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January 29, 2013

Branding 101: Who Do You Want to Be?

Student in hallway with text: High School Part Two? Branding 101: Who Do You Want to Be?

In the comments of my last post about watching our online behavior, some people worried about the bigger picture. Can we still be true to ourselves? Should we not express opinions at all? Would it be safer to stay offline?

Let’s work through those questions in reverse order. Locking ourselves in a closet and just writing might sound ideal (for many reasons), but never interacting online isn’t realistic for most people anymore—writer or not.

At least that means we’re not alone in dealing with this problem. Everyone is creating a digital footprint now. For better or for worse.

As I mentioned in my reply to Kristen Lamb’s comment:

“We’re talking about authors creating their brand here, but when we stop and go back to that definition of what is a brand—the impression others have of us—we see that everyone, whether in the public eye or not, creates impressions wherever they go. We’re going to have to raise our children to have this same “don’t post anything on the internet that you don’t want your future boss, spouse, mother-in-law, kids to see” attitude. This is a huge adjustment for everyone.”

Writers or not, we’d have to worry about our online personas. And many of the techniques writers use to find success—word-of-mouth, street teams, and networking/tribes—build on our online relationships. So staying offline and isolating ourselves isn’t an option.

What about expressing (or not) our opinions? Well, I have plenty of opinions and I express them all the time, so I’m certainly not one to say that we should never express opinions. *grin* Instead, the comments of the last post focused on how there’s a big difference between expressing opinions in a respectful way and creating the impression that “my way is better than your way.”

A superior attitude of “anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot” will rub people the wrong way. As long as we’re sharing our opinions in a way that leaves room for discussion, respect, and disagreement, we’ll usually be safe.

So this bring us back to the core issue: Can we still be true to ourselves? That depends. Does our desired brand match who we are?

To know that, we might have to step back and ask ourselves who we want to be. Wait, who we want to be? Didn’t we figure all that out in high school or when we were (to borrow the term) a “new adult”? Maybe, maybe not.

I read a fascinating article by Jennifer Senior in the New York Magazine about high school socialization. The article is a must read for those who write Young Adult or New Adult stories, but for the rest of us, it still raises some interesting questions and makes some startling observations:

“It has long been known, for instance, that male earning potential correlates rather bluntly with height. But … it wasn’t adult height that seemed to affect their subjects’ wages; it was their height at 16. … [Similarly] adults of a normal weight…are far more likely to have higher self-esteem if they were a normal weight, rather than overweight or obese, in late adolescence. … Our self-image from those years, in other words, is especially adhesive.”

What this means is that if we never ask ourselves who we want to be, we’re extremely likely to let our teenage self-image dictate our lives. If we thought of ourselves as a loser in high school, we’re likely to still think of ourselves that way, no matter how much we accomplish—unless we consciously recognize and create our adult self-image.

I dare say I’m an expert at this. I’ve “reinvented” myself countless times throughout my life, not by accident, but by conscious decision.

Every time I changed schools, I consciously decided whether the labels others had assigned to me were ones I wanted to keep or ditch. “Hmm, ‘bullying victim’? I’ll leave that one behind. ‘Teacher’s pet’? Sure, why not.” I did the same thing most of the times I moved. (I moved fourteen times in nine years. Like I said, I’m an expert at this.)

As teenagers, we struggled to figure out who we were, but too many times, we let others dictate those labels. As adults, especially in the online world, we have more power and ability to label ourselves, but only if we make these conscious decisions.

Once we know those labels we want for ourselves, we have our brand. And once we have our brand, we’ll know whether this opinion or that online behavior matches the impression we want to create.

For example, many romance writers post pictures of scantily clad men. I don’t. Not that I have anything against those pictures, but that’s just not what I, personally, want to do.

You’ll find a near-equal number of pictures of men and women (most of them not scantily clad) on my Pinterest “character idea” board because I focus on the characters themselves rather than just the hotness factor. If I wanted to create that “pictures of hot guys” brand for me, I’d have to change who I was or be untrue to myself.

I made a conscious decision not to change and to instead stay true to myself. I’m fine with “missing” that aspect of a romance author’s brand. I’d rather people think of me for quality stories more than for pictures of hot guys.

Others make different decisions, either because those pictures already reflect who they are or because that brand reflects who they want to be. There’s no wrong answer. While I don’t post those pictures, I certainly appreciate those who choose to share. *grin*

So if we feel like we can’t be ourselves online, maybe the real issue is that there’s a mismatch between who we really are and who we want to be. And maybe by consciously identifying that mismatch, we’ll know whether we have to change our behavior to become the person we want to be, or whether we have to change our self-image.

In other words, regardless of our plotter or pantser tendencies when it comes to our writing, we probably should be a plotter when it comes to our brand. Only by consciously deciding what’s important to us will we know how to be true to ourselves. *smile*

Have you ever consciously reinvented yourself? If so, why? Do you think our teenage self-image continues to affect us as adults? How much is your current self-image a carryover from your teenage years? Does your brand match who you are (or who you want to be)? Do you struggle with feeling like you can’t be true to yourself online?

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Taurean Watkins

Another provoking post, Jami. How do you do it? I don’t think we should be so chained to our online personas (Or our past selves, for that matter…) that we leave no room for change, from ourselves, and toward others, at least that’s how I see it. This might be colored with how limited my high school experience was (Up to 10th Grade), but I don’t think the teenage me defines my current adult self, in as exact terms as often theorized about, let alone the little kid version of myself. I will concede (Honesty is part of my character, not just my “brand.”) that some things carried over. I can extremely stubborn, emotional, with more mood swings, and a raging temper than I care to admit, though I have mellowed it some from what it was several years ago. I do believe the essence of my teen self is still part of me, the high standards I set for myself, my efforts to replace envy with empathy, hopeful to fault at times, it’s just more informed. Less likely to explode into drama few of us need or deserve. While I frankly could do without the demonic impatience, uncontrollable crying during hard times, and my fierce temper, I otherwise don’t regret anything. Either about who I am now or who I used to be. Have I said things I perhaps shouldn’t? Yes. But I also have avoided the vial remarks people can spout on Twitter or Facebook. If I can’t…  — Read More »

Renee A. Schuls-Jacobson

I was considered a flirt and an airhead, by extension. When I got to college I absolutely re-invented myself. I was done will those silly trappings, and I became much more studious. So while I am still the fun girl who likes to have a great time and shake my rumpshaker, I also like to be taken seriously, and I cringe when I hear people refer to me as Kelloggs. (They thought I was flaky back then. Ouch.)

ChemistKen

My most recent reinvention of myself was when I decided to be a writer. Considering how much I used to hate writing, it required quite a mental overhaul before I could present myself as a writer to other people.

Denise D. Young

I didn’t get a chance to comment on your previous post on the subject, but it really got me thinking, especially about the “religion and politics” taboo. I’m an extremely passion person, and some of my passions fall under the social justice and faith/spirituality categories. For me, the key has been to blog about these things in ways that are respectful. I’ll never publish a rant about climate change on my blog, but I will post about “easy ways to go green” or do posts about shopping at farmers markets, for example. I love reading blog posts from people of all faiths, as long as those posts are welcoming and inclusive. A good post about religion can touch anyone from any faith. If I write such posts, I try to offer a takeaway to anyone of any faith. Though I walk a nature-based path, I hope any reader can be touched by a post that touches on or focuses on some aspect of my faith. And since my books are influenced by my beliefs–even if my books are fantasy and take a great deal of poetic license–anyone who is offended by a post about, for example, the four elements, probably wouldn’t be interested in my books. Perhaps all of the things I blog about make my blog a bit too eclectic–but then, perhaps being eclectic is my brand. 😉 I think the mistake many people make is to think that a brand is static. It’s not. Even corporate brands have…  — Read More »

Annie Neugebauer

This is a fantastic, thoughtful post, Jami! So much food for thought here. I do struggle with this sometimes, especially when it comes to the difference between “horror novel character” and “horror novel writer,” which many seem to think are the same thing (but I don’t). You’ve definitely given me something to think about. Thanks so much!

AJ Bradley
AJ Bradley

I just recently tried to force myself to be a Morning Lark rather than a Night Owl, because I thought it was more romantic and writerly. It was an abysmal failure. I think what we all want is have more authentic interactions. We want to be more authentic. We want to deal with others who are being authentic. It’s scary, because as Dita von Teese said, “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” We can’t be liked/loved by everyone. But for the sake of those few truly honest interactions, isn’t it worth the risk?

Laurie London

Great post as usual, Jami! I read that article when you posted the link on Twitter yesterday and found it very interesting. I remember reading once that if you were overweight at age 12 (?), you’ll always struggle with weight issues. I think the same is true for self-esteem. If you struggled with it as a teen, it becomes ingrained in your psyche and hard to ditch when you get older. It’s interesting you mention posting pictures of hot men. I’m one who does that (not necessarily super racy, but they’re hot) and here’s why. First of all, I enjoy them and am inspired by them. But also, I watch my engagement numbers on Facebook (and those of authors with great numbers) and noticed that readers really respond to them. My readers love pictures of attractive guys and beautiful/thought-provoking settings. I’ll get 3 to 5 times the number of people seeing those posts and sharing them, than when I post other things, including other pictures. I’ll often find a photo that relates to something in my book and post it along with a short excerpt. So for me, it’s knowing what my readers like and trying to give it to them. And often, it’s a hot guy. 🙂 And as for reinventing oneself, I am sooo inspired by people who do that. Women who go back to school. People who start a business after being laid off. After a difficult period in my life, I reinvented myself and became a…  — Read More »

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[…] Branding 101: Who Do You Want to Be? by Jami Gold […]

Carradee

When I first started freelancing, I used my age as a selling point, because I discovered that folks who got their tails all twisted about me being younger than some of their children were the kind of folks I didn’t want to work for.

However, presenting myself from the angle of my youth has its downsides, too—one of them being I had to work harder to convince potential clients that I wasn’t a flake.

I’ve since moved into a more seasoned approach, wherein I focus on the facts—what I can do for you, that sort of thing—but chattily. (Example: “Hey, I was visiting your site and noticed you have some typos. For example, your ‘About Us’ page uses ‘aobut’. Are you looking for a proofreader?” etc.)

If someone asks me about a degree or about my age—something that happens far, far more often in person than online—I’m forthright about that, too. (In person, I have the advantage that the main college I attended is local and known for being hard to get into and downright DIFFICULT. So I get some respect points for just admitting I went there for two years.)

That’s my little story about self-reinvention. 🙂 Though I’m not sure it’s so much of a reinvention as it is an adjustment of what I focus on.

Chris Edgar

Yes, I definitely get the sense that I am deeply influenced by the way I perceived myself as a child — I can now sense when, in certain situations, I’m seeing myself as an awkward, easily embarrassed child rather than as an adult. Just becoming aware of the moments when I’m starting to buy into that old picture of myself has been very liberating.

Mhairi Simpson

I totally reinvented myself when I went to Peru. Being so far from home, away from everyone who had known me previously, gave me a huge sense of freedom in how I projected myself. And when I came back, I brought that new personality with me, which is pretty much who I am today, and that’s my online persona too, because it’s way too much effort to try and create something new and different and interesting just for the internet. I’d rather be me and have them take me or leave me.

But for years I couldn’t get past the feelings of inadequacy that plagued me through school. I still get them these days, but not nearly as badly. And it’s not a bad thing – keeps me humble and working hard 🙂

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[…] and more, the author is the brand, rather than the writing itself. Jami Gold examines branding 101—who do we want to be online and in public? Once we decide on a brand, Uttoran Sen has 40 ways to develop and protect your writing […]

Maggie Amada
Maggie Amada

I moved a lot so I constantly reinvented myself, but I also lacked any idea on how to keep my self-invented image when I stopped moving. The result is that I often alternated between being too honest and being too distant. I just don’t have the energy to keep an image going. My solution in recent years has been to separate the personal observations part of my life into a pseudonym and the serious part into my real identity, which sounds backward. It works for me, though.

Both are respectful and not overly eroticized (even though I write romance). I’m just not comfortable posting pictures of naked men, although I do enjoy them.

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[…] Gold: Branding 101: Who Do You Want to Be? What factors and choices guide how you build your personal brand? Thoughtful post, highly […]

Julia Tomiak

I’m late to the discussion, but I really like this post. The task of building an online presence that we can live with should be approached thoughtfully. Life is too short to make things too complicated- I try to be myself online- and that includes being respectful and helpful. Hopefully this brand issue will help us seriously consider all of our actions – online or not. Thanks for the link to the YA article.

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[…] recent talk of watching what we say on the internet and being aware of our brand has brought up several ways people come to odd conclusions about us as writers. Despite all our […]

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[…] a person or an author. Because of this, we can (and probably should) make conscious decisions about who we want to be, both in real life and in our […]

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[…] the first step might be to decide on our brand and decide who we are. Our author brand might not be exactly who we are in real life (after all, in real life I’m […]

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