Our current brave world of publishing demands that an author "build a brand." What does that mean exactly?
Simply put, your brand is the picture that pops into people’s mind when they hear your name. Your author brand is how your fans identify you.
How do you figure out what to talk about online? [I can hear all you introverts moaning already. Just go with me for a bit here.] How can you intentionally create a brand that makes you happy?
As long as you can engage the people who interact with you, via your books, your blog or social media, your topic doesn't really matter (though I warn you away from politics or religion unless that is your brand). What matters is that all your online efforts foster the picture you want to create in people's minds.
The most important thing to know:
You can blog about anything as long as it's something entertaining or relatable about you or a character/motif from your books. In my early months of blogging I wrote Mad Love for My Zucchini and a post on Chocolate Philosophy. I routinely blog about underpants and we all laugh ourselves silly.
I'm not kidding about the "anything," y'all. A-ny-thing that interests you and helps create the picture you want in readers minds when they think of you.
For established authors, this picture is usually tied to one (or many) of your books. For the new or unpublished author, you need to get started on forming that picture in people's mind as soon as possible. Interacting via a blog or on social media is one of the easiest ways to quickly build a brand.
How do you distill the complexity that is you into a few words or topics?
In her book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, social media Jedi, Kristen Lamb, recommends you free write 100 words about all the things that make up the complex story of YOU. Be prepared...This exercise will be harder than you expect it to be. (Platform building isn't for sissies, you know.)
I took Kristen Lamb's class several years ago and here's my final "100 word" cloud:
Wife, mother, sister, daughter, writer, blogger, teacher, blood clot sufferer, survivor, pregnancy fact-gatherer, loyal, software trainer, loves to dance, intravenous coffee, night owl, gardener, funny, books trump TV, reading, wine, gluten free, beach, walking, barefoot, dance the night away, play, loathe sweating, love to talk, shower singer, wish for fitness-while-sleeping, I MISS sleeping, love my Little Bean, grade school is my friend, Pacific Northwest gives me Zen, travel, technology, fascinated with software, rarely bored, Disco makes me laugh, bars fascinate, romance, holding hands, sunshine, planner, organized computer, disorganized with paper, hate to file, love organized files, value friendships, miss my mom.
If the cloud idea doesn't work for you, try the 'ten phrases game.' (aka the "How many words does it take to get to the center of YOU" exercise.)
I will throw myself under the bus here so you have an example of what I mean. Here's Jenny in 10 Bullets or Less:
- Rejuvenated by creativity
- Nurtured by family and friends
- Love to give back
- Teaching lights my fire
- Growing things hits my Zen button
- Gluten-free eating changed my life
- Thankful to be alive
- My guilt muscle is strong, but my humor muscle is stronger
- I dream of being an organized person (and a good singer)
- Morning mantra: Give the scary lady some coffee
And I still left plenty out, and you will too when you try this for yourself. (This exercise is hard!!)
If you're coming up blank on how to convert these topic ideas into action, here are some tips to make the process easier:
- Effective social media is a thousand drops of water sprinkled across months, not throwing a big bucket of updates out at once. High volume sharing tends to tire out most followers.
- Pick only one (or two) social platforms and really embrace them. You can do more if you have the time but DON'T do 5-6 different apps with no interaction. Pick the few you're most comfortable with and visit at least once a day for the first few months.
- Look up the people you already know and see what they're posting about. Jump into those conversations. If it's online, it is open to the public...just be polite about it.
- Find the hashtags for topics you know a lot about or have interest in.
- If you're just starting on a platform like Twitter or Instagram, go look at someone you admire and follow all the people on their list who look interesting.
- Be sure to use the 12:1 rule by responding or retweeting twelve items/links/conversations from other people for every one of yours.
How can you learn about "building a brand?"
For more detailed information on branding, here are some of the best blogs I’ve found on the subject from people who say it far better than I do.
- Jami Gold’s How Do You Decide On Your Author Brand? – Part 1 and Part 2
- Jami has another wonderful post on Branding 101 – Online Brand vs. Author Brand
- 6 Branding Tips for Writers by Nina Amir
- Video: Creating Your Author Brand by Joanna Penn
- Chuck Sambuchino's advice for How Successful Authors Use Social Media to Sell More Books
In my own experience on social media and my blogs, your online pals become your friends. We spend time with these people, whether it’s chatting on Facebook or sharing Sunday morning coffee. People are seeking authentic connections online and, by joining in, an author is opening themselves up for connecting. For introverts that can be a scary prospect. Just take your time and conserve your energy.
The best part of all this? Seemingly disparate people throughout the world are connecting through social media (and sometimes in real life!) and enjoying the hell out of each other. And if you create a brand that attracts readers, they might just be inclined to buy your book. Even if they don't, you'll have made scores of new friends. That's a beautiful thing.
Where do you commune with people online (and why do you like it)? Are there groups of writers that you recommend above all others? Finally, can YOU write your life story in 100 words? Take a shot down in the comments!
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About Jenny Hansen
By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.