January 8, 2015

Branding 101: What’s Your Story?

Quilled paper snowflake with text: What Makes Us Special?

With the posts I did last week, about figuring out what went wrong and what went right last year, I mentioned that coming up with the “success” list might be harder for us. That we may feel too boring, too untalented, too full of self-doubt to come up with the good in our lives.

We often see inspirational quotes about how we’re the only one who can write our story. But sometimes we might look at that quote and think we’re not anyone special, so our story wouldn’t be anything special either.

Bah! I don’t want those negative thoughts to hold any of us back. So let’s talk about how we can discover what makes us special. Why might someone care about our stories?

Branding 101: What Is a Brand?

Yep, this is a branding thing. Sorry. *smile* However this isn’t rocket science. Remember that our brand is simply the impression others have of us.

Or as I’ve discussed before:

“Our brand is how we and our stories relate to others. Or more accurately, it’s how others relate to us and our stories.

Do our stories make our readers feel good or frustrated, enlightened or disappointed? Do our social media updates make us seem friendly or whiny, helpful or self-absorbed? Do our blog posts make us seem informal or formal, amusingly crazy or crazy-crazy?”

Before Christmas, I tweeted a link to a great post by Seth Addison that explored this idea. Here’s my favorite line from his article:

“Your brand is the relationship between you and your customer, not a logo or a product.”

Yes. Or as the keenly missed Maya Angelou said:

“People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

In other words, our brand is how we relate to others, how they relate to us, and/or how we make them feel. Long after the specifics of our words, characters, plots, stories, websites, avatars, color themes, etc. fade, people will remember how we made them feel. That’s the impression that matters.

The Steps of Building a Brand

So if we create a brand, simply by existing, how do we get the brand we want out in the world? How do we make sure that the impression we want others to have of us is the impression they get?

Eh, I’ll be honest. There are no guarantees. We don’t have the power to control others’ perceptions. But we can try to influence their impression. *smile*

Step 1: Decide Who You Want to Be

This step can be a lot like our high school years. But it’s important to make conscious decisions and not just go along with our previous self-concept:

“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. …

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.”

Step 2: Define Who You Want to Be

If we agree that writing down our goals helps us focus our efforts, we might see how writing down our self-definition can similarly help us focus our sense of our brand. And what is that self-definition called in the context of the writing world?

Our author tagline. *smile*

“Author taglines help make us more memorable and tell potential readers who we are and why we write what we write:

  • The Who: What overall image do we want our audience to have of us and our work? What makes us, us? How do we want to relate to our audience?
  • The Why: Why should our audience care? What benefits will they get out of paying attention to us? What will they feel or learn?”

Step 3: Be Who You Want to Be

Going back to my post about what a brand is:

“Our brand is the ultimate in “show, don’t tell.” If we want people to think we’re X or our stories are Y, we have to actually be those things.

Our brand isn’t about us, and it’s certainly not about our type fonts or colors. Our brand is about our readers, what they think and feel about us. Who we are—our attitude and our worldview—comes through in everything we do, and once we understand that, we’ll realize that we don’t have to build a brand. The only thing we have to do is show who we are.”

You—and Your Story—Are Special

Great! Maybe we’ve gone through all those steps, but we still don’t feel special. Who are we that others should listen to us?

I’m going to tell you a secret. Remember how people want to relate and feel things—not just see a faceless, emotionless brand? That means that as long as we’re passionate about something and can convey that, people will be interested because we’ve given them an answer to the “So What?” question.

Not sure what that means? Let’s relate this back to the situation where we may have multiple story ideas and need to decide which one to work on. One way we might decide is by figuring which story has a stronger “So What?” factor, which one has:

  • a stronger emotional heart,
  • a more unique premise, or
  • a more memorable, enlightening, or challenging point?

The same concept can apply to us. People will find our passion interesting if there’s a “So What?” factor.

Meaning can come from our stories themselves, but it can also come from us. Our passion, our worldview, our values, our way with words. Our story. Not just the story we write on the pages, but the story we’ve lived, the story we carry in hearts.

That’s what’s unique, that’s what drives our passion that others can relate to. That’s the genesis of the feelings we engender in others and makes us memorable. That’s what creates an impression of us.

Our “So What” Answers

So if we’re not sure what makes us special enough that others should listen to us, think about what creates the story of us. (I can’t remember the source of these great questions, but these give us a start.)

  • What do we love to do most—and why?
  • How did we make the choice to do what we’re doing?
  • If we could share only one thing with the world, what would it be?
  • What was our lowest point or greatest challenge?

Those answers will be unique for each of us. Those answers create our story. Those answers prove that we have a special passion to share with the world.

And that’s the answer to “So What?” when we doubt ourselves and whether we have anything worthwhile to say. We do have something unique to share with the world, and the story of us will come through in the passion we share in our work. *smile*

Have you ever doubted whether or not your story mattered? Have you completed all the steps of building a brand? Do you feel like you have passion to share with others? Or that you have something to say with your stories? Do you struggle with any of these aspects of branding?

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Davonne Burns

I cannot tell you how timely this post is for me. I spent most of yesterday wrestling with a horrible bout of self-doubt. I’ve been struggling since finishing my NaNo novel to come to grips with my ‘brand’ and what it means both for me personally and for my future as a writer.

I am known online for being a gamer-geek with a bit of a sadistic streak when it comes to my characters. I am also known for writing complex characters and complicated plots. But more than that I am known for being willing to talk to people who suffer from mental illness or who are from marginalized/oppressed groups in the various orientation spectrums and gender identities.

I realized last year that my stories about people who do not fit the norm, people who are not cisgendered/heterosexual or who suffer from mental illness, are important. I have had readers come to me thanking me for writing about a character suffering with an eating disorder or hallucinations or coming to grips with their gender identity.

That doesn’t mean I do not suffer doubt. Yesterday was a case in point.

I have been writing down my goals for the year and I hope to build a stronger brand that revolves around the topics I care most about and the characters I most love to write but that also shows why I care so much about it.

Elle Lee Love
Elle Lee Love

Hi Jami,
This post is perfect timing for me, as always. I love the quote by Maya Angelou; it’s one of my favorites. When I read your blog, I feel like I’m talking to a best friend. I enjoy answering your interactive questions. Your brand is definitely helpful and encouraging.

I decided last year to build my brand first, before I even finished my novel. But I don’t have the time/patience/energy to write an encouraging blog like yours. So I posted my novel on Wattpad. It’s readers are mostly teen girls which are my target audience. They can post comments and follow me as a writer. One reader said my prologue was so good that it made her shiver. Wow! Immediate feedback!

I could have waited to get an agent or self-publish on Amazon, but I didn’t want to wait seven years or just read reviews after the book was finished. I wanted to build my brand/ relationship with my customers/readers right now. This post assured me that I made the right decision for me. Thanks for your help.


(I know I’ve said much of this before on other posts, but I figure not all readers will, like, be familiar with all those other posts and comments. ^_–) “Everyone’s crazy somehow—some people just hide it better than others.” ^ This theme permeates all my writing. I’ve noticed that, even though my newsletter is set up so folks can request updates on only the pennames they want, everyone so far wants to know about EVERYTHING I write. Not that I have a whole lot of subscribers yet, but I have enough to be suggestive of patterns in my general fanbase. People who like “realistic” characters, strong on the psychological elements, tend to like my work—and readers who want to avoid a lot of cursing and gore and on-page sex have told me they’ve come to trust me on that (and they give me a heads-up when I, as an aromantic asexual [“ace of spades”], accidentally write something more suggestive than I intended). My faith does affect how I approach some things, and I every so often get comments that appreciate that. Over on Wattpad, I’ve been dubbed “Queen of Plot Twists” and “Twisty Misti”. Fans love that my writing isn’t predictable—and it’s unpredictable in ways that completely fit the foreshadowing that’s existed prior to that point. I’ve noticed that my novels that are readily available for free also SELL the most copies. (Not that “most” is many, for me, but I do make enough that, with my particular skills, I’ve…  — Read More »


I discovered you the other day. Lucky me. Good information here. I learned a lot. Thanks!

Anne R. Allen

What a fantastic overview of branding! I love it that you quote Maya Angelou instead of a bunch of marketing jargon. This is a must-read. Thanks for another informative post!

darlene beck jacobson

Comprehensive and very informative article Jami. Thanks for the information. Every author can benefit from some of the ideas.

Christina Hawthorne

To lace our words with honesty is to write one’s brand, or so it seems to me. I know I haven’t been doing that, have avoided in my fiction that which I hint at in my blog. Oh wow, my blog. Except for poetry it’s fallen silent since November because I’ve been in crisis, hospitalized crisis. I’ve struggled with the next post, which remains partially written. I’m not going to whine about my problems here (whew, big relief!), but I can share that I’ve often talked about depression on my blog. When last I checked my fiction received few views, but those few times I chronicled my efforts to overcome my mental health issues the posts were well received. Honesty. It goes to show how what’s genuine bleeds through for readers to see. Similarly, my poetry is often read and I’m guessing people see the connections to the blog posts. It’s difficult to know because I don’t get that many comments, but have a steady flow of new followers—even when I’m not posting. My problem is that part of moving on for me was to not live in the past, to forgive, and to move on as a fiction writer. Instead, the fiction languished while the mental health blog posts pulled at me to return to the past for the sake of those out there struggling. That led to my renewed struggle, the hospital, and therapy. Yes, therapy. After what I’ve admitted on the blog I’m not afraid to admit…  — Read More »

Christina Hawthorne

I stand behind my comment above, Jami, but upon reading it I can see where it’s too forthcoming and casts me in a light that was unintended. My apologies for that. Feel free to delete it, but I thank you just the same for all you’ve done.

Sharla Rae

Another great blog Jami. I struggle with this all the time. I love humor and can be a bit of nut but I know that people who don’t know me often see me as quiet and thoughtful. I keep thinking, oh, boy if they only knew the “real” me. Ha! But none of that makes it easier to brand my myself. I still have a lot to learn in this department.

Karen McFarland

Hi Jami! What an excellent way to describe our brand. It’s a toughie too. So many of us may not be comfortable in our own skin. So to recognize our strengths and who we are can be difficult. But you really simplified the process. I think if we’re honest, our personality with shine through our brand. Yet, I doubt myself everyday. lol. Thank you for writing this post! 🙂

Killion Slade

Hi Jami! I figured out my brand quite a while ago when I realized that I could never be as scary as the scariest horror writer, nor the most romantic. I wanted to fall somewhere in the middle and serve it up on a platter of fun. When I created the tagline of “Where Scary Can Be Funny!” that was me to the core. I’m one of those really weird sickos who laughs at life, especially when things go wrong. When I’m in a haunted house, my defense mechanism is laughter. The emotions between laughing, crying, fear and {sex!} are very similar – they get the emotions riled and the adrenaline a pumping! I have learned that with all that is awful in this world, I try to maintain an inner peace which all ways reflects in my brand. I purposefully stay away from politics, religion, and a lot of current events simply because my brand isn’t the platform to discuss the issues. Many times people will become offended if I turn their very serious topic into a funny, but it is the only way I can process it internally. If I choose to take on a controversial topic in a story, then I want readers to know they are safe to explore it with me. I’ll look at both sides, play a devil’s advocate with my characters, and even question the bad guy to learn if they are right. A different POV can shed new light. Kindness is my…  — Read More »

Julie Musil

It’s weird…I’ve never given any thought to branding. I guess I just am who I am, and write what I write, which does seem to have a certain brand (by accident!)

Emerald O'Brien
Emerald O'Brien

Thanks for this great post Jami! I asked myself the questions you posed again and it reinforces what I’ve been creating for my brand. Expect Mystery, Suspect Everyone.
In the first part, I literally say what I write, and then it’s just a play on words for the rest because I love unpredictable stories with twists.
Suspense is key to me in reading and writing, but I like to think a bit too, and guess whodunit. Trust is also an underlying theme in my books, so it works for that as well.
You’ve done a great job at creating your brand. I also look to other authors like you to help me incorporate mine into everything I can.

Deborah Makarios

That tapping sound you hear is me nailing the freak flag to the mast 🙂
I read Kristen Lamb’s blogging book “Rise of the Machines” and worked through some of the exercises in that, which led to an entirely new ‘About’ page, and a new blog motto: The Eccentric Ethic and AEsthetic.
But a brand for me as a writer? I dunno. Possibly the closest I’ve thought of is “Old-Fashioned Fruitcake” which isn’t exactly exact…

Nicole Evelina

Great post, Jami! I’ll be linking back to it on my own blog when I write about my personal mission statements for the genres I write in. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, but your connection to brand made me realize I need to commit it to writing. Thanks as always for your wonderful posts.

P.D. Workman

I wrote for decades and didn’t publish. It wasn’t until I started to publish that I had to try to qualify what it was that I was writing, and why. What was the common thread? Why was I writing, other than for my own enjoyment? I started to go through each book, identifying what it was about and why I had written it, what place it had come from inside me, in order to figure out my ‘brand’.

I write riveting young adult and suspense fiction about mental illness, addiction, and abuse.


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