Traditionally, writing careers often take decades—rather than years—to grow. The Internet has changed all that, mainly because of how easy and quickly it is to establish your brand on the Web. You no longer have to wait for word-of-mouth to spread between editors and readers that you do great work.
So let’s go through your “scrapbook” as a mid-career writer, especially if you’re just making that transition from traditional publishing to the Web. You may already have inventoried these things in a CV, or curriculum vitae, that you’ve included along with publisher submissions. It will have:
- Publications divided by genre (books, newspaper articles, magazine articles, Internet publications) and listed by publisher prestige (if you published an essay in the Globe & Mail list it before one to your local newspaper)
- Awards and recognition for your work
- Professional memberships
- Formal education
- Nonformal education, conferences, professional development, webinars, seminars, and other related learning
Do you have a lot of stuff already? Good! Now, let’s add the additional things that make you an expert and give you credibility.
- Hobbies (anything from barrel racing to gardening)
- Interests (all those books you’ve read on medieval England)
- Special subject groups, discussion groups and closed online communities you belong to
- Volunteerism (sat on the board of your local writing association)
Chances are by now you’re thinking there’s no way this is all going to mesh together into a brand of any sort! In fact, you may be tempted to roll along down the path just doing a little bit of everything and seeing how it all works out.
Learn more about building your own brand in Linda’s online class: Introduction to Internet Writing Markets.
Instead of meandering, try the filtering process to sort out what you’re most proud of and what you’ve enjoyed doing the most. Go through each and every thing on your list with different coloured highlighters. If being a cub scout leader was only important when your boys were in elementary school, use a dark colour to remove it. But, if you wait all year for curling season to arrive again with winter snows, mark it with a light colour.
Then, take the brightest marker in your collection and highlight or circle the most unique things on your list. Perhaps you taught English in Japan for a few years or have sold several articles on crop circles. You can also combine things to make them more distinctive, so branding can be a connect-the-dots exercise. Perhaps you’re a welder and have a fascination with armour from the 14th century. Tied together with that bright marker, they give you a lot of credibility and a starting point.
Another way to approach refining your brand is to get feedback from your community—“If you had to sum up my writing brand in a few words or a sentence, what would it be?” Ask your editors. Ask your writing group partners. Ask your readers. You may be surprised to find there are a number of threads you can twine together into a strong rope.
Combined like this, you may start to see a pattern emerging, so that you have a main brand or niche, along with some more specialized areas. That armour, for example, may be Germanic and arise from your own family tree. Or the gardening may be related to several areas: organic food, nutrition, and frugal living.
Now may be the time to step back and look around the marketplace to check out your competition. Who else is writing in these areas? How do their perspectives differ from your own?
This part of building your brand is very important, especially if one of your goals is to make more money. Writers have always been advised to read, read, and read where they want to publish and that directive still stands.
And that’s where social media comes in.
There are many ways to find out what and who are trending in a certain area, but Twitter and Google alerts are two of my favourites. What are Google alerts you ask? It’s a way you can sign up with Google to be notified every time a word or phrase comes up in the news. I have an alert for my own name, so I know if there are any new book reviews or interesting things coming up. And, I search for topics I’m interested in, like “Amazon millionaires” so I know which e-book authors are rising to the top. Just type “Google alerts” into Google and sign up at Google’s site.
If you’re not familiar with Twitter it’s time to dive in and get started. Once you have your account set up just search for the top names in your field and follow them. Hopefully, they’ll recognize your name and follow you back. But if they don’t, that’s okay too. Then, search Twitter using a hashtag or # for keywords in your brand, such as #travel or #ebooks, or just type “what’s trending on Twitter” into your favourite search engine and get the lists of hot hashtags.
So, now you have your credentials, your main interests, your unique perspectives, and a look at what’s trending that’s related to them. You still need three things:
- Look and feel (Western hat and boots to go with that barrel racing)
- Brand promise (several paragraphs) or tagline (I’ve finally refined mine: History with a twist of adventure)
- A plan to ensure that your brand is growing in social media and through your own blog or website
All of this doesn’t happen overnight, of course. It takes time. Some tips for being effective include:
- Use a consistent image or photo or logo in line with your brand promise
- Use a consistent voice in your online bios and social media, whether that’s light or serious
- Use the same name on everything you want tied together for your brand, whether that’s your first/last name or a domain name like Nomadic Matt or Adventurous Kate
The best plans will include your vision of how you see your brand and a plan to get there. If you’re not familiar with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goals, now is a great time to explore them. I’ve found they really help me achieve focus and get results.
Read part 1 of this series of 2 articles at: Branding – What is it and why does it matter to writers?
This article was first published in the fall of 2015 in Freelance, a publication of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild.