Author Branding- I don’t want to be like Mike

Michael Jordan was amazing- the best basketball player ever. And certainly the most naturally talented. What was his brand? Smack down superiority. Consistent championship-winning ability. Natural talent that couldn’t be stopped.

I’m originally from Kentucky where basketball is king

but this image pretty well sums up my basketball ability.

A basketball player is NOT who I am- as a person or as a brand. When it comes to defining my own brand I don’t want to be like Mike- or anybody else. I want- in fact I MUST- be ME and only me.

But why is authenticity so important? Why can’t I photoshop a few pictures and portray myself on my website as the sportiest kid’s writer on the block? Why can’t I recolor everything pink and say I’m the next Meg Cabot or Cecily von Ziegesar? They have successful recognizable brands. They’re really successful. Or even better why can’t I just think up my own very commercial brand and say that’s who I am?

“An inauthentic brand is not sustainable,” says Joelle Ziemian, vice president of the international marketing firm Lipman Hearne. “Your brand must be authentic because over and over you are going to have to bring it to life. The second you try to fake it everybody knows and you lose credibility.”

Lately the big buzz in the world of branding is both Barack and Michelle Obama’s success at defining and communicating their brands. William Arruda, author of Career Distinction: Stand Out By Building Your Brand recently said “Obama is ‘perhaps the best example of personal branding we have today.’ Effective branding is ‘based in authenticity, and the thing that makes [Obama] so successful and so confident is that he is being who he is.’ “

Obama has won over many supporters in part because they believe he is the person they see- smart, perhaps a bit nerdy, ethical, trustworthy, forceful and practical. We regard him as an authentic leader so we are willing to follow.

All right. I know I’m not Michael Jordan, Meg Cabot, or Barak Obama (big surprises there) and I know it’s no good faking it.


Some writers say they are afraid of branding because they’re afraid of being pigeonholed.
I believe that’s a cover up for their real fear. A brand that doesn’t pigeonhole you- that in fact frees you to be everything you are and everything you dream of being- is based on the authentic you.

But who is that authentic you?
This is the question that terrifies most writers. We’re used to coming up with personality traits and defining our characters by their actions, but sometimes we hide behind those imaginary characters. We’re scared to take a long hard look at ourselves.

Start looking, honey. 

I promised you a branding worksheet today so let’s get started.

I’m taking a fantastic class at MediaBistro, Brand Yourself, taught by Laurie Sheer. Some of these questions I’ve derived, in part, from work we’re doing in class. Most are questions I’ve come to from reading dozens of branding articles and speaking to a variety of media experts, agents and editors. Again I’m not a branding professional- I’m a children’s writer. But I think this checklist can send you on your way to knowing your own personal brand.

1) Describe your five most significant qualities?

Fine. I’m sometimes lazy. I procrastinate. I spend too much time on the web and I eat way too much pasta. Oh and apparently I can’t count. What kind of brand is that?

Stop right there. The other thing I see almost every day in writers is massive insecurity and a violent desire to be way too hard on themselves. Give yourself a break. What are your good qualities? If you truly have none- well that’s a symptom of something way more serious than needing to define your brand.

Start again. For today focus on positives- although don’t turn a blind eye to negatives. Be honest and specific. Your answers don’t have to have anything to do with your writing or books, although they may.

1)    Describe your five most significant qualities. (things like efficient, well organized, nosey, quiet… )
2)    What are five things you are an expert at? (for example model trains, nursing, cactus growing, cats, punctuation) (um have you noticed I’m making these lists up? Okay. Nosey is true. But punctuation clearly defies understanding in my world. Spelling too. Cactus? yeck!)
3)    What are five other things you enjoy a lot? (lemonade, snow skiing, a well balanced checkbook…)

Stop here. Do these things relate to each other in any way? Write a paragraph about consistencies and inconsistencies.

Start again.
4)    In a short paragraph describe yourself as you see yourself.
5)    In a short paragraph describe yourself as you believe others see you.
6)    Take a deep breath. Contact four or five friends or colleagues and ask them to describe you or to list five qualities/attributes you possess.

Stop again and think. See any themes? Any surprises? Do others see you as you want to be seen? Are there changes you want or need to make on either side of the equation- either as far as living up to people’s perceptions or changing their expectations? How does this analysis make you feel? Happy? Satisfied? Despondent? Ready to ditch a couple alleged “friends”?

Start again

7)    What themes or areas do you tend to explore in your writing?
8)    What kinds of books would you like to write in the future? What audience?
9)    Describe three of your ideal readers/ consumers (might be a parent or librarian but that’s up to you), with the kinds of detail you’d give characters in your books. Don’t necessarily limit yourself to books you’ve already written or sold.

Great.  Gathering this data should take a while. It should be a real exploration- a mixture of off the top of your head reactions and soul searching. Tomorrow we’ll look at a few familiar authors and see how their brands convey the promise. And we’ll start taking all that information you’ve developed to shake it, bake it and reveal your brand.


So now I’m climbing up on the hire wire… My assignment for branding class this week is to ask friends and colleagues to describe me. Some people who read this blog know me personally. Some know me from my posts here or from the work I do with Vermont College.
Tollbooth readers- help me with my homework! List a few words that describe me in the comments.

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