And he was lucky enough to come into the world with that moniker. Yay Steve!

We all know Mark Twain as a writer, humorist, traveler, public speaker and general troublemaker. He had an amazing wit, and could really lay into someone around topics he was passionate about.

I don’t know that he had a publicist but it seems to me he was very conscious of his image—I don’t think they called it “brand” in those days. We are all familiar with the wild shock of white hair, the white linen suit and the ever-present cigar. In my opinion he was a marketing genius.

Shy Will Get You Bupkes
I’ve met many writers over the years, and I will tell you that some are not comfortable in the spotlight. They are introverts who love working behind the scenes, writing great stories which—if they are lucky enough—get turned into movies.

If you ask my wife, she will tell you I am an extrovert. I like being out and about, meeting people and engaging in interesting discussions. That’s just me. But I don’t think I would be comfortable being on the talk show circuit, delivering pithy one-liners in front of a studio audience. I’m better in small groups really, having a lively conversation over dinner.

Which leads me to Brand. Many of the more seasoned authors out there know all about this. But there are those who are just getting started—who want to understand what it takes to not only write but to market themselves. I’m talking to you! As an aside, I haven’t figured it all out but I’m happy to share what I know.

What is Brand Anyway?
Brand is rather a hard thing to define. I’ll use this definition from Merriam-Webster:

A class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer.

Now let’s modify the definition to apply to authors:

A collection of writings identified by name as the product of a single author.

How about James Patterson or Tom Clancy? You have only to utter their names, book titles and genres and scenes play out in your brain. Those guys get brand.

[Kleenex]When you do it right, here is what happens. Not only is your name recognizable but the name itself becomes embedded in the culture on a global scale. Kind of like Kleenex.

How many people say, “Can you hand me a tissue?” More often it’s, “Have you got a Kleenex?” The same can be said for Xerox and Coke.

There’s a huge responsibility that comes with this identification though. Call me crazy but I think the Kleenex Corporation wants to ensure that when you think of their products, you picture nice, soft little squares of heaven—scented and unscented—that will make you feel better, especially when you have a cold.

Getting back to authors. When you think of horror, what is the first name that comes to mind? Stephen King, right? Of course. He has spent decades building his brand. He is synonymous with horror.

Can we all hope to achieve that kind of brand recognition? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a nice living. People who love Stephen King don’t just read him. They read John Saul, Dean Koontz and many others. It’s a huge playground. We can all have a chance at getting the ball.

Being Aware 24×7
So what does building your brand mean? For me, it’s awareness. I try to be thoughtful about everything I post. I don’t always succeed. But being aware is important because what gets out into the Internet stays forever. So no drunk tweeting, no profanity and no mean-spirited attacks on others. A good general rule is to always take the high road.

Linking your digital assets is important as well. There should be a synergy among the various digital destinations you have out there. Now I admit that I am not there yet—mostly due to a lack of time. But I am chipping away at my digital personas every week, and over time you will see a smooth, logical connection between my various sites.

[Twitter Default Image]Here’s a quick tip to get you started. Want to know what not to do on Twitter? Don’t create a Twitter account, leave the default image and expect to get followers. I mean, seriously? Who in the world is going to follow this?

Also don’t create some arcane Twitter handle with no description. People want to know something about you. Tell them. Remember, you are building your brand and it’s supposed to stand out from everything else out there. More importantly it’s supposed to mean something.

I’ll leave you with this article by Brian Solis, “The Importance of Brand in an Era of Digital Darwinism.” In it, he says this:

The point of natural selection is that not every business will make it.

Substitute “author” for “business” and this gets a little scary. You can write and publish all you want but if you don’t pay attention to your brand, you will die a digital death. It’s a simple as that. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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