More than an Author? How to Become a Household Name–Branding 101

Welcome to WANA Wednesday, the day dedicated to making your social media experience more efficient and more enjoyable. Today we are going to talk a little bit about a writer’s brand. Want to become more than just an author? Do you want to be an icon, a household name like Stephen King or Nora Roberts? Do you want your name to sell your books so you don’t have to? Then you must understand branding. Branding is vital to any writer who wants to have a career in publishing, yet it often amazes me how many writers don’t understand the process. And that is okay in the beginning. I get it. You guys are writers, not Madison Avenue. But tempus fugit—time is fleeting. The learning curve these days is steep for sure. I am here to show you that, if you grasp branding properly, every marketing effort, every social media endeavor will be magnified exponentially….leaving you more time to write great books.

Writers are wise to respect what lies ahead. Until we are in the big leagues, we will be expected to do a lion’s share of our own marketing. I met Amy Tan last night. Ms. Tan gets a pass since she’s a household name, and her books come with Cliff’sNotes. Until we get that big, we need to expect a lot of work. But I don’t know about you. I happen to prefer working smart over working hard any day of the week.

Publishing is more competitive than ever. Agencies want to see strong writing, but they are now also expecting writers to be able to demonstrate an existing platform that can translate into book sales. This is one of the many reasons that the earlier you begin building a platform, the better. Yes, you unpubbed writers out there? Start now.

To make matters complicated, there are a lot of well-meaning social media folk happy to lend their services on-line and at conferences. Yet, many of these social media experts fail to appreciate that writers are different. Many practices that work great in Corporate America break down when used to brand an author. This is what makes my book, We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media different. I have been a writer and editor for going on ten years and appreciate the unique paradigm an author faces. Your brand will be your foundation, and no matter what anyone says, you are the brand.

This is the largest stumbling block for many writers and even social media folk. Our books are not the brand…we are. When most people hear Amy Tan, they instantly think Joy Luck Club. Yet, there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t see some well-intending marketing person advising writers to buy domains with the name of their books or have blogs or Twitter accounts from the perspectives of characters. Want the truth? None of that serves to build your brand as an author, and it is a formula to go crazy and spread yourself so thinly that you don’t have time left over to produce the product…quality books.

Branding the title of your book whether published or unpublished is a bad idea.

Why do so many marketing folk assume writers need to brand a book? Well, plainly put, it is a really easy mistake to make, because in the traditional business world, these tactics work. Since these guys are marketing experts they frequently don’t understand how publishing works. Thus, they try to give writers the tools that kick butt in business, unaware that they are doing more harm than good. I have even been put in tight spots at conferences because I was teaching contrary to the other social media class down the hall. But that’s okay. We are here to learn.

Why is branding the title of your book a bad idea?

Mainstream social media folk think in business terms. They think, well if I am a business owner, I don’t promote my name, I promote my business. This tactic works great in Corporate America. In business, if I decide to open up a small business, I can go file for a DBA. I know the name of my business. Say I want to open a dog grooming shop and call it Paw-parazzi. Once I have the green light on the name and the appropriate licenses then I know it is a good idea to go buy that domain for a web page. I also know I need a logo and to send out mailers and e-mails and flyers and Facebook fan pages all with Paw-parazzi. Why? Because I want Paw-parazzi to be the name that comes to mind when anyone needs their pooch shampooed. Paw-parazzi is THE place to give your doggie the treatment she deserves (brand).

Unless Paw-parazzi goes bankrupt, or I sell the shop, or for some reason decide to close the business (one too many dog bites), I know I own the rights to use the name Paw-parazzi. Thus I will promote this name (brand) until I retire, die, sell or go under.

As a writer, it is easy to assume that the book is the product. So, logically, I will want to begin building a platform and promoting my book. Ah, here’s the tar baby, though.

Unless you self-publish, you will have little to no control over the title. For business reasons, a publishing company reserves the right to change the title at any time, right up to the minute before the book goes to print. Generally the decision to change a title is in the author’s best interests. Publishing houses do not make money unless we writers sell lots and lots of books. Thus, if they change the title, there is a strategic reason for doing so.

I see many unpublished writers running out and buying domains and building web sites for unpublished works. You guys certainly have the right spirit (ROCK ON!), but not the correct focus. If the title of your book changes before the book goes to print, that is a heck of a lot of work down the tubes.

And say the title of your book doesn’t change. If you want to be a career author, then it stands to reason that you will write more than one book. Now you are back at square one. Are you really motivated enough to build separate platforms for every single title you write? There wouldn’t be any time left over to write more books. Think about my earlier example of Amy Tan. She wasn’t always a household name. Do you think it would have been a wise use of her time to build web sites and social media pages for Joy Luck Club, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Hundred Secret Senses, Kitchen God’s Wife…you guys get the point. She probably wouldn’t have had time to write all of these. She would have been too busy marketing :D.

But what about self-published authors?

Recently I had a rather heated Twitter discussion with a person teaching social media marketing to writers. She asserted that if an author was self-published, then she thought it was critical to brand the title of the book. Fair enough. Self-publishing is certainly an option and a great way to break into a larger market. But we still need to look at long-term goals. If you are self-publishing with hopes it will ignite a career as an author, you still need to brand your name. Why? Well, let’s look at this logically.

A lot of self-published authors are going this route in hopes of demonstrating high enough sales to attract the attention of a larger publisher. So say you happen to be successful and sell a good amount of books.

NY comes calling.

If you branded the title of your book and not your name, then you are back in the same conundrum. The publisher reserves the right to change the title. Also, if you want to be a career author and write more than that one book, then you are back at square one for the next book and the next and the next.

Agents and editors want to see great books, and they really get excited when those books come tethered to people who understood how to correctly brand. So why aren’t more writers branding correctly? Misinformation accounts for a lot, but fear accounts for more.

Most of the time it is fear that keeps us from using our name. Because we fear failure, rejection, criticism, etc. we hide behind clever monikers, or we emotionally distance behind branding the title of a book. I say, name it and claim it. It is scary, but vital. If I told you today that I could hit you with super-duper writer magic dust and guarantee that you would be a huge success, would you still want a moniker or a book title as your brand? Stephen King, Stephenie Meyers, Amy Tan, Nora Roberts, James Rollins, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark are all very proud to use their names. If we want to one day be like them then we need to act like them.

I recommend reading one of my earlier blogs on branding—The Single Best Way for Writers to Become a Brand. I am also teaching a workshop starting October 4th on Author Candace Haven’s on-line workshop. This is a free workshop, and I will be there to answer questions for a whole week! I will walk participants step-by-step through a program to determine your unique brand and then how to blog to support and grow that brand in a way designed to connect with readers.

Happy writing!

Until next time….

************************************************************

Writers! The sooner you begin building your platform, the BETTER! Some agencies now will not sign any writer who does not have a solid social media platform. That trend is sweeping publishing. Time to get prepared the right way.

Plan for success. If you don’t have a slick team of NY marketing people at your disposal, my book is perfect!

We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media is designed to be fun and effective. I am here to change your habits, not your personality. My method will help you grow your network in a way that will translate into sales. And the coolest part? My approach leaves time to write more books. Build a platform guaranteed to impress an agent. How do I know this? My book is recommended by agents.

You don’t have all day to market. You have best-selling books to write! So pick up a copy today.

Need a great workshop?

Best-Selling Author Candace Havens’s on-line workshop teaches everything from plotting to editing. She also brings some of the industry’s best and brightest to make you guys the best writers you can be. I will be teaching about social media the first week of October beginning 10/4.

NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer also has a great blog and a must-read for all writers serious about their future in publishing called Write It Forward.

Other great blogs?

A funny and though-provoking blog on hastags Follow Friday (#FF) and Writer Wednesday (#WW) by Jan O’Hara

KidLits List of the Best Articles for Writers 9/17

A treasure trove of blogging advice from Writer’s Digest Editor Jane Friedman. Back to Basics–A Writer’s 101 Guide to Blogging

A fantastic review of my book, We Are Not Alone along with some great observations by Author Susan Bischoff. What’s My Line? Help Me Figure Out My Content

George Ayres has a wonderful blog on novel beginnings. A collection of the best and great inspiration.

Glen Magas had a great blog about Servant Leadership that is really an excellent read for all of us.

And one of my personal favorites? Jody Hedlund discusses the differences between a Hobby Writer and a Professional Writer.

A great big THANK YOU to all thos who take time to write and provide content that is interseting, entertaining and informative! We salute you :D.

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  1. #1 by dtrasler on September 22, 2010 - 3:28 pm

    Good stuff ,as usual. I’m enjoying following your blog and expect to profit mightily from it, even though I’m a playwright and not a novelist. I think the same rules apply, since I want people to buy a play because I wrote it, rather than the fact that they like the title or anything. Building my name as my brand is important to me. Thanks for the timely kick up the social media butt. Roll on next wednesday!

  2. #2 by Bob Mayer on September 22, 2010 - 3:31 pm

    Yes! I see too many authors using title as their brand. And their book cover as their Avatar. My original twitter name until I read Kristen’s book, We Are Not Alone: The Writers’ Guide to Social Media, was IWhoDaresWins. Talk about awful. Your brand is you. As a writer, teacher, speaker, social presence, troll, whatever. The key to what Kristen taught me was content first. Then worry about your social media presence. Know what message and brand you want to put out there.
    Thanks.

  3. #3 by Jami Gold on September 22, 2010 - 8:50 pm

    Yes, name recognition is important. Even on Twitter, I see some authors use their book cover as their avatar. a) It’s too small to really see/read/recognize. b) Every time a new book comes out, their avatar changes. c) I often skim through those I follow and look for my favorites, if I don’t recognize your avatar because you’ve changed it for the umpteenth time, I’ll miss your tweets.

  4. #4 by Roni Loren on September 22, 2010 - 9:14 pm

    This is great advice. I started out using my blog title as my Twitter handle and my name for commenting, but quickly realized that didn’t make sense and switched it.

    Now, I have a new problem. I’ve built a pretty good blog and twitter following and such over the past year, but now (today actually) I officially switched to a pen name (only changed last name.) I had always planned to use a pen name since I write erotic romance, but felt I was being too presumptuous to use a pen name before I had anything going on with my writing. But then, I recently signed with an agent and we’ve gone through whirlwind revisions and are about ready to start subbing to publishers–so i needed to make the change. But now, I’m having to go back and change websites/domains/email/twitter/etc. and everyone already knows me under the other last name. So anyway, long way to say, if you plan to use a pen name–pick it early and use it from the beginning of your branding.

    Great post!

    • #5 by Kristen Lamb on September 22, 2010 - 9:42 pm

      Sorry for the self-promo, but I do recommend picking up my book. I teach you a lot of ways to do all of this in a time-effective manner. I am really glad you liked the post and I hope you sign pu for Candy Havens’s workshop. It shouldn’t be too tough to ease followers over to your pen name, but do it asap. Good luck!

  5. #6 by Christie Wright Wild on September 22, 2010 - 9:48 pm

    Glad to see I’m doing something right. My website and my blog URL are my name, Christie Wright Wild. My avatar is ME, my face. And my blog, WRITE WILD, is a play on my name. How cool is that?

  6. #7 by silversmith3070 on September 22, 2010 - 10:02 pm

    Most business schools teach that personal branding is at least as important as your resume in the modern world. I don’t know whether that is actually the case in rural Georgia where I live, but it most certainly would be the case in large cities where there are dozens if not hundreds of applicants competing for good jobs. It just goes to figure that the same would be true for an aspiring author as well.

    Is it true that there is no such thing as bad publicity? Personally I think that might be true if you are promoting a movie or something like that (Tom Cruise breaking Oprah’s couch didn’t exactly work out). Shouldn’t you be careful how you brand yourself professionally, even in writing?

    If so, does that then mean that if you want a place to clown with your friends or make political statements or something you should do so under a pseudonym?

    • #8 by Kristen Lamb on September 23, 2010 - 1:20 am

      For celebrities that might be the case. For writers? Just google “author rants on Twitter about bad review.” I won’t rub lemon juice into an open wound, but let’s just say she had to disappear from social media after that fiasco. I recommend that writers always be positive. Ranting about politics or making crude jokes is for amateurs. If you must indulge, then get a separate page or Twitter account and use a moniker.

  7. #9 by Bridgette Booth on September 23, 2010 - 12:03 am

    A year ago, an agent told me to build a blog diary around my MC. I didn’t. (It was a workshop meeting. She was just being kind and offering advice.) I’ve wondered several times if I made a mistake so reading your post was very reassuring.:)

    As a matter of fact, I’m putting the finishing touches on a post about social media. Do you mind if I link to your blog?

  8. #11 by Terrell Mims on May 4, 2011 - 9:32 pm

    Kristen Lamb-The Queen of Social Media. That has a good ring to it. Terrell Mims-The Next Generation of YA Lit. :D Great blog. Good information is timeless.

  9. #12 by Patrick Thunstrom on May 4, 2011 - 11:12 pm

    I definitely agree branding ourselves is key (I’d say branding ourselves is key for more than just writers, but that’s another topic!). But I’m definitely starting to see times when branding the book would be a good idea, even for self-publishers. But every model in which I see that being intelligent and useful requires that the author has already branded their own name.

    An example (Since my younger brother is reading him) is Rick Riordan. While he does brand both of his series individually (I have to assume his publisher markets them.) he branded himself as well, and now his name is as useful for sales as the book series.

    Just some thoughts on the ‘big picture.’

  10. #13 by Maureen Crisp on May 5, 2011 - 4:52 am

    As always A great reminder of what we all should be thinking about…I’ve linked to the article in my blog.
    Thanks again and again and again…..
    maureen
    New Zealand

  11. #14 by Virginia Wright on August 9, 2014 - 10:13 am

    Great advice, Kristen!!! Loved the article.

  1. links for 2010-09-23 | Wordpreneur
  2. Weekly | Top Reads | Create Minded
  3. The Right Way, the Wrong Way & the Smart Way « Kristen Lamb's Blog
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  5. Twitter Tuesday #17 « Kristen Lamb's Blog
  6. Give a Dry Blog New Life–The Power of Themes « Kristen Lamb's Blog
  7. The Right Way, the Wrong Way & the Smart Way « Kristen Lamb's Blog

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