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May 31, 2011

Branding 101: Online Brand vs. Author Brand

Brand name tag on Levi's jeans

Brand.  Platform.  Social media presence.  How many of us cringe at those words?  Whatever happened to the days when writers could simply write?

But the truth is that as soon as we’re sociable as a writer, whether online with Twitter or in real life at a conference, we’re forming our brand.  Branding is something that happens whether we’re ready or not.  Essentially, our brand is what others think of us.

It’s human nature to categorize.  When we first meet someone, our  brain has to decide where to store the information we subsequently learn about about this person.  Should they be filed under “Bob’s friend” or “business associate” or “neighbor”?  Our first question to people is often “What do you do?”

This tendency has caused some concern among writers.  We want to be known as authors, preferably with our genre and tagline attached: Jami Gold, author of paranormal stories that mix escapism with deep issues.  Okay, that’s great, but how do we build that impression?

Building an Author Brand

Some writers keep their online interaction and blog posts related to their genre.  They post samples of their work, write flash fiction, or blog about their research.  Their online efforts are targeted to those they consider their readers or potential readers.

That’s a valid approach for many writers.  They’re making a name for themselves and getting others to place them in categories based on their writing.  They are building their author brand.

Building an Online Brand

But what if that doesn’t work for us?  Personally, I’m not comfortable posting samples of my work (and I’ve heard mixed messages about whether that’s even a good idea), I don’t write flash fiction, and my research is too scattered to build a brand (from Ancient Greek mythology to modern politics, not to mention everything in-between).

Should I be worried?  The impression you all have of me isn’t based on my fiction writing and isn’t tied to my genre.  Let me tell you a secret.  *leans closer*  I’m not worried.

I’m okay with people forming an impression of me based on my blog posts, tweets, and how I relate to people online.  If others think well of us as people, we’re building our online brand.

What an Online Brand Can Do for Us

Don’t underestimate the value of being seen as a nice / helpful / opinionated / knowledgeable person.  I’ve purchased books outside my normal reading habits because I liked the author—as a person.  Any genre-specific, market-positioning efforts they made under their “author brand” would have passed me by, but their general “online brand” made an impression.  I suspect I’m not unusual in this regard.

We never know how a positive online brand might bring in new readers.  This past weekend, I introduced my parents to a new-to-them author via their Kindle.  I hadn’t paid much attention to Bob Mayer’s books because I don’t read the thriller or military history genres.  However, Bob and I have chatted on Twitter and we’ve visited each other’s blogs.  I respect him as a person and respect his dedication to the craft.  So during a conversation with my parents about how they’ve already read all the books released by their favorite thriller authors, I told them to check out Bob.

How to Make Our Online Brand as Strong as Possible

How did that happen?  How did Bob get new readers when I had only the vaguest idea of his author brand?  Because his online brand was consistent.

Bob uses the same picture as his avatar at his blog and on Twitter.  He uses the same name/handle/ID wherever he presents himself as an author.  Each encounter with his name and picture added to my brain’s file on him.  Then only a single mention of his genre was necessary to tag all those notes in my head with that information.

We can do the same.  Even if 99% of our online efforts have nothing to do with our genre or tagline, it won’t take much to tack on an impression of our author brand if people already have our online brand in their head.

  • Use a consistent name and picture/avatar in all places you present yourself as a writer.  If you use a pen name, use it everywhere.
    • For commenting on others’ blogs
    • Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, Flicker, Tumblr, Trunk.ly, YouTube, Goodreads, Shelfari, etc.
  • Set up a Gravataraccount and link to all email addresses you use for blog comments.
    • Just like how Blogger blogs link to your Blogger profile for the avatar picture next to comments, WordPress blogs (and other websites like Bit.ly) pull avatar pictures from Gravatar.  For example, if you want your picture to show up next to your comments here on my blog, set up a Gravatar account.
    • Your comments on blogs will add to your online brand.
  • Be the kind of person you want to be seen as.
  • Work in the occasional reference to your genre.

If we’re inconsistent, the knowledge others have of us is scattered across various files in their brain.  When we’re consistent in how we present ourselves, we’re building on that same online brand in others’ memories.  The stronger online brand we create, the easier it is to have an occasional reference to our author brand take root.

Have you ever purchased books just because of what the author was like as a person?  Do you concentrate on building your author brand or your online brand?  Have you had problems trying to establish an author brand?  Has this changed your mind about how to approach the issue?

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What do you think?

79 Comments on "Branding 101: Online Brand vs. Author Brand"

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Todd Moody

Great post as usual! I think the real key for the online brand is being consistent as you said. Its also the hardest part, time being the limiting factor for many of us. Great stuff Jami!

Mary Jo Gibson

Great mix of comparisons with identities. Narrowing the field is often a challenge and takes concentration, but once you have the pieces in place, forward momentum can begin. Great advice for all!

Susan Sipal

Ok, so checking to see if my Gravatar actually shows up when I post. I set it up once and it didn’t work on one site, but I think it works on others. It’s the time thing that Todd mentioned, finding enough of it, especially when you have to go back and re-work and re-do as you learn new things and fix old things. 🙂

Great post, Jami, and once again, it seems to me we have a lot in common. I loved your tag line (the escapism with deep issues). That and your research sound just like mine!

Susan Sipal

Ok, no gravatar. Another thing for my to-do list!

Sarah Pearson

Thanks for this. I’m still learning about all this stuff so everything helps 🙂

Thanks as well for the gravatar link.

Gene Lempp

I would have to say that I concentrate on my online brand more than my author brand. The main reason is that I think that the two will build together, as you mentioned. Being consistent is definitely the key to this. It can be a struggle at times due to time constraints but as Kristen Lamb has pointed out, once we take the time to build a solid platform maintaining it is a fairly simple thing to do.

Thanks for a great post Jami 🙂

Bob Mayer
Thanks for the mention. I agree with the concern about putting personal information out there. I prefer not to. The most I will do is mention my two yellow labs, Cool Gus and Sassy Becca. But I keep my personal life, personal, which means I rarely put anything on Facebook. Most of my effort is focused on my blogs, twitter and going to other people’s blogs like I’m doing here. I see so many authors wasting a lot of energy in social media without an effective, consistent message. The point was raised that I use my headshot as my avatar. A lot of authors use their latest covers, but unless they’re going to only write one book, that’s not their brand. The largest thing I’ve learned about marketing and branding is consistency. It’s a lot of work, but I have to post at least three blogs a week, bump all my Kindleboard and other threads every single day, be on twitter consistently and respond to all email and mentions. It’s a lot of work, but it pays off. This month we’ve sold over 12,000 ebooks on Kindle, 3,500 on UK Kindle and 5,000 on PubIt. We had set a goal at Who Dares Wins Publishing of selling 25,000 books a month by the end of the year. This was with 500 sold in January. We’re over 20,000 already, and the year isn’t even halfway over. So now we’re shooting for 50,000 books a month by the end of the year.… Read more »
M. Howalt

Great post! I think the distinction between Author Brand and Online Brand was very interesting, and your consistency tips are really useful!

PW Creighton

Excellent post Jami! I definitely feel the same as you about posting as the author persona with samples and flash fiction. It’s not in me to do those things. I prefer to keep to my own voice and persona. I keep my theme the same across platforms and I’m only myself, so there is no change in voice.

JA Paul

Geez… it seems like every time I read this blog I leave with home work.

Jami, you are like Hermione Granger when she tells Ron and Harry they need to do something and they both know they should do it, but don’t want to or refuse to.

begrudgingly off to Gravatar…

Catie Rhodes

Thanks for this blog. You made some good points, and so have the people who commented. The author-brand-building is new to me, and I’m learning as I go. I was happy to see I’m not headed down the highway to hell. 😀

Personal stuff: This was a big road block for me. I’ve been writing with the intent of publication for a few years now, but putting myself out there was/is scary. For me, it’s a matter of walking a tight-rope. I want to seem like a real person, but I don’t want to tell all my details.

For instance, I posted a tribute to my great-uncle for Memorial Day. However, I don’t have my parents friended on facebook. A year from now, I’ll probably have a totally different perspective on it all.

Irene Vernardis
Irene Vernardis

Hi Jami 😀

I agree with Bob Mayer above, regarding personal things. In any case, I don’t think it will interest anyone what I cooked or ate or what I shopped, nor my blood analyses. :D. Unless there is a funny thing about those or a lesson I learned.

However, branding is closely related to target audience. The way someone builds a brand depends on to whom that brand is targeted.
We show a different aspect of being an author to other fellow authors and a different aspect of being an author to potential or existing readers. Etc. It’s not the same thing.

Thus, target audience must be taken into consideration when building the brand.

I don’t feel comfortable with showing work online either. However, sometimes it works perfectly well as a promotion of the writing work to both publishers/agents and readers. It has happened. It’s risky though for many factors.

Thank you for the very interesting post Jami 😀

Sonia

Great article, though I have to say, despite the blog and twitter, I’ve never really focused on building a platform.

Hey, you were the one you told me to get a pic for my twitter profile. LOL I guess I need to change to match the pic I use for my blog to keep things the same.

And for gravtor I never really uploaded a pic. I should, huh?

And I do flash fiction, but only for the Friday flash meme. I figured it was good practice. 😉

I never blog or twitter about my personal life though. It’s just not that interesting.

Erin Brambilla
To answer your question–I’ve had my husband buy a Kindle book based on my Twitter interactions with an author. It wasn’t a genre I’d normally buy for myself, but I knew he’d love it. I also bought a book for myself based only on my online interactions with another author. So, yes. I’ve definitely been influenced by online brand vs. author brand. The online brand is something I’m learning as I go. I *think* I’m doing OK :). The one area I’m struggling w/ the personal info. is on facebook. I’ve had my FB account for a very long time. Longer than I’ve been writing with intent to publish. So, it’s already full of my personal photo albums, stories of my kids, I’ve friended every relative I have (and college sorority sisters, work colleagues, etc.). I have really mixed feelings about opening that up for branding purposes. Do you have an author page for people to “like” or are you using a personal FB account? Twitter I started with the intent to build a platform so I’ve kept it less personal, though I’ve considered seeking out friends and relatives. And my blog. Oh. It’s kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, sure, no one wants to know what brand of shampoo I use. On the other, details like that makes us seem like “real people”. So, it’s about balancing that info. and presenting it in an entertaining fashion (in my very inexperienced opinion 🙂 ). Like you said to… Read more »
Mallory Snow
Mallory Snow

What a smart post! I hadn’t really thought about it like that but I agree completely. I recently read a book I wouldn’t have read otherwise because I’d become friends with the author online and I’ve since given the book to 2 other friends! This really does work. Fantastic advice!

CMStewart

Thank you for another thoughtful post. 🙂 In your opinion, is posting flash fiction the same as posting samples of your work as an author? I don’t have a lot of advice for other writers, but I do write a continual stream of flash fiction. I figure potential readers and agents would generally be more interested in my flash fiction than in my sporadic “how to” posts.

Tiffany A White

I set up a Gravatar but it’s not working properly. I need to fix that….

I’m building an online brand. I don’t feel comfortable posting pieces of my work to build an author brand…I figure my online brand via twitter & facebook helps give my following a great sense of my voice & hope it works so well that they’ll want to purchase my book.

I have bought books before because I liked someone, hopefully it’s good karma!

Janalyn Voigt

Thanks for sharing a great perspective on branding. Since readers don’t always self-identify online as readers, and even if they do often don’t read fiction online, it’s preferable to build your brand on something of great interest to yourself. Your very passion will draw like-minded individuals. This approach does call for a larger following, however, as only a small portion (some estimates put it at about 2%) will actually buy your products.

Okay, I’m testing my avatar, which I’ve never gotten to work right…

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

Jami,
I never visit your blog without learning a crap load! I’m never dissapointed in any of your posts and this one is no exception!
Using Bob Mayer as an example of great author branding was inspired. It certainly hit the message home.
And, yes, I buy quite a bit of books just on what I know about the author (social media wise and personally) alone. Kristen Lamb is one of the big ones. I feel like I’ve gotten to know her by reading her blog. I bought her books after following her Tweets anf FB entries. I have a few friends that I purchased books from, people from Georgia Romance Writers and Romance Writers of America. I bought their fiction because their author brand was something I was drwan to.
And the minute your books are published (can’t wait) I’ll be scooping them up as well.
Thank you so much for your wisdom!! I appreciate reading your blog and learning from you in the process.
Have a great evening!!!
Tamara

Jill Kemerer

Excellent post, Jami. I completely agree with using one picture consistently across all of our social media sites. When I see the same person over and over, I associate their author name better. Plus, it helps build a sense of friendship–kind of like seeing the same person at the grocery store each week. You can’t help but feel a connection!

Tahlia Newland

I’m just me, so I guess I’m an author brand. I’ve read a couple of out of genre books from people I’ve met via social networks too and it’s good to have a reason to try different things – you’ll never get me reading horror though.

You reminded me to change my gravatar to match my other photo on the web. Thanks.

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Mary Kate Leahy
Mary Kate Leahy

Great advice on developing a brand. It’s like a trademark. For example McDonald’s. It may not be good quality, but it is consistent quality. Of course your writing should be good, but you’ll keep your fans buying your books every year if it’s consistent. Really helpful post 🙂

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Sonia G Medeiros

Great post! I didn’t know about the Gravatar thing. I knew that it was attached to my WordPress blog but didn’t know how else to use it. I added my google info. Hopefully it works now. If not, I guess I’ll have to tinker some more.

I generally blog on things related to my genres or writing. I’ve worked out a schedule for posting that really helps streamline the process for me. I post 3 day a week and each of those days has a theme. I do write flash fiction and short stories for my blog. I love writing it and it is fun to share. Now that I’m working on my MIP again, I’m not writing as much short fiction. I think my brains in novel zone now.

I just opened up my FB profile. I was nervous about doing that because I’ve had it for a long time and it’s always been personal. I’m trying to keep careful tabs on the privacy settings though. I did launch an author page but I just wanted to get enough likes to secure a domain name (or whatever you call it) for my page. I will probably “hide” it again until I have more content.

I’ve definitely bought books because of the people I’ve met blogging and tweeting. I see how much that personal interaction affects my reading choices.

Sonia G Medeiros

Hmmm…pic still isn’t showing up.

Susan Kelly
Susan Kelly

Second mention of Gravatar I’ve run across today — think I’m being given a message. You always have such great info and insights, Jami. Thanks so much for sharing with others. Your “Beach Reads with Bite” tag is perfect: short, funny, and thought-provoking. Did it take you a while to come up with it? Did you have some kind of process or model that you used?

Hope your writing is going very well!

Carla Olson Gade

What an excellent post. Much to think about here.

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Razib Ahmed

thanks for this valuable post. It is very useful for all the freelance writers and bloggers. Internet can help us to build brand as writers.

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Selena Wolff
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Wow, good information. I’ve just recently begun to “brand” myself online, and consistency seems to the be key. Thanks!

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Jami,
Thanks for adding to what I’ve learned about branding, by distinguishing author from online branding. Thanks for a great post!

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