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.”