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Branding is often one of the most confusing topics under the umbrella of marketing. In this episode, we look at the first step of creating a breakthrough author brand.
Why is a brand important?
Many authors wonder why a brand is important. They just want to write good books without worrying about a “brand.” But a brand is important because it is a promise to your readers. Readers want to know you’re going to be the same person they’ve come to like and trust no matter where they find your writing.
Your brand is how people see you. Branding is an old concept that goes back to Bible times. In fact, the biblical book of Proverbs talks about branding a lot, but instead of using the word “brand,” it uses the word “name.”
For example, one Hebrew Proverb uses this couplet:
A good name is more desirable than great riches;
to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.Proverbs 22:1
If you have a good name or a trustworthy reputation, everything in life gets easier. Sales, marketing, and negotiations become easier because people know and trust your reputation.
“Brand” is essentially a big fancy marketing word for reputation.
How do you develop a good reputation and, therefore, a good author brand?
Your brand is not…
Many authors tell me, “I came up with a tagline, and that’s my brand.” Your tagline is not your brand.
Some authors think their genre is their brand. News flash: “thriller” is not your brand.
Using your genre as a brand would be like slapping a generic label on your book. Think about going to the grocery store for a can of peaches. One can says “peaches,” while another can bears the brand name “Dole Peaches.”
“Dole” makes a promise. (Tasty! High-quality! Fruit canning experts!)
Dole cans other types of fruit too, and because you trust that brand, you’re more likely to buy that product.
Your brand is…
You are your brand. Your name represents you, so you and your reputation are the brand. Your brand is what people think of when your name comes to mind.
What do you think about when you hear the name “Mercedes?” Luxury. That’s their brand.
What do you think about when you hear “Volvo?” You probably think of safety. That is the brand they’ve developed and maintained.
You cannot simply create a brand by thinking up a tagline. Your brand is what you already are. Since you can’t create it, you must simply discover it.
Branding is about discovering your current uniqueness. What makes you different from every other writer in the world? Once you discover it, you can enhance your brand and promote it.
Your brand is the story you tell about yourself and the story readers tell themselves when they think about you. That story must be consistent.
If you’re an obnoxious jerk, you need to be consistently obnoxious. If that’s the brand you want, you need to own that space. Some people actually like to read material written by obnoxious jerks. If that’s you, be consistent. You can’t write or do something inconsistent with that brand.
That might sound like an extreme or even unbelievable example but think about some well-known political radio show hosts. They can be real jerks, but their audiences love their brashness.
Glen Beck is obnoxious, but people like him. Howard Stern is obnoxious in his own way, but many people like to listen to him.
Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Howard Stern are entertainers. Their brash rudeness is part of their persona. It’s their brand.
If you want to be known for something, do it consistently. If you’re a great guy, continue being a great guy.
What happens if I don’t have a brand?
When you don’t have a brand, you become generic. No editor wants to buy a generic manuscript, so you must discover what makes you unique. What makes you special?
Don’t try to be someone else. You can’t be Glenn Beck because we already have a Glenn Beck, and he’s the best at being Glenn Beck.
You can’t discover your brand by copying somebody else who has already found their brand. You must discover your own brand.
How to Discover Your Brand
When bestselling novelist Jim Rubart teaches at writing conferences, he often asks his workshop attendees to nail down the brand of New York Times bestselling author, Ted Dekker.
People have a hard time since Dekker writes in multiple genres—fiction, nonfiction, thriller, fantasy, and others. Dekker’s photos, wardrobe, and persona all lean more toward “rock star” than “author.” When Jim suggests that Dekker’s brand is “Literary rock star,” people agree.
When Jim met Dekker’s agent Kevin Kaiser, Kaiser said “literary rock start” was a pretty good guess. He said, “I’ve been trying to model him after Bono of U2.”
Several years later, when Jim met Dekker in person, Jim said, “I think your brand is ‘literary rock star.”
Dekker responded, “Well, yes and no. I understand why you’re saying that. But here’s the reality of it. I’m not trying to be anything except myself,”
Ted has allowed himself to simply be himself. When you visit Dekker in his home, he’s dressed the same way he’s dressed in public. He talks the same way. He’s the same person on and off stage.
Many of us have trouble being ourselves because we’re trying too hard to fit in, just like we did in high school. Most authors could take a cue from Ted Dekker and just start being themselves.
All of us are unique and fascinating if we allow ourselves to be. Embrace your innate originality.
Step 1: Look in the mirror.
Look in your metaphorical mirror and ask the following questions:
What are your unique strengths?
- What is different about you?
- What do you uniquely add to the conversation?
- Why should I read you instead of another author?
- What’s the one thing unique, different, or exotic thing about you?
It may be hard to answer questions about your own strengths. If it is, try exploring your weaknesses.
What are your unique weaknesses?”
The weakness you’ve overcome often points to your uniqueness. Challenges we’ve overcome or not overcome can define us as much as our successes and victories. You can capitalize on those aspects of who you are.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Be true to yourself, and you won’t be false to anyone.”
What is the theme of your life?
Years ago, a pastor told me that most pastors have one sermon they teach repeatedly with different applications.
Filmmakers are the same way. Christopher Nolan is the well-known filmmaker behind Inception, Memento, The Prestige, and the Batman series. You’ll see a common theme in all his movies when you look closely.
Often you can see a theme running through a certain novelist’s books. Some novelists don’t see their own theme, but an outsider can.
The theme of your life is probably something you’re passionate about, and it seeps into your work even if you’re not aware of it.
What are you willing to suffer for?
Your passion isn’t just something you feel enthusiastic about. When we use the word “passionate,” we’re using it as a synonym for “enthusiastic.” But the word actually means “suffering.” The passion of the Christ is the suffering of Christ.
To find out what you’re passionate about, ask, “What am I willing to suffer for?”
When does the blood start to pump? When do the tears start to flow?
You’ll often find your unique passion wherever your suffering kicks in. Once you find out what you’re willing to suffer for, that’s when you begin to know who you truly are.
Jim Rubart helps his clients discover the theme of their lives by analyzing their three favorite movies. They list their three favorite movies, and most times, Jim can distill them down to a common theme that points to something his client is passionate about.
One client listed her three favorite movies, and each one had a character who was derided as a child but ended up overcoming difficulties and being triumphant. He found the same theme in her novels.
As Jim talked with his client, he discovered she’d had polio as a child. As a result of the illness, she had lost the use of her left hand except for her thumb. She typed all her novels with one hand, but she didn’t let her readers know about it. Jim encouraged her to share that part of her story with readers because it was so inspiring.
It made her love movies with characters she could identify with, and she wrote novels about characters she understood. That was when the lightbulb went on for her.
- What have you suffered?
- What have you suffered through?
- What have you overcome?
- What are our three favorite movies?
- Can you see a theme in those?
If nothing emerges, go back to your childhood and see what you were passionate about when you were growing up. What do you look back on and think, “I just loved that!”
Throughout our lives, we put filters on ourselves. Sometimes our original passions are obscured by what we felt we should or shouldn’t do or think.
What do others see?
It’s almost impossible to read the label when you’re standing inside the bottle. In other words, sometimes you need someone else to tell you what they see when you can’t see it.
You need to ask people. Jim encourages his clients to send ten emails to friends, acquaintances, and even friends of friends to ask them, “What comes to mind when you think of me?”
When they respond, look for words and phrases that keep surfacing when people think of you. That valuable feedback will tell you what’s on your bottle’s label, so to speak. It will tell you how others see you.
As your career progresses, you may want to sit down with a branding expert and ask for help. Personality quizzes and branding questionnaires can be useful for your self-evaluation.
Permit Yourself to be Yourself
It might be the hardest part of discovering your brand. But the truth is that you are a fascinating person. Allow that person to come out.
My dad compliments my mom by saying, “She is so much the way that she is.” It’s his way of saying she’s a fully-actualized person.
We love characters in novels who are “so much the way that they are.” They are who they are, and that is attractive.
Quite frankly, that same trait is what makes animals and pets so loveable. They aren’t insecure. They are what they are, and they’re not ashamed about it. They embrace it, and they’re oblivious to it because it’s so much a part of who they are.
When you allow yourself to be “so much the way you are,” your brand will become clearer to you and your readers.
This podcast was flat out fantastic. I work in marketing and I STILL found so much of use here, things that are specific to authors trying to figure things out. Thanks so much, I’m really looking forward to part 2.
Really enjoyed the podcast. I look forward to the next.
A great job, as usual. I’ve never thought much about branding beyond the genres in which I write. But you’ve given me some things to do. I admit, the idea of asking other people what they think of when they think of me is about the scariest thing I’ve ever considered doing, but I’m going to do it.
Where can I find a basic worksheet to help me through the rest of the process. You mentioned a questionnaire. Is that part of the paid consultations only?
I’m choosing literary rock star as my brand. Thank you, boys, of giving me that one. :-p
Thanks for doing this. It was interesting and helpful. Looking forward to the next episodes.