How to Write (Better): Author Branding and Unmarketing in the Publishing World

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"A writer’s idea of a writing career has to change."

Jane Friedman said this in a webinar I attended recently, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.

I’m also wondering if a writer’s idea of a brand has to change.

I wrote about the importance of developing your author brand. Jane retweeted it (thank you Jane, you’re fabulous) and I noticed that one of the responses was a tweet that said, This kind of thing makes me despair utterly.

So I wanted to stress that I write about brands not as a marketing tactic, but as unmarketing. And unmarketing means that your brand is so remarkable that you don’t have to market it; it markets itself.

And you develop a remarkable brand by being a remarkable writer.

Online, you are your content. You are your voice. And your voice and your content combine to form your brand.

So great, well-written content = great brand.

Mediocre content = mediocre brand.

The reason why a brand is necessary for survival is because it doesn’t just promote, it filters and curates. As the distribution barriers collapse and more and more people publish online, readers need to know where to go and who to trust in order to find great material without sorting through all the crap. If readers trust you, and your well-defined creative vision, they will go to you to find cool stuff to read, and also to share and recommend to their friends.

(This doesn’t just apply to writers, by the way, but also to publishers and editors. These brands can “riff off each other” and bring different kinds of benefits to the writer/editor/publisher relationships. Which makes me wonder if, in the future, we’ll see prominent and recurring author-editor partnerships the way we see director-actor partnerships in the movies.)

Your brand stands for who you are and what you write about. It stands for a personality and set of values that readers can identify with. In the new, still-emerging model of publishing, your brand is no longer solely defined by your books. It is defined more and more by your online presence -- your blogging and microblogging and interaction with your community -- and supported by your books.

This gives your brand the opportunity to grow and evolve, because your readers can share that process with you. In the old model, a writer switching genres also had to change names, so as not to confuse the reader. Readers did not want to pick up a Stephen King novel and discover that it was a romance. As a result, writers got trapped in a 'box': expected to deliver a certain type of novel each time. Once a horror writer, always a horror writer (or secretly, a romance writer under a different name).

In the new model, things will work a little differently. You can’t hide who you are online (and if you’re not willing to be online in the first place, editors and publishers will be much less enthused about working with you.) So a pseudonym will work not to disguise a writer’s identity but to signal a different type of novel (for example: it’s a well-known “secret” that John Banville and Benjamin Black are the same guy, but Banville novels are literary novels and Black novels are mystery-thrillers.) And since, as Dean Koontz once observed, “readers will follow you anywhere” -- because readers become addicted at least partly to your voice, your worldview -- readers will have the chance to follow the writer into a genre they might not have considered otherwise. So instead of being trapped in a box -- or two or three boxes separated from each other -- writers can use pseudonyms to develop different dimensions of the same central, defining brand. The box disappears, and the “brand molecule” takes its place: one aspect, idea or message gradually developing out of another aspect, idea or message.

What holds the brand together will no longer be a specific type of book, but the voice and worldview of the author herself.

A writing career will no longer present itself to the audience as a succession of books with long gaps of silence in-between.

A writing career will be more like an ongoing and steadily evolving process, shared online and interacting with readers … with few, if any, gaps of silence at all. The process won’t be so easily divided into writing and marketing; the writing is the marketing.

Writers should no longer think of themselves as just one type of writer-- just a novelist, or a poet, or a short-story writer. Writing on and for the Web will demand different manifestations of your talent.

And if you’re going to be online on a near-daily basis, it’s not just about socializing and chatting people up. It’s about having something to say, consistently, that will attract the right type of reader (who will go on to pay money for your work).

Which means you have to be passionate about whatever it is that you’re blogging and filtering day-in and day-out for the people formerly known as your audience. Otherwise you won’t be motivated enough to put in the work and time that the process requires, and your writing won’t be charged with the kind of electricity that draws in new readers or keeps old ones hanging around.

Because you have to love the process. You have to embrace it-- all aspects of it -- as an expression of your soul.

In other words, you develop your brand by writing close to your soul.

Which means that, over time, your brand has the chance to take you -- and your readers -- to some unexpected places.

For more writing advice, visit our How to Write (Better) series archive.

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