Photo Courtesy of Tony Harrison via Creative Commons
One of the great challenges for an indie author is dividing time between actual writing and marketing. And I would argue that the same goes for writers who are as yet unpublished. Sometimes, I like to think about giants like Joyce, Fitzgerald and Nabokov. How did those guys do it? Most likely, not at all—or very little. The work spoke for itself. But, hey, we’re talking about us. What are we supposed to do?
If I had to pick one person from history to travel forward in time and demonstrate how it’s done, it would have to be Mark Twain. That guy knew brand, and I’m sure he would do very well using Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Can you imagine? Here are a few of his most famous quotes. And look—they fit so nicely 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.
Truman Capote was another famous author who truly understood brand. How about this tweetable quote:
Fame is only good for one thing—they will cash your check in a small town.
Getting It Right
Okay, back to Twain. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the first thing he 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 going for, but it certainly turned out well for him. Stephen King is another one. 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 believe 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, Mark Twain was a marketing genius.
Shy Will Get You Bupkes
I’ve met many writers over the years, and I will tell you that most are not comfortable in the spotlight. They are card-carrying introverts who love working behind the scenes, writing great stories which—if they’re lucky—get turned into movies.
If you ask my wife, she will tell you that 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.
Which leads me to Brand. Many of the more seasoned authors out there know all about this. But there are those like you who are just getting started—who want to understand what it takes to not only write well but market well. As an aside, I haven’t figured it all out yet, 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? You have only to utter his name, and book titles and scenes play out in your head. Never mind that he has a writer factory churning out books, he definitely gets brand, my friend.
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. His name 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 H. P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub and many others. It’s a huge playground.
Being Vigilant 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 troll 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. Make sure your bio and headshot are uniform across the various social media sites. And use hyperlinks to cross-reference the other sites. This also helps with SEO, which is another topic entirely.
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 an egg? 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 post by Dan Blank of WeGrowMedia.com, “Branding for Writers: An Essential Step to Building Your Author Platform.” In it, he states:
This may sound basic, but many writers have a hard time embracing [their] identity. They see themselves as a writer only after the definitions of their day job, role in their family, etc. When speaking about your work, own that identity of being a writer.
Can’t get any clearer than that. You can write and publish all you want, but if you don’t pay attention to your brand you will have a tough time convincing people to buy your books. Best of luck in all your endeavors.