“Brand” Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

One of the things that I find really interesting, is how many authors and publishers treat their public relations and marketing channels. (This can include reviews, interviews, appearances, etc.)

The “old think” was that PR was something you needed to pay for. You’d incorporate your PR with your marketing, and you’d work with other “paid” professionals like reviewers or reports to see what fit into their schedule. The “new think” is that you, as an author or publisher, can leverage a lot of free methods to generate buzz and PR for your career.

Regardless of what side of the fence you fall on, there are a number of mistakes I see people making when it comes to dealing with their “brand.” Whether you work for a company or not, brand management is a lofty phrase that deals with how others perceive you or your works. Here are some of my biggest frustrations:

    1. Being “Brand” Arrogant – Do you believe that everyone knows your name or product? Guess again. Just like not everyone on the planet has seen Star Wars, not everyone has read your books or even knows you exist. Sure, everyone wants to feel proud of where they are in their career, but I’ve seen how brand arrogance hurts not only an author and/or publisher but the reader. The minute you publicly tell someone that “they’re wrong” and forget to keep your customer service voice on, the greater you’re at risk for that customer talking shit about you. No, not every customer is “right,” but you have to remember that the conversations you have with a single reader online are read by countless readers that are not commenting on the review or your conversation. You shouldn’t have to “defend” your products or your brand in a hostile manner — I don’t care how crappy the comment was. A mistake is one thing (and there are ways to handle that) but trying to “sell” yourself or your brand to someone who doesn’t want to have anything to do with you is entirely another.
    2. Not Understanding “Who” is Talking about You – There are two types of reviewers: those who work for places like the Chicago Times or the New Yorker and those who don’t. The cold, hard truth is that the bulk majority of reviewers on the web are not getting paid to write your review. They are, simply, readers who love to read books or play games and watch movies. (The jury is still out on which reviews “sell” more books. After all, are you influenced more by your friends’ opinions or a professional reviewer?)
    In many reviewers’ minds, the unpaid reviewers are doing their fellow reader a favor by providing their honest review of what they’ve experienced. This is part of what’s called “grass roots” marketing. In many ways, these reviews are more like testimonials, because these opinions are coming from “a customer.” Yes, reviewers appreciate it when they get a review copy, but often publishers see this as an expectation to get a positive review done ASAP. With “grass roots” marketing, many reviewers don’t feel an obligation to write a review in a timely manner, especially if they didn’t like the book. With “grass roots” marketing, often reviewers will get to it when they can, not because they don’t want to.
    Unfortunately, I’ve seen one too many authors and publishers alike bashing reviewers. Here’s what that gets you — negative press. Publicly bashing a reviewer is a big “no-no” for many reasons, but partially because a reviewer is not expecting flak for providing an honest opinion about what they’ve experienced. Just like you, as a customer, don’t like every brand of coffee — reviewers are not going to enjoy every book, game, movie, etc. they come into contact with.
    3. Trying to Control the Message – Once people start talking about you or your brand, don’t even think about trying to “control” what people are saying. Most people do not engage with places like Facebook, Goodreads, MySpace and Twitter to be deluged by people shilling something. Why? Because social media is all about people interacting with other people. It is not there to “serve” you personally in the way that you expect, nor does it happen on your schedule. In fact, some of the most popular content are the things that don’t cost “money” (e.g. not including time as a resource here) to make. Yes, comment moderation is necessary and you can post your policies for that. That, however, is different from “controlling” what people say about you. Only posting positive, corporate-sque comments about your brand is a dead give-a-way and a big turn-off for people who follow you religiously. In my experiences, people respond better to humans, not robots. Ignoring or divulging everything that people are saying are two, other tactics, both of which can blow up rather poorly in your face.

Instead of trying to control the message, I try to be a natural part of the message regardless of what I’m doing. This comes pretty easy for me, because I believe in being genuine and passionate about whatever I’m writing.

I recommend not only defining what your brand is, but also what message you want to portray and how you want to engage with other people. Once you do, you’ll be able to remind yourself what you want to accomplish in your marketing efforts. (e.g. Maybe you’ll think twice before posting a nasty comment on a bad review.) For more about how to request a review for your book or product, read Matt Staggs’ latest post entitled: “Critics on Rookie Mistakes and How to Avoid Them when Submitting Your Book for Review.”

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment below.

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.

Just How Long Does it Take to Make a “Name” for Yourself?

Fame, fortune and glory. Something that every writer dreams of, but no one is quite sure what being “famous” actually entails. Do you know who Robert Bloch is? How about Leigh Brackett or C.L. Moore? Each of these prolific writers hit it “big”: Bloch wrote the horror fiction that the movie Psycho was based on, Leigh Brackett wrote the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back, and C.L. Moore’s groundbreaking contributions to fantasy and science fiction earned her the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Being a writer means that we have to continually remind ourselves why we write; to the fickle public it never matters “what” we’ve done. It always seems to be “when” we do it that counts. I’ll never forget the first time I joined a community of writers. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was enthusiastic about how far I’d go as a writer and was eager to share ideas with other writers like myself. Then, I got told off by a very snarky writer who had written two books over 10 years ago–that I wasn’t a “real” writer because, at the time, I had zero “paid” credits to my name. To him, he was the “expert” because he had been published before and had gotten paid for it–but he was also bitter. Very bitter.

It’s easy for us to sit back and laugh at writers like this. Unfortunately, we are those writers. In 50 years, who will be remembered? Stephen King? Probably. You? Me? Probably not–yet.
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