Home    Workshops    Members Only    Contests    Join    Contact us                       RWA Chapter

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Author Branding 101

Please welcome guest blogger Kristen Lamb

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? Well, first, write really, really, really great books. Excellent writing is the best thing to do to create an author brand. But, aside from that? To become an author brand, we must understand branding and how it is different for writers.

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. 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.

I'm here to teach you how to work smarter, not harder.

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. The Digital Age has also opened up many new publishing choices, so for anyone considering indie publishing or self-publsihing, you guys really need to pay attention. 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. Writers are not car insurance and books are not tacos.

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. Your books are not your brand. Your NAME is the brand--the books are merely some of the ingredients that make up the brand. Prego is the brand of spaghetti sauce. Tomatoes, basil, oregano, etc. are what make up Prego. Make sense? Before social media, successful books were the only ingredients to an author brand. These days? Blogs, tweets, Facebook and all our interactions also contribute heavily to what we eventually call an author brand.

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 our brand as an author, and it is a formula to go crazy and spread ourselves so thinly that we don’t have time left over to produce the product…quality books.

Branding the title of our 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 your big name authors. Let's take 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.

What about self-published authors? Are they any different?

I once 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 and the...this is where you start drinking directly from the margarita machine.

Agents and editors want to see great books, and they really get excited when those books come tethered to people who understand 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.

When we build everything on our name, we save time and we are also far more resilient when it comes to changes in social media.

Besides, 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.

Thanks so much for having me and I really look forward to helping each end every one of you reach your dreams.

Kristen Lamb is the author of the #1 best selling books, "We Are Not Alone--The Writer's Guide to Social Media" and "Are You There, Blog? It's Me, Writer." She is currently represented by Russell Galen of SGG Literary NYC. In her free time, Kristen trains sea monkeys for the purposes of world domination....when she isn't trying to saw through her ankle monitor.


Anonymous said...

Love this post, Kristen! Thanks so much for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Great Post, thanks for sharing! :)