Branding for Writers – Beginning Principles

Branding for Writers – Beginning Principles

Here’s a simple concept: You and your literary work are a brand.

An older term was identity. Now, brand is a newer, broader term to talk about the perceived, implicit promise of what your writing will deliver to a consumer of it.

Stephen King is a brand. His brand: thriller writer, author of familiar dark-fantasy works like Carrie with modern, everyday things like proms and favorite but spooky old cars, etc. He’s from Maine, and is a bit reclusive . . . His brand is that overall expectation that pops into your mind when you see his name on a book or story. Based on that preconception, do you want to read that thing with his name on it?

Think of Dave Barry. Another brand expectation pops up.
Think of David McCullough, nonfiction author of the John Adams bio, 1776, etc.
Think of J.K. Rowling.
Think of . . . you get the picture.

These are mega-brands, the “Coca-Colas” of the literary world.

Is a brand something you want to strive for?
First, you do have a brand. The real question is how strong, consistent, positive, quick is it?

Why would you want to strengthen it? A strong and positive brand pulls your customers to you.

The result of a strong brand: your customers (readers, editors, etc.) choose to come to you. They associate you with what they want: good writing just the way they like it, with style, with panache, with consistency.

So  . . . what are the most basic principles to think about when you start on a quest to review, identify, and strengthen your brand as a professional writer?

1. What’s your area of focus?

If someone hears  your name, or (assuming you’re not already well-known, if someone takes a quick look at your website, your bio, or your other visible aspects . . .what do people expect you to be writing about? And how specific can you be? (Clue: you want to narrow the area of focus down from, “Hey, I’m a writer!”)

2. What’s your literary style?

Within that area of focus, what do people think from knowing or eyeballing your “brand” – often, for newcomers, a quick scan of something you’ve written – about what kind of writing that you’ll deliver in your work? Is your style or choice of content or angle on what you’re writing about . . . humorous, detailed, practical, well-researched, gripping, conversational, succinct, provocative . . . is it filled with the dazzling use of language, are you a plain-talker or good explainer, etc.?

3. What’s your personal story as a writer?

You might think of this, as one brand strategist suggested, as your “Creation Story.” How did you get to be where you are as a writer? What were the beginnings, the influences, the key breaks, the current passions that keep you writing?

4. How can your brand imagery help focus & imprint on fans (current & future!) what your writing delivers?

These are the quickly visible things commonly thought of as branding: the tools that work together to build and reinforce your brand identity. The common ones for a writer include: an engaging short bio, and a logo (well, for many writers this is a bio photo). Also, you might invoke familiar phrases that characterize your work, memorable tag-lines (“slogans”), literary-genre labels, meta-data tags (often invisible except to search engines), images of you at work and play, images of your books, decorative elements highlighted on your website, typography, etc. . . . all working together to reinforce the brand message.

The main thing: a brand more than a logo or slogan. It’s the overall effect, the preconception that people carry with them (or gain quickly) that gives them confidence about what you’ll deliver that they like, want, need. Coca-Cola isn’t just its scripty type logo, red color, catchy songs, and such. It’s the impression that all of those aspects build that suggest (or remind) customers that your “product” is something they like, because they’re familiar with you, or that they will like soon . . . when they read what you’ve written.

For now, think about four principle elements of your literary brand:

  1. area of focus
  2. literary style
  3. your personal story as a writer
  4. the brand imagery to reinforce it all

I’ll go into more detail in follow-up articles on how to identify and strengthen these core elements.

Blog Post by Philip Martin, director of Blue Zoo Writers and Great Lakes Literary ( and author of How To Write Your Best Story and A Guide to Fantasy Literature.

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