What Brand of Writer Are You? Part II: Building a Strong, Successful Brand

Absolute Blank

By Faith Watson (fmwrites)

Part One of this article (August 2008) introduced the concept of branding yourself and your writing. The benefits of building a brand from your writing were discussed in the same terms as consumer brand marketing. We defined a brand as occupying a position representing the solid aspects of the relationship it offers to prospects (potential readers and editors) by demonstrating consistent characteristics, and standing for something of value to its users (readers and publishers).

Whether it’s business marketing or creative writing terms, a brand is both a strategy and a result. It includes the attributes its creator has decided to promote and the benefits of capitalizing on them. From the customer perspective, a brand stands for something, so it is selected with a certain favorable bias.

In the August installment, writers were asked to inventory their writing brand and arrive at a clear statement of their brand essence to develop a general platform. This platform is used to both guide and measure the work of a writer who is interested in owning a propriety brand for their work. Here in Part II, we are going to use two sample brand platforms to explain how writers can build and strengthen their writing brands over time.

In other words, let’s learn how we can make the branding idea work for you.

Background Image: Marina Noordegraaf/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Expand on Your Essence

Sure, branding sounds like all boring business, but there is also some fun to be had along the way if you are a creative person looking to grow your potential with writing. Looking at two sample writing brand platforms from Part I, we can use them to demonstrate how the basics of brand-building apply to writing for pleasure and profit:

Gabby: I craft travel stories that always end with a connection to the universal qualities of the human condition. My audience enjoys up close and personal tales of little known and exotic places, and the everyday stories of the people who inhabit them.

Luke: Sickeningly realistic slasher novels with a hard drinkin’, no holds barred, in your face attitude. Favorite short stories for reading while waiting for new dagger tattoo.

The first brand building tactic you should use is surveillance. It’s important for you to know what’s out there in all the places you’d like to be a force. You should regularly survey the markets and the competition for your writing.

In Gabby’s case, she should keep an eye on travel magazines worldwide, including in-flight and cruise cabin publications. Direct source publications such as city cultural organizations or chambers of commerce shouldn’t be overlooked. Who is writing all the articles on small towns in the US costal states these days? Is photography a key element?

For Luke, it’s important that he look for new openings in his already well-defined market. If he has direct access to readers with similar interests, he can take advantage of that and survey them directly. What are they reading? Can he lurk on their favorite online forums?

The second tactic falls in line right after the first. Writers should take stock of their ammunition. Repair it, polish it, load it and distribute it accordingly. If you have come this far and actually have a notion of the type of brand you’re pushing, then surely you have some writing and knowledge to collect and use, right? Put it in play!

Luke may have three notebooks filled with scary, gory stories, just like the ones he likes to read. Now is the time for him to type them up, get some feedback and hit those target markets which he identified during surveillance. If he’s farther along than that, say, with a pile of rejection slips, it’s time for him to retool and rearm. How can he hone his work according to his aspirations for his brand, as well as his competition?

Gabby may have sold several stories over the last few years, but feel her pay scale is lacking as well as her prestige. Perfect opportunity for a branding approach! How can she inflate her perceived value? Is it the locations she is writing about, or the interests of the readers she is targeting? Fine dining and elite travel markets can be cracked, but perhaps not by a simple story following an island coconut. Unless the coconut was enjoyed by a popular celebrity chef, or compared to a coconut costing five times as much on another island more favored by rich tourists. In the world of brands, perception is everything.

More experienced writers will also want to consider if it’s time to expand their brands.

Sometimes print markets dry up, but in today’s webscape, there are always new doors opening as well. Many of them rely on the niche. Gabby can create an all-coconut blog or pitch a book of her reviews and photos of famous sunsets around the world. Luke can self-publish and invest in enough copies for every tattoo parlor in a 100-mile radius, for starters. (And, he might even be able to write off his expenses for that distribution road trip!) Niches work vertically. But writers can also expand horizontally.

For instance, topical trends pop up all the time. Writers can grow their brands in new directions by maintaining a simple awareness to widening interests in their general field of specialty.

When Bridges of Madison County became a novel, and then later film, phenomenon (I’m not commenting on quality here, just popularity) a few smart writers expanded their brands horizontally to ride on the county’s and bridges’ new fame. Non-fiction books featuring covered bridges popped up on bookstands and so did stories resembling the tale’s aloof roving photographer and the immigrant country housewife. Gabby might have run into a similar tale or two during her travels, and if she were trying to expand her brand, might have sold them under the umbrella of her travel expertise as well as her platform’s promise to speak of the human condition in little known places.

Another horizontal expansion for a growing writer’s brand can be found in audience. Look at the warm circle of people around Luke’s original audience. A little bit of research might prove that there’s a similar mindset ready to read angry tales of horror and mayhem among users of other kinds of brands. What about motorcycle riders, cigarette smokers, extreme sports enthusiasts or heavy metal musicians? If Luke tries to market his work horizontally, he might find an incredibly receptive audience in other arenas, or better still, a publisher from another genre who wants to expand into fiction like Luke’s.

Keep Your Promises

All things considered, the most important thing any brand of writer can do is keep their promises. An audience or market is like your faithful guard dog at home. When you arrive, you want it to recognize that hand on the doorknob as yours. The best writing will begin with what is in your heart, include real understanding of the topic or characters by the author, and end with something unique and enjoyed by its audience. A brand of writing will help guide you along your path toward achieving all that and more.

I once went to a very looong seminar on branding. I expected to be bored out of my mind but was instead impressed and moved by the possibilities of this mindset and approach. I remember one theory above all that stuck with me regarding our brands, what good they do, and how we relate them:

The quality of your life depends on the quality of your relationships.

The quality of your relationships depends on the quality of your communication.

The quality of your communication (noun) depends on the quality of your communication (verb).

To communicate with truth, style, understanding and conviction is the key to… everything.

In short, writing and trying to sell what you’ve written is just like developing a product and trying to sell that product. Your approach should be to say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you said you were going to do.

It’s really quite simple… but it’s definitely not easy. Still, it’s worth it! The most successful writers in the world (and not all names you recognize, either) have arrived at their success by defining and maximizing the essence and attributes of their brands. Not always deliberately, but you can have that extra advantage now that you know what brand of writer you are.

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