In this third installment of our series on branding, we will talk about how you can look through your readers’ eyes to define your brand. 

In Step one, we talked about who you are. In step two, we talked about who your readers are, and in this third step, we’ll talk about what your readers say about you. We will look through your reader’s eyes because there is often a discrepancy between your reader’s description of your brand and yours.

Step 3: Look Through Your Readers

Dove Soap recorded a commercial that powerfully documented the discrepancies between how a person sees herself and how others see her. They conducted an experiment where they invited women to describe their facial features to a police sketch artist who couldn’t see them. The artist sketched each woman according to her description of herself. After that, he drew the woman based on someone else’s description of the same woman. 

Invariably, the stranger who had just met the woman described her in a much prettier way. When they showed the finished sketches side by side, the drawings were similar, but the differences were stark. The stranger described the woman as lighter, prettier, and happier, while the woman herself was prone to describe her perceived flaws.

As an author, you probably don’t see your brand the way your readers see it.

When we look in our metaphorical mirror, what we see can be a lie. 

When it comes to your author brand, your view of yourself is not that valuable. It’s a good starting point, but it’s more important to discover how other people see your brand. 

As James L. Rubart is so fond of saying, “It’s impossible to read the label when you’re standing inside the bottle.” We need our readers to tell us what’s on the label, and 99% of the time, their view is more positive and liberating than our own.

It’s also more resonant, and that resonance is what makes your brand contagious and easy to describe. 

Example 1: Brandilyn Collins 

Brandilyn Collins is a novelist whose tagline is “Seatbelt Suspense.” Everything she writes could be described that way. When we interviewed her, she told us, “I love it because it pressures me to make my next book so good that you feel like you need to put your seatbelt on.”

But that tagline didn’t come from Brandilyn’s imagination. She researched what her readers were saying about her in emails they wrote, in Amazon reviews, and when they visited with her at conferences.

Her readers repeatedly used several phrases to describe her writing, and when she distilled them down to one phrase, she realized they were calling her books “seatbelt suspense.” In a very real sense, her readers wrote her tagline.

Example 2: Scott Adams

Scott Adams writes the Dilbert comic. In the early days of Dilbert, comic readers saw him at home and in his office. Then in the early ’90s, Scott Adams did something revolutionary. He put his email address beside the comic. 

He didn’t point it out or tell people what to do with it, but he started getting emails from his readers. Those emails were very telling. As he received direct feedback from his readers, he discovered that his haters and fans universally liked his office place strips better than the Dilbert-at-home strips. 

In white-collar towns like Austin and Seattle, it was the first comic in the newspaper because that’s the one every career person was looking for. No one was clipping the comics to hang on their fridge at home. They were clipping the comics to post in their cubicles.

Those readers saw in Scott Adams what Scott had not seen in himself yet. He was the best writer of workplace humor comics, but he didn’t realize that’s who he was. He thought he was making a broader commentary on engineer culture. But seeing Dilbert being a loser at home talking to his dog was not what people wanted to read.

Once he saw who he was in the eyes of his readers, he pivoted. Now, Dilbert is almost always depicted in his office. Adams rarely draws strips that take place at home. And that change triggered huge growth for him. 

In the early days of the comic, Adams was still working a day job at Pacific Bell. After he pivoted to Dilbert in the office and focused on workplace humor, his comic strip took off. He quit his Pacific Bell job and became a full-time syndicated cartoonist. But it wasn’t until after he saw who he was through the eyes of his readers that he made that change.

Example 3: Pixar

Pixar is famous for creating animations like Toy Story and Finding Nemo, but they didn’t start as a cartoon company. They started as a computer company with a side project where they created cartoons to demonstrate what their computers were capable of. Over time, Pixar became famous for cartoons, not computers. They’re no longer a computer company. They are a cartoon company.

In the same way, authors will start writing one thing, and when they research what their readers are highlighting or saying in reviews, they say, “Everyone loves this small piece of my writing. I should do more of that.”

Feedback from the audience helps them pivot into a brand that resonates, attracts, multiplies, and grows. It accelerates everything an author wants.  

We can’t predict what parts of our writing or speaking will impact people the most.

Public speakers receive feedback when they’re speaking in person or visiting with people after a party. A speaker might tell a quick throw-away anecdote, but after his talk, people tell him what an impact that little story had. 

While speakers receive feedback in person and in real-time, authors don’t have the benefit of instant audience reaction. If a speaker wonders whether his joke is funny, he just has to deliver it and see if people laugh.

When you’re writing a book, it’s harder to gauge how your audience will react. 

How to Discover What Your Readers Are Saying

Kindle Highlights

Whether you’re indie or traditionally published, you can find out what resonates with your readers by researching what lines they highlight in your Kindle books. It’s incredible feedback because readers aren’t required to highlight anything. They just liked your words enough to highlight them, and that tells you those words have resonance.

If you have a Kindle, you can see which sections or lines people highlighted and how many people marked it. If you see that 75 people highlighted a section, you’ll know that part resonated with your readers. 

Those points of resonance can become the themes for your next book, and they will help you think about what you’ll write and how you’ll market it. 

The seeds of your ultimate success are planted in what you’re doing right now. But your success isn’t necessarily what you’re currently working on. 

Book Reviews

The book reviews readers leave at Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, Goodreads, and BookBub are a gold mine of descriptive phrases about you and your book. When you see your five-star reviewers repeatedly using a word or phrase, make a note because that’s a phrase that resonates with your readers. 

You can use that phrase in your marketing with confidence, knowing that if it resonates with a group of reviewers, it will resonate with a larger group of potential readers who don’t know you yet.

Talk With Your Readers

Talk with your readers in person and listen to what they say about your writing. Ask questions and listen to their answers.

It’s less useful to talk to your readers in an online forum like Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook. If you see people having a conversation about you or your book on social media, you’ll be tempted to jump into the conversation. But that won’t you’re your marketing.

People are less likely to tell the truth about your work if you’re listening in. Let the conversation happen. Observe and see how they describe your work. That’s far more useful for you, and it gives them more room to have the conversation.

You don’t have to be part of every conversation. But you do want to listen to those conversations to find out what’s resonating. Your readers might describe your book using different language than you would. And chances are, their words and phrases are better than the words you use to describe yourself.

The Hardest Step of Creating a Brand

Looking through your readers’ eyes is the hardest step of branding. You can’t complete this step unless you have published books that are receiving feedback.

Your brand isn’t simply a form you fill out once. It evolves and grows as you and your career change and grow. Over time, your brand can become so refined and solidified that it becomes a legacy you can pass on to your children. 

For example, Frank Herbert built the Dune Series brandHe wrote four or five Dune books himself, and then he handed the series off to his son, who picked up right where he left off. Now it’s a huge franchise.

Creating your author brand is hard work. It will continue to be hard work throughout your career, but looking through the eyes of your readers will help you define a brand that resonates with readers all along the way.

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