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.

Anywhere you find a cluster of children’s writers you’ll hear rumbles. Publishing is changing. They want more from us. It’s not enough to write a book and sell it to an editor. Now they don’t just want us to market the book– They expect us to market OURSELVES.

Who do they think I am? A product? A brand?

Are you afraid of being branded? If so, you’re not alone.  In the New York Times article Putting Yourself Out There On A Shelf To Buy, journalist Alina Tugend says “I HEAR the word “brand,” as in “learn how to brand yourself,” and my heart sinks. I became a journalist rather than a salesperson because I do not like selling anything — including myself.”
Get a grip Alina! Since when did a newspaper columnist not project a public image? Last I heard the point was to sell newspapers- admittedly a confounding goal these days!  But even if I do find her attitude a little frustrating reading her take and her struggles with branding is both informative and enlightening. Take a look. You might see a bit of yourself there. Some of her successes may resonate.

This week I’m here to tell you (and Alina) YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE AFRAID. Really. Truly. It’s not hard. It doesn’t hurt. And saying “that’s not in my job description” doesn’t cut it anymore. As author’s we are the owners and entrepreneurs of our own (small or large) businesses. We have to be willing to do everything from write the darn book to change the ink in the printer to present ourselves to our readers, our publishers, and the world.

But wait–
In fact, you already have a brand, whether you know it or not. Jeff Bezos, Amazon impresario and branding genius has reportedly said something like “your brand is what people say about you when you leave the room.”

Joelle Ziemian, vice-president of marketing firm Lipman Hearne (and a fantastic children’s writer herself) explains what a brand is and what it isn’t-
“When most people think of a brand they think of a product or service: the Sunkist orange or the Hyatt hotel. That is the wrong definition. A brand is not a logo or a color palette, but rather a PROMISE that is the basis of your relationship with your audience. In the case of Sunkist or Hyatt, that promise is quality delivered consistently.”

The idea of author branding doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some writers are appalled at its commercial flavor. “What I’m creating is ART. Was Picasso a ‘brand’?”   Uh. Yes, he was. He still is.

Look at branding from this light- do you want your readers to (figuratively) notice when you leave a room? Or are you content to be anonymous? Do you want to deliver on the promise you’ve made when they rush to the store for your next book? Or do you want to be so scattered no one knows (or cares) what Jane Doe, author, writes?

This week in the Tollbooth we’re confronting many authors’ greatest fear- WHAT IS MY BRAND? Does your brand pigeonhole you into one type of work? Or can it free you to create all the books you dream of writing? How do you begin to understand your own personal and unique brand?

I’m not marketing guru but I’ve taken classes, read up, and done lots of fieldwork and I’m wrestling with these issues myself. I’ll share tips I’ve gathered on how to discover and cultivate an author’s brand. I’ll interview Joelle for more details on the professional’s take on branding. And talk to children’s authors Shawn Stout and Julie Berry, two emerging writers who’ve seized on the value of branding from the get go.

Sooooo let’s get going for a full and furious week about a topic that makes lots of us go hmmmmm.

Your first assignment- What do you think people say about you when you leave the room? Are you making or breaking any promises?