Brand Me

I was asked last week if I could maybe talk a little bit about author branding – specifically how it relates to my journey of getting published and how much influence did the publisher have on what I’ve done.

It’s an interesting question, since I don’t know if I actually *have* an author brand at all. I have quirks that I write about, sure, but I don’t think I’ve ever attempted to knowingly focus my blogging into developing a specific brand.

Brand is one of those weird sorts of buzzwords anyway. It gets mixed up a lot with logos and marketing and online presence and publicizing who you are and what you’re selling and why people should buy it from you instead of someone else.

I guess I often equate branding as association. The product is my books, of course – but how do I set it up so that my books are associated with ME? How do I get people to recognize my name and my genre of book and my specific series of book? In the old days, a lot of that sort of thing was handled by your publisher. There was no internet, so books were sold by word of mouth (which they still are today), but things like ads and reviews and tours were set up by someone else. The writer got to sit back and write. Go figure.

These days? Not so much.

I’m not any sort of marketing guru, by any stretch. But much of the marketing and branding that goes on these days is really left to the author. (And YMMV – I’ve heard it said that a lot of this depends on your advance. The higher your advance, the more money/time/satanic rituals your publisher will provide/perform for you.)  We’re expected to tweet, facebook, blog, come up with our own websites, set up our own blog tours, etc, but we’re not always given any real guidance on what we’re supposed to do with it all. And as everyone always says – if you’re not comfortable with it, then don’t do it. Not everyone is a natural blogger – and believe me, there’s nothing sadder than reading a blog that was obviously forced to be there. People can smell a fake from miles away.

For myself I guess I was fairly lucky – by the time I got my publishing deal, I’d already been blogging for at least a year. I had twitter and facebook and all the rest of it. The most guidance I got up front for that was just to change my online handle name to my actual publishing name so that people could find me, but otherwise I was on my own.

I don’t have a specific platform. I decided early on that I didn’t want my blog to be all about my writing journey specifically. Sure, I’d talk about it as things came up, but frankly there are already so many nameless blogs out there talking about how to get published that I didn’t see much point in adding to them. I also didn’t want to be political. It’s not that I don’t like a good discussion – I do, but I don’t need additional drama in my life by bringing controversy directly in house. So, that leaves more personal stuff.

Sometimes I talk about my family. Sometimes about writing. Sometimes about random stuff. I talk about Hello Kitty or bacon. I randomly post man candy pictures, usually around midnight. I post wtfkery I find on teh interwebs. I post about David Garrett. I talk about my chronic health issues. I talk about my mother. I talk about World of Warcraft. In short, I talk about me. (Am I interesting? Maybe.)

I don’t always have a point to the posts. If I can tie them into something vaguely writerly, I will, but sometimes it’s just random. Marketing wise I have the blog feed into Facebook and Twitter, and sometimes I cross-post on my official website.

Does it work? Well, yes – in a way. People now send me emails and tweets and facebook wall posts about bacon. And Hello Kitty. And David Garrett. Sometimes man candy. So maybe that’s my brand? I actually get pretty tickled about it.

Does it do anything for my books? I’m not entirely sure, except that I’ve also gotten attention for having a certain bacon-eating, panty-sniffing unicorn character. He got popular enough that I set up a twitter account for him – so now I get notifications and tweets about unicorns, requests for blog posts from said unicorn character, requests for t-shirts with said character. (And yes, I will ride him into the ground if I have to. Nothing like the double-edged review that says something like – “This book really sucks, but I’m going to give it 3 stars, just for the unicorn.” Le sigh.)

But it’s not too bad considering I wasn’t *really* trying to be associated with these things. It happened fairly organically overall. I like this, because all the things I talk about on my blog are things I like, therefore it takes much less effort for me to *want* to blog about them than some topic I don’t really care about. I try to blog everyday, but I don’t pressure myself on trying to always write “meaningful” posts.

As far as marketing goes, I’ve been on my own with that as well. I know the publisher sent out many review copies of my book…but I also sent out a fair number. I’ve slowly been establishing relationships with many book bloggers – which is important, because bloggers and readers like accessibility, not divas. Out of my own pocket, I’ve printed up bookmark swag, taken out an ad on Facebook, taken out a ad in the Romantic Times magazine (matched by a second one by my awesome agent), and given away an iTouch. I’ve written numerous guest blog posts and interviews, done book giveaways and online chats.

Did they have an impact on my sales?

I don’t know yet. It may be a while before I do…or I may never really know.

That’s sort of the problem with marketing and branding. So much of it is dependent on timing, of getting the message to the right people at the right time, the fickleness of the market. (*cough* Borders) Of course, you also have to have a good product. All the advertising in the world isn’t going to help you in the long run if your book is a complete piece of crap.

So I guess my only word of wisdom here is to not be afraid to take a few risks, but don’t just throw money away without doing some research.

That and be yourself. The rest will come in time.

And here’s an earworm. Just because I can.

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