Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, September 1, 2011

On the Internet There Is No Such Thing as a Brand. There Is Only You

Self-Portrait - Vincent van Gogh
I believe this strongly about the Internet: There is no such thing as a brand.

To me, a brand is a cultivated fiction, it's an image spun from a grain of truth. You hear about athletes and celebrities cultivating brands, whether it's a tough-guy image or a nice-guy image or one of dispassionate competency. Is it true? Doesn't really matter. It's a public front.

As I alluded to in my post on LeBron James, brand sorcery used to work in the TV era, but not anymore. The Internet doesn't tolerate a false front. It loves loves loves nothing more than to expose the truth and stomp all over "brands," as Tiger Woods and Anthony Weiner have discovered all too keenly.

The only, and I mean only way to approach a world of social media is with honesty, transparency, and authenticity. You can't fake out the Internet for long.

And it's not even about morality - look at how the Internet has (mostly) embraced Charlie Sheen and denigrated LeBron James. The key difference is authenticity.

For me personally, this blog reflects my real life. The personality I express here is me, the opinions are my own, and the topics I post about are the things I'm thinking about. Sure, I maintain a certain professional decorum (usually) and I don't divulge my deepest darkest thoughts (usually) but this isn't a false front. This is me.

Now that I'm an author, people have suggested that I should change up my "brand" - I should start a blog that appeals to a more middle grade audience, I should start a separate blog for self-promotion, I should stop talking so much about my own book.

And sure, I could try and change up my "brand." But I don't think it would work, because it wouldn't be real. This blog has always reflected where I am in my personal and professional life. I was an agent, so I blogged about agenting. Now have a book out, so I talk about my book. That's where my head is at. I can only speak with authority on the actual things I'm thinking about.

My advice for people who are trying to carve out their own space in social media is not to think about what you think your blog or your Twitter presence should be, but rather to embrace who you really are. Be yourself. Let your own voice shine through. Lots of people have ideas about what you should be, but you can only be who you are.

The only brand you've got is you.






103 comments:

Curtis Moser said...

Amen, brother.

Pam Asberry said...

This post resonates with me in a way that those about creating a platform and building a brand never have. Thank you, Nathan.

Mr. D said...

I figure, for a writer, that "brand" is the "voice" we hear so much about.

Lori Brighton said...

Thank you so much for this post! I'm so sick of hearing about branding! People acting like it's the end of the world if you haven't established your brand.

wosushi said...

*slow clap*

I posted earlier this week about why I blog, because I've had enough of all this talk of "branding". I agree - just be who you are.

L.G.Smith said...

I agree it is about authenticity. You have to be yourself and engage with people honestly if you want to build a relationship, which is the point of all this social media stuff IMO.

You don't have to spill your guts or empty the skeletons from your closet, but being open about who you are and what's on your mind usually attracts like-minded people.

CourtLoveLeigh said...

This post is accurate.

Matthew MacNish said...

I used to censor myself a lot on my blog, because I was worried about offending readers. Then I realized, by not being myself, I might miss out on connecting with someone who truly "got me."

Not that that person exists.

There are still certain things one should not do though, as we all know. Ideally we must strike a balance between open honesty about who we really are, and the level or professionalism that is necessary to succeed.

Valerie Rieker said...

I love your non-brand brand, Nathan! Way to make the world a better place for some people. =D

RobynBradley said...

I agree that authenticity is important. We writers need to be true to who we are. But I also think it's important to think about what your audience wants to hear from you. (I'm using the universal "you" in the last sentence.)

In this particular case, Brand Nathan has two audiences: 1) the many writers who lurk here and who love learning from and interacting with a former agent and now published author. And 2) your middle-grade audience (and their parents) who might be psyched to have a blog (or FB page or whatever) from you that talks directly to them.

(I'll get off my marketing soap box now: I'm a marketing copywriter by day...I can't help myself! :))

Bottom line: Brand Nathan rocks!

Josin L. McQuein said...

I'm not sure the idea of branding is completely false, more that it's misplaced. People try and brand themselves rather than their products, and products are what need to be branded so that consumers have a reasonable expectation of what those products will contain.

It's reasonable to assume that if a writer has written 10 novels with no sex and little swearing that book 11 won't be an F-bomb laden, near pornographic potboiler based on the name on the cover. To deviate that wildly from your normal material and audience, then rebranding with a new pen name is probably best.

All of that has to do with what you're selling, so brand away, but when you get to your blog and interact with your audience, then you can be you and leave the alternate identities atop your pieces of fiction.

Reagan Philips said...

Well said.

Remus Shepherd said...

I hate, hate, hate the 'person as a brand' mindset.

How can I be myself if I'm a flawed human being? If I'm authentically creepy, prejudiced or just simply an asshole then all I am capable of making is a crappy brand that people will shun.

It's telling that you used that image of Van Gogh to make your point, Nathan. He painted that side of his face because it hid his self-mutilated ear on the other side. Van Gogh was LITERALLY hiding his damage, because he knew that he would never be loved if he showed it.

Artificiality is necessary sometimes. Many artists or authors need to keep a public face that is separate from the private persona. It sucks, but it's better than the alternative, which is to starve to death while the public reviles you as a monster.

Matthew J. Beier said...

Yet again, you prove you are an awesome person. This post hit at the right time and helped me lean further toward a decision I've been needing to make about my future/business. So, thank you, Nathan!

Jennifer Groepl said...

Well said! Like you, I am multifaceted. There are many dimensions to my personality. I wear a lot of different hats and I have many different interests. I am who I am.

Rich Friedeman said...

You're 100% right about the need for honesty and authenticity, but you undersell the importance on the idea of "brand". When used by the cynical and short-sighted, it's treated as a cultivated image as you describe.

In the real world it's a perception of value held by your customers and potential customers.

That can manifest as "great middle grade author", "tastes great, less filling", or "builds a comfortable and reliable car". It's not what the cultivated marketing message is, though, it's who the customer thinks you are and what they think you have to offer.

Define it the right way, and your prescription is even more appropriate. Brand is not a bad thing when you do it right.

Cathy Yardley said...

I'd like to post a little excerpt from Naomi Dunford's (ittybiz.com) book Marketing School:

"When it was time for mom and dad to go to dinner, she [Mom] would hug the kids and they would smell her perfume.

Today, 50 years later, those kids remember exactly what their mother
smelled like. If they smell that perfume on anyone else in the world, for the rest of their life, they will think of their mother.
They don’t necessarily think nice things about their mother. They might think of how much of an alcoholic she was and how every time she made a casserole she would stare sullenly into the sink, smoking a cigarette and
ignoring her kids. But they think of her and only her.

That is branding."

Her point, which I agree with, is whether you believe in it or not, branding is people's perception of you. You can't control it, per se, but you can look at what you're doing and at least think: what am I saying here? Who am I trying to say it to? And am I being consistent?

Jerome Espinosa Baladad said...

hmmm, I don't agree w/most of what you're saying on 'branding' on the Internet. I think there's a terrible mis-perception on the idea of 'branding,' w/c it seems to me you find to be somewhat dis-tasteful (I may just be over-reading here, OK?). If you're saying you have to be 'authentic,' then that's your way of branding yourself, which can be effective as as a strategy when done well. Writing (& all other areas of Publishing) has business areas to contend with all the time by writers & all others involved in it. It's simply stupid to leave 'marketing & promotions,'which includes aspects of 'branding, to chance, or even to pursuing the belief that business processes have switched because there's the Internet---there are more works being done that everyone can imagine when engaged in business, which can't be reduced just because they look dis-tasteful to someone. I'm saying all these because I look at my writing works as a business (& a tough business at that!), too. Plus I've been a small business owner myself for many years, & I've got an MBA degree. To just throw into the winds what I've learned about 'branding' when on the Internet, is tantamount to being disrespectful, too, to my excellent teachers who have taught me the basics.

Anonymous said...

This too much of a simplistic view of a brand and overlooks what branding is all about in relation to author's and their books.

Celeb's from a sporting or theatrical background who court Celeb' or star status are a different animal. What you are describing is all about public image of the individuals.

No one gives a crap about Stephen King's, or Joan Collins personal traits. What they care about in relation to brand, is that they are known for producing quality entertaining reads in a specific Genre and of a consitant quality that appeals to them. End of.

Ulysses said...

Interesting point, more interesting perhaps because I've chosen to remain (mostly) anonymous.

"Ulysses" isn't my name. It's a lie ("fiction," if you prefer).

But that's the extent of it. My blog and my comments here and other places don't reflect any character but my own. I write about things that move me in a way that reflects my personality and presents my thoughts. If I have a brand (and by brand, lets say I mean a face I present to the world which differs in some substantial way from the one currently stretched over the bones and muscles of my cranium), it's not one I've created deliberately.

The contents remain the same. Only the label may be misleading.

Kathryn Elliott said...

Spot on, Nathan!

Loree Huebner said...

Thank you, Nathan.

Robena Grant said...

There is nothing worse than a fake brand. It's far better to be true to yourself and have a small following than be a fake with a huge following. Because the moment you let your guard down and reveal your authentic self, the fake followers will abandon you. ; )

ginny martyn said...

I agree, but the people who run the literary world (agents and publishers) swear up, down and cross ways that as an author you must live, eat, breathe and pee your brand/platform. Without it there is no book, no deal and no author.

Two Flights Down said...

I can see where people are coming from who disagree with Nathan. However, I think some have missed the point Nathan was making. He is talking about branding in relation to social media. Social media has made it more difficult to keep up a false persona. It just takes that one slip up--and the internet isn't so forgiving. It could ruin your entire reputation. Best to just be honest from the beginning and draw lines as to what parts of your thoughts you allow the public into. To try to generate and keep up a false image seems like a lot of pressure, and could easily turn messy these days.

Anonymous said...

You'll get a lot of kudos on this post in the comment thread, from the good, decent, trusting people who read this blog.

But I couldn't disagree with you more.

People want to think they are getting authenticity. Whether they are actually getting it or not doesn't matter. And I've always found that those who say they are the most authentic are usually the biggest culprits of deception on the Internet.

Never trust anyone who begins a sentence with "In all honestly..." They are always going to lie.

Branding is just as important on the Internet as it has always been everywhere else. And if this wasn't the case, good, decent people wouldn't be sending millions of dollars to well-branded politicians via the Internet. They'd be sending the money to worthy charities instead.

Jonathan Dalar said...

Great post, Nathan! Very well said, and I believe there's a lot of truth to the points you made about authenticity. A lot of food for thought.

tanyagrove said...

Well, it's true that I might not trust a person who begins a comment, "In all honestly," but that's because it's either grammatically incorrect or it's a typo. Either way, the person is not taking the time to write carefully and thoughtfully, so I wouldn't rely on that person. Of course anyone who writes in as "Anonymous" cannot truly be trusted anyway...

But what Nathan said is all about honesty and authenticity, which I applaud.

Sara said...

I understand where you're coming from (I think), but I spent 13 years in corporate PR/marketing and worked specifically with branding, and I can say the bottom line is that you ARE your brand.
But don't let that scare you. We are each in control of our actions and choices and therefore our "brands."
So your "brand," Nathan BranDsford, is exactly what you want it to be and what you are (in your own words, in the case of this blog, reflecting your real life, your personality, your opinions, and the topics you post about are the things you're thinking about.) When you say, "This isn't a false front. This is me," it implies that you have the incorrect impression that brands are false fronts.
It doesn't have to be that way. And, in fact, it shouldn't be that way.
Sure, sometimes big "bad" companies are going to try to "re-brand" themselves as good guys (and the same goes for big bad athletes or actors or other public figure), but that's because they're misusing branding to their economic advantage. Classic example: Bill Clinton got caught cheating with the intern. (Brand= bad="I'm a cheater.") Next day takes a stroll across the White House lawn with his wife, daughter, dog; bible in hand. (Re-brand=good=I'm a bible-carrying, family man who loves my wife, dog, and daughter). Did he become a changed man overnight? *Maybe* but doubtful. There's someone trying to re-brand himself in a more-positive light.
HOWEVER, someone who is honest/kind/upfront and who presents that to the world? Well then, that's their brand in the truest sense of the word.
Don't get turned off of branding just because some people misuse it.

Nathan Bransford said...

sara-

But if you are your brand, do you really have a brand? Or are you just yourself?

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Sara. She said what I was trying to say, but with PR experience I don't have, and eloquence. (And she didn't mispell honesty.)

Anon @8:48

James said...

I think you forgot a loophole.

Richard Bachman. Stephen King.

Pseudonyms.

You can create fictional "real" people on the internet. I'd argue its easier to give them a life with the internet than without. They can live on Facebook and Twitter. Have their own websites and blogs.

Each pseudonym could be a different brand. Hell, you can even give them genre-brand appropriate names.

I actually think what you are describing with the "There is only you" is the cause for needing to create these pseudonym brands if you want to expand beyond what the "you" brand has pigeon-holed you into.

P.I. Barrington said...

I agree Nathan. The Internet/social media world is like a vast glass house...

Darley said...

I have always thought of 'brand' as expectation. But it's just the best label we can give for identifying with a person or thing. Maybe the word 'image' is better.

But I think no matter whether you make the effort or not, a person (author etc.) is going to be perceived as having a brand and image.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

You are one of the most authentically genuine people I've met on the internet (and NICE!) and my hats off to you for your vision of doing this early (and often). We can quibble about the definitions (is the brand me? am I the brand?) but authenticity is king. I think having some coherence and organization to the professional self is also important, but genuine relations with real people trumps everything. :)

Linda said...

Yes, yes, yes!!! Your genuineness is why you have such a huge following. We all seek the security of honesty.

Bryan Russell said...

Plus, it's more interesting to simply blog about what you want to blog about, rather than trying to do a market analysis and target an audience.

Marilyn Peake said...

What a refreshingly wonderful post! I agree with you that authenticity is so much more important than brand, especially for writers. Writers are supposed to be creative thinkers, not PR specialists, no matter how many people recommend tailoring books and authors’ public personas to PR campaigns. When the best writers break through, PR people who love PR and are trained in that field can help expand the popularity of their books. J. K. Rowling is a great example. She’s an extremely private person who tended to avoid PR in the early days of HARRY POTTER. She didn’t use the Internet, didn’t have a blog or website or Twitter account. Eventually, someone created an amazing website for her: J. K. Rowling Official Site. She joined Twitter in September 2009, and has so far posted a total of only 7 tweets, some of which are repetitions of the same tweet: J. K. Rowling Twitter account. Speaking of authenticity, here’s a tweet she’s repeated several times: "This is the real me, but you won’t be hearing from me often I am afraid, as pen and paper is my priority at the moment." Recently, Rowling started her HARRY POTTER online community, POTTERMORE, but that seems to have been the result of her genuine interest in connecting with fans.

Cora Zane said...

Exactly this.

P. Kirby said...

I find that a lot of writers think that their brand has to be inextricably bound to writing. I.e., that they must blog, tweet, facebook, about writing. For a few, this works. For the majority, IMO, it's duller than butter knife. I think they'd be better off blogging about their kids, cats and favorite spinach recipes.

All one-topic, all-the-time, makes most writers dull boys and girls.

D.G. Hudson said...

IMO, the blog owner is the one controlling the content, style, and frequency. The readers or followers have the option of staying or leaving. The blog owner has to consider that audience when they create a post.

As long as you're offering good advice in regard to publishing or writing, I'll read your blog. It doesn't really matter if you write for a different age group(MG), except in the presentation of the product.

Make your blog work for you, Nathan, with our help when you ask for it. That's fair.

BTW - Love Van Gogh's work, and saw where he and his brother Theo lived in Montmartre, while in Paris last year. Good choice, he's definitely a Brand.

Sheila Cull said...

Bransford, yes, please do not change a thing about this Blog.

This read was refreshing! Thank you.

Sheila Cull

Roger Floyd said...

Sounds like a matter of semantics. You are your brand, your brand is you. Charlie Sheen as a drunken womanizer, Charlie Sheen as an ascetic monk. If you want to brand yourself as honest and realistic, go for it. I'll be behind you all the way. But that will be your brand. I'm pretty realistic on my blog, too. It's me, brand and all.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, yes, yes!!! Your genuineness is why you have such a huge following. We all seek the security of honesty."

Then I hope you're all buying his book, too, all you seekers of security and honesty.

(Sorry Nathan...it's just that sometimes I get frustrated with how everyone expects everything for free on the Internet...or for .99)

I did buy and read your book. Loved it and was surprised at how it wasn't like I expected. It crosses over, and adults can read it, too. I didn't expect that.

MT Nickerson said...

Nice post as it makes every writer assess what their particular goal is and how to achieve that goal.

Like many things, I believe there is room for shades of gray in the debate. On the internet, writers are able to shape how they are viewed, by presenting themselves as close to who they are in 'real life' all the way up to hyper-controlled branding with pseudonym, slick advertising and all-over artificial flavoring.

Maybe the internet allows us to see behind the curtain easier than ever before, but that doesn't mean that writers don't invent a brand to hide behind.

I prefer the 'There is only You' approach, but whatever works for the individual, I say good luck and write well.

Susie said...

I'm glad what you convey here is your vision of your authentic self, and this self that you present publicly certainly resonates with me and clearly many others. However, if you fell into that trap that many bloggers do--"I'm just going to blog about anything and everything that rambles into my brain (the delights of cheetos! petunias in the springtime! crazy grandpa drooling into his soup!)"--I would respect that you had opted to go in a different direction with your blog, but I would probably stop checking in. There are too many rambling, unfocused blogs out there as it is. Yours is a engaging, insightful look into the publishing and writing world, a niche that I hope you will retain for some time.

John Wiswell said...

I wish everyone saw everyone else transparently, but it doesn't function this way from the other side. Most celebrities have a public perception that is, at best, a superficial reflection of what they are if not a complete distortion. Human-brands are often out of the hands of their human representatives. Several groups are going to see The Pope a certain way no matter how he behaves.

I do sincerely strive to be transparent and audience with anyone who listens, but perception is a fragile and fickle and thing. It's also something, which you rightly identify, as not in my hands.

Selena Robins said...

Every so often a new word emerges into society (eg. surreal) and it's so overused that it actually loses its original meaning.

I'd rather work on being recognized for my style of writing (voice), when crossing genres. My goal is that when a reader picks up one of my books, they will know what style (voice) they will be reading.

People who visit my blog and get to know the type of information I impart and my style of blogging, will know that what to expect: lots of foodie conversation, Italian culture, writing life, interviewing other authors, etc.

We know what to expect when we visit your blog, Nathan, and of course it will change as your own goals change or careers in your case. I wouldn't call you a brand though, I would say, that is what you're known for, no matter what subject you are writing.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I have so much respect for you, but I disagree.

Just today I read a really emotional post by a food blogger who also had to fight the urge to bury her true self on her blog.

But the conflict for her was the hateful, hurtful, and threatening speech directed at her, her husband, and her child via her blog and twitter. Guys, the comments were rapidly approaching death threat status. All because the blogger was really enthusiastic about living a gluten-free life. Yeah. Seriously.

That blogger's solution was, after much soul-searching, to embrace her true self, be authentic.

But for me, it's not worth it. I think the world is a beautiful place, but the internet is full of dark, dark shadows. That's why I'll likely always be one of the many anonymous.

Anita Saxena said...

Great post and I agree with your opinion entirely. On my blog I'm just me. If people like it, they'll visit. If it's not their cup of tea, they'll go on to someone else. But, I'm not going to sacrifice being me to increase my page views or to cultivate a "brand."

Jon Gibbs said...

Excellent post!

I would add that while it's vital to be ourselves, it's equally important to avoid being that 'self' which lurks within us all, but only comes out when we're really tired or stressed - the one which can sometimes be a bit of a jerk.

Anonymous said...

I understand what you're saying about branding, but I do think as a middle grade author you should have a place where kids could go to learn about you--this blog isn't geared for kids. If you're writing for kids, I assume you have some interest in connecting to them--so I don't quite understand your reasoning. It doesn't have to be a big deal--maybe just a website with info about you, info about the books, a place to contact you etc.

Martha Ramirez said...

Love this, Nathan! You are excatly right. Thank you!!

Emily Wenstrom said...

Brand is a lot more than a "cultivated fiction." Brand is the first impression, the "what is this all about" for the first-time reader. Sure, you can say your brand is you – but would you walk into a job interview in plaid and polka dots because that’s “you”? No. Maybe you wear a bright shirt or a funky tie, but you dress the part, because you care how you represent yourself. That’s all a brand is.

And if you can write a middle grade book that resonates with your audience, you can also write a blog that resonates with that audience without sacrificing your genuinity—it’s already part of you. Honestly, a platform with an adult audience is only indirectly useful for a middle grade writer. If it were me, I’d want that genuine connection with my readership.

Anonymous said...

A lot of good points and a lot of compliments to you Nathan. =] I tend to go down the middle - see both sides, if you will. Be myself, be authentic and be honest...aboslutley, while also thinking about my readers and giving them what they would possible enjoy. [outside of a book] There's nothing wrong with letting middle school children, who enjoy your book, have a chance to get to know you...after all, you share a love of characters with them. ♥

In the end, do what you want. You ARE the ultimate control of YOU...☺

Munk said...

"My advice for people who are trying to carve out their own space..."

Steer clear of your ears.

Lisa Meltzer Penn said...

Nathan, this is very sweet. And, I think, very true in its simplicity.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Nathan, I am going out my front door, jump in my boopmobile, zip down the road and through the valley amongst the smokies, on to the interstate and off to the asheville airport, hop a plane and zoom all the way to California - all so I can give you a big ole hug and kiss on the cheek! Thank you thank you for this post!

Lately at night, I've been tossing and turning, worring I'm not "up to snuff" because I don't have a "brand" or if I have one, well, dang, I don't know what it is. I just try to be myself and hope it's enough-that my books and Me as me speak for themselves/myself. Sometimes I stumble, but most times I think I'm doing all right.

You keep doing what you are doing . . . I enjoyed your blog when you were an agent, and I'm equally enjoying your blog as you continue your journey in your new work and as an author.

By the way, I saw your book in the Asheville Mall B&N - they had it facing out . . . sure did - and it looked all happy and jaunty and fun settin' there on the shelf.

*blowing you a north carolina kiss*

Michelle said...

Amen!

seanrox said...

Right on. The best Branding appraoch and technique is -- a resonance of your actual soul's historical contrail...

keep on writing,
seanrox

wendy said...

I raced over to the link where I thought you had actually lost your professional decorum (and yet the world didn't end?), only to eyeball the words 'Sweet, get out of my car.' And they weren't even your words, Nathan, but a quote.

Seriously, I love your polite, self-controlled and positive posts/attitude. In many reality TV shows from America, I'm amazed how people speak to one another. The positive side to the brand thingy is having one that people are encouraged to buy because they trust it, or they trust the judgement of the person that brand represents. I'm confident that when I visit your blog I'll read intelligent posts that inspire, educate and entertain. Words and attitudes I will relate to. And I feel, too, that whatever you write in the fictional world will also be something I thoroughly enjoy.

Anne R. Allen said...

When I teach writers to blog, I always tell them to come here for an example of how to do it right.

I agree with everything you say. For those who are arguing whether or not "yourself" is the same as "your brand"--I think that's just semantics.

You can't be phony in a blog very long. Yes there was that Englishman who wrote a blog in the voice of an Iranian lesbian or whatever a few months back, but the blog didn't last long and he was found out.

I hope it's OK if I close my talk on Beginning Blogging at the CC Writers Conference this year with this:

"My advice for people who are trying to carve out their own space in social media is not to think about what you think your blog or your Twitter presence should be, but rather to embrace who you really are. Be yourself. Let your own voice shine through. Lots of people have ideas about what you should be, but you can only be who you are."

Mira said...

Great post! Interesting topic.

I think the disagreement in these threads may stem from the fact that there are two types of writers: those that write for money and those that write for creative self-expression.

The first may want to create a brand, because a brand will help them market and reach the right audiences.

The second type should stay away from branding as if their life depended on it. Because their creative life does. There is nothing that will hurt an artist more than emotional dishonesty.

I do think, though, for either type of writer, it's important to think about why you are blogging. What is your goal? If you are trying to attract an audience, then it's good to keep in mind that you're having a conversation with them. That's not less authentic or manipulative - very important to stay away from that, imho - it's good communication skills. But if you have a different goal, then you'll do different things. So, it all depends on your goals - which can, of course, change.

So, them's my thoughts. Thanks Nathan for the post, and the topic!

Lindsey Lane said...

Oh thank heavens. I don't have to be Coca-Cola.

Livia said...

I'd say yes and no. I do agree that it's a bad idea to fake your brand on the Internet (although I'll bet that more people do it successfully than we'd like to think). But I do think that it's possible and necessary to craft a brand *while* being yourself. I blog for specific target audience of writers interested in psychology and writing craft. But obviously that's not all of who I am. I don't blog about my religious or political views, my favorite recipes, or what clothes I like to wear. Some of these subjects might bleed through into my blog posts, but I'm pretty sure that if I start posting about those things on a regular basis, I'll start losing readers. Branding isn't about tricking people. It's about creating a clear signal for people to know what to expect from you so they can decide whether or not to hang around. People sometimes assume that branding and marketing is fake and manipulative, but IMHO, it doesn't have to be that way, and indeed it'smost effective when it's not. So I get what you're saying, but I'm not quite ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Ilima Loomis said...

So true.

Taylor Napolsky said...

who cares?

Whirlochre said...

The last time I tried branding myself I accidentally singed off most of my hair.

Matthew C Wood said...

All I can say is AMEN TO THAT!

Patrick Neylan said...

I'm with Livia on this (and I'm already a fan of her unique and fascinating blog). I do blog and tweet under my own name, but more of my energy goes into AngrySubEditor, which reflects a very specific area of my interests and expertise, and one that I want to keep separate from my personal and professional presence on the web.

Some people, such as the Twitterer and blogger FleetStreetFox, have to keep their identities secret. AngrySubEditor isn't a secret identity: it's a brand. A brand doesn't have to be a way of making money. It exists to differentiate.

Patrick Neylan has opinions on many things. AngrySubEditor cares about only one.

Mieke Zamora-Mackay said...

I appreciate your thoughts on this.

Your authenticity is what attracts so many to you.

You don't have to pour your innermost secrets in your blog if you don't want to.

Do what you want, as long as it doesn't interfere with what you do best... writing.

Lance Wallace said...

I couldn't agree more, but as a public relations practitioner by day, I find it very difficult to cultivate my true voice.

This is as much about psychology as anything else.

At some point, I have stop approaching my writing from a "cause-and-effect" mentality and start letting it be art.

Sara said...

Nathan: In answer to your question above (sara-But if you are your brand, do you really have a brand? Or are you just yourself?), the answer is yes - you really do have a brand, and the brand IS yourself.
But, if we're getting really technical (in marketing speak, "do a deep dive"), your brand is probably just a part of yourself, in the same way that your professional life is just "part" of yourself, but not your whole self. This is true for all of us.

For some authors, let's say in the romance genre, maybe their brand is a little less of themselves. Maybe they use a pseudonym. Maybe they dress a certain way and have websites that promote a certain image. For instance (and I'm totally making this up) their name is Cordelia Ever-Afters and their website uses Lucinda Handwriting or Edwardian Script for fonts and they wear very windswept blouse-y looks when they do book signings and they sign in purple). (Apologies in advance to romance writers for the gross generalizations, I'm obviously exaggerating to make a point.)

In your case, Nathan, your brand is to be honestly and genuinely yourself. And that's your brand as an author. But maybe you also wear a gray spacesuit and orange gloves and boots when you go to Comicon or book signings and you find yourself saying "KAPOW!" more than you otherwise would...And hey, maybe that's also what you wear on the weekends (and fair enough if it is)...but maybe that's part of building your Jacob Wonderbar brand.

I think you're getting hung-up on and spooked by the word "brand" and the concept of "branding." And that's normal for non-marketing people. But let me ask you this: You've written several posts lately about your discomfort with self-promotion (self-promotion, by the way, is really just marketing...yourself), but would you still feel as uncomfortable if you were marketing something that wasn't you, your book, your blood, sweat and tears?
Try this - a tip for all self-marketing authors: Try referring to "the book," "the product," "the brand" instead of "my book," "my work," and "me." Feels different, right? That tiny technicality of mentally distancing yourself from it takes some portion of the emotion/ego out of the process.

And yes, there are some people who are anti-marketing in all facets and iterations. And in that case, you probably want to consult a pro who will shamelessly market/promote/brand for you, because the marketing/branding itself probably isn't negotiable.

Lastly, I want to say that I too fall into the painfully shy camp. Yes, I may have marketed, promoted, branded, and handled PR for others for over a decade, but I know that when/if I ever have to do it for myself, it will indeed be different and more difficult. And that's when I'll use mental distancing tricks like above, and follow it up with copious amounts of wine :)

Sara said...

Anon @8:48 and 9:24. Aww shucks. You're much too kind. But thank you! I'd say that great minds think alike :)

Linda Austin said...

I also agree that your definition of brand is a bit simplistic. Your real personality is half your brand, the other half is the audience you're talking to. We know you as the nice guy who knows a lot about writing and publishing. That's your brand, why we love you and why we read your blog. We would not be so keen if you threw in politics or pushed certain environmental issues. That's not what we're here for.

If you want to attract a young audience for your book, you'd have to create another brand - same real you but you're talking to a whole 'nother group and most of us here might drift away since we are not kids. You'd have a different blog, twitter and FB account for your other brand. We follow because your brand (your style plus your theme) is interesting to us and we know what to expect. There are plenty who hide their personalities and stick with theme and they still have followers, but personality breaks that fourth wall and can be the icing on the cake. Creating a fake personality is distasteful and deceiving, but it is important to create a theme brand and speak to your audience appropriately.

Darlene Underdahl said...

I like you just as you are. Don't change.

Anonymous said...

Sara, you're comment at 9:17 was excellent. Wish you were doing PR work for authors!!

Anon @8:48 and 9:24

Anonymous said...

That's "your," not "you're."

Thought I'd clarify. I type fast.

Rebecca Stroud said...

Oh, I am so branded...I love animals (especially, dogs) with all my heart so, naturally, I could talk ad nauseam about them.

And this love is reflected in all my work. I have short stories, a novel, a novella, a nonfiction...and every single one involves a dog.

So I guess I'm just a "one topic wonder" (unless you get me started on politics which, trust me, wouldn't be a great idea..:-)

Saturday Sequins said...

Thank you for this, Nathan! Every time I hear someone mention cultivating a brand, I think... but I'm not Goldfish Crackers (as much as I love eating them)! I'm just me. I've always thought that as long as we're genuine and have fun, and as long as we're connect with people as real people, we're doing just fine. Anything else is superfluous.

Maureen Johnson wrote a great blog post awhile back called I Am Not A Brand. I highly recommend reading it. She's awesomesauce. :)

Lauren said...

Great advice, Nathan! Thank you for this.

Laura Pauling said...

I do believe in the power of social media to get a ball rolling for sales of a book. But I think in the long run the book, any book, speaks for itself. If a middle grade book is great then word spreads from kid to kid parent to parent, regardless of social media. That magical word of mouth I don't think has anything to do with brand. Yet some authors seem to brand themselves so nicely.

Katherine Hyde said...

Nathan, I can't tell you how refreshing I found this post. I hate the idea of "branding" myself as an author. I'm not a product and I'm not a head of cattle. I'm a complex human being who likes to write a variety of books. If people want to know the "writer" side of me, they can read the books. The self I show on the internet is me.

Livia said...

Hi Patrick! And thank you :-)

Lisa Ahn said...

I love this advice, and I hope you keep the blog as it is -- all you.

Cathy | Treatment Talk said...

I just found your blog - it wonderful. I agree with your post. You need to let yourself shine through. I'm working on an ebook, so finding lots of good information. Thanks!

Cathy | Treatment Talk said...

Just found your blog and finding wonderful articles here. I agree with being yourself on your blog. That's really all there is. Thanks.

Terry Gibson said...

Hi Nathan. Thanks so much for this post. I struggle sometimes with just being myself on twitter and my blog. But I don't change it up because I attended Laura's writing retreat and got a good dose of kindness and no judging; I am my own worst enemy in this regard. All I've got is me so that is the product. Terry as she is on any given day. People seem to appreciate it.

colleenruttan said...

Thanks Nathan, this was useful. I've recently started blogging and it's been a struggle at times to figure out what I "should" write. I've decided not to worry about it anymore and just write what I'm feeling. Hopefully there will be enough about the writing life to interest the writers and enough about the book to interest the readers. But if not, oh well! :)

Helen W. Mallon said...

God, thanks. This is a relief. Blogligation be damned.

Dianne said...

I like your attitude! I never even heard of a brand...besides brand names like Levi Strauss...until I started blogging. I suppose I don't fit the label because when I made my blog I didn't know what I was supposed to put in it. I like being who I am. Everyone is unique and everyone is different so why be something you are not. Thumbs up to no branding!

Ishta Mercurio said...

Interesting post, Nathan. You bring up some good points, and I agree that in the end, you can only be you.

But I disagree that this makes it impossible to create a "brand" that isn't an honest portrayal of oneself, because there is more to me than anyone ever sees, and I would bet that this is because there is more to everybody than anybody ever sees. (Except for maybe their spouses, best friends, and childhood pets.)

Thee are lots of "me"s. There's the me who is very political and outspoken about my views; there's the me who loves my kids and is positive that they are absolutely the best kids on the planet; there's the me who does DIY; there's the me who loves books and everything to do with books; there's the me who grew up watching Star Trek and is a newborn Firefly geek; there's the me who gets depressed about my ability to make it in this business; there's the me who thinks I have a great shot at making it in this business (because if I'm honest, I can be pretty arrogant); there's the me who is an environmentalist; there's the me who takes everything too seriously (according to everybody else)... I could go on for ages. But I'm willing to bet that most of those things aren't things that people who read this blog, or my blog, or anything else I put on the internet, know about. But I never lie or fake enthusiasm about anything to try to grow my following.

In other words, I don't pretend to be something that I'm not, but there are things that I love and that are a part of me that I consciously choose not to share online. What I do share is relevant to the reasons that I blog. And this constitutes my "brand." It's not false or made-up or cultivated in any way. It's all me, it's just not all OF me.

Ishta Mercurio said...

One more thing: I agree with Emily Wernstrom and others who have encouraged you to consider making up a webpage for kids who read your book. Unless you feel strongly that the internet is an inappropriate place for kids that age to hang out, in which case it would be something that wouldn't be true to you, it could be a good idea. And it doesn't have to be "fake" - as Emily said, just a place where your 9-12-year-old fans can go to find out about how you came up with the idea, what else you plan on writing, a little more about you, etc. Think of it as an extension of the books, like the "bonus features" on a DVD.

And I also agree that you have a "brand" here: nice, honest guy who is knowledgeable about the publishing industry and who shares that knowledge, and who sometimes geeks out now and then, and who also has a good sense of humor about things. Yours is the go-to blog for all questions publishing- and writing-related. That's your brand. And it's a good one. This is truly one of the best blogs out there, for community and for knowledge and also for camaraderie.

Pumpernickel Park said...

Good post! At first I was thinking "there is no such thing as a brand" was something Seth Godin would argue with you about, but after reading through your post again, I think Seth would be in agreement.

Sarah said...

I know this has pretty much been said, but I want to weigh in too!
I don't entirely agree. I agree you have to be yourself, but the self I am when I'm at work is NOT the self I am when I'm at home with my husband.
It's not that I'm duplicitous. I just relate to different people different ways. In some ways I have more than one personality lurking inside me (sounds like a psychological problem, I know), but I think you can choose what personality you present to a certain extent and that you should do this, thinking of your audience and the self you want to be with them. For example, around kids, I try not to swear. That's just one small tweak I make in my personality for my audience.

Diana Dart said...

Struggling with the branding idea for awhile now, it was absolutely refreshing to read this post. Cheers for authenticity and embracing who we are. Just one question, will it ultimately affect sales if you are not reaching out directly to your audience in a unique, "branded" way? That's a genuine question, btw :)

sharongerlach said...

I think the point that Nathan is trying to make (and forgive me, Nathan, if I miss the mark) is that in this day & age of immediate delivery of information, there is no hiding behind a selective collection of your best or most writerly traits you or your publicist wish to present to the public.

In the days before the internet (yes, I'm old enough to remember those days), what you saw of an author was what his or her publicist allowed to be presented. There was a chasm between the adoring public and the revered author. I'm not so sure that's always been such a good thing; it put the author up on the Exalted Pedestal and gave him or her that mythical aspect of The Adored Celebrity. I don't have much respect for that, because I'm seeing only a selective collection of traits and have no real sense of the person. And if I like someone's work enough, I want to see the person - substance abuse, insecurities, wacky beliefs, and all. It brings me a deeper understanding of their work, and keeps my adoration within healthy bounds.

Nowadays, with so many authors blogging and otherwise interacting with their readership on venues like Facebook & Twitter, that chasm has shrunk. You can interact personally with the authors. They tell you about their lives, about their writing processes, about their failures as well as their triumphs. You get a sense of the whole person. This is not the same writing climate as it was 30 years ago. People today want transparency. They want to feel like they know the author, like they can connect with the author, like the author is approachable and is respectful of his or her "adoring public."

That said, I think you should have a page where your target group can interact with you and not have to slog through our sometimes colorful language - that would also put parents at ease. Your readers would be so psyched to be able to interact with you in that way. But putting only a selective set of personality traits on your public face is probably not the best way to interact with anyone. I'm not saying everyone should air all their dirty laundry, but showing only the good & golden is just not real, and that's what people want these days: real.

Just my two cents' worth. ;-)

Victoria said...

I don't always agree with you, but I agree with you 100% on this.

Robin Sullivan said...

I'll disagree just a bit by saying your brand IS YOU. In other words, you build a brand by saying and doing what you actually belive in. A brand helps people determine if your product (book, software, game, movie, whatever) will appeal to them. If you are authentic then you will attract the people who believe what you believe and there will be a connection that benefits both.


Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Sara said...

Anon @10:41 (and previous @8:48 and @9:24). Thank you again! I may be out of the corporate PR world but I still keep the ol' skills somewhat sharp. So if you ever want to brainstorm PR ideas to support your writing (have no idea what stage of the process you're at) let me know on my blog and I'm happy to chat (pro bono, obviously) :)

Sara said...

@Katherine Hyde: I understand how you feel and often feel that same way myself. But unfortunately, unless your social media presence is password-protected, I fear that that is naive thinking on your part. In this day and age of over-exposure and public entitlement to know about the private lives of anyone in the public eye, when a google search of an author's name will pop up all your social media-expressed opinions, your readers will not be content to "get to know the writerly side of you through your books alone." And, in fact, they may be offended/disagree with your opinions to the point of not wanting to read your books further. And maybe that's fine with you (and fair enough if it is), but with the industry where it is, it's probably not fine with your agent/publisher. So if you really want to be ENTIRELY yourself and if that may alienate future paying customers, then I'd suggest upping your privacy settings :)
I remember reading something about how actors in the 30s/40s/50s never had to deal with the invasion of privacy that celebs these days do and so their many scandals remained private. Such is not our life these days.

Diane_Holmes said...

Had to laugh at Remus' comment:
"How can I be myself if I'm a flawed human being? If I'm authentically creepy, prejudiced or just simply an asshole then all I am capable of making is a crappy brand that people will shun."

#1 Today, there are many people who have the brand called "creepy, prejudiced, asshole." And they're managed to create quite a celebrity out of it.

#2 It's their choice. They get to be whoever they want to be.

#3 They can always change.

#4 Slapping a fake brand of "adorable, accepting, humanitarian" on top of creepiness doesn't actually fool many people.

#5 And yet still many people choose to be the villains of their own lives. Colorful, aren't they?

Keith Robinson said...

Just found your blog (came in via the post about prologues). I had a dilemma recently about what I should blog about. Like you, my target audience is middle grade and maybe young adult. But I don't write my blog for that age group; I write for adults and probably other writers.

I asked readers what THEY want me to blog about, and the few that responded were adults and they already liked what I was doing. So that answered that. I think.

I don't know about branding; I just write what I feel might be vaguely interesting for anyone who reads author blogs. I refuse to mention what my cat did this morning or my favorite things to eat; I just talk about writing related subjects. I mix it up a bit, but generally follow a theme -- which is that I'm a writer peddling my wares and trying to get by. :-)

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