There was a time when writers didn’t worry about branding. For book authors, branding was up to their publisher’s marketing department. After all, you were what you wrote: a poet, a children’s author, a nonfiction writer. And it wasn’t a lot different for freelance writers—a handful of articles in an assortment of newspapers and magazines could make you a lifestyles or sports writer. If you wanted, you could always take the broad approach and call yourself a journalist.
Geography was important too. Publishers tended to be regional, starting with the local newspaper and small presses, so you might be a Western Canadian short story writer or prairie poet.
Then came globalization and the Internet. Now we have blogs and revenue-sharing markets and content farms and Kindle worlds and fan fiction sites and … well, you get the picture. It seems like everyone’s a writer. But along with more writers publishing in more places, we also have more potential readers—billions of them from all over the world.
So, the question becomes how do writers stand out in a crowd of millions? How do they attract a share of all those readers?
The answer is with a brand, or as some prefer to call it, a writer’s platform.
Think of branding as a process of defining your writing with the hopes of creating brand loyalty. You can probably list dozens of brands you’re loyal to, from no-name tomato soup (price) to Pepsi cola (taste) to Stephen King (suspenseful experience). Each brand you favour has particular characteristics that you find consistently in the product, right? Ultimately, that product has a recipe that has been developed and marketed over time. You can do that, too.When you create your brand, you’re stirring together all of the things that make up your writing, past, present, and future. You can start putting the recipe together by exploring lots of different aspects:
- Type of markets—blogs or parenting websites or science fiction e-books
- Readership demographics—age, sex, education, income level, culture and other distinguishing features
- Subject—politics or pets or parenting
- Writing style—humorous, witty, or literary
- Your experiences—rural or urban, cultural background, jobs, hobbies, and more
- Your individual philosophy and values
- Your goals for your writing career—everything from changing reader opinions to earning a lot of $$$
That’s a lot of things to consider, isn’t it? However, the more aspects you take into consideration when you’re developing your brand, the more distinctive it will become. Think of each item like a spice you’re adding to your barbecue sauce. When everyone else is just sprinkling a little pepper into some tomato paste, the flavour isn’t going to be nearly as tantalizing as yours with half a dozen spices simmered together and taste-tasted.
So where should you begin? With this article, we’ll start with writers who are just getting established or have a focused publishing history. Next month, we’ll explore how to pull together a more diverse publishing history, and after that, how to rebrand yourself as your publishing career grows and changes.
One way to look at the traditional writing career is by going through those old 5 Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. I’ll give you an example to give you some ideas of how you might proceed.
Let’s say an urban writer has published half a dozen short stories in the past five years, with most of them on the Web in journals, one in a traditional literary publication, and one on a fan fiction website. The themes in the stories, on close examination, are all related to the author’s struggle for autonomy as the youngest of four children of two teachers.
Writer A, when she examines her work, realizes the themes can carry forward into a young or new adult contemporary fiction novel as well as a poetry collection. Secretly, she’d love to write a series—and even has a character in mind, but knows she’ll need to have a strong brand if she wants to interest a traditional publisher, or make many sales if she takes the indie publishing route.
Blogging seems a logical first step here. There are two main approaches, either an intimate blog where she explores her own struggles to independence, which will appeal to potential readers for the book (no matter their age), or a more information driven blog where she discusses the issues around adolescence and autonomy. This would appeal to librarians and teachers who could be important buyers of the book.
But that’s just the beginning. GoodReads is important these days, since it allows writers to get involved with other readers and writers in a genre. Social media may be the #1 tool for most writers, though. She could use a Twitter or Pinterest account to gather and promote other people’s books and articles and blogs, establishing herself as part of the community. Her publishing could branch out further into websites and online magazines and revenue-sharing markets on related topics (and these could link back to her blog to build her brand). In both the face-to-face and virtual worlds she can attend conferences and webinars, get acquainted with experts and published leaders in the subject area, post on discussion boards, and read-read-read, leaving thoughtful comments around the Web on articles and stories she found interesting, along with the URL back to her own blog.
It’s all pretty circular, isn’t it?
Don’t get overwhelmed though!
Many writers either don’t want to blog or don’t have time, so what’s the alternative? The good thing is that any start is a good start, as long as it’s something you can commit to—a Twitter account where you share a link or favourite saying every day can work. GoodReads is important if book publishing is your main goal. If you and your topic are more visual, then Pinterest can be effective. There are dozens of social media options, so pick your favourite.
The key is to focus what you do. Even though you might be interested in dozens of topics, the “persona” you create for the name you’re branding should be all about establishing your credibility in a specific area, whether that’s horse racing or WWII spies or teen angst.
This article was first published in Freelance by the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild.
Read part 2 of this series of 3 articles at: How to Take Control of Your Writer’s Brand at Mid-Career. This article was first published in the fall of 2015 in Freelance, a publication of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild.