We’ve been told over and over again that to market effectively as self-publishers, we have to start building our author platform as early as possible.
But even before you start hammering together that platform that’s going to support you and your book and your marketing efforts, you need to decide how you will brand yourself.
"Creating an author platform is vital for a new author’s success, and creating a brand is the basis for the platform. You need to know what you are creating before you start!"—Joanna Penn
What’s that? You don’t think of yourself as a box of Kleenex, a bar of soap, a transatlantic airline? That doesn’t mean you don’t need your own branding. It doesn’t even mean you don’t already have a brand of some kind if you’re active in social media now.
Here’s an example of a failure of corporate branding. When Fedex bought a ground delivery service, they only had to expand their brand a little to accommodate the idea of “secure trackable package delivery, express or ground.”
But when Fedex bought Kinko’s copy shops, they were reaching into unknown waters. Fedex is probably driven by the reality that many document transfers are now happening electronically, and Kinko’s looked like a good diversification.
But they didn’t keep Kinko’s as Kinko’s. They renamed it Fedex Kinko’s which really makes no sense from a branding point of view. Then they dropped the Kinko’s altogether.
Kinko’s is a terrific and idiosyncratic brand of copy shops. “Kinko’s” means one thing: copies and computer services 24 hours a day. What’s Fedex doing in there? Now, they are stuck with a real branding problem.
But as authors and self-publishers, what lessons can we learn to help with our own branding?
"We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You." —Tom Peters
Personal Branding: The You That is You
The idea of personal branding has been around for a while. Some people trace the idea back to an article in Fast Company magazine by legendary author and business writer Tom Peters.
Now, in the age of full-blown social media engagement, when it seems that every author has a Facebook page, a blog, a persona that represents them, the move to personal branding is stronger than ever.
"The Web makes the case for branding more directly than any packaged good or consumer product ever could. Here’s what the Web says: Anyone can have a Web site. And today, because anyone can … anyone does! So how do you know which sites are worth visiting, which sites to bookmark, which sites are worth going to more than once? The answer: branding."—Tom Peters
The first thing you’ll have to do is decide what your brand will be about.
Some Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Brand
What will be your brand?
- You as an author?
- Your book, as a solution to a problem?
- Your publishing company, as a provider of education or entertainment?
You are branding yourself all the time—whether you know it or not. When you design your Web site or blog, when you pick out business cards, when you establish a persona through which you communicate with readers, other authors, book reviewers, you are branding yourself.
"I’m a writer, a marketing consultant, a wife and mother, a business woman, a coach, a loyal friend, a passionate seeker of new challenges and also someone who loves the quiet solitude of reading on a beach. That abundance of choices and gifts can sometimes muddy the waters when I’m trying to define my “brand” to myself and to potential clients."—Cindy Ratzlaff
How intentionally you do these activities can have a major effect on your own brand. The most effective personal brands for authors are:
- Tightly focused
- In line with your subject matter
"Your external brand is how you project yourself to the world. There is an element of choice here. You can decide what to say or write in order to convey a certain image. Your projected image will influence what others think of you and how they might choose to interact with you. You may stumble upon this image accidentally, or you can deliberately target a specific type of image."—Steve Pavlina
When book buyers walk into a store—online or off—often they are looking for a brand rather than a book. “The new John Grisham” book. Booksellers (and Amazon’s algorithms) offer possible books based on branding. “If you liked Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point, you might like Dan Ariely’s Predicatably Irrational.”
This is true of many successful authors. When they want to write outside their usual style, they often do so under another name.
"Here are two main reasons why personal branding is becoming a core part of our culture . . . First, we are all being judged all the time, even when we’re sleeping (our online profiles are still up!). Second, we have to constantly sell our ideas to teachers, managers, venture capitalists, our friends and family, to make things happen in our lives. We have to convince them to take action."—Dan Schwabel
How do authors brand themselves? There are many ways. Your brand can be an expression of any part of your author presentation that ties people to your work. For instance, you could brand yourself by:
- Region—”Author of Western Adventure Stories”
- Genre—”Erotic Metaphysical Romances”
- Recurring Character—”The Inspector Brown Mysteries”
- Style—”Easy to Read Books on Woodworking”
- Format—”1001 Ways to Manage your Career”
- Persona—”The Gen-Y Novelist With Attitude”
- Emotion—”The Feel-Good Books About Life’s Little Problems”
- Notoriety—”The Trump Family of Casinos”
Branding in the World of Web 2.0
We have accounts everywhere online. Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg, Twitter, on and on. But do you segregate your personal correspondence and postings from your author brand?
"I’m not proposing that you let the crowd dictate, or that you work hard to fit in. Far from it. I’m proposing that you know the impact your choices are having and act accordingly."—Seth Godin
Brands establish trust. I grew up in a family that used Colgate toothpaste, that was our brand. Why buy a new or different toothpaste, one we didn’t know as well? We trusted our brand, and rewarded Colgate with our loyalty.
You want that trust from your readers and your community. If your brand is a sober, responsible and experienced tax advisor who writes books counseling people on the best way to save on taxes, how will your readers respond to those photos you posted of a wild weekend in Miami? This is the world we live in, it’s just a reality.
"Personal branding is leverage: once you know me, you start to build a relationship with me. Once we have a relationship, I can share even more with you. The more we share, the more likely we’ll have other common interests down the road."—Chris Brogan
Branding matters if you rely on establishing trust and inspiring loyalty. From the way you dress to the way you leave comments on other people’s blogs, you are constantly adding to your brand, and that’s why consistency is so important.
So when it comes to platform building, first sit down and think about the brand you want to establish. How will you present yourself and your book to the world? How will you keep it consistent, tightly focused, and in line with your subject?
"Figuring out your branding doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does need to be focused. I’m not talking about the kind of branding that requires hours of logo development. I’m not even talking about a brand that’s necessarily original. Yes, you want to be unique, but the key isn’t doing something no one else is doing, the key is doing it better."—Penny Sansevieri
After you’ve answered these questions you’ll be more prepared for your platform building. And to really find out how others see you, ask them. You’re likely to receive some really eye-opening feedback and advice. But if you care about the impression you’re making and how it reflects on your work, this is some of the most important listening you will ever do.
Here’s some great reading on personal branding that will help you get started.
Joanna Penn: How to Discover and Build Your Author Brand
Dan Schwabel: An Introduction to the World of Personal Branding
Chris Brogan: My Best Advice About Personal Branding
Cindy Ratzlaff: Five Secrets to Creating Brand: You
Steve Pavlina: Personal Branding
Tom Peters: The Brand Called You
Seth Godin: Personal Branding in the Age of Google
Penny Sansevieri: Don’t Be An Expert, Be A Filter (Secrets to Selling More Books)
Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, a publishing services company in San Rafael, California that has launched many self-publishers. Joel is a book designer, a self-published author, and blogs about publishing, book design, and the indie publishing life at http://www.TheBookDesigner.com.