March 23, 2017

Branding 101: Keeping Our Sanity while Building a Brand

Girl falling off a slide with text: Branding? Hang on to Your Sanity

Yesterday, Jenny Hansen—my friend and occasional guest poster here—published an interesting article over at Writers in the Storm, her group blog. Due to her love of tech stuff, she’s sharing “hacks” for how to build a strong online brand. *smile*

She shared insights on what authors can blog about, as well as several techniques to help us identify who we are. In addition, she pointed out that we want to pick just a couple of social media platforms to engage with, as we can’t keep up with it all.

That last item is a fantastic point that I want to dig deeper into today because it’s so easy in this business to overdo things. Add in a pinch of self-doubt about all the ways we might fail, and we’re pretty much doomed to struggle. *sigh*

When we first hear a writing tip—like “cut your darlings” or “avoid backstory”—we might be tempted to take that advice to the extreme. We might think our darlings are anything we like or anything we cling to.

Uh, we might like it because it’s good, and we might cling to it because it’s necessary for the story. So cutting everything that “darlings” might apply to? Bad idea.

Same with backstory—too much backstory or backstory inserted in the wrong place can be bad for our story’s pacing. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with backstory that answers essential questions for readers.

That same tendency to veer to the extreme can apply in all sorts of writing/publishing situations. Especially if we experience self-doubt, we’re likely to struggle to find the right balance.

We might…:

  • rigidly stick to our story outline, ignoring other ideas while we draft (Drafting Stage)
  • cut too much description for pacing reasons, leaving readers with no way to anchor our talking-head characters within a blank void (Self-Editing Stage)
  • change our story to accommodate every feedback suggestion from beta readers and editors (potentially losing the story we wanted to tell in the process) (Revision Stage)
  • pay for the top cover designer in our genre (even though we can’t afford it) because we fear we’ll fail if we compromise on any aspect of publishing (Publishing Stage)
  • invest in fancy swag or top-notch advertising to establish our brand (Branding Stage)

Of course, we could come up with virtually unlimited examples for each of those stages, but today I want to talk more about how we can overdo our branding efforts…

What Counts as Our Branding Efforts?

As I’ve mentioned here before, our brand is simply what others think of us and our work. Our brand encompasses everything from our genre and voice to who we are as a person: funny, geeky, helpful, knowledgeable, serious, snarky, politically active, parent, knitter, artistic, edgy, etc.

So our branding efforts includes our actual writing that we purposely send out into the world as well as other things we do that allow people to get to know us:

  • our avatar
  • our bios (on our website and social media)
  • our website and/or blog
  • our social media usage (which sites we use and how active we are)
  • our social media posts/tweets
  • our book covers and blurbs
  • our advertising/swag/promotions
  • our newsletter,  etc.

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?

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.”

The more conscious we are of what we’re putting out in the world, the more we control our brand.  Every blog post or comment, every Facebook status update, and every tweet tells others what’s important to us and how we think—and more importantly, allows others to relate to us.

How Can We Overdo Our Branding Efforts?

Many of us start new projects with loads of enthusiasm. We get a new story idea, and we want to drop everything to work on it. We learn a new editing insight, and we want to go through our writing (again) on a search-and-destroy mission.

The same thing can happen in the realm of branding efforts. We might…

  • hear advice about how such-and-such place is the place to advertise and feel pressured to come up with the money
  • think we have to promote a certain way or follow all the advice (have a blog!) to be successful
  • assume we have to be engaged on every social media platform, because our potential readers could be anywhere

But as Jenny pointed out in her post above, building a brand takes time. Inundating social media or conforming to an advertising plan that makes us uncomfortable isn’t likely to work.

Whatever we’re going to do for branding is going to be a marathon not a sprint, and that means short-term solutions might not be the best direction for us to take. So I want to add a step to how we can figure out the right balance for our branding efforts…

Keep the Long-Term in Mind When Building Our Brand

Yes, we might be able to afford a one-time advertising spree, but what about long-term? Remember that even McDonald’s—already known the world over—still advertises. Why? Because people tend to forget whatever’s not right in front of them.

A one-time advertising spree might get us a bunch of new sales, but those sales are likely to drop off over time. Are we okay with that decline? Or do we need a plan to maintain that sales momentum for as long as possible?

For social media, we might be able to keep up with six platforms in the short-term, but what about the long-term? Will that level of engagement still allow us enough time to write?

For blogging, we might want to start off our new blog with posts every day of the week, but that’s not going to work long-term unless we’re okay with transitioning into a blogger-who-writes rather than a writer-who-blogs. Author Anne R. Allen often talks about her slow-blogging (posting once a week) style for this reason.

In other words, short-term efforts are perfectly fine—as long as we know it’s short-term. We often make sacrifices for the short-term that we couldn’t keep up over the long-term, and getting back to “normal” after that extraordinary effort is the plan.

That works. Whatever we do, we should either go in with a plan for it to only be a short-term effort, or we should be able to maintain that level of effort for the long-term.

Why Should We Think Long-Term?

It may seem obvious why the long-term is important to think about. After all, we’re probably familiar with burnout.

Maybe we’ve participated in NaNoWriMo and gotten tons of words in…and then struggled to get any words on the page for the next two months. *raises hand* Or maybe our day job required us to put in extra hours for a big project…that dragged on and on.

In cases like that, recovering our equilibrium after a short-term effort can set us back. Or as what happens far too often in the writing world—it can make us give up.

We might question whether all the effort was worth it and not even want to transition to our long-term plan. Rather than transitioning from 20 social media posts/tweets a day to kick off our branding efforts to the 5 a day of our long-term plan, we might be so sick of social media that we stop all together.

Plenty of authors give up writing after releasing their first couple of books and not reaching the success they’d hoped for. So it’s not a stretch to understand how branding efforts (often not something we love to begin with) results in giving up as well.

The more we dislike whatever we’re doing for branding, the faster we’re likely to get sick of it. Whereas, if we’re thinking about what we can tolerate long-term, we’re more likely going to be able to keep up our efforts.

But there’s a second reason why it’s important to think long-term:

Our life and our career will only get busier.

No matter how busy we are now, with juggling drafting, editing, beta readers, contest entries, queries, submissions, etc., it gets worse. Sorry. *smile*

The deadlines get harder (and less forgiving) as we move along the publishing path. We have to add more to-do items for promotion, book signings, reaching out to reviewers, etc. We’re expected to do more to stay in the spotlight—posting interviews, buy links, and teasing future books. Not to mention that we have to add in tracking sales, results of promotional pushes, and taxes.

(Let’s not even get started on all the extra jobs self-published authors do in addition to the usual. *sigh*)

In other words, if we start out overextending ourselves the slightest bit, we’ll struggle that much sooner as our responsibilities increase.

Finding the Right Balance Is Not Easy

Believe me, I thought I’d found a sustainable level of involvement. I’ve only ever blogged twice a week. I’m only active on Twitter and Facebook (and even in those places, my activity level varied). And I’d set my promotion and sales goals low.

But… Life happens.

I’ve struggled with a never-ending series of health issues this past year or so, from nerve damage in my feet, vision problems, and several surgeries to deal with an antibiotic-resistant infection in my jawbone. Now for the last two months, I’ve been suffering from yet another issue that they’re still trying to diagnose.

(My doctor’s current theory is that it’s another antibiotic-resistant infection—this one in my digestive tract. Oh yay! He’s ordered 11 tests to check for all. the. things. *smile*)

My inner elbow is black and blue from all the tests, and until this issue is solved, we can’t proceed on my mouth surgery. Ugh. This feels like whining to me, but really it’s just the factual list of crap I’ve been dealing with. Fun!

Life can throw us for a loop sometimes. That’s why we need some slack in our expectations and commitments. That’s why we don’t want “overextended” to be our new normal.

Sometimes we’ll need to adjust—and then readjust—what we’re capable of. Sometimes we’ll need more help. (Yes, guest posts are especially welcome for the foreseeable future! *grin*) And sometimes we’ll have to cut back.

Even if we don’t experience big “life happens” messes like I am right now (*fingers crossed* for all of you!), the simple addition of responsibilities as our career grows and evolves can strain our ability to keep up.

Of course we can start off with high expectations and engagement, but my point is that for our sanity’s sake, we need to recognize that we’re allowed to change our approach to branding just as much as we might change our drafting process as we better learn what works or doesn’t work for us.

With luck, we might even be able to make our branding efforts more efficient, keeping the ideas that produce results and dropping those that don’t. And no matter what, we’re allowed to prioritize our sanity too. *smile*

Do you hate thinking about branding stuff? What could you do short-term for branding that you might not be able to do long-term? Do you think long-term when setting expectations? Have you experienced any increases in busyness as your career grew? How did you deal with that increase (cut back, change expectations, etc.)?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Lou Cadle
Lou Cadle

A lot of wisdom here. With more success, the tasks do mount up, and until you reach the level where you can easily afford a full-time assistant (whose training and supervision also takes time), this increasing burden can be overwhelming. And it’s easy to compare. “My gosh, so-and-so spends twenty hours a week on FB and has 2000 author page likes! I should do that!” There’s a real juggling act, and you have to prioritize. The most important thing is to write, I believe. More books will sell your backlist.

Your advice here to not overdo at the outset–or to set a time limit on how often you’re going to do some extra thing: golden. Excellent post.

Jenny Hansen

This, Jami…THIS! I see people dive into the social media/online/blogging pool all the time and then burn out after a year or two.

I used to blog 3-6 days a week myself and I’ve scaled back to 3-4 times a month. I had to in order to accommodate the writing, website building, school volunteering and part-time job. When the publishing takes off, I’ll be quitting the part-time job.

But this is what writers do – we juggle all the things. And then we yell at ourselves when we drop some of the balls we juggled. (Breathe, y’all.) Randy Ingermanson has a saying that we will only be able to give our best energy to 3-4 things. I’ve found that to absolutely be true. Make sure those 3-4 things count. Your branding efforts have to fit inside that parameter too and it won’t if you don’t scale those efforts to something close to manageable.

Thanks so so much for the amazing mention. I love this post. I hope you get tons of discussion on it. 🙂

Renee Regent

First, I hope your health improves and you are feeling better soon! You are due for a break, right? I am dealing with this topic myself now that I have three books published. Promo and branding seems to take up more and more time. I have been blogging and active on social media for years, yet it hasn’t brought the results I expected, so I am looking closer at what others are doing. Maybe I need to focus more on doing the right things instead of just “being on social media”. It’s not as simple as just showing up, is it? Best of luck with everything you’ve got going on.


Amen to being flexible with your expectations. With school getting busier, I had to read/edit/write less than before, though I still do at least a bit everyday. But I don’t hate myself for it, because it is hard. Plus, during my “slightly less busy” days, I put in more writing/editing/reading to make up for my lower productivity days. Ever since my gender transition, I’ve also started caring about my health for the sake of my health, not just for the sake of making myself a more efficient worker…We have to care about ourselves too, not just about our work.

Aw, I don’t think you’re whining at all! 🙁 If anything, I appreciate that you’re willing to tell us how you’re doing, so we can keep cheering you on. Go Jami! ^^

For branding, Facebook is the only social media I actually use…Never used Twitter or Tumblr before, and was never bothered by that, because time is too limited, and my energy is even more limited than my time. Also, I thought recently that maybe I don’t even want to Facebook friend future readers, for privacy reasons. Especially as many of my posts are rather personal, haha. So it would mostly just be how my books look and feel like, and how my author bio looks like to future readers. My book selling goals are pretty low, though, so I guess it’s easier for me to be more relaxed about this.

Susan Gourley

Some of the things I do to expand my brand has made me busier though I’m slowly whittling it down to things that really work and things that are just time sucks.

Deborah Makarios

You’re definitely not whining! If you published nothing else on your blog but screeds about your health, that might be construed as whining, but a mini-paragraph in a long and useful post? Definitely Not Whining!
Thanks for all you give so freely, and be assured my thoughts and prayers are with you in this tough time. (It always seems worse when they don’t know what it is, doesn’t it?)

Janice Hardy
Janice Hardy

So much good here, especially about thinking long-term. To be a career author, we need to be able to sustain a workable schedule that doesn’t burn us out. I know I’ve tried to do too much and suffered for it. I’m finally at a point where I feel I’ve found my equilibrium, and it feels good.

We can only do what we can do. Sure, there will be times when we need to sprint to hit a deadline or cover something unexpected, but there will also be times we have to stop to handle non-writing things (like health, and family). Flexibility and acceptance will help keep us sane.

Great post, Jami. One to keep on file as a reminder to slow down during those too-crazy times in our lives.


[…] and marketing is essential to any author’s success. Jami Gold looks at how to keep your sanity while building a brand, and Jane Friedman shows how to improve book sales through better descriptions and keyword […]

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