Tami Lewis Brown lives in one of the oldest houses in Washington, DC. It is (mostly) ghost-free. She escaped from a career as a trial lawyer to obtain an MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. And she’s the author of the forthcoming RADIANT MAN along with SOAR, ELINOR! and THE MAP OF ME, all published by Farrar Straus and Giroux Books for Young Reader.

Not everyone likes the idea of channeling their inner Darrin Stephens
To them branding, PR, marketing- all that stuff- seems sort of sinister. They dislike the overt commercial sound of a brand- they’re afraid of being packaged.

Recently I met author Mara Rockliff  author of a host of new books for young readers. She posted on Verla Kay’s Blueboards that she’d been “branded” and that she’d put up a new website.
Mara’s site is absolutely terrific. Take a look.  It bursts with her unique personality and if she’d had it up a month ago it would have easily made my “best of” list for author sites here in the Tollbooth. But when I asked Mara about the process she went through it was clear that, although being branded wasn’t “painful”, it wasn’t completely comfortable.

Here’s our conversation-
I guess I should start by saying that like many writers, I’m not crazy about the word “branding.”  Maybe it’s just a convenient shorthand term for what it is that makes me run to get the latest book by a favorite author, knowing what it’s going to be like. But we’re writers, and we know that words have power. “Branding” makes me think of cattle and corporate property, and if I start using it, soon I may find myself acting like one or the other. (And if I had to choose, well . . . Mooooooooo!)

So what I wanted for my website was something cheerful and friendly, but not childish, because my readers go from little kids to teens. And, of course, it had to be all about books. First I thought of a bookcase, but Jane Yolen’s website already does that wonderfully.

(Let me stop right here and tell you, Mara. In my opinion, what you have is much more interesting than a bookshelf. Every author sticks books on a shelf. Your bicycling book lady is UNIQUE AND PERSONAL. I feel I already know you well just by looking at that picture. And guess what… that’s all branding really means.)

Then I thought of a bookmobile, but that didn’t seem quite right. Then I thought of a cartoon showing me on a bicycle, towing a trailer full of books. That was perfect for me, because in real life I’m always biking around town with something on the back–a trailer full of groceries or my daughter riding tandem on the tagalong. Also, it made a great connection to a picture book I’ve got coming out in the fall from Knopf, The Busiest Street in Town, about a spunky old lady who takes back her street from traffic and makes it a friendly place for people. (Including people on bikes!)

My author bio was inspired by my six-year-old, who wanted to know why she couldn’t have a DS game “like everybody else.”

Readers- you have to take a look at Mara’s bio. It’s priceless.

Me: But honey, you have lots of things that none of your friends have.
Her: Like what?
Me (thinking fast): Um . . . a picture of yourself on the back of an elephant, in a frame made of elephant poop.

Somewhat to my astonishment, she instantly broke into a big smile and said, “Yeah!”

So for my author bio, I just threw down a bunch of random stuff I thought was fun, and left out anything that would be boring to a kid. Because, really, who cares where I grew up or went to school? (Now, if I’d grown up somewhere funny-sounding like Kalamazoo, then gone to clown college, I would definitely put that in!)

Mara, a self-confessed brand hater, did it. She defined her own unique and personal brand. She didn’t have to go through self discovery exercises like most of us because she already had a clear idea of who she was- witness Nintendo DS vs. a picture frame made of elephant poop. What she ended up with was the authentic Mara Rockliff, distilled into a set of images, both visual and in words. When I go to Mara’s site I feel I know her… and her books. I definitely want to read more.

It may not be easy, but if brand hating Mara can slip into a great, clearly defined brand image you can too.

Some readers have asked for links to branding articles and books. I’m still building my personal branding bibliography, but here’s a start.

Building Your Brand from the Wall Street Journal

Dan Schawbel’s Branding Blog

The Brand Called You Tom Peters was the first one to talk about personal branding (back in 1997). Here’s the article where he introduced the concept.

Brandchannel.com  This one is for marketing pros but it has loads of interesting articles in the Papers section. Just don’t let them overwhelm you.

I’ll have more sources tomorrow.

We’ll also finish up with the worksheet and I’ll interview Shawn Stout, another author who reveals who she really is in her brand new website.

Have you started on the exercises I posted yesterday?  Was it hard? Were you surprised? Let’s talk about your branding process or plans here in the comments.

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~TLB