10 January 2013

@YOU: Managing Your Personal Brand

Between my moments of unbridled writing joy, I happen to squeeze in a little bit of corporate work as a Marketing Analyst for a credit union.

Yep, it’s about as exciting as it sounds.

Not that I don’t enjoy it. Really, I do. Are my bosses reading this?

Seriously, the day job is what allows me to even think about being a writer so I have to appreciate it, but of course it’s not necessarily where my heart and my passion are.  Fortunately, my time in the world of marketing, even my minuscule corner of it, has provided some important insight about branding that I think all writers can use.  After all, you’re creating a personal brand that you hope millions will eventually buy into repeatedly, right?

Your name (or your pen name) is your brand and if you can create a brand that people love, there's a better chance they'll follow your work and buy stuff! That's a good thing! Just remember, everything you do under that name will contribute to the creation and maintenance of that brand.

And I mean everything.  Your tweets, your facebook status updates, your facebook photos, your facebook friends' photos.  EVERYTHING.  And unless you have a team of publicists, agents, managers, lawyers, and general image-makers, you have to worry about all of this yourself.

Don’t worry.  You can do it.  You just need to keep a few important tips in mind.

1.  If you wouldn't say it on the 6:00 news, don’t say it online.

Social media has made self-marketing possible for writers in a big, bad way.  Now writers can tell the world about their work without leaving their makeshift closet offices.  It’s an amazing opportunity to reach out to the world, but it’s also an unfortunate opportunity for the world to reach back out to you, too.  Granted, you’ll be pretty safe for a while if you’re still fairly unknown, but once you gather a bit of momentum, your entire digital past becomes easy pickings for media vultures who are looking to pluck a couple bucks from your success.

Ooh, they look hungry!
This caution isn't just about the words you post.  You’ll also need to be aware of the photos you post, as well as any images that others post which feature you in all your glory.  Yes, that picture of you and your friends playfully wrestling the bartender in Costa Rica may give you a laugh of reminiscence, but it also gives other people an interesting impression about who you are.  If that’s part of the brand you want potential readers to see, then go on with your bartender-lovin’ self.  If not, you may want to do some quick online clean-up to protect your public image.

2.  Build a team

Word-of-mouth has been around since the beginning of the human race when cavemen would grunt to other cavemen to tell them where the best tasting animals could be found, and no matter what forms of media are dominant, word-of-mouth will still be the most important form of advertising available.  Even though there are plenty of Mad Men making millions for writing clever jingles and designing artistic campaigns, most people make their purchasing decisions based on the opinions of others.  Word-of-mouth is so influential that credible online shopping sites like Amazon prominently feature customer reviews of the products they sell.  Writers can and should use word-of-mouth too!

Sure, you can go out and say “Buy my book! Buy my book!” and you’ll get some people to buy just to shut you up, but what if you could grow a group of genuine fans who will eagerly tell their friends and family to buy your book?  And what if these fans go tell more people about it?  It's just a matter of building your network of promoters. Use social media, use friends and family, use your cubicle-mates at work. Whatever you need to do to get the ball rolling, go do it. You don’t have to get a million readers at once, but you can get them a dozen or so at a time.

3.  Be a real person

Okay, this may be personal preference, but I really don’t get excited about following a writer who seems to just be a corporate face who churns out books.  I’m much more likely to become engaged with the work you do if you’re willing to put yourself out there as a real dude or chick with quirks and faults like everyone else.  If you can laugh at yourself a little, I’m sold!
No Robots Allowed!
I know, I know.  This sort of flies in the face of the whole 6:00 news thing from earlier, but bear with me.  There’s a difference between being a real human being and just removing all filters and saying whatever you want.  You can have a personality and still watch what you say.  I've spent 35 years living in a Catholic family so I know from whence I speak.

My advice for building your personal brand is pretty simple. Be yourself.  Be real.  Just be careful.  Don’t let your guard down, but don’t throw a blanket over your head and hide behind your publishing house.  You want your readers to buy your books, but you really want them to buy you, your image, and your brand.  That’s how you create a long-lasting fan base...oh, and that helps you make money too.

Not that any of us care about that, right?


  1. Fantastic advice, Rob, thank you! This is quite timely as I was literally just working on my book launch post (you beat me by 8 minutes, LOL!) and one of the things I talked about was our challenge about evolving into effective sales people for our own books.

    You're right though: the balance between authenticity and simply schlepping our own words feels like you're walking a tightrope made out of dental floss. I'm glad you mentioned that you can be selective in the way you brand yourself on social media.

    Question: do you find though that there is a risk-aversion that can come out of being too concerned about social media image? How do you deal with that?

  2. Thanks Jody! I absolutely think the fear of making a mistake on social media can drastically impact how, or even if, many of us will use it in our day to day lives. Personally, I try to run my social media use through the Boss/Mom/Wife test. If I'm thinking of putting something out there, I ask myself three questions:

    1. Would my boss fire me for this? (In a writer's case, your readers are also your bosses)
    2. Would I be able to explain it to my mom? This one doesn't stop me from posting, but I still give it some thought.
    3. Would my wife call BS if she read it? If you're not married, substitute "best friend." My wife knows me better than anyone and if I read something that isn't genuine, I can visualize my wife giving me that look and calling me out for trying to be someone I'm not. Yes, you're building a "brand" but ultimately that brand is you, and if you're not being you, you're doing your fanbase a disservice, IMHO.

  3. This is a great post, with fantastic advice. I recently wrote a piece about "how to be a blogger", and one of the biggest components was authenticity.

    1. Thank you! Yes, I think all writers (books, blogs, news, etc.) have to be willing to insert at least a little bit of themselves into their work. Otherwise, they just become part of the bigger machine and their individuality fades away. Writers are not meant to be mindless worker bees, buzzing away with no identity. We must have the freedom to use our voice, one way or another.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. And immediately after posting that reply I went into a mind-numbing strategy meeting. So ashamed...

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  5. Rob, I loved this. This was a wonderful post and it echoes so much of what I hear myself saying to youngsters (HA! I love that word) out there about getting a job and behaving badly online. As a writer, yes: let your people get to know you because they like to know their writer fart and burp too (well, they must suspect it on some level, so we needn't go into the gory details). Wonderful advice and I'm sorry I'm late to the party. I have been under my mucousal blanket only emerging to partake of a DayQuil or Tussinex Pearl to stop the coughing. Feeling better though. The antibiotics are kicking in... :) -M

    ps - that guy above me, Jordan Chase is totally legit... he wants to sell you promotional backpacks.

  6. I forgot to add the Promotional Backpack method to my post. Now I feel silly.

  7. It's the line between "6:00 news" and "real person" that has always been my hard point to find. I want to be professional, but the uber-professional face you see on some writers just isn't me at all. If I were writing stories that didn't feel deeply personal in some way or another, I'd probably have an easier time loosening up a bit, but I spend quite a bit of time cycling between "Okay, that went well," and "Oh, god, I just swore. They're going to think I'm a heathen of some type." [Full disclosure: in my non-professional life, my swearing is pretty epic.]

    Getting a reminder to be authentic to your own voice is always a great thing to see. It's possible to maintain professional standards and still feel like yourself. It's all great advice in here, but that piece is what always sticks with me.

  8. Really great and motivational post. It was great to hear how to build a new brand. Your tips are very effective. Keep up the good work.
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  9. “Everything you do under that name will contribute to the creation and maintenance of that brand.” This principle is applicable everywhere -- from personal to corporate brands. How many times have we seen ads and statements that put a certain brand in a bad light? Managing a brand is about maintaining the idea behind it while adapting to the changes in culture and demand.