Monday, May 17, 2010

Author Branding

Now, I'm no expert on author branding. But it was requested to see a post on this topic, so here's my take on it:

In the internet day and age, you are who you say you are. Your name is your brand, and your brand is what you make it. BUT YOU HAVE TO STICK TO YOUR BRAND.

If I created a pseudonym online
and made up a profile saying I was a professional elephant jockey, and if I was careful enough to stick to that story no matter what, people would see me as a professional elephant jockey, whether real or satirical.

Likewise, as an author, I am who I say I am. I say I write commercial fiction, and so I do. I say I have two crazy cats and a horse and a bunny, and so I do. I say that wallabies are cute, and so they are. But it could all be far from the truth. Secretly, I could hate wallabies. But as long as I present myself as a wallaby afficionado, I am one.

See, the thing is, people want celebrities to be real. By which I mean, people want to follow Nathan Fillion on Twitter and feel like they're friends with him when he says he's filming the last episode of the season for Castle. People want to feel like Neil Gaiman's buddy when he talks about his flight delays. We want people who are famous and unapproachable to be . . . approachable.

So what, you might be saying, I'm not a celebrity. Who cares if I spend my weekends walking the dogs and creating fabulous Swarovski crystal tiaras?

And the question I ask you in response is, well, what if someday you are? What if your book debuts at number 1 and people talk about you being the next J.K. Rowling? What if you go on to make millions or even billions and change the course of literature forever?

Don't roll your eyes at that. It's possible. :)

So let's say that someday you wake up in your castle/estate/volcanic island lair and your butler hands you a paper with breakfast (or your laptop open to a news site. Whichever). You turn to the gossip pages only to see your name plastered across the front of the section. "Amazing Author Doesn't Actually Like Mayonnaise," it reads. "Authorities not baffled but sandwich shops everywhere heave in disappointment.

"Fred Buchanan, of The Sandwich Cafe in Faketown, WI, was quoted as saying, 'Our Amazing Author sandwich-- two ham steaks grilled in mayonnaise, sandwiched between two slices of mayonnaise sourdough, then egg-battered and fried in mayonnaise-- was our biggest seller until last week when we did a little digging. We found a post on the internet from early 2004, before Amazing Author even started thinking about writing, declaring their abhorrent hatred for mayonnaise. But then three years later, they published The Mayonnaise Chronicles! I don't understand! Why would you do that? I feel betrayed,' he wept into his mayonnaise-drenched Cheerios. Us too, Fred, us too."

Suddenly, people don't quite trust you anymore. And fame, my friends, is all about the public's trust of you.

Granted, the public is (sometimes) forgiving. It's unlikely that the above situation, were it to actually occur, would be at all devastating to anyone, let alone Fred Buchanan of Faketown, WI. But a bigger change/ deviation could be.

Now, names, not so much. In Hollywood, for example, actors tend to keep whatever name they have when they get married, at least for the screen. But re-branding yourself under a different name isn't impossible (as some here have proven). It can be hard though, and I think it gets exponentially harder the more well-known you are.

As usual, there are no hard and fast rules for any of this. There will be exceptions to every rule, and like I said, I am no expert. But my main point comes back around to being professional on the internet: someday, someone somewhere will find something you said when you weren't being careful and call you out on it, if it matters. So be careful, decide what you want your brand to be (whether nice, snarky, or professional elephant jockey), and stick to it.

Now, you may also wonder, what if I don't want/intend to be famous? Well, to that, I say that as writers striving for/ achieving publication it's a gamble we all take (yes, a gamble). And being published alone is enough to bring you somewhat into the public eye. In the end it's completely up to you, but in order to maintain a brand, it can't hurt to pretend every day that you're scrutinized like Brangelina.


Joshua McCune said...

Excellent post, LT.

L. T. Host said...

Thanks, Bane!

storyqueen said...

You had me at Swarovski Tiaras!!


I'm thinking a lot about branding these days.


Matthew Delman said...

Considering your brand is an important thing to do. It's also why I see more and more people in the blogging world deciding to go by their real name. For example: Lazy Writer changed her handle to Susan R. Mills; it's an open secret that Michelle Davidson Argyle posts as Lady Glamis, and in my own case I went from MattDel to my proper name shortly after joining the fold.

What does all this changing of handles or revealing of real names mean? Well it means we're creating our brand under the name we want to be known for professionally. That's why I feel like if you want to use blogging as a tool to promote yourself, then you need to be blogging under the name you want to be known as. Simple as that.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I guess my brand is an Alaskan who writes historical fiction, likes chocolate and wine, teaches, and is obsessed with Egypt.

I'm a pretty simple gal!

Gary Corby said...

I was once sent on a "how to be a consultant" course in which at one point it was explained: "Sincerity is everything in this business, and once you've learned to fake that, you've got it made."

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

LT - Great post! And authenticity is everything, and you really can't fake it. (just ignore Gary) :)

I think finding your author brand is a lot like finding your voice in writing. You have to explore a bit, be honest, and take some risks ... all while being as professional as you can.

Matt - you're a 100% right about your name being your brand, which is why I recently added in my middle name. That's the name I'll be publishing under, and it needed to be a little more distinctive. I've noticed several bloggers coming out lately from behind their pseudonyms, and I think it's great. And probably a sign that they are getting serious/further along in the publishing process.

Beyond consistency in your brand, I think author branding has moved writers beyond their books. It used to be that a writer was pigeonholed by the book that they wrote first, or that had the most success. If you are wildly successful with a particular book, then yeah, I think you'll forever be "that lady that wrote Harry Potter." But for the rest of us, I think it is easier to write cross-genre, move in and out of YA/adult writing, or generally go where the pen wills. The thing that becomes consistent at that point is the Author. And if you have to live in that skin for a long time, it's best to have it fit you well!

Thanks for tackling the topic for me! :)