Amy L. Sauder wrote: "You recently said you were rebranding...I'd love to hear an update on that and I'd also love to hear any insights you have on author branding in general."
You got it, Amy. An excellent request. Sometimes I have to drill this into my clients' heads as a must (I help a few self-published authors learn how to promote their books by doing naked dances), so this post will be something I'll refer them to from now on. Here goes. Ready?
SECRET 1: As an author you're your own personal brand.
That's pretty obvious, but it's easy to forget and it needs repeating. Everything you say in person and post online adds to it or subtracts from it. Your face (or the image you choose to represent your face), your words, your ideas and thoughts and beliefs. You're building a persona whether you want to or not, and if you fail to brand it, people will brand it for you, so it's better you take it into your own hands and do it on your own terms.
Think about this scenario: A new neighbor moves in next door. What do you hear from people who have lived there much longer? Branding. Depending on the person, you'll hear:
"Hey, did you see that fat guy move in?"
"We have a new Oriental neighbor."
"There is this Asian dude who bought the house!"
"A new gay couple just moved in next to us."
"I think the new neighbor is from China?"
And so on. I'm using an actual scenario I happened to be privy to. It's not as easy to spot a new Russian neighbor in America and call them out based on their Russianness, but that happens too, and with it, stereotyping. In other words, branding (the word "brand" actually stems from medieval times when cows were branded to denote the owner).
Depending on the person's upbringing, intellect and beliefs, they'll brand the new neighbor according to their tolerance levels and their acceptance or rejection of someone who is not of their race, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, body image, and so on. We're hardwired to differentiate each other in case of potential danger (an obsolete trait that's killing us right now, but if I go there, it'd be a long dark hole to fall into).
What if one of your neighbors told you, "A writer moved in next door." Why would they say that? Because maybe the new guy went around and introduced himself as a writer, which killed all the previous assumptions (just because he hugged his friend who helped him move doesn't automatically make him gay—unfortunately, we're still obsessed with classifying people based on their sexual orientation, putting it above who they are as people). That's branding taken into his own hands. That's branding you need to do, in person and online.
You need to tell people who you are before they make it up for you. (I learned this the hard way when I was taken for a middle-class white American bitch culturally appropriating and slandering black people in my first draft of Janna, now The Dacha Murders—as opposed to a Russian immigrant who changed her main heroine from white to black at the request of a friend, a black writer who challenged me to diversify, but that's another story of a white rabbit I won't follow, as it's too far to fall).
SECRET 2: Branding, like everything else in marketing and selling, is a story.
Like every story, branding must have conflict. Without conflict you're boring, and so your brand is boring. What makes a good conflict? Opposites combined into one. Just like in a sentence conflict is reached by the core end-word turning the whole sentence on its head, you must tell a story that combines two opposites (in my Scrivener novel template I have a whole section on doing this for plotting your novel, so email me if you want it).
How do you create a brand like that?
SECRET 3: Look for two things that are true about you but are incompatible.
There can be several layers. For me it's the image of the white, straight, frail, sweet-looking girl combined with unashamed swearing and images of murder (in my tweets, in my blog posts, in my advertising, in my books, EVERYWHERE—see photo above for proof). Two incompatible things create interest. I go a level more. I'm a Russian writing in English. Again, conflict. And another layer. Brand colors. In my new rebranded website (and all branded stuff like book covers, packaging, etc.) I'll combine white and black of writing (black ink on white paper) with the red of the blood. Incompatible? You bet. Memorable? Hell yeah. Some of the most popular quotes on writing are about writing being easy as all you have to do is bleed on paper. Why is this image so popular? Conflict.
SECRET 4: Conflict will make your brand stand out.
When you decide on your brand, sit down and write a list of things that define you as a writer. It can be nouns (plotter, introvert, talker, etc.), it can be adjectives (shy, logical, loud, etc.). Then pick the opposites that seem incompatible in one body.
If you have to fight against society bias (it can be better or worse, depending on where you live)—because you're a woman, a foreigner, gay, poor, disabled, and on and on—combine it with something that's valued highly in your neck of the woods and stand by it, making it your brand asset. People will try putting you into their preconceived stereotypical boxes, so break the stereotypes by juxtaposing them with unexpected opposites. Leave me examples of your lists in comments, and I'll give you suggestions on opposites or on what's best to combine, and what's best to leave out.
Just as a side note, so you don't feel discouraged by all this work you have to do. I've been writing and self-publishing for five years, and my brand still sucks balls. As in, my website is not what it needs to be to strengthen my personal brand. Not yet. You see how long it took me to get to this realization? So don't despair. You'll get there too. I'll show you where I want to get with my new rebranded site. Examples of fucking awesome personal brands. Ready?
SECRET 5: The point of your website it to get permission from a visitor to market to them your product. That's it.
Right now my brand exists in theory—in my words spoken online and in person—but the imagery on my site and the functionality of it (and of all my other "front doors" into my brand, like my Patreon front page, my videos, my Instagram, etc.) is not what it needs to be. But it will be. The good news is, I know it needs an upgrade and I'm working on it. Join the wagon to keep up with my ride to the rebranded site and BIG SALES as a result. Yes, the plan is now not only to get on the New York Times Best Sellers list, but to make a million bucks. Because I want to throw that big borscht party for all of you, as I promised.
IT WILL HAPPEN.
Now, to comments. Give me your personal stories. Remember, conflict rules. Go.