Blogger: Mary Keeley
The subject of author brand brings up guttural sounds of anxiety from many writers. Why? Because they are new in their career and haven’t yet put their finger on what their unique author characteristics are. Or, because authors know inwardly that they aren’t maximizing the use of their brand to build a strong platform, and their slow-growing social media numbers confirm it. Make it a priority to frequently assess how well you are doing at building muscle for your brand.
Your brand is the foundation upon which a strong author platform can build and expand.
Nonfiction editors have for a long time said a writer needs to have a well-developed platform that includes some or all of these: speaking engagements, radio program or guest appearances, association with a ministry, and at least 50,000 or more social media followers in order to attract serious interest. Recently, fiction editors have begun to quote the same social media threshold because the current competition for publishing slots can command it.
But here comes the good news.
Many a writer has asked me the obvious question: How do I go about getting the kind of numbers that will prompt an editor to sit up and take notice? The prerequisite to a how-to discussion is that you have already laid your custom foundation, your brand, identifying what is different about you and what you will write for the foreseeable future. If you are a new writer and aren’t sure your brand statement clearly defines you, the author, this is the place where you need to begin. A blog I posted some time ago will help you. Now on to building muscle for your brand.
Efficiency, consistency, and planning are key to gathering followers.
These tips can make all the difference:
- Efficiency. Focus your social media activity to the two or three networks that you are most comfortable using and are gathering the most followers. Don’t try to do all of them. Editors are more impressed with large numbers in two networks than small numbers spread across four or five networks.
- Consistency. Your posts, guest posts and comments, newsletters, interviews, articles—whatever you say or write anywhere except in private family and friend groups—should reflect the uniqueness of you and your brand in some subtle or overt way. Your author voice, an interesting bit of information, comparison, or contrast about something related to your current book’s setting or characters, a current conversation or statistic that reinforces your angle to your topic are just a few ways to quietly promote your brand.
- Consistency. It’s valuable, to a point, to help followers make a personal connection with you by sharing about yourself personally. We’re all familiar with the dangers of sharing too much information, not to mention infringing on family members’ privacy. But there also is a danger to your brand in sharing personally too often. You could be attracting followers only for the friendship connection, which does not accomplish an author’s fundamental purpose for using social media: building your brand muscle to grow your platform. Readers love to learn organically, so multiply followers who are interested in your special passions and interests. How do you do this? By encouraging online conversations, tweets, retweets, and likes about something you discovered in your research for your book, some little-known piece of history, or a current event related to your book’s topic. It can be enough to spark a broad reach.
- Consistency. Always blog on the same days every week. Never miss a scheduled day. If you write a newsletter, make sure it gets into your subscribers’ inboxes on the expected day each time.
- Planning. Use an automated system such as Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule posts on the social media networks you use. Linkhumans.com compared the options of each to help you decide which is better for you. Here is the link to the article. Plan your posts in advance and then use short portions to coordinate scheduled tweets and comments elsewhere. This type of planned networking reinforces your brand across multiple spaces at one time, potentially compounding your visibility. It’s efficient too, which means you’ll have more time for writing .
What do you think of these how-to steps to building muscle for your brand? What are you already doing, and what do you need to begin doing to reinforce your brand? What brand reinforcement efforts have you undertaken that have brought you a good return?
Your brand is the foundation upon which a strong author platform can build and expand. Click to Tweet.
Efficiency, consistency, and planning are key to gathering followers. Click to Tweet.
Thank you, Mary. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I noticed a leap in followers after my last speaking engagement on Facebook. That was a nice feeling to see God using my feeble attempts. One thing I have to be careful about is … talking about writing too much … it’s a huge part of my life and I enjoy it so much, but I don’t think it would mean much to my audience. I have to focus on the right topic.
Shelli, give special attention to the topic you spoke about in that last speaking engagement. That spike is pointing to something appreciates hearing from your perspective. Test that out again on another audience. If you have the same spike in interest, your audience is helping you to recognize a portion of your unique author brand.
And yes, you are right to focus not on yourself, but rather on the felt needs and interests of your readers.
Well said, Mary. Essentially, brand-building is a business fundamental for the writer. I think a lot of authors, particularly female authors writing in CBA, are conflicted about defining themselves apart from daughter/wife/author/mother/sister/friend. And to develop a brand in the greater world, the author HAS to see herself or himself (for the moment) as more of a product and less of a servant.
In other words, he or she needs to “place the brand” on a shelf with other authors, then try to view the selection as a reader would: the competitive point of difference among the authors needs to be immediately apparent so that the reader can react to the author’s platform and voice.
Anyway, I’m bogging people down in marketing theory, so I’ll stop. But your blog is a really good start in asking the questions that establishes a brand.
Good to see this blog.
Wow, you want to write my next blog post, Dr. Horton? Extremely insightful. Make sure you include thoughts on ” not thickly more highly of yourself than you ought,” please. 🙂
I am very thankful for nearly three decades building brands for clients via my marketing and advertising firm, Michelle. Although stressful, it was a blast. And it’s been even MORE fun applying all that knowledge and theory to building my brand and platform. I think I prefer me as a client. : )
BTW, Michelle, the numbers are key to the balance between understnading competitive point of difference (CPOD) and arrogance. Is your platform/brand growing at a steady clip? Are your posts/tweets being shared or driving visitors to your website? Are views and shares on your Facebook page (and newsletter subscribers) increasing each week? These indicators point to an at least fundamental (and sometimes subconscious) understanding of how to take advantage of your CPOD. And an author whose platform is showing these signs of a clear CPOD also probably is harnessing his or her God-given gifts along the way.
And this from a brand marketing expert…
Those were good days, Mary.
I have to say that the call for 50k followers, speaking engagements, and media interviews takes a huge load off my mind, because I’ll never make it. My following on Twitter, say, grows by 1-5 people a week. You don’t achieve those numbers at that rate, so it’s perhaps time to bin the queries.
* That may sound negative…it’s not. I HAVE a brand, and a loyal following with whom I think there is an unusual degree of engagement, and I value these people. They care; they have been there for me.
* To build the numbers needed, I’ll have to retool my approach (not necessarily my overall brand)…and that will necessarily leave behind the people who’ve come so far with me. The message will have to change to one that’s more popular, more flash…it’ll be a different me that my friends will encounter, and in a real sense I will be walking away from the support they have offered. That’s not right.
* You see, I didn’t build my brand foundation. Others did; they elevated me.
That is really something to think about. Thanks for wording it. Becoming a brand may mean losing something in the process. I’m thinking it through myself.
Thanks, Hannah. It is something I’ve been grappling with for awhile. If I may outline my experience, for what it may be worth –
* My blog is specifically about the ‘process’ of terminal illness in marriage (with a bit of Viet-Nam-themed short fiction thrown in, for fun); I am tempted to hide behind the thought that, well, this is a limited subject, and it’ll never gain a wide readership.
* And thus might I emulate the ostrich, because I’m sure almost everyone remembers Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture”, about his journey through the tunnel of pancreatic cancer. The market is there.
* But there are some key differences –
1) Dr. Pausch was a successful and relatively well-known professor in the video special effects field, and that gave him gravitas – and an interesting background. He was also a really engaging guy, and a NICE one.
2) “The Last Lecture”…a lecture Dr. Pausch actually gave…was a media event, through the good offices of a Wall Street Journal reporter. Deservedly so; it’s very much worth watching.
3) The ‘hook’ was his urging to never give up on your childhood dreams…and Dr. pausch fulfilled many of his. It wasn’t really about dying at all; it was about living.
* I come to this from a completely different place; I’m not successful, nor personally engaging, and would have no ‘pull’ in attracting an audience for a speaking engagement (even if I could manage one now).
* And perhaps most important…I have a very different message, and it’s much more one of duty, and of the need for intentionality in finding joy in the sorrow, and purpose in the pain. It’s a harder sell.
* But there are people who find resonance there; I did not expect that, and did not expect the growth I’ve seen (though still way short of 50k!). To retool to a brighter and more popularly accessible message would be a slap in the face to those who’ve been there with me; building success on that kind of rank disloyalty is not something worth considering.
* So, the brand…(drum roll)…”We’re all gonna die, and that doesn’t mean a hoot. Life is about doing the job God gave you, with all your heart, and all your love.”
Andrew, as you describe them, those you engage with have become friends with whom you share support and encouragement. This is a mutually precious blessing, as is your engagement on this blog. However, it’s different from the type of professional author branding in that yours is personal in focus, and there is no reason to change what’s become a personal group. The focus of a professional author social media following is on attracting readers who are interested in your brand, by feeding them interesting facts and information and engaging in conversation always related to your brand.
Too much personal conversation on an author’s professional social media dilutes the brand messaging.
It’s possible to maintain both.
Mary, you’re right, of course. I was blinkered by both circumstance and…perhaps…indolence.
IMHO, Andrew, Christ is the foundation and your brand reflects the incredibly unique person you are (healthy marriage in unhealthy times intermingled with war stories and generously frosted with wry humor–only you!!).
When you get to the pearly gates, Andrew, (which I very much hope is later than sooner) St. Peter will not tally the number of “followers” but rather your impact–and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
Thanks, Shirlee…I really appreciate that!
I blog consistently and try to offer the best quality writing I have. The topics are restricted to just a few, and the followers I have, while a modest number, are loyal. The blog is growing slowly, and, up until now, I’ve been satisfied with that because it meant that those who stuck around really wanted to. I truly have no idea how to change myself so that, all of a sudden, tons of women will flock to my blog. I’m a fiction writer and am gaining some traction in that area. But the blog thing continues to be a bit of a puzzle…
P.S. Twitter, in particular, seems to lend itself to lots and lots of smoke and mirrors when it comes to “followers.” Just because someone has many does NOT mean those people are paying attention to them. It’s a loud, dusty bazaar with lots of street hawkers, and everyone is carrying on his own private conversation. Facebook might be different, but Twitter is ridiculous, IMHO.
I get spam offers regularly, that tell me that for a nominal cost I can buy Twitter followers in blocks of 1k, 5k, or 10k.
* Facebook is better, but I have found – to my acute embarrassment – that many of those who would ‘friend’ me are women interested in matrimony or some other kind of ‘relationship’. Maybe I should post a more current picture.
That’s true, Hannah, but if your purpose it to provide interesting information and articles to read as well (we have no cable, all my news breaks come from Twitter), it can be a tool to drive readers to your blog. Not many, or at least that has been true of my widely defined personal blog, but readers still. Time helps.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I dislike Twitter. Intensely.
I play the game, but I’d rather focus elsewhere.
Twitter seems to have two main uses – as a modern chat room for those with similar interests, and as a vehicle for amassing followers to use in proposals and queries.
* Speaking to the former, the Five Minute Friday writing group has a really nice ‘Twitter Night” on Thursday evenings, when Kate Motaung (www.katemotaung.com) publishes the weekly keyword. It’s a nice venue for the participants to keep up with their friends’ lives in a public setting, and with a lively tempo. Look for the hashtag #fmfparty (or #FMFparty)
* For those who haven’t yet visited FMF, it’s a great writing-discipline exercise.
* Also, and finally…my readership took an exponential jump when I began participating (and that includes visiting a many other posts as I can). Blog link-ups are just great.
Hannah, your description makes the case for why it’s so important that authors’ posts consistently reflect their brand in some way, subtle or overt. And you made a very important point that using posts simply for hawking, “Buy my book!” will drive followers away. It’s all about GIVING, FEEDING your followers something interesting that is related to your brand. That’s what brand reinforcement is all about.
I understand. I suppose I’m still confused by what it means to have a “brand” when one is writing fiction. Non-fiction seems much more clear-cut.
Your brand as a novelist identifies your unique voice and things that readers will always find in your writing, such as hope, humor, a particular setting or time period, consistent traits your protagonists will always have, and so on, which are different from other authors who write in your chosen genre. I hope this helps.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
For the grand daughter of a horse breeder, that word means one thing.
But for a writer covered in chicken feathers, it means something else.
This is the art where everyone says “YOU, Jennifer? But you’re so brave.”
Ummm, no. I am not.
As we say in Bolivia, “Estoy pollo.”
I am a chicken.
Learning to step beyond my box has been somewhat angsty. Angstyfull? Angstyish?
I recently went from a blog to a website, which gives me more ownership. Even though the blog was mine, I do actually feel that the website is MINE. It was a big step to make that leap, but I’m glad I did. I have more control over the layout and I sorta feel more grown-up.
I mean, something has to make me feel like an adult, right?
As for content, I am intentionally discussing the 5 W’s. Last week was ‘why’, this week is ‘when’ and I’m not sure what next week will be. But, it will not be easy.The first few discussions were somewhat trivial, but I felt like I should slide into the waters. Now that I have officially launched, there will be cannonballs.
I prefer Facebook to Twitter. I’m with Hannah. I find the premise of it quite ridiculous. I do have my Facebook linked to Twitter, but as God as my witness, I have no idea how that happened. I must have clicked on something.
I want to be more intentional on Goodreads, and then focus on Facebook and Goodreads and leave Twitter to those who like it.
Jennifer, it sounds like Facebook and Goodreads are the networks in which you will also reap the best results.
If anyone would like to see a wonderful platform statement, here’s the link to Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture”; I think you’ll see that his platform is not only his message – it’s him.
* And while we are poorer for having lost such a great and good man too early…think of the rejoicing in Heaven when he came home!
Mary, I appreciate this post. I know I’m doing some of the branding things correctly. There are others that are just plain hard. I’m trying to figure out how to fit everything in in a day, and it’s a challenge.
*Though blogging takes time, I find the greatest level of engagement in this venue. I enjoy Facebook but I need to really think through my brand and be uber-intentional about posting more consistently on my author page. It becomes discouraging to spend time preparing a meme, or a post, only to have it be seen by a few people because of Facebook’s algorithms. I have more engagement on my personal page, but I’m trying to keep personal and author pages distinct.
*My twitter numbers are growing, but as Hannah mentioned, it’s hard to know how many authentic followers I really have who will engage once I have a book out there to sell. Though it’s not my favorite social media, it’s easier to tweet things, thanks to buttons and links in peoples’ blogs.
*I think it would be so helpful to be able to brainstorm ideas with others about brand and getting our brands out there. Hmmm, I think I’ll need to talk with people who are further along this aspect of the journey and see what comes of it.
Jeanne, using Hootsuite or Buffer can help to reduce your social media time. You could set aside a half-day every week, two weeks, or month to schedule blog posts for that length of time and then use portions of those posts for scheduling simultaneous Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter posts that are designed to drive followers to your blog or website. It’s efficient and effective.
You mentioned the key: I need to be intentional about setting aside time to think about and create the posts and tweets to schedule on Hootsuite (which I’ve used intermittently for a few months now). That’s what I haven’t done. I’m much more intentional about my blog content, and less so with other social media.Thank you.
Great thoughts, Mary! I find myself waffling from one day to the next re: confidence in my brand. When I hear the 50,000 number, it’s easy to despair and think, “There’s no way.”
But as a fitness instructor, the concept of “building muscle” reminds me that just like muscles aren’t built in a day, neither are platforms. When I’m teaching, I encourage my class participants to find just the right level of weights for them…and then increase when their muscles are ready.
With platforms, we all have to work within our current capabilities, and when it’s clear we’re ready to step up our game a little higher, we can move forward with confidence because of our previous training. Usually those next steps aren’t easy. I had a class participant tell me she recently increased her weights and has been really sore after class. Those aches and pains will soon go away, and confidence will lift to meet the challenge.
Now to remind myself of this on my less-than-confident days. 🙂 You’ve given me much to think about, Mary!
You are so right, Sarah. Great comparison that makes what feels daunting to some regarding brand development easier to visualize.
I’m reading Ed Darack’s “Victory Point”, a narrative of Operations Red Wings and Whalers in Afghanistan…and he offers a critique of what the Soviets did wrong in the 80s that may be a good analogue to this topic.
* When the Soviets invaded their rebellious and fragmented puppet state in 1979, their first thought was that they could win by proxy – that the Communist Afghan government would take matters in hand, given that The bear Was There, and crush the rebellion. When that didn’t happen, they decided to use high explosives and brutality, trying to bomb the mujaheddin into submission.
* Darack points out that both strategies were fatally flawed, that they were facing an insurgency that could only be won by winning hearts and minds, and incorporating “heavy, heavy, HEAVY interaction with the locals”.
* Seems to me that many people…myself included have been or are doing similar things with social media, by posting and not doing the switched-on interaction that ultimately wins hearts and minds…either hoping that what they write will be forwarded (the proxy thing) or will be so impressive that nothing more need be done.
* It may be instructive that none other than Michael Hyatt resumed taking comments on his blog, after a year-long experiment in which they were switched off. He doesn’t answer every comment…I doubt anyone could, given his volume…but he does make an attempt to answer a good sampling.
* It does seem to me that the answer to the question that’s haunted me all morning…”How on earth do I get to 50k readers or followers???” is…one at a time.
If anyone’s still out there, I have two thoughts on Twitter –
* I have increased my follows through the targeted use of #hashtags; and I do try to pick up trending #hashtags that most closely fit what a current blog post. While I haven’t written posts specifically directed at top trends, there’s no reason not to try it, if it fits one’s platform.
* It seems that the folks with large followings also follow a lot of people, so following those who are in line with one’s platform may also e=increase exposure through a larger number of retweets.
* Though it seems that a lot of people don’t really like Twitter all that much (and for some good reasons) it shouldn’t necessarily be shunned as a vehicle for platform-building. The time investment is generally small, and the results can be, if not overwhelming, at least helpful.
First of all….I hate weeks when my day job interferes with me being able to read these posts daily. So, here I am late to this conversation.
*I have experience in branding for churches and non-profits. Communication for branding purposes is more often than not about telling a story. The story (message, identification, etc.) should be easy to write for us authors. Yet, I’ve had a little trouble seeing consistent growth on some of my platforms. Hard to pinpoint, though I’d have to admit to not being as consistent as I could be with posting. I also notice the most engagement when I convey some sort of story, as opposed to just some “update.”
This blog is so helpful in seeing that most of us have had the same issues, fears, confusions, etc. It’s good to hear from the experts and nice to hear from the soon-to-be experts! Nice to know I’m not alone.
Excellent article with directions that make sense.