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.

Your brand is made of your core beliefs, your passions, and your abilities. It’s what stands out and what you stand for. If you’ve probed deep enough and been honest enough it will be as unique as your fingerprint.

So how do you pull this unique brand together? First pull your completed worksheet- the questions I posted on Tuesday. Study your answers. Really ponder them.

Now lets get going with a Venn Diagram. You remember these from fourth grade math. Three intersecting circles.

Are you ready?

Fill circle A with what you do better than anyone else. What really sets you apart- whether it’s comforting a friend, writing dialog, meeting deadlines, growing flowers… list them here.

In circle B list what you’re passionate about. It might be teaching, scary movies, feeding the homeless… whatever.

Finally in circle C list what your brand audience cares about. Readers pretty much all want to be entertained… but go to your response to the “imagine three audience members” answer and focus on specifics that those people want. A publisher wants creative, marketable work delivered promptly, for example. A librarian wants engaging literature. A third grade reluctant reader may want to get through chapters fast.

So… now you’re going to write your personal brand statement. This takes a good long time, even for us accomplished writers. It’s not supposed to be a slogan. It’s a distillation of your promise

Where does the content in those circles intersect? Do you love to garden and write snappy dialog better than anyone? And your reluctant potential readers want a book they can finish along with the rest of the class? There’s good synergy there. You could say “Organic author delivers stories kids are proud to read”.

I’ll give you a couple examples from the non-writing world. Let’s visit the Food Network.

Rachel Ray’s might be something like “regular gal makes cooking fast and fun”.

Paula Deen could be “Southern momma nurtures with home cooked recipes”.  Is Paula Deen really who she appears to be? I’d say yes. Her personality is as warm as a buttermilk biscuit fresh from the oven. Having a defined personal brand hasn’t made her fake. It’s made her authentic qualities stand out and project.

It’s interesting that those Food Network personalities are easy to tag… why do you think that is? Because television- and the Food Network, particularly- puts a high value on their host’s personal brands. It works for them. It’s a very big part of what made these stars into household names. HONESTLY AND TRULY it can work for you, too.

Your personal brand statement will become your compass- the guide for everything you do. The books your write, your website, your appearance… all will reflect this personal brand statement because it is a word picture of who you are and what you’re about. Paula Deen doesn’t have to strain to keep up the “Southern mamma” image because she’s the real deal.

Let’s move on to a children’s writer. Today, I’m talking to Shawn Stout, a fellow Vermont College alum, and later this year, a debut author. Shawn’s new website is up and it’s a doozy. Once you visit I challenge you to get that whistling cow song out of your head.

Most writers come to branding through their website, so let’s start there. Shawn, what was your goal when you began to think about your new site?

I had a single goal for my Web site. It was simple, really. I wanted it to display my personality—my voice—so that both kids and adults would get a sense of me as a person, and then (hopefully) want to read my books.
When I first started thinking about my Web site, I checked out a lot of authors’ sites. The ones that spoke to me were simple but creative and revealed something about the writer—their distinctive voice. Sara Pennypacker’s Web site is a good example.
Of course, I had no concrete ideas of how to translate my personality into a visual design, but I figured that I would know it when I saw it. And I did. (which, readers, is what will happen for all of us as we work through the exercises and come to the point of framing our personal brand statement)
When my husband first saw my site in development, he said something like, “It’s random and makes absolutely no sense at all [the wandering cow, whistling music, barking dog]—it’s totally you.” I’m pretty sure he meant that as a compliment. I think it works because its whimsy and playfulness fit in well with the humor of my middle grade series and its protagonist, Fiona Finkelstein.
If I were a nonfiction writer, or a vampire novelist, I don’t think my Web site design would necessarily work…well, maybe if we put fangs on the rabbit. Which makes me think that if I ever plan to try my hand at an edgy YA novel, I most likely will have to redesign the site…but I suppose I will jump off that bridge when I come to it.

How did it feel revealing the “real you” to the rest of the world?

I have to say, it is such a weird thing for me to have a Web site. I never got into the whole personal blogging about yourself thing…what you ate for breakfast, what you did on the drive to work, etc. I just don’t think I’m that interesting. I’m also a very private person – I’m much more comfortable talking about anything or anybody other than me. So, the idea of having a Web site about me, promoting myself—hey, check me out!—goes against the grain. But I thought back to the olden days—before the Internet—when I was a kid reading Judy Blume and how I wanted to know more about her, not so much about her writing necessarily, but her as a person. Did she think peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without the peanut butter were much better than with it, just like me? To me, writers were like stars in the sky – mysterious and unreachable. Web sites, as I see them, serve to reveal a bit of the mystery, making you more relatable to your audience—an extended hand to readers, so to speak—to bring them in closer. So, my marketing strategy is to be myself, and present myself in an accessible and (hopefully) fun way to my readers.

That’s a great thing to remember, Shawn. Websites and our personal brands are ways we reach out to child readers, make them more excited about our books and reading in general. Whenever I do a school visit I’m reminded how special it is for a kid to actually get to know someone who writes books- and especially to see I’m just an ordinary person. They see they can follow their personal dreams- even write books. Reaching kids in this way changes lives.

I feel like I’ve barely started down the road to personal branding but our week is almost up. We’ll finish the branding exercises tomorrow and I’ll have suggestions for how you can project your personal brand to the world. I’ll also answer your questions. So what is it that still confuses or confounds you about finding your personal brand?

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