Long ago I read a book on branding written by Stedman Graham, Oprah Winfrey’s partner. I don’t even know how I came across the book, but I read anything and everything on any topic, so I read this book. This was the first time I paid attention to branding. I had just released my first book and I hadn’t yet realized that I needed to create a brand. To be fair, not many authors or publishers were talking about that in 2001. So, although I found the book interesting, after I read it, I put it aside and forgot about it.
Starbucks and Nike and Apple were brands, sure, but authors? No, not really, not at that time. So, I figured his tips didn’t apply to me.
But over time, I started to hear more and more about author branding and having a platform. And I thought back to Stedman’s book. The reason I think his book spoke to me was that it wasn’t written for “businesses”; it was intended for the average person. He wrote about each of us having a life brand.
Whether we realize it or not, we are creating our brand everyday with the choices we make, the values we adhere to, the preferences we have. And brands have weight and people are attracted or repelled by our brands.
We are not different than Nike according to Stedman. People support a brand because they like their product, but they also like what that product represents. My son likes Nike because he likes the hip or cool or trendy image of the company. My daughter will not buy anything Nike because the company takes advantage of workers overseas and she is repulsed by their incongruent values. Both images are part of their brand. One is intentional and the other unintentional.
When we create our life brand we also end up with intentional and unintentional representations of our image. If we realize this, we can take control and create a life brand that we want others to associate us with. Stedman suggested that we do this by building on and developing our strengths and talents.
Brands Stand for Something Larger than YOU
Brands ultimately stand for something — especially life brands, and in our case author brands. Stedman gives the example of Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for 27 years. What if he had given up and told his jailers that he was sick of being imprisoned and hungry and lonely and he wanted out. Stedman asks, what if he’d said to his jailers, “I’m going to make an announcement that it’s okay to let other people tell you where you can live, where you have to work, and where you can go every minute of every day of your lives. Then you’ll let me go, right?”
If Mandela had done that, his brand would have disappeared. He wouldn’t have stood for greatness or courage; he wouldn’t have inspired anyone. He lived by his values and principles and his life brand was clear, and he liberated a nation as a result.
Of course, we don’t all have the same calling and the stand we make, doesn’t have to be that intense. But we do have to know our own values and what we stand for, before we become a huge success.
Brands Bring Value to Others
First, you should ask yourself what value your brand brings to others. Go back to understanding your skills and talents and determine what value you bring to your readership and to those around you. What value do you bring to your publisher? To your communities (local communities, author communities, etc.)?
I read messages in reader groups these days asking for recommendation of books that are light and uplifting because people are tired of doom and gloom and being depressed. Maybe your value is that you write uplifting books. Maybe your value is that you’re great at connecting with readers. Maybe you’re a great listener.
Think about what is unique to you. How does your unique experience or perspective enhance the lives of others? People are attracted to people who bring value into their lives. Your brand should have the reputation of bringing value to readers.
Brands Are Focused
Starbucks sells snacks and tea, but they are known for coffee. Quick coffee. Not the best tasting coffee. But they are reliable, and they are everywhere. Interestingly, their original mission was to be an in-between place where people come to unwind between work and home. I think they’ve moved away from that now, but their brand is clearly about offering coffee to people who need it now and like a treat on their way to work or home.
Brands are focused on one thing that they represent. Authors have to be clear about the genre they write and even the themes of their stories. Nicholas Sparks has a clear brand. We know they type of books he is going to write, someone is almost always going to die, and there will be a tragic love story. Stephen King has a clear brand within the horror market. Most of the popular commercial fiction authors have a clear focused writing style and theme within their genre.
The more we can pinpoint what we write and to whom, the more focused our brand will be.
This means that your brand will not be all things to all people. And that’s okay. Remember Nike has a customer in my son but does not in my daughter. Nike is probably okay with that. Not every brand appeals to everyone. Focus on your readers and don’t worry about those who will not like your brand.
Brands Meet the Needs of the Market
I’m sure we’ve all read books that the public went crazy about and thought, what in the world? Why do people like this? There are ten other authors writing something similar and better, why is this book such a hit? Most likely, it’s because it’s meeting a need that the author tapped into at the right time.
Sometimes this takes a little research and analysis. What do publishers need right now? What type of books are they looking for? You don’t want to write for the market or for what publishers think they want today, but you do want to be aware so that if you are writing what they want, you can let them know.
What do readers need? As I mentioned above, readers, at least some readers want lighter reads because it’s been such tough time for the world. I asked an editor recently if publishers want to see Covid and masks reflected in stories and she said, no. They want to move past this horror and readers will not want to see it reflected back at them a year from now when the book is released.
Think about how your brand can meet the needs of your market.
Brands Take a Long Time to Develop
Think long term. You are building a life brand, an author brand. We learn over time more about ourselves and become more secure in our brand. When you first start writing, you may not be 100% sure about what your brand represents. That’s okay because making minor adjustments and getting more focused will happen as you get to know yourself and your audience better.
Keep your long-term goals in mind and keep slowly building toward your brand. Each new book will establish you more and more as a person who represents your brand.
Ask yourself everyday what you could do today to establish your brand better. What values can you share? What books or stories or blogs are you writing that demonstrates your brand?
So, when you think of creating your author brand, think of sharing everything you are, your personality, your values, your skills and talents that will come through in your writing. When people read your books, they will feel the brand, when they visit your website your brand will be reinforced by the images and content you share.
Once you share your brand, you have to deliver on that promise you make. When we get disappointed with a brand it’s because they have not lived up to what they claimed to be. This happens with celebrities, it happens with businesses, it even happens with friends we’ve known for a long time. Our brands can grow and shift, but they need to continue to be true to their deeper values.
Your author brand matters because this is what attracts your readers, your friends, your employers, everyone to you. Your brand should be as valuable to you as it is to your readers, so you should cherish it and protect it.
I didn’t understand at the beginning of my career why branding was important. I read Stedman’s book and put it aside, but it’s been on my shelf for years because deep down I understood that this was important to me as a person who values her reputation as an author.
He writes, “If you don’t take an active role in controlling your image or Life Brand, then you will lose control of it to people who will pigeonhole you or stereotype you, or even put you down in order to build themselves up.”
Your brand is how you represent yourself to your readers and who readers will think you are. So, you want to take control and create your brand, not let others create it for you.
Have a story to tell? Want to learn how to record personal experiences before they’re lost or write a novel? Let started by downloading for free Julia Amante’s “Free Your Story” framework.