Why am I Developing a Brand?

It’s been a whirlwind of a week. In this series on personal branding lessons, I covered twenty tips. (Links at the bottom of this post). On the last day of this series, I’d like to talk about my own thoughts on branding so you can help yourself decide what you want to do. (I’d like to mention that this post is dedicated to one of my Twitter followers @strangeshe.)

Developing a personal brand isn’t something that really came to my mind until fairly recently. The reason for this is because my focus has been on getting contracts and building my portfolio. My publications have included: corporate blogging, articles, short stories, games, novellas, business plans, technical documentation, etc. Although I enjoy different writing styles, I am in love with writing fiction.

As a very goal-oriented person, I’ve always known what I wanted to be when I grew up — I just didn’t know how I was going to get there. When you’re a professional writer, it’s very easy to over-commit to assignments. Getting paid to write is a wonderful feeling, sure… but building a strong portfolio has been equally important to me and that has been my focus for a number of years.

In today’s market, it’s even more challenging to make a living as a novelist or a fiction writer than when I first started to write. (First-time novelists typically make $5K on their debut book.) Fortunately, I have a “day job”TM that I love and a great team of people to work with, some of whom are writers like myself. Now that I have the experiences and portfolio that I’ve personally needed to move forward, I felt that I could take the lessons that I’ve learned and apply them to my “brand” as an author. No, I’m not as well known as Steven King. No, I’m not a top-of-mind name like Ann Rice or Neil Gaiman or any popular author that you might know — but one day I could be. So could you.

Developing a personal brand for me simply means I’m helping establish guidelines and a professional reputation for myself as a writer.

Whatever you decide your path is as a writer (freelancer, copywriter, etc.), I feel that branding is a long-term strategy that involves both personal and business-related decisions.

Lessons in Personal Branding: Day Four

In today’s tips about nurturing your personal brand, I’d like to share with you some more tips that I hope you’ll find useful to your career as a writer.

16. Try Not to Hold a Grudge

Have you ever been in a situation where another writer said something nasty about you? What about a project that you’ve worked on for years but never got paid? It is extremely easy to get into situations where two people engage in grudge matches, especially when one (or the other) party ceases communication.

There is no magic bullet to avoiding a grudge with someone because sometimes, there is a legitimate reason why someone would feel the way they do. I try very hard to keep open lines of communication as much as possible and (while some people don’t) I do believe in resolving serious issues face-to-face or on the phone whenever possible. My philosophy is that life is way too short to be miserable. Grudges, unfortunately, affect more than just the two parties involved. Resolve your differences, even if you “agree to disagree” so you can remain a professional.

17. Engage in Friendly Competition

Writing can be very competitive, so why not turn that into a fun activity? Have a writing “word count” contest with your peers or generate some friendly “plot seed” competitions to spark your creativity. If you’re a very competitive person, sometimes the answer to satisfying your natural tendency is to look for healthy ways to compete with your peers in a friendly way rather than alienate them.

Unhealthy competition can be pretty dangerous because you can open yourself up to a lot of criticism — especially if you target other writers in your field. The thing to keep in mind about competition is that it’s natural to wonder if you’re “better” than another writer. That thought used to hit me when I was a lot younger, but I’ve since learned it’s pretty silly to think that way. There are PLENTY of writing opportunities to go around. Even if you wrote four books a year, think about how many are released through publishers every month!

18. Keep in Mind Editing is a Separate Skill

Did you know that there are as many forms of editing as there are writing styles? If you ask ten different people what editing is, they’ll probably tell you ten, different things. From content editing to proofreading, editing encompasses a broad range of skills that require a sharp eye.

I like to think about editing in this fashion: If a writer creates content, it’s an editor’s job to polish the content so it shines. It’s often very hard for a writer to edit his (or her) own work for that reason. Sometimes, you’re just too much in love with the words you’ve written to be able to see errors.

For more about editing, you can read these previous posts I had written:

19. Write What You Enjoy Writing

Have you ever gotten a gift that you absolutely hated? Were you enthusiastic about what you received? As any writer will tell you, sometimes it’s really hard to focus on assignments that are an absolute chore to complete. When you’re happy writing what you want to write, you’ll not only end up writing more than what you had originally intended, the quality will often be better as a result. That’s a product any writer can be proud of!

20. Read Blogs, Books by Other Writers

One of the ways that you can keep in touch with other writers is to support what they’re working on. From blogs to novels, I can’t stress enough how invaluable it is to read other publications. Staying on top of book trends or blogs can help foster discussion, provide you with a basis for better decision-making, help you brainstorm and more!

I find that reading books and blogs by other writers helps ensure that I have multiple perspectives on topics, which is essential to intelligent decision-making for anything I do in business. These multiple perspectives ensure that I’m optimistic and realistic about my writing and how I approach myself as a “brand.”

First Three Days in this Personal Branding Series for Writers

Lessons in Personal Branding: Day Three

Welcome to Day Three in this series about how to develop your brand as a writer. I’ve added Day One and Two to the end of this post, just in case you missed reading them. Don’t forget, your comments are appreciated!

11. Be Kind to Other Writers

I can’t stress this point enough: Please, remember to be kind to other writers. The writer that you support today may turn into your friend, your editor or your biggest fan. The writer that you share a kind word with today may find the energy to keep their creative juices flowing, which is something that’s great for all writers and creative minds.

If you seek out other writers to share your positive thoughts, I firmly believe that you should do so because you want to do it and not because you expect other writers to turn around and help you. That old adage “do unto others as you would have done to you” has definitely proven to be true for me. I look at other writers as a means of support and community. Who understands the solitary craft of writing better than another writer? Who “gets” those little milestones better than someone else who is trying to succeed just like you are?

12. Take Care of Yourself

Whether I want to admit it or not, one of the things I’ve learned is that maintaining a professional appearance includes more than just developing a professional persona. It means that you’ll need to dress appropriately for an event and do what’s best for your health. This is a very sensitive topic for a lot of people, and I understand that everyone has very personal thoughts on this subject. I hope that you’ll take into consideration that your physical well-being can have an impact on your career.

I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that writer’s depression is a very real danger of the craft. Sometimes, being a writer means that you are so absorbed in your creative efforts that you forget the world around you. I strongly encourage you to temper those solitary experiences with group activities to ensure that you don’t fall prey to a bout of negativity.

13. Choose Your Battles Wisely

It is very easy to misread a comment sent over email, and it’s next-to-impossible to interpret people’s true intentions on forums where anonymity reigns. Consider choosing your battles wisely, because your efforts leave a “digital footprint” behind. Emails can be resent and forwarded to other people; forums can get really nasty but can remain indexable and searchable on the web for a really long time.

When I get upset, I find a way to get rid of those nasty feelings as quickly as possible. Usually, I rant for about five minutes and then move forward. (Admittedly, I’m not perfect!) I believe that nothing is worth engaging in an online battle of words that will end up getting archived or repeated later. When in doubt, find someone to help filter your thoughts in inflammatory situations to ensure you’re remaining professional.

14. Be Able to Take Criticism

Unfortunately, not every editor or reader will watch what they say about your work. Some people are very harsh critics while others are not. The trick to dealing with criticism and editors is to not take their words personally, even if they come across as abrasive and arrogant. When someone offers a critique about your writing, usually they are making suggestions based on what you’ve written — not your skill as a writer.

Learn to be gracious toward editors and readers regardless of whether or not you agree or disagree with their comments. It’s hard (believe me I know) but if you can master this skill it can really go a long way toward enhancing your reputation. I also believe that if you are receiving very harsh criticism from a fellow writer or other professional, if their comments are important to you don’t hesitate to ask them for clarification. This is a very challenging field to get involved with because many writers regard like-minded professionals as competition. When I first started writing professionally I used to be one of those writers, but I’ve since realized how destructive that attitude is.

15. Treat Every Fan With Respect

After going to multiple conventions over the years, I’ve seen my share of awkward moments. There’s been times where fans are so nervous they stand in front of their favorite writer like a deer in highlights. I’ve seen other moments where a writer stands in a large, empty room and only five fans have shown up because everyone is off engaging in another last-minute activity.

I’ve had my share of moments when I was a “fan” too, like when I met Timothy Zahn. At the time Mr. Zahn was the overseeing editor for over thirty novels written in the Star Wars extended universe. I was okay at first, but then when I realized that this one man was responsible for wrangling multiple writers in an ever-expanding universe that he had to track all of the details for? Let’s just say I didn’t walk away feeling as if I acted professionally.

When you meet someone that’s read your work, treat them with respect. They may ask you questions, they may giggle uncontrollably or they might want to take your picture with them. Whether you have an audience of one or a hundred, meeting your fans face-to-face is a HUGE deal and what you say will have a lasting impression on them.

Previous Lessons in My Personal Branding Series

Lessons in Personal Branding: Day Two

Did you enjoy yesterday’s post where I introduced this week’s blog series on how to develop your personal brand as a writer? If you missed it, here’s the link: Lessons in Personal Branding for Writers: Day One.

Here are the next five tips in this series about nurturing your professional reputation and developing a professional brand:

6. Be Transparent

This tip goes hand-in-hand with developing a brand presence. From conventions to blogging, I’ve found it’s important to be transparent about your writing goals and intentions. As an online marketer, I can’t tell you how many examples I’ve seen where even the slightest “omission” of information has backfired on businesses.
You see, in today’s internet age it’s exceptionally difficult to be anything but yourself — especially if you’re using free tools to promote yourself and your writing.

I’ve found that being yourself both online and offline, you add a touch of personalization to your brand as an author. Being transparent does not necessarily mean that you should disclose everything to your fans and readers. What you offer them is definitely your choice and, as some notable writers have found out, you may want to think carefully before you post personal information or industry-facing discussions.

For me, I’m very careful about what I post online because I also have a “day job.” Everyone has their ups and downs, but blasting that information for all the world to see may work against you in today’s competitive environment. One way to ensure that you know how businesses perceive you online, is to set up a Google Alert. Not only is it free, it’s also a great way to stay on top of discussions and trends, too.

7. Follow-Through on Your Promises

It’s easy to make promises to people if you’re excited as I am about writing. Unfortunately, the road to procrastination and missing deadlines is paved with great intentions. Enthusiasm is great as long as you’re able to temper your excitement with a little touch of reality. If you promise to submit a story to an editor by a deadline or say that you’re going to review someone’s book, try to keep your promises.

Because I have a day job and other non-writing commitments, I used to misjudge how long it would take me to work on a project or do a favor for another writer pretty frequently. Once the holidays passed, I made it a goal to wrangle my commitments and make sure I followed through on the things that I said I was going to do. Now that I’ve been stuck inside for most of the harsh winter here, I’ve been able to get caught up on a number of projects so I can start writing what I want to write and helping out where I can. Following through on promises is a hard lesson for any writer to learn, and I have to say that it’s not easy. I’m not one hundred percent there yet — but I’ve made some serious headway.

8. Respond to Contacts in a Timely Manner

Are you blowing past a deadline? Committed to a short story you just can’t finish? Don’t want to work on a story but haven’t figured out a way to politely back out from your contract? When you get emails from publishers big or small, don’t forget to shoot an email back to them. Seriously. I don’t care if you’re as “famous” as Steven King or if you haven’t published anything before, burning bridges is not a good idea in any industry. In my experiences, there is no easier way to burn a bridge than to neglect your email correspondence, especially if you’re active in other public places online.

When I realized that I was falling behind on email, I took a day to get caught up. After going through 1,200 emails, I can’t tell you how upset I was when I realized I had blown people off accidentally. I used a variety of email filters to help tame my monstrous “in box.” I set these filters into two hierarchies based on action and subject matter. The actions help me respond when I need to; and the subjects help me keep topics of conversation straight.

For tips on how to turn down projects, read my post about sample phrases to politely turn down assignments. I also talked about how you can communicate more effectively when I outlined some new year’s resolutions for writers, too.

9. Don’t Expect Everyone Will Love Your Writing

Oh, this is a really hard lesson to learn. Just because you’ve successfully published something doesn’t mean that every reader out there will enjoy what you’ve written. If a reader enjoys reading fantasy books, it doesn’t mean that they will love every fantasy book on the market. When it comes to books, movies and other entertaining media, a fan’s preferences might be all over the board. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you didn’t do your job as a writer, it means that the reader just didn’t like it.

When I think about all the people who’ve read and commented on my writing, I’m thrilled to hear that some people love what I do. Of course, there are people that absolutely hate every word I write and admittedly that doesn’t make me very happy. My goal is to embrace the readers that are somewhere in the middle, without ignoring the other two groups.

10. Cherish Every Publishing Milestone

No matter what your publishing goals are, remember that in order to be a writer you have to learn patience. Many writers grow their career bit by bit, and rarely experience a surge of success all in one indescribable moment. Instead of getting upset because “you’re not there yet,” start celebrating what you do have. Do you have a blog? GREAT! Can we read your short stories in an anthology? WONDERFUL. Jump up and down for joy because each and every milestone is important!

I learned this lesson the hard way when I had a really tough time of things this past fall. After going through some professional rough spots, I chatted with some of my peers and received a big wake-up call. I realized that if I kept staring at that glass “half-empty” I’d cease to enjoy my writing. How great would my writing be if I didn’t love what I do?

Thanks for sticking with me in this series about developing your personal brand as a writer. I hope you’ll join me tomorrow for the next five tips.

Have a wonderful day!

Lessons in Personal Branding for Writers: Day One

One of the most challenging things to do in today’s competitive market is to develop a personal brand. A writer whose name is recognizable will find work not only based on their skill, but also on their reputation. It’s very easy to understand this from a publisher’s perspective, because a well-known author who writes a book might sell more copies of their new release than a “new” writer that has never been published before. While that might be the most straightforward example, the same can be said in the business world, too. Would you hire someone as a corporate blogger if they didn’t have their own blog? Aren’t you more likely to take “how to” advice from someone who has experience doing the things they’re advising?

This week I’d like to share with you twenty-five lessons I’ve learned over the years. Each day I’ll cover five lessons that have helped me develop my brand as an author. I hope you enjoy reading this series and invite you to offer your comments on these lessons that I have learned.

1. Don’t Plagiarize

Plagiarism. Although the very word sends many writers into raging fits, the fact remains that plagiarism does exist. I covered this a little earlier when I talked about how search engine technology helps to catch plagiarists. In that post I gave an example of plagiarism in action, and how the author was caught by two readers who had used Google to double-check the originality of her work.

As a professional writer, engaging in an act of plagiarism is probably the worst thing you could do for your career. Not only will you lose professional credibility, but your readers will probably feel that you betrayed them, too.

2. Consider Writing Under a Pen Name

Are you a fantasy author but plan on writing political satire? Do you enjoy online marketing but want to write about the negative effects of the internet? There are many reasons why a writer might choose to write under a pen name. These reasons range from protecting their identity to distancing themselves from their current “brand.”

Building a brand around a fictitious identity seems pretty challenging to me. If I were going to write under a pen name, I’d definitely seek out advice from publishers and agents before deciding on a course of action.

3. Specialize in a Particular Form of Writing

Are you a better technical writer than a fiction writer? Know how to write screenplays but not great at writing short stories? One of the ways you can take control of your brand is to play to your strengths. By making a name for yourself in a particular style of writing, you can really focus your efforts and increase your chances of getting published. I’d like to mention that there are drawbacks to specialization, because once you develop a brand in a particular market it’s really hard to shift gears.

I navigate around this issue in two ways. First, I choose more than one speciality. Secondly, I force myself to have a clear understanding why I’m writing a particular style or subject. For example, I write horror and dark fantasy genre fiction because I enjoy writing about what makes a hero a true “hero.” Most of my stories have either a hero or a villain at the heart of the plot for that reason.

4. Don’t Make Claims You Can’t Support

Have you ever met a writer who claimed they had a book published but really didn’t? Agents often hear about writers who have a book to pitch, but don’t have it finished yet. (I made that mistake early on but learned my lesson since then.)

It is natural to talk yourself up when you’re networking and trying to get published. Even though the competition is really fierce out there, there are ways to promote yourself without stretching the truth. When you make a claim, be ready to back it up because you never know who you’re talking to. The same person you’re promoting yourself to now might be a contact that influences your career later on down the road.

5. Beware of “Over” Self-Promotion

Developing your personal brand goes hand-in-hand with the phrases “online reputation management” and “online self-promotion.” Even though there are a number of free tools out there to help you develop your brand as an author, be careful not to overuse these tools and talk about yourself too much. It’s exceptionally important to remember that while your online activity may only be for professional use, people use these same tools every day to share details about their personal lives and talk with friends.

For examples of how other authors use these tools, all you have to do is ask your fellow writers and readers. Since other writers are more likely to support you and maybe even promote you, they’ll give you the best feedback money can buy.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this first installment of “Lessons in Personal Branding for Writers.”

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