If you’re like me you were probably resistant to the ideas of “branding” or “building your brand.” A lot of writers are – no judgment here. In fact, tell me if any of this sounds familiar:
If anything similar to these thoughts has ever crossed your mind about the concept of branding, my friends, then I totally get you because I felt the same exact way. In fact, I went through a massive existential crisis over it because I redesigned my website at the same time.
Walk with me, my friends, through an imaginary scenario I have created to illustrate a point.
Imagine you have always had a dream to, I don’t know… let’s just say for argument’s sake you always wanted to become a writer. Unfortunately, Reality can be a real jerk and you couldn’t be a writer or a ballerina so you ended up being a bus driver. However, in our imaginary scenario, you are able to maintain a blog about your adventures and have a large following. When confronted about you do in your spare time, you somehow manage to stammer, “I’m sort of a writer.”
Damn it, Bus Driver, no! You are a writer! Own that shit. You are a writer the moment you hit publish, whether it is your own blog post or you’ve been engulfed by one of The Big 5.
Branding helps you own your shit. Repeat after me, “I want to own my shit.” Brothers and Sisters in field, once you have accepted your mantle as writers, you become more authentic to your readers. You no longer have to worry about coming off as fake or disingenuous.
Knowing who you are is absolutely vital in identifying what you want your brand to be.
When I had a crisis over determining my own brand, it never even occurred to me that I had already largely created my brand years ago when I opened my Twitter account and developed my Twitter bio. Ever since I hung out my shingle on Twitter in 2009, my bio has simply said: “I give a damn.” Those five words have connected me to people all over the world who knew that when they followed me, they were following a person who cared. I was different.
Let me tell you a story about my big sister. Now, I love my big sister. She has survived a lot in her life and because of that, she has some real quirky traits. One of those quirky traits is the need to special order things when we go out to eat. Basically, because she’s been in relationships where she had no control, she has the need to control really irrelevant things. It’s okay; I love her. Servers probably don’t, but I’m sure to leave big tips.
I didn’t know about this quirk about her when I first moved in with her though, so when we went out to eat one night and she ordered a chicken pot pie with extra broccoli in it I thought she was being irrational. I had never in my life heard of a pot pie with broccoli. The server was so confused; especially when my sister began to get very upset that her order was not understood.
In reality, my sister puts in broccoli when she makes her own chicken pot pie. She didn’t understand that this wasn’t a standard ingredient. And now I have the pleasure of making fun of her about this at most every family gathering.
No writer wants to be told he or she has no choice but to write about broccoli (especially since it’s broccoli and that’s disgusting). Writers become writers because we tend to be free spirits already. We gravitate toward what makes us passionate and then we want to share that with an audience. It is understandable to naturally shrink back from the idea of being “branded” when we see it as being locked down to specific keywords that are attached to our “brand.”
Why would we want to do that? Wouldn’t that just limit our creativity and inspiration?
Actually no, it doesn’t. And this is where it helps to really understand what really goes into that chicken pot pie, since it isn’t only about the broccoli. Because branding doesn’t chain us up in anything at all, and let me tell you why.
Our brand has nothing to do with our creativity or our passion or how we are inspired. All of that is still on us. We still have to do the work as writers, and the onus is still on us to know our shit. Our brand is what helps us to convey our message to our readers.
Branding makes it easier for us to communicate who we are to our audience. When my readers come to my Twitter, my Facebook page, my webpage, and all other social media platforms, they see the same message:
Mother. Poet. Badass.
I give a damn
Right away they know I am a mother, a poet, and a general badass. They also know I will always care because I give a damn.
The biggest struggle I had when I needed to determine my brand–my message–all while I was redesigning my website was this conflict between being a product and my identity. For some reason, I really took everything so personally that I had to step away for a few days and reconsider everything I was doing.
One thing I had always prided myself on was how well people could connect with me. If another mom needed to get another perspective, awesome – send me a direct message on Twitter. If people wanted my opinion on a child sex abuse case that had hit the media, boom! My Facebook messages were filling up. I loved how people felt like they could reach out to me and I didn’t want to lose that once my website had been redesigned and I had a new logo in place.
My streetlight had been on my website since I opened shop since 2009 and I wanted to keep it even if it wouldn’t be a focal point. It’s even a part of my name. I have always told my kids that as long as they could find a streetlight that they’d always be able to find home, meaning me.
And somehow, thinking of that made everything click. That was my message for my readers: As long as they could find the streetlight – my website – they’d find someone who gives a damn. Someone who was just like them, someone who was a mother, or a poet, or a badass. All of a sudden my brand was born.
It became less about pushing me as a product and more about introducing myself. I am a writer. I’m a mother who loves her kids more than she can breathe. I write memoir in poetry and prose. I engage in badassery often.
I am seriously the shit, you guys. And so are you, so get your shit together so readers and a wider audience can engage with you easier.
(updated: May 2019)
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Rachel Thompson is the author of newly released BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge: How to energize your book sales in a month - created to help authors market their book. She is also the author of Broken Places (one of IndieReader's "Best of 2015" top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in the San Francisco Book Festival), and the multi award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, IndieReader.com, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly. Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs and two live Twitter chats: #BookMarketingChat (co-hosted with TheRuralVA, Emilie Rabitoy) and #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with C. Streetlights and Judith Staff. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.
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