01 June 2013

Short and Sweet: An Introduction to Branding

This is the third installment in the continuing story of "Editing Mister D," a joint project to coach British nonfiction writer Pete Oxley through completion and publication of his first novel-length fiction work.

If you’re writing just for the fun of it, branding may very well be irrelevant.  However, if you think you may one day want to become a professional writer, it’s never too early to think about developing your brand.  What is "branding?"  Like General Mills, Cadillac, Swatch, or any number of instantly recognizable names, a brand is a kind of stamp, a shorthand way of telling your customers—er, readers—what to expect.  "Branding" is the process of creating your own unique brand, and the practice of stamping that brand on everything you do.

Stephen King, Nora Roberts, and John Grisham are flesh and blood human beings, but their names have also become brands.  If you see “Stephen King” on a book, you have a pretty good idea what to expect.  It won’t be a historical fiction romance, will it?  No, it will be some kind of paranormal thriller that will make you sleep with the lights on for a while.  You know that just because you read “Stephen King” on the cover.

Now, I can’t call myself an expert on branding, but I’ve learned a few things over the years anyone can use to position themselves as a recognized brand.  The scale of that recognition is something that comes with time because it takes time to distribute your brand and impress it upon enough minds that it actually qualifies as a brand.  Moreover, it takes time to hone your brand into something specific and compelling.  There’s a certain amount of trial and error involved, so again, it’s never too early to get started.

First things first: Whether it’s your real name or a pseudonym, your nom de plume is your calling card.  Once you’ve settled on the name you’re going to use, use it exclusively.  Even your Twitter handle should be as close to your writing name as possible.  For instance, if you intend to publish as Herkimer MacGillicuddy, your handle should be @HerkimerMacGillicuddy, not @xxHockeyPuck1982xx.  You want your readers to see your name over and over, and associate it with your writing.

The second thing to look at your social networking profiles.  Do you go on about your favorite bands, or are you introducing readers to your writing?  Adding personal details to your profile makes it easier for your readers to connect with you on a personal level, but it is not a substitute for a carefully crafted statement about your writing.  You want to create an “elevator speech,” or a short statement that will sum up your writing in as few words as possible.

A great branding exercise is to write a very short (no more than 300 words) essay about you and your writing.  Pack everything in this essay that you feel describes you and your writing, particularly whatever it is that you feel makes it unique.  Make a copy and edit your essay down to half its length.  Make another copy and edit again, reducing by half again.  Each time, you will be forced to identify the truly crucial points and cut out the less important points.  Repeat this process until you have pared your message down enough to fit into a Twitter profile (160 characters or less).  Keep all of these short descriptions to refine and use as you develop your brand.

As part of my "Editing Mister D" project, I've been analyzing writer Pete Oxley's branding, and I've found he's already off to a good start.  Visit http://peterdoxley.co.uk/ and near the top of the page you will see three short statements that sum up his writing and qualifications quite nicely in forty-two words.  As we progress, we’ll be refining his fiction writing profile to include something like “Author of the Mister D series of paranormal steampunk adventure tales,” but you get the idea.

Once you’ve begun to create your branding, start using it everywhere.  Put it in your email signature, use it as a tagline on message boards, add it to your Facebook, Twitter, and Wattpad profiles, etc.  As you refine your message, you’ll have to change it everywhere, but it’s worth the trouble to keep your message consistent.

Creating a brand before the story is ready to publish might seem like putting the cart before the horse, but it really isn't.  In self-publishing, branding is the horse.  Merely publishing a book is no guarantee that you will sell even a single copy, but if you have connected with hundreds or thousands of people and introduced them to your brand before you publish, you'll have a ready-made market clamoring for your stories.

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