In this episode, we once again return to branding, often one of the most confusing topics under the umbrella of marketing, to look at the third step of creating a breakthrough author brand.

Other Episodes in this Series:



 James L. Rubart: This is the third and final episode in our series on branding. So if you haven’t had a chance to listen to the first two episodes yet, you might want to go back and hear those first. It will help make sense of what we are about to say in this episode.


Thomas: But there are no podcast Nazis watching you see if you do that or not.


James: No. We would not be tracking you. So Thomas, in the first episode, we talked about how authors and writers can discover their brand by looking in the mirror. And then in the second episode, we talked about looking at your readers, how authors can look at their readers to define their brand.


In this episode, we are going to talk about how you can look through your readers to define your brand. And there are probably people out there right now going, “Well, what do you mean look through your readers?” So, give us a brief rundown.


Thomas: Yeah. There’s a wonderful commercial that illustrates this. The Dove soap did a series where they would have women describe themselves to a sketch artist like a police sketch artist who couldn’t see them. And he would sketch a picture of the woman. And then they would have somebody who had met the woman just briefly describe the woman and they would have the sketch artist sketch based off of that encounter instead.


And invariably, the friend or the person who just met the woman described the woman in a much prettier way. The sketches, they would show them side by side. We’ll have a link to it in the show notes. This is a very powerful image.


And so instead of looking at the mirror, often, what we see when we look at ourselves in the mirror even if it’s a metaphorical mirror can be a lie where we do not see ourselves how other people see us.


And when it comes to branding, how you see yourself is ultimately not that valuable. It’s a good starting point. It’s a good step 1. We did a whole podcast on it. But ultimately what matters is what other people see when they see you. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about in this episode.


James: Now, we touched on this in a couple of the – in the first and second episode on branding. But why we’re going to park on this is because it is so important. Back to that phrase I love so much, “It’s impossible to read the label when you’re standing inside the bottle.”


We need to go to our readers and ask them, “What’s on the label? Please tell me what’s on the label.” And as Thomas animated, it’s 99% of the time more positive and more freeing than what you see.


Thomas: And more resonant. So that’s what’s more contagious. That’s how people describe you. It’s what makes more sense and is ultimately more effective. So it’s not just more positive, but it’s also better for marketing. So Jim, what’s an example of somebody who has done this well to find their brand?


James: Well, in one respect, I’m not big on taglines. But in this case, a tagline works well. And that’s Brandilyn Collins, Seatbelt Suspense. That’s her tagline. She has gone as far as to trademark the things. So she really, everything she does revolves around Seatbelt Suspense. And she says, “I love that because it puts pressure on me for my next book. It better be suspense that’s so good, you feel like you need to put your seatbelt on.”


But she did not come up with that by saying, “Oh, I’m going to come up with a fun line.” She researched it by looking at what her readers were saying about her again and again and again, in emails, in Amazon reviews, in Barnes & Noble review, et cetera et cetera. People have come up to her at conferences.


And she drilled down and found those phrases, and it wasn’t just one phrase, found numerous phrases that kept coming up again and again and again. And then she honed that down and that down and that down until she realized that’s what it is. So, in a very real sense, her readers wrote her tagline. She didn’t.


Thomas: That’s right. And we have that whole story if you want to listen. We talked with Brandilyn Collins on episode 26. Just go to


Another example of somebody doing this is Scott Adams. He is the writer of the Dilbert Comic, which is one of my very favorite comics of all time. I would put Dilbert and Comic, Calvin and Hobbes, and Pearls Before Swine are my three – my big three that I could just read all day long.


But if you remember in the early days of Dilbert, Dilbert was probably 60% at home and 40% in the office, maybe 50-50. And Scott Adams did a revolutionary thing in the early ‘90s, and he put his email address. And you can tell how long ago this was because it was It was AOL address that he put on there. And that’s all he did. He didn’t tell people what to do with it. He didn’t point it out, but he started getting emails from his readers. He was the first cartoonist to do this.


And it was very telling for him, very educational to get that kind of direct feedback from his readers. And he found out that his haters and his fans universally liked his office place strips better than the Dilbert at home strips. And they realized and saw in Scott Adams what Scott had not seen in himself yet, and that was that he is the best writer of workplace humor comics that there is – no one who does Dilbert better.


In a kind of white-colored town like Aspen, that’s the very first comic in the newspaper because that’s the one everyone goes and looks for it.


James: Same here in Liberal Seattle. Yeah, it is number one.


Thomas: It’s the very first one. And people weren’t posting Dilbert cartoons in their houses on their refrigerators. It wasn’t Garfield. But where were they posting them? And if you’ve ever worked in an office, I challenge you ever to find an office in the United States that doesn’t have a Dilbert cartoon …


James: At least one.


Thomas: … posted to one of the cubicles somewhere. And there have been offices in the past rules about not posting the Dilbert cartoons because their bosses feel threatened that they are being made fun of. But he didn’t realize that that’s who he was. He thought he was making kind of a broader commentary and kind of engineer culture and Dilbert being a loser at home talking to his dog, and that’s not what people wanted to read.


And so, once he saw who he was in the eyes of his readers, he did a pivot. And now, Dilbert is 90%, maybe 95% in the workplace. He almost never, if ever does episodes or strips that take place at home. And that triggered a huge growth for him. So he was struggling in the early days. He was still working a day job at Pacific Bell.


And it wasn’t until after he did the pivot to a 100% work that Dilbert took off and was able to suddenly fund his life, where he was able to quit his job and do cartooning full time and enter an elite of folks that perhaps one thing harder than writing books professionally is doing syndicated cartoons professionally. There’s maybe a dozen or two dozen people in the world that make money doing that full time. And he became one of those folks. But it wasn’t until after he saw who he was through the eyes of his readers.


James: One of the other ways to do research and this is for Indie authors, this is for traditionally published authors, this is anybody that has a book out there, one of the great ways to research what resonates with your readers is to use Kindle. So if you’ve got a Kindle, you go to that Kindle, and you’ll see, and I do this with my books, where I see an underlined section, and it tells me right there, 75 people or 175 people or 1,700 people liked this section. And I go, “Oh, well, that’s interesting. That must resonate with people.”


So that helps me as I’m thinking about how I market it, thinking about the next book I’m going to write, the themes I write about. That is incredible feedback because they’re not required to do that of course. They just liked it enough that they’re going to highlight it. So that tells you that it has resonance.


Thomas: And so often, the seeds of what – of your ultimate success are planted in what you’re doing right now. But it’s not necessarily what you’re doing right now. Pixar, famous for doing cartoons did Toy Story and Finding Nemo. They didn’t start off as a cartoon company. They started off as a computer company. And they have this like side project that if you guys are working on where they would use the computers that they were developing to show off what they could do by creating cartoons.


And that ended up being the thing that Pixar was known for, and they ended up stopping, and they don’t make computers anymore. They’re no longer a computer company. They are a cartoon company. And I see that so often with authors where they’ll start off writing something. They look and see in Kindle, “Wow! This one small piece of my writing is what everyone loves. I should do more of that.”


And that reaction, the give and take with the audience is what helps them pivot into a brand that resonates and attracts and multiplies and grows and all of those things that you want as an author.


James: And how often have you had the situation where, and let’s use some of your public speakers, so let’s use that as an example, or even you’re at a party, and you’re telling a story. And the story that you are telling as a speaker that you think it’s just kind of a throw-away quick little anecdote, that’s the one that people come up afterward and go, “Oh my gosh! That had such massive impact on me.” You’re going, “Really?” So we don’t often see the things that impact people. We think it’s going to be something else.


Thomas: And it can be harder as an author. As a speaker, you have the benefit of the instant audience reaction. You say something, and you’re not sure if it’s funny or not, well, you find out if it’s funny quickly. Whereas writing a book that’s supposed to be funny, so much harder. It’s almost like you want to watch someone read it in real time. And so you don’t see a lot of humor books for that reason because it’s very difficult to do.


And so, you want to look for ways where you can get that kind of feedback from your audience. I’m not saying read your book at the Barnes & Noble live and have people sit there and listen to you. That’s not what I’m talking about.


So we talked about Kindle. What are some other ways to get that kind of feedback, that honest feedback from your readers?


James: You go to Barnes & Noble, and you read the 5-star reviews. And this is where you have to have the [0:10:13] [Indiscernible] theme going on.




James: Yeah. Sorry,  Sorry. Or And you read what people are saying. You read the 5-star reviews where you – and you find out all of that word keeps coming up again and again and again or you read the one-star reviews, and you go, “Oh, I’m doing this again and again and again.” That’s maybe not a good thing.


Thomas: I would say, don’t read the one-star reviews. That’s not going to help you find your brand. It may help you become a better writer. Go ahead.


James: Yeah, I agree with that. Regarding finding your brand, yes, you go to 5-star reviews, and you see those phrases that come up again and again. We talked about Brandilyn doing that. And you see that phrase, it keeps coming up again and again and again and again. That’s a great way to describe your writing for people because if a big flock of people like that particular phrase, that means it’s going to resonate with a greater flock of people that maybe don’t even know about you.


Thomas: That’s right. Other ways are to talk with your readers. But more valuable than talking with them and asking questions because we’ve already talked about that in step 2, but it’s to listen to them talk to each other about you.


So, you’re very tempted to watch people getting into a conversation about your book or about you on Goodreads or Twitter or Facebook. You want to jump in and be a part of that conversation because that’s good marketing. No. Let the conversation happen and observe it and see how they’re describing. That’s far more useful for you, and it gives them more room to have that conversation.


If I can’t feel like I can talk about a book on Twitter without the author jumping in, I’m probably not going to have – I may not have that conversation on Twitter. I may just choose to have it at other places.


And so, you don’t want to be a part of every conversation. That can be a little creepy. But you do want to listen to those conversations to see what’s resonating because you might describe your book in a certain way but hearing how a fan of your book describes it to a friend of theirs, they may describe it using a different language. And chances are, the words they are using and the phrases that they are using to describe you and your book are better words and phrases than the ones you would use to describe yourself.


James: It’s so true. So I’m a professional copywriter, right? So I should know how to do this. And I think I do an OK job in most instances, but I’ve had on more than one occasion somebody has done a blog post on my book, and I find out about it just through Google Alerts. And so, I kind of sneak in and I’m the fly on the wall, and I listen to their description of the book, and it’s like, “Oh my gosh! That’s so brilliant. It’s way better than I can do. I’m going to use that.”


So you’re right about that, Thomas.


Thomas: So, the third step is to look through your audience. What do you see when you see me? And this is the hardest step. It’s when you can’t start with. You have to already have some books out.


So a brand is not something that you just kind of – you fill out some documents at the beginning of the career and then you’re done. A brand is an evolving thing. It’s something that grows with you and that you have to grow into yourself. It’s a powerful thing. It’s something you can pass on to your children sometimes. You see that in certain industries where you’ll have somebody develop this very powerful brand and then they hand it to a son or to a daughter who then picks up the torch and continues.


A good example of that is Frank Herbert in the Dune Series. He wrote four or five dune books himself, and he hands the series off to a son who picks up right where he left off and now it’s this huge franchise.


So, this is hard work. I know we’ve talked about this three episodes and maybe 45 minutes now that we’ve been going on. But this is something you’re going to have to keep working at to get.


But this third step, looking through your audience, you’d be very tempted to skip the step. But it is the most useful if you’re willing to do it.


James: We have like Thomas says, we’ve done 45 minutes or an hour on branding, and really, we truly have just scratched the surface. So it is something that we’re going to circle back to at some point in time and do a little bit more on. But for now hopefully, that has given you a list of foundation to start from and probably more homework than you wanted. But again, we encourage you to do that homework because it can make a significant difference in your career.


Thomas: We’d love to hear from you. If you have questions about branding or if you’re thinking through your brand yourself, go to Feel free to leave a comment on this episode or send in a question. If there have many questions that have come up while you listen to this. We have a Q&A extravaganza coming up. We do them from time to time. And we love to answer your question in that episode.


James: This edition of the Novel Marketing has been brought to you by an absolute excellent plugin for your WordPress that is called MyBookTable, and you can go to, very easy to remember.


And essentially, what it can do is make you an affiliate of Amazon and Barnes & Noble and CBD [Phonetic] [0:15:01] and these different websites where you plug it in, let it go, and it can make you extra money. So go to for more info on that.


Thomas: And get affiliate money selling your book, so you get paid twice, once from the publisher and once from Amazon. If you would, leave a review for us on iTunes. We love to see what that is, see how you describe.


James: Us.


Thomas: Yeah. A little scary. But we have these little taglines we have at the beginning of every episode for authors who hate marketing but still want to become best-selling authors. But you can go and look and see the other reviews that people left on iTunes and see the words that they use to describe us. Maybe you can use your own words yourselves and who knows? You might find your phrase being quoted by us in a future episode.


James: I love it. And so, this has been the Novel Marketing Podcast giving you novel ideas on how to promote yourself and your writing offline, online, and everywhere in between.

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