The concept of an author brand is hardly new. Before the internet, writers still maintained snail-mail-based fan clubs and newsletters. They made the television and radio interview rounds much like they do today. But with the advent of not only email and blogs but social media and podcasts, we have more options than ever. And creating the right personal brand has never seemed more important.
A lot of writers would rather switch off their wifi, silence their phone, and focus on writing. Self-promotion and marketing can make us feel uncomfortable and exposed. To make matters worse, we’ve all seen public shamings unfold at a startling pace when someone misspeaks on social media. How can we craft an honest and unique personal brand without ruining our lives or losing focus on our work?
If you’re feeling lost, here are a few tips to start building your brand.
Decide what kind of brand you want.
You know who you are as a writer. Now you need to figure out who you are as a public person. What purpose does your online presence and overall brand serve for others?
Online content can fill a number of needs, including advice, information, or straight-up companionship. Think about yourself and your work and decide what you want your brand to be about. It can be all about you, all about raising pet alpacas, or all about life as a writer. But you should choose a clear, consistent path that sets appropriate expectations for anyone who encounters your brand.
You may want to connect your brand closely to your work. For example, a historical fiction writer might enjoy blogging about their research. Memoirist Dani Shapiro posts very personal and often vulnerable content to Instagram. Her readers clearly feel a deep connection with her and want to hear about her life. Her online brand makes the reader feel like a friend and confidant. Whatever you do, try to create an experience that compliments rather than conflicts with your work.
Identify your audience.
Whether you’re writing a book or a tweet, you need to know your audience. Your work is not for everyone. The sooner you liberate yourself from the desire for universal appeal, the better you’ll connect with your audience.
Get to know your tribe and work hard on your relationship with them. I write a blog with an audience of mostly women. Occasionally, I receive criticism from men who feel underrepresented. The emails and comments from women expressing deep gratitude for making them feel seen and understood more than make up for it.
Everyone has their own opinions. If you try to appease every audience, your ideal reader will likely find you bland and unrelatable.
Analyze others’ success.
It seems like every successful blogger and influencer now has an online course to help newbies replicate their magic formula. These courses usually cost hundreds of dollars. While the right course might help you up your branding game, be careful. What worked for one person may not work for you — especially if their work, values, or audience differ significantly from yours.
You’ll also learn there’s no free lunch: most people don’t get tens of thousands of Twitter followers overnight. Even if they do, that moment often comes from months or even years of work.
Rather than chase some big influencer’s success story, look for authors in your niche with a strong brand. Tease out the details of what makes their platform resonate so well: which social media apps do they use? What do their emails look like and how often do they send them out? What’s the overall tone of their public persona? What seems to earn a lot of positive responses from their audience? Analyzing what makes their brand tick will help you learn how to reach your shared audience.
Be consistent and genuine.
As you think about your audience and what will resonate with them, never lose sight of yourself. Your readers want to relate to you, not the person you think they want to see.
Part of earning that trust and establishing a solid brand is consistency, from content and tone to fonts and colors. You don’t want to seem like a different person on Twitter than on the back cover of your book or on your blog. The content can and should vary, but it should feel like it all comes from a common source.
Create a guiding document to outline everything above, and also to list the technical characteristics of your brand. Think fonts (which you should keep to two typefaces, max), color scheme, even Instagram filters. Decide on a common set of traits that will tie together — however loosely — every piece of your personal brand.
Then list each of those pieces: your email newsletter, your Goodreads author profile, your website, your Instagram account, etc. Use the same (or similar) bio photo for each one. Consider limiting photo filters to one or two instead of choosing at random every time you post. Make sure each outlet contributes to your brand and fits in with everything else. That way wherever your readers find you, they’ll recognize who you are.