Novelists: Stop Trying to Brand Yourself

famous-brandsIn a blog discussion about author platform, reader Carol commented: “What challenges me is creating my brand. I write contemporary women’s fiction. Branding seems easier with non-fiction where you’re an expert on something. How do you do that with fiction?”

Carol and other novelists: I advise you to STOP thinking about branding. If you’re blogging and using social networking to try and build a platform — no matter where you are in your writing career, you should instead:

Focus on identifying your target audience.

Who are you writing books for? Identify ONE PERSON in your life who represents your audience in terms of age, gender, lifestyle. Blog for her. Create Tweets or Facebook posts that would interest her. That’s how you’ll develop a following.

As a novelist, you’ll never develop your brand by thinking about a “brand.” Your brand is not a cute tagline or something you create.

As a novelist, your brand is your name and your genre.

That’s it.

Name and genre. What’s John Grisham’s brand? Legal thrillers. Jodi Picoult’s brand? Realistic women’s fiction.  Tom Clancy’s brand? Espionage, military and techno thrillers.

Here’s the weird thing: If you’re using social media (blogging, Facebook, etc.) to build a “platform” or a following, I advise you to focus on who your audience is, not on what your brand is.

To take this one step further, let me remind all novelists:

Your book is much more important than your platform.*

(*Exception for people named Snookie.)

The requirements for platform are much, much more crucial for non-fiction authors. With fiction (I can’t say this enough times!) we want a great book. Just like readers want a great book! It’s much more important for you to work on writing craft than spend time trying to attract Facebook fans or blog readers.

Yes, we talk about platform a lot. But remember, most of us deal with both fiction and non-fiction. Additionally, we’re talking about platform for our fiction authors who have book contracts with publishers.

Once you have a publisher, the need to build some kind of following (platform) increases. Publishers want to see that you’re shouldering some of the marketing responsibility, and this means reaching out in ways that complement the marketing and PR the publisher is doing.

Unpublished novelists, remember these two main points:

1. Your brand is your genre, so don’t spend any time trying to brand yourself.

2. Your book is more important than your platform, so spend most of your time getting better and better as a writer.

Percentage-wise, how do you allocate the time you devote to your “writing life”?

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  • http://clancytales.blogspot.com Charmaine Clancy

    Spot on with identifying your audience. I have a reviewer of my drafts that is a kid in the right age group (10yrs) and her feedback is always exactly spot on and the same that I get from editors and publishers. She may be 10 but she knows a lot more about kids’ fiction than any adult.
    Wagging Tales

    • http://www.zenfulcommunications.com Therese Pope

      I market self-published authors via social media and internet strategies and I absolutely disagree with many of your points/advice. The one point I do agree with is hitting your target markets – who is going to buy your book? Yes, that’s very important. I know you’re coming from the lit agent viewpoint, but you don’t have a clear understanding of how social media works. There are THOUSANDS of fiction writers out there who write mass market fiction that ALL sound alike. Authors are swimming in the fiction genre. How will the average writer stand out in a genre that is massively impacted? As an author, it’s imperative to have a brand and yes,I agree — a brand goes beyond a tagline. If I don’t know anything about the author, then I highly doubt I will buy their book (and neither will your target market). I absolutely disagree – your book is NOT solely what the brand is about.

      Yes, authors sell a product (a book) and why would your target market/read buy your “product” if they don’t resonate with the validity of the author, and don’t trust the author “brand”? That’s where social networking comes into play. If you solely market your book based on genre alone and slap it in the faces of your consumer, good luck with selling the book because you won’t sell it. People want to engage with “people” not with a product. And that brand is the author. I’m not saying to forget about your target audience and genre. Yes, that comes into play but the author needs to stand out as a person their readers can relate to and like. If you have a jerk face author who comes across as snooty on their social media networks, they will piss people off and lose potential profit. Who wants to buy ANY product from a jerk who comes across as condescending on social media? I have seen this happen plenty of times with authors on their social media. Authors, you need to sell yourself as well as your book. This is very disheartening to read this “marketing” information as I believe you are misleading authors down the wrong path.

      • Jennifer Tubbiolo

        Therese,

        From the perspective of a fiction reader, I don’t choose my reading material based on whether or not I like the author or whether or not they are “valid”. Some of the best fiction writers were and are a little “off”, that’s part of what makes them great writers.

        When I’m browsing around the Kindle store, I’m not looking for an author I want to engage with, I am just looking for a good story. I’m looking in the genres I like for something that sounds interesting. Even if I read a really good book, I will most likely not go on the author website. I will most definitely check to see if they have written more books, and ALWAYS recommend their work to friends, but that’s about it.

        There have been times that I have had a book recommended to me (fiction) because someone had heard about the author but didn’t know much about the book. More often than not, I was completely disappointed by the book!

        I know as a self-published author, because the traditional channels of distribution are not typically available, getting yourself out there is crucial. But, overall, I think it is MUCH more important for fiction authors to get the BUZZ going about how great the BOOK is and not about how great the author is. That will sell more books not just in the short run, but in the long run as well. I have to agree with Rachelle here.

      • http://www.twitter.com/JonathanGunson Jonathan Gunson

        I think this article may have been misintepreted.

        There’s no doubt that building reader relationships by developing a well-worked social-media presence is becoming more important by the day. But the book comes first. It is foundational to author brand identity.

        No question.

        Just in case anyone is confused, a brand is created by a unique, consistent experience that people enjoy, and they come back for a repeat of that experience. McDonalds as a brand is successful for this very reason. The ‘golden arches’ is a brand essentially because it reminds patrons of a UNIQUE and consistently enjoyable past user experience including food, convenience and personal service. No amount of social media interaction can create that. It can help sustain it, and grow it, but it cannot create it.

        J K Rowling provides a stellar, consistent, unique reader experience, as does Stephanie Meyer, Amanda Hocking, John Le Carre and Agatha Christie, brands all… created by their work.

        The key point is that if a book is enjoyable, but has nothing unique about it and is ‘just another book’ equal amongst others in the market niche, then it’s not going to stand out, and the author will not become a brand, no matter how brilliant a communicator or witty they are in social media, although I do agree that obnoxious behaviour will do nothing to advance an author’s success!

        Authors need to ask themsleves this question:

        What is it about my work that readers love, that they simply cannot get anywhere else? An author becomes known for this unique point of difference.

        Only then can social interaction and promotion successfully come into play

        Jonathan Gunson

        • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

          Jonathan,

          I agree with what you’ve said, though I do think it is possible for an author to write “just another book” and still create a brand. There are some authors who are quite average when it comes to their writing, but they are quite excellent when it comes to public speaking and connecting with the readers through social media. But even there, it goes back to that unique experience you mentioned. The difference is that the experience comes from the author rather than the book. There is something an emperor’s new clothes effect among readers. If enough people are talking about an author, people will assume the author is a good writer, even if the reader doesn’t really see the author’s work as that much better than anyone else’s.

          • http://www.twitter.com/JonathanGunson Jonathan Gunson

            Tim,

            You make a very good point indeed re the ‘emperor’s new clothes’ effect. i.e. If everyone is talking about a book, it must be worth reading.

            In fact, this switches on a lighthouse of hope for aspiring authors still in the process of developing their craft.

            If five books of ‘moderate’ but equal quality are competing, the book with an effective author platform will be lofted into visibility and make some sales. The others will remain forever invisible.

            But here’s the interesting part. Readers can get hooked on an author IN SPITE OF limited quality. Think ‘Barbara Cartland’.

            The author platform is more important than is immediately apparent.

            Jonathan Gunson

        • http://www.rachelevelynnichols.com Rachel

          Just because it worked for one writer doesn’t mean it will work for you. I am so sick of handsome, heroic vampires and witches. Enough of the Halloween stuff!

          I find myself imitating Tolkien and Robin McKinley in my fantasy–so perhaps I have no room to talk.

          Just be yourself in your writing, is the point I am making to all the Rowlings and Meyers wannabes.

  • http://www.lessonsfromthemonkimarried.blogspot.com Kathy

    Interesting article. I disagree. For an unpublished author, both the writing and a platform are important. I would not have a book deal if it weren’t for a) an excellent, well-written book and b) a platform that I built through my blog. I did these both simultaneously. I have over 52,000 readers on my blog. I agree, you need to “focus” a blog and know your audience, but you can still build a platform while writing your best novel. In fact, I found that blogging every single day (I wrote 365 lessons in 2010) actually helped my writing. I was discovered through my blog and those readers are also potential book buyers. Writing is writing…whether it’s on a blog or in a private journal. It takes years to build an audience, so I don’t recommend starting a blog or building a platform after you get a book contract. Start NOW!

    • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin Smith

      Kathy–I was just about to say something very similar, i.e., that for me blogging is part of my development as a writer. I assume that to some extent those who enjoy reading my blog would also enjoy reading my (hopefully, eventually) published works.

      Thanks for saving me the time writing a long response. :)

  • http://www.lindajojenkins.com Linda Jo Jenkins

    Hi Rachelle,
    Thank-you so much for this clarification! A little while ago I started the first book of a non-fiction book series. The work on it was slower then I would have wanted due to injury in an automobile accident. Finally, as I was getting near to the end of the first book I started looking into book proposals and query’s. That was when I found out that the type of book I am writing, the writer needs a platform. I also learned that you are not supposed to write a non-fiction first, and then send out the proposals, oops. So I started to try to figure out ways to increase my platform. Becoming more deliberate in the posts on Facebook. I did what you suggested–I try to post things that would reach the audience I am targeting. Yeah! I did something right :) I then thought that writing a novel would be able to create a platform for me for the non-fiction books. However, was I able to write a novel–that was the question. I am now on chapter 13 of a novel and I like what has come from it–also a few friends have read it and they like the plot and story line. I also thought of this as a screen play–it would make a great movie. Anyway, what I am trying to say is–does writing a novel help a writer to create a platform for non-fiction books?

    • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

      Linda,

      Just because some publishers are willing to accept a proposal for a non-fiction book before it is written doesn’t mean that having the manuscript in hand doesn’t increase the chances that they will agree to publish it. It is a huge risk for a publisher to accept a proposal from an unproven author.

      One way to look at the platform question is to ask yourself whether you would accept marriage advice from a Hollywood actor, just because he starred in a blockbuster movie. If you wouldn’t, then a novel isn’t likely to help your platform.

  • http://MarjiLaine.blogspot.com Marji Laine

    In answer to your question, I’ve had to work on balance. Social media can be very distracting. I generally spend about 40% of my daily work time on the media. I still feel like I’m spinning my wheels in that area, though.

    The other 60% I spend on actual writing, completing daily word count minimums along with query preparations and revisions.

  • http://latinapen.blogspot.com Mona AlvaradoFrazier

    Bravo on the post…most days I spend 75% of my time on writing/research and the rest is on social media.

  • http://www.CharlesSpecht.com Charles Specht

    Great article. This one is quite helpful.

  • http://terripatrick.wordpress.com/ terri patrick

    Audience is key. All those novelists that built their brand/platform prior to having a product for sale were connecting with their audience. They may think they were branding themselves or creating a platform but in essence they were connecting with their audience. It’s the primary goal of any author. Marketing is nothing more than selected processes and tools to connect with an audience.

  • http://bethvogt.com Beth K. Vogt

    I like the whole “your name is your brand” concept.
    I’m not a numbers gal, so my answer to your question is this: The time I do allocate to my writing life always feels like it’s never enough.
    I try to give the bulk of my time (75%) to writing.
    But … that often feels like a pipe dream when editing and other things like mentoring and social media creep in.

  • http://christinetyler.net Christine

    What a breath of fresh air. RTing this!

  • Ilima

    Yes! Thank you, I am so tired of hearing certain writing friends obsessing 10 times more about their Twitter strategy than their craft! I absolutely agree with spending the majority of your writing time on actual writing. Instead of laboring to develop a following on Twitter, I’ve been using it to connect with the people I really want to get to know — other writers.

  • http://elleamberley.co.uk Elle Amberley Author

    I love this! So true. Sharing it on my “platform” :)

  • http://deekrull.blogspot.com/ Dee Krull

    I would have to do an average on this one because I have some days that I spend at least six hours on writing and others only two. So on average I would say 40%/50%. at least 20%/25% is reading books or blogs.

    Every now and then I spend time with my friends.If I can’t stay away from the computer because I’m thinking about my characters and need to write, then I am up until four am writing until my body can’t anymore.

  • http://sharonkowensimplycreating.com Sharon K Owen

    Rachel, I thank you for your very perceptive blog. I agree that the most important thing for a non-published (or published) novelist is to discover who reads their genre and appeal to that target. On the other hand, I agree with Kristen Lamb that we need to widen that target and include people who may not yet be regular book buyers. To attract those people, we need to appeal to interests other than just writing.
    Right now, I am spending quite a bit of time finding blogs, facebook pages and twitter accounts to follow and hope those writers will reciprocate and follow mine. That’s the foundation for my platform. As I do this, I am (hopefully) accomplishing two things: First, I’m gaining name recognition for myself and my novels. Second, I’m gaining new insight into both writing and social networking. In the end, I have to create an interesting novel or, even if I am successful at marketing it, I will not maintain a following of loyal readers. On the other hand, without the “branding” I want have a following to maintain.

  • http://www.healnowandforever.net Jodi Aman

    I spend about 50% of my energy on my writing life, but that includes my platform. (I write non-fiction,self help) But I have a day job counseling 35 clients a week and directing my counseling group. Plus raising my three children. Selling my book is not the end, it is the means to help more people at a time. Now I can only help 300 new clients a year. By writing and teaching, I am hoping to help more.

  • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

    Even among published authors, I think some are too focused on branding. I realize it isn’t completely their fault since they’ll write what the publishers will publish, but I’ve encountered authors that I struggle to read because each book is just more of the same. Appearantly, I was not the one person they were writing for, or their writing would be more diverse.

    • http://bookinamonthmom@blogspot.com Heather Gilbert

      Totally agree–I hate the idea of being locked into a genre, just to maintain a brand. I know it’s a formula that works, but after reading and enjoying Jodi Picault’s first medical/sad/dying women’s fiction novel, every other one seemed TOO similar in plot and style. I stopped reading her books because of it.

      That said, Nicholas Sparks, Mary Higgins Clark, and John Grisham are popular BECAUSE they’re known quantities. If you like legal thrillers, go w/John. If you like touching romances, Nicholas. Why do I read Mary Higgins Clark, with those predictable, canned plots? I guess b/c she’s a clean writer (not overly gory), and because Agatha Christie is sadly dead.

      I agree w/the comment below–let’s not brand ourselves until we have 2-3 books out there. Suzanne Collins wrote other books, but she didn’t get huge until she penned “The Hunger Games.”

      Let’s just keep writing, then we’ll find that elusive niche where we fit and we don’t feel trapped having to write more books in that genre.

  • http://blog.abibleaday.com/ Peter DeHaan

    I’d rather write then send time on building a platform and establishing my brand — so maybe I’ll just switch from non-fiction to fiction!

  • http://www.sowowme.com David Barry DeLozier

    Well said! I’ve tried several times to “build a platform” while in the process of drafting my first novel. It was frustrating. I abandoned it to focus on layering the story I’m writing and studying the craft. I’m very willing to assume a marketing role at some point, after my book is marketable.

  • http://www.marleengagnon.com Marleen Gagnon

    Finally something for a fiction writer clarifying platform and branding. Thanks so much for this post.

  • http://4broadminds.blogspot.com/ carol brill

    Hi Rachelle, thanks for addressing my concern again. I need the reminders. Good question about how we divide our time. I recently started a blog – counts as “writing” right? Yet as a novelist, sometimes only writing fiction feels like “real” writing to me.

    • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

      Carol,

      Something to consider: the techniques of storytelling are the same whether you are making it up or recounting something that really happened. There’s no reason why blogging can’t also be real writing.

      • http://4broadminds.blogspot.com/ carol brill

        thanks Timothy. I agree a lot of the ingredients are the same. for me the difference is creating the story from scratch vs. knowing what elements of real life to tell to create the story.

  • http://deborahserravalle.wordpress.com Deborah Serravalle

    This is straightforward, excellent advice. Thanks.

  • http://www.katieganshert.blogspot.com Katie Ganshert

    This is brilliant. 100% brilliant.

    We should be thinking about our audience, not our brand. I. Love. This. And as soon as I started doing it, my blog following started to grow more.

    And anyway, a brand is not something we can build. I remember Jody saying this and it really stuck with me. A brand is something readers will define for us as we publish books and stay true to who we are in writing them.

    • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

      I think a lot of people would disagree with that. It is true that a brand may develop naturally because people learn to expect something, but there are a lot of businesses who spend a lot of money trying to shape people’s expectations. As authors, our brand simply cannot exist without us first choosing what words we put down on paper.

    • Kristen Lamb

      Creating a brand and targeting your audience go hand in hand. They aren’t mutually exclusive. Brand is our NAME plus our CONTENT (which will eventually be books) + positive emotions.

      I have always stated that the book comes first. Good books are going to be the most essential element to success. But I have no idea why agents seem to think writers need to choose between platform/brand and book. Writers can have both and one doesn’t have to come at the expense of the other.

      Advising writers to ignore this component of the career is dangerous in this paradigm shift. It is like advising a young college student to not worry about learning computers unless she is getting a degree in Computer Science. That was the case 20 years ago, but today you can’t get a job without a good amount of basic computer knowledge.

      I find this advice interesting since I believe Ms. Gardner represents Jody Hedlund. Jody’s first book was largely successful because of her social platform and all the bloggers (including me) who rallied their platforms to support her when her book came out.

      Jody enjoyed a unique success for a first-time book because of the support base. We KNEW her and her content (brand). Granted “The Preacher’s Bride” is an excellent book, but we can’t ignore how many people used Facebook, Twitter and blogs to get the word out.

      And Jody didn’t blog about romance or history or even Christianity. She blogged about writing and talked to people and was NICE. She used her platform to connect to people as a person. She didn’t “tailor tweets” to her specific audience. That is phony and people see right through it.

      Sorry, Rachelle. I know where you are coming from but I totally disagree with this advice. My methods have taken people from nobodies to best-sellers numerous times. A couple months ago, I had a writing team sign a 4 book deal and their platform and brand was what got them the attention.

      I think that the demands of the 21st century author are different. We have always been responsible for writing a good book. That hasn’t changed.

      Now, we are responsible for that and for creating a platform and brand (OUR NAME associated with good content). The authors who want to ignore this do so at their peril. The competition is steep. Ten years ago writers weren’t competing against peers who had blogs with a global reach and 50,000 visitors.

      Instead of avoiding branding or social media, how about just doing it well? and in a way that leaves time to write more books. No need to toss the baby with the bath water.

      • http://www.katieganshert.blogspot.com Katie Ganshert

        Kristen, I think you’re misinterpreting what Rachelle’s saying. She never said to ignore social media. In fact, she encourages her clients to jump into social media.

        I think what Rachelle’s saying is that we need to focus on what we write and who we are instead of becoming all-consumed with this idea of a brand.

        We can’t manipulate our brand, right? Jody didn’t set out to establish a BRAND. She just set out to be authentic and help other writers along in their journeys. She didn’t sit down and think, “What do I want my brand to be?” (correct me if I’m wrong, Jody). She was herself and she blogged about her passions and so far she’s been very successful.

        I think this is what Rachelle’s saying (correct me if I’m wrong, Rachelle).

        I blog about writing, faith, and romance. I chose these topics not with a brand in mind, but with my audience in mind. I write faith and I write romance. This is not only what I’m passionate about, but what my reader will be passionate about too.

        I think it’s funny that you disagreed with this. Because to me, blogging around your “brand” or blogging “to an audience” is the same thing, but just worded differently. I’m really not seeing the difference between your philosophy and Rachelle’s.

        • http://lindsayharrel.blogspot.com Lindsay Harrel

          I agree, Katie.

          Overall, instead of worrying about “how will I brand this blog and/or myself?”, we can simply blog about things that are of interest to us and will be of interest to our readers. At first, I was simply blogging about writing and my writing journey, but then I realized that only those who are fellow writers might be interested in reading my blog. Now I’m trying to expand my blog to other topics that are related to writing and my other interests. I’m also simply asking questions that come up in my daily life, questions that I’m hoping my targeted audience will find interesting.

          Be true to yourself and be authentic. I think this is what will attract readers to your blog, and ultimately, to your books. If people feel like they know you, then they typically will want to read what you wrote. They feel as if they have something special invested in you and want to be a part of your journey.

        • Kristen Lamb

          Yes, you are correct and I take the mea culpa. I think we are saying the same things only different ways.

          As a social media expert, I cannot make any author an author brand. Only the books can do this. I can only offer the support structure to help becoming a brand happen in a shorter amount of time. It always boils down to the books and I blogged about that today.

          In fairness, there are a lot of agents telling writers not to worry about the social media, but I think the failure rate of first-time novelists should be sobering enough to try to do all we can to succeed (so long at the book itself doesn’t suffer of course).

      • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

        Kristen,

        I think you missed the point. When a reader finds an author he likes who writes in a genre he enjoys, that is good enough. I think it is like the old rule “show, don’t just tell.” I can spend all day telling people how great my books are because every one has two recipes and a chicken named Ruth (they don’t), but what is really important is that I show readers through my books that they like reading my work in the genre they like.

  • http://www.sueharrison.com Sue Harrison

    For years, due to family care situations, my writing time was limited to 5 minutes to 30 minutes a day, about 2 days a week. A very good way to kill a career! I finally reclaimed my life, notified my family of that fact and began to dig through the rubble to become a real writer again. I still do my fair share of care giving, but I demand 2 hours a day, 5 days a week of writing time for my fiction. I do social networking in the evenings about an hour or so 5 or 6 days a week.

    I’m making progress on my novels by including my FaceBook Friends in the joy of plotting my novels. We have a ball! They’ve chosen names for me, helped me think out prickly plot points and are so enthusiastic that I can’t help but catch their energy, which infuses my work. I’m receiving up to 50 to 60 comments now per weekly conversation, and those conversations include about 100 people who are actively working with me. Talk about a great tribe! They are so supportive! And my novels are shaping up so much more quickly than if I were doing everything myself.

  • http://heathersunseri.com Heather Sunseri

    Beautiful, Rachelle!! Just beautiful. At the first ACFW conference I attended I sat in on a branding class, and the instructors said something that really stuck with me. They said, “a novelist cannot begin to truly develop brand until he has two to three books published.” I think of this every time I start to reinvent myself (I get distracted from time to time), and I stop and realize that my only job as a fiction writer, as far as platform goes, is to be true to who I am and who my books are being written for.

  • http://theotherstephenkingonwriting.blogspot.com Stephen King

    Interesting post; my own next blog was planned to contain commentary on a writers conference session I attended in which a couple of agents expounded on the importance of platform to both non-fiction authors and novelists.

    I suspect sometimes we’re all saying the same thing but in different ways.

    As to your question, I’m focusing almost entirely on non-writing activity at the moment. The ink on the pub contract isn’t quite dry yet, and so I’m working on guest blogs and Q&As to promote the book. The pendulum will swing back to production time soon enough, though.

  • http://www.sarahforgrave.com/blog Sarah Forgrave

    Excellent post, Rachelle! I had a similar discussion with my agent recently, and it took so much pressure off. Thanks for laying out the reasoning…I have a feeling a lot of novelists will be saying “Thank goodness” after reading this post. :)

  • Jeanne T

    Great post. Thanks for giving me permission to really focus on writing my first book, and doing it the best I can, without needing to try to figure out my brand. I’m far from finished, but I’m relieved to know that my brand can be my name and genre.

  • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

    When it comes to blogging, I struggle with keeping my blog focused on the people I am writing to when I write my books. I have tried, but truth be told, I don’t see those people looking for a blog to read.

  • http://www.sarahanneloudinthomas.wordpress.com Sarah Thomas

    I split my time 80/20 on writing/platform building. Grateful it’s less crucial to fiction writers!

    One thing I’ve noticed with blogging is that it can help define who my audience is. I have a definite person in mind, but seeing how folks respond to my blog helps me know when I’ve taken a wrong turn. If I blog about a topic I think would appeal to my audience and all I hear is the wind whistling through my site, I know I need to adjust my thinking.

    • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

      Silence doesn’t always mean something didn’t appeal.

      • http://bookinamonthmom@blogspot.com Heather Gilbert

        I think the “silence” we can take as disparaging is the silence of the little number counter on our blogs, when it says NO ONE or very few people visited our blogspot when we talked about a specific topic. That silence is SCARY.

        • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

          Heather,

          I hear you, but that could have as much to do with how the blog is handled as it does the topic. If people are reading your blog through the RSS feed then you won’t see everyone who reads the post. Also, people who are truly interested in the subject will find it when they type it into a search engine, not when you post it. This week, I had several hits on an article I wrote two years ago titled The Get Real Method (or why I don’t snowflake). I had forgotten about it, but someone found it.

          • http://bookinamonthmom@blogspot.com Heather Gilbert

            That’s the most encouraging thing I’ve heard all day! I’ve wondered for awhile if that “stat counter” is a little off.

  • http://amysorrells.wordpress.com Amy K. Sorrells

    Super post, Rachelle!

    “Who are you writing books for? Identify ONE PERSON in your life who represents your audience . . . ”

    For me, who started out as a nonfiction writer, I’ve always written for that one person. For the one who needs to know the possibility of freedom exists; who can find healing in words, as I did when I began my healing journey; who lurks unseen in the shadows until someone else’s story bursts into their darkness and allows them to dance again.

    Switching gears to fiction, then, became a sort of natural thing, as far as “platform” goes. I still focus my words on my blog and twitter to those who are broken and hurting. And I still find my audience grows even daily.

    For a long time platform felt like a thorn in my side, but now I count every new follower/commenter/reader a blessing to touch instead of a trophy to acquire. And I ***try*** to rest in the assurance that God will do the rest, whatever “the rest” shall be in my writing journey.

  • http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com Cynthia Herron

    There are so many schools of thought on this one, and I always wondered if I did it backward.

    The way I did it: wrote the book, confirmed who my target audience was, began to concentrate on “brand”, ramped up my social media presence, and only recently came up with a tagline, which as you indicated, shouldn’t be the sole focus. I chose a tagline because it helps define me and what I write, but I only did this AFTER doing the other things first.

    Thanks for another great one!

    • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

      My take on tag lines is that they are usually pretty corny. As a reader, they have turned me off to more authors than any one other thing. They sometimes become fodder for my blog because I find that they are much like those silly messages on church signs; what the author thinks they are saying and the message that comes across are often very different.

      • http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com Cynthia Herron

        Thanks, Timothy, for your thoughts!

        At the recent ACFW conference I attended, I heard some interesting takes on taglines. Ultimately, I think what works best for one author may not work best for another.

        I addressed on my blog last week why I chose to use a tagline. It’s a personal choice that’s best discussed with one’s agent during the career-building process. Writing a great book should always come first. :)

  • http://writtenbydeb.blogspot.com Deb

    I love this :-)

  • Vera Soroka

    I think everybody is saying the same thing here-just in their own way. I started up a blog to post short stories,flash fiction and art. I hope to attract readers and artists. That’s my target audience. Maybe if I’m successful in attracting them to my website, they will be future buyers.

  • http://crowproductions.com joan Cimyotte

    Often my time is not my own. Just trying to keep the boat floating, I take on any small job that comes my way. I remember how eagerly I wrote everyday to write on my novel. It was just like I was a reader wanted to know what happens next. Right now I have a fairly polished manuscript. My story is like an elephant in the room. I have all these other projects lined up after the elephant. Time is that fleeting second hand…tick…tick…tick…

    • http://crowproductions.com joan Cimyotte

      Arg…It was just like I was a reader wanting to know what happens next. Wanting not wanted.:^)

  • http://rmabry.com Richard Mabry

    Rachelle, I think you’ve dispensed some practical wisdom. Let me add what Jim Rubart said in a seminar at ACFW: Your brand is what you are, what people think you are, and a promise to your readers.
    If a reader likes what I wrote in my last book, they expect to like what they read in my next one. I’ve read books by a few well-known authors where that promise wasn’t honored, and I crossed them off my list of favorites.

  • http://girlseeksplace.wordpress.com Brianna

    Interesting post. I write in a few different genres, but it sounds like I need to pick one main genre and note that I also crossover into others. Lots to think about.

  • http://ShariLopatin.wordpress.com Shari Lopatin

    Rachelle,

    This is SUCH great advice!! I’m currently working on developing a fiction novel, and I’ve been working to build a platform. I work in marketing (a former newspaper reporter) and hear SO MUCH talk of “platform, platform, platform.” My numbers have leveled off, and I began panicking. However, hearing from an agent how platform isn’t as important for fiction writers as for non-fiction writers somehow gave me permission to chill and work more on my writing (rather than strategy). Plus, I LOVE your tidbit on branding: your genre and your name is your brand, so build your target audience rather than your brand. I would have never thought of that on my own, so THANK YOU!

    This is probably the best post I’ve read from you, yet.

    –Shari

  • http://kenbakerbooks.blogspot.com Ken Baker

    Rachel,

    Great post, but blogging for your target audience isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Figuring out how to reach certain target audiences can be difficult. For example, if you’re writing legal thrillers as you mentioned, unless you already are a John Grisham, you might not really have a lot to say to the legal thriller audience. Likewise, if you’re writing for the YA market but you’re several years from being a YA yourself, that also could be a difficult audience to target your blog to until you’re actually published. It becomes even more complicated if you’re writing across multiple genres. So, how do you cross that gap when the thing you have most in common with your target audience is your yet-to-be published book?

    • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

      Ken,

      I’ve forgotten who said it, so I can’t give him credit, but someone once said that when talking about a novel, one should focus on the non-fiction aspects. Using the Legal Thriller example, instead of spending all of your time talking about the story, you would write about the legal issues involved. Similarly, a person who has written an Amish novel wouldn’t blog about the story but about the Amish lifestyle and religion. An author of children’s books might blog about things of interest to children and their parents, such as things the children need to learn, activities they can do, games, etc.

    • http://davidatodd.com David Todd

      Timothy:

      David Morrell, creator/author of Rambo and many other novels, says something like this. Before the word “platform” was used to describe the ready-made audience a writer brings to a publisher, Morrell used “platform” to refer to the underlying non-fiction subject of your book, i.e. the platform upon which your book was built. At the time Morrell was writing novels he said had the platform of urban exploration. The legal/courtroom profession would be for Gresham, military and law enforcement/espionage technology for Clancy. I suppose for me, as the writer of a baseball thriller, it would simply be baseball.

      Don’t know if that’s what you were referring to or not, but it’s what comes to mind.

      • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

        David,

        Wow! I love that use of the word “platform”. That does sound closely related to what I was saying. But I kind of think we may be able to tie in the other kind of platform as well.

        Often we think of platform as more like a tribe, with the author as some kind of tribal chief, but that’s inconsistent with the way people buy books. With you beginning with the baseball platform, there are some baseball fans who will be drawn to your books whether they know you or not. Had you placed your story on another platform, these people wouldn’t be part of your platform.

  • http://jessiegunderson.com Jessie @ Blog Schmog

    Ah! This muddy mama exhales a huge sigh of relief as she plucks yet another child’s boot out of the muck. If I branded myself right now it would be pretty. Bless you, thank you. Now somebody please get me another cup of coffee.

    I shared this post.

    Time, in my world, is a myth but I devote stolen minutes throughout my day and am planning to start setting my alarm to get up an hour earlier to write. As for social media, I’ve started limiting it to only what I’d do if I didn’t have hopes of publishing. Usually 1 or 2 posts a day and maybe 15 minutes (I need to set a timer) playing and chatting.

    Thank you again for teaching.

  • http://jessiegunderson.com Jessie @ Blog Schmog

    Oops, “would[n't] be pretty”!

    Now for that 2nd cup of coffee before I implode.

  • Janet

    Rachelle, you cannot imagine how much this blog post simplified my life! I have a narrative non-fiction/memoir “Normal Is So Overrated” that tells the story of my survival and recovery from a ruptured cererbral aneurysm. This non-fiction was sort of a “pay it forward” from all the people who helped me manage those difficult times to the people who now find themselves struggling with many of the same issues. Establishing a platform for that book isn’t terribly difficult. Not only have I “been-there-done-that,” I also lead an online support group and co-organized the first known national conference for brain aneurysm survivors. However, that book was a once in a lifetime work. My true love is writing fiction – especially stories with a paranormal element (I do love the ghosties!) and works that involve near-death experiences.

    Since I only have to “brand” myself for the non-fiction, I feel free to continue building a social network of followers who share my interest in the supernatural and life after death.

    In one blog you managed to cure my writerly schizophrenia!

  • Janet

    Oops! I failed to answer the question at the end of the blog.

    My writing time is somewhat limited, but I try to allocate about 60% to the actual writing, editing, and rewriting, 25% to honing my craft by reading, attending workshops, and interacting with other authors, and the remaining 15% on marketing (including queries and proposals, social media activity, blogging, trying to develop a following, etc.).

  • http://www.smmirza.blogspot.com Shilpa

    Very true and great advice. Promoting yourself is not only time consuming but stressful as well. And if you are still out there sending queries, there is lot more writing to do than one can possibly imagine! Thanks for the wonderful post!

  • http://www.examiner.com/childrens-literature-in-chicago/elizabeth-mackinney Beth MacKinney

    That’s a challenging question because my time is very fragmented. I always have a book, scene cards, and a notebook with me wherever I go. Sometimes my laptop as well.

    Current time division (heavily influenced by Nanowrimo coming):

    • Getting queries out on my latest PB, which has passed critique group and beta reader inspection.

    • Completing the outline for the sequel to my MG sci-fi (for Nano).

    • Reading books and writing book reviews for Examiner.com

    I guess my time ebbs and flows between projects right now. It’s the luxury of being a part time writer.

  • http://reflectionsbykrista.blogspot.com Krista Phillips

    Not sure percentage wise. At the moment, when I make “uninterrupted time” I use that for writing. In my fragmented time (i.e. kids are home, while laundry washes, etc), I use that for blogging and networking.

    LOVE the idea of our name and genre branding us.

  • https://www.facebook.com/writeramandapapenfus Amanda Papenfus

    I would say I spend 75% of writing time writing and revising. I spend 20% researching publications and submitting work to literary journals. Then the 5% that’s left over I keep up with my FB page to post when I’ve had work accepted or published and make it accessible and Twitter to do that as well as other posts. Math isn’t my strong suit, so those probably aren’t totally accurate percentages.

  • http://www.kaydenlee.com Kayden Lee

    “Identify ONE PERSON in your life who represents your audience in terms of age, gender, lifestyle. Blog for her.”
    Love this advice! Amy, I’m blogging for you.

  • http://www.beautybyilana.com Ilana Weiner

    great post great advice! I’m writing for my cousin Taylor.

  • http://www.zenfulcommunications.com Therese Pope

    Let me clarify: I am not saying “don’t market your book brand.” Of course, your book is a product and you need to sell that product. You need a tight synopsis, dynamic cover art that wows your target reader, etc. BUT that is only part of the package (especially if you are trying to promote yourself via social media channels).

    If you concentrate solely on your book brand and not yourself, as the author, then your marketing will likely fail (especially online). A strategic marketing campaign has several layers. I think there is a LOT of misunderstanding and misconceptions about social media. People don’t understand what it’s all about. It’s NOT about selling – yes, I said it. It’s not about SELLING your product (your book). It’s about engaging people and creating “engaging” relationships with them. Would you go up to Mr. Smith, a stranger whom you’ve never met, at a networking event and say, “Hi, you don’t know me but let me shove my book in your face, and even though we have never met and you know nothing about me or my book…will you please buy my book?” He will probably say “no” to your request.

    I worked for a publisher and I promoted authors for Barnes & Noble. At book readings/signings, you could tell who made a lasting impression vs. who didn’t sit well with the audience. If the author was engaging, funny, etc., they sold more books. However, if they were a dud personality-wise, their sales were a flop. You could have a perfectly polished, well-written book, awesome cover art, etc. but if you leave yourself (the author) out of the mix, then it will affect your marketing (and not in a good way).

    You can’t create a relationship with other people with just your book brand alone. It’s not that simple.

  • Larry Carney

    *Puts down the cattle brand*

    Thank goodness, that thing was starting to look hot.

    • http://bookinamonthmom@blogspot.com Heather Gilbert

      HA! Thanks for giving me a lol moment today with that cattle brand!

  • http://www.amburns.com AM Burns

    This is a great article and great comments. As a fairly new author, I was amazed when so many of the people in the local writing groups were all about platform this and platform that and you have to have a platform before you even start writing. I asked how a fiction writer was supposed to build a platform and got looked at like I’d just sprouted two extra heads. It made sense to me for non-fiction folks, but for fiction writers it just confused me. Thanks for clearing the air.

    AM Burns
    http://www.amburns.com

  • http://megandimaria.blogspot.com Megan DiMaria

    This post was so freeing to me. I love your advice and wisdom on an author’s brand. I have avoided trying to brand myself one way or another. It felt too contrived. My first two novels are very different from the next two I’ve written. The only common thread is the importance of family. I’d prefer to be branded by my readers and their expectations than a marketing ploy on my part. Thanks, Rachelle!

  • http://writingisablessing.blogspot.com June

    This was such a super helpful post. It validates my belief in minimizing the social networking and getting the writing done. Thanks!

  • Mary Jo

    I never buy a book because of an author’s platform, brand, social media presence, or whatever. I buy books after reading a few pages in the bookstore, by recommendations and raves on the blogs of people I trust (especially if they’re not plugging a friend, acquaintance, or client), and by serendipity. When I was umemployed I had a nice writing life. But I’m working full-time now so I’m not doing too much writing anymore.

  • http://www.cgblake.wordpress.com CG Blake

    Rachelle,
    Great post on an important topic, but I think, with all due respect to the opinions of others, there are some misperceptions in this thread about branding. Writers should spend all of their time writing the best book they can before they think about branding. But there will come a time when writers must think about how they wish to present themselves to the public. A writer’s brand is her unique position in the marketplace. People tend to confuse things like social media, blogs, websites, postcards, and newsletters with the brand. Social media and blogs are communication tools. They are not your brand. Branding is a strategic marketing endeavor. Writers must make conscious choices about their unique value promise and how to convey it in a consistent manner. These include the fonts, colors and images on a writer’s blogs, business cards, and other materials. Your brand is also your voice, your perspective on the world, and your attitude. Are you an out-of-the-box thinker? Are you more traditional in your writing? Your brand supports who you are. If a writer’s blog is a mish-mash of fonts, type sizes and garish art work with poorly drafted essays, that is the author’s brand and it may turn off agents and publishers. I agree the writing must come first, but authors who are careless about establising a brand that reflects their work and values do so at their own peril.

    • http://www.zenfulcommunications.com Therese Pope

      Great comments about branding, CG Blake. Branding has many components as CG pointed out. It’s not one or the other (your book or your name). You also clarified one of the biggest misconceptions about social media. Social media is a marketing tool–not your brand. It’s just one of many ways to market your brand. And there are still the traditional “offline” ways to market and further enhance your brand (speaking engagements, book tours, etc.)

  • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

    Hmmm…

    Well, I got things a bit out of order, so my time split makes no sense to how things “should” be done.

    First, I am a full-time engineer, as well as husband and father. So, relatively small percentages of my time are spent on writing or blogging (though my wife would disagree). Probably 2 hrs per day on average.

    I wrote a book, without planning ahead, based on a series of Sunday school lessons on the topic of God’s heart toward His children who have experienced divorce.

    I learned that no reputable agent or publisher would even consider a non-fiction book from an author with no cred’s and no platform.

    So, I self-pub’d and am now working on building platform.

    Go it all backwards…we’ll see how it works out…

    The good news is that several people who have read the book have expressed to me that it was very beneficial to them, and helped them to let go of a lot of unnecessary guilt and negative perceptions…which was the whole purpose in writing the book to begin with…

    So it’s already a winning project, with less than 100 copies sold! =^)

    And I’m enjoying the blogging! Double win!

  • http://alisalagroue.wordpress.com Alisa LaGroue

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I can feel the weight lifting off my shoulders. I understand that platform is important and I should work on it some, but I’m glad someone has finally explained that a newbie should still be focused on writing. Now I don’t feel so bad when I go a few days not posting on anything.

  • http://www.rebeccaboschee.com Rebecca Boschee

    “Identify ONE PERSON in your life who represents your audience in terms of age, gender, lifestyle. Blog for her. Create Tweets or Facebook posts that would interest her.”

    Simple, but brilliant. Thank you for the reminder!

  • http://larryshallenberger.com Larry Shallenberger

    Rachel,

    For a follow up post would you consider providing 5-10 links of fiction authors’ websites who embody your advice?

    Larry

  • http://tcavey.blogspot.com/ TC Avey

    I’m struggling at the moment between writing my next book, querying for the previous and blogging.
    To focus and try and balance I am devoting my life, talents, time to God. In his hands I know everything will work out as it should.

  • http://www.literating.wordpress.com lancelot

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    Quick question since you both discourage branding and encourage it (by implication of comparing it to our genres): If I’m a fantasy writer, should I blog about fantasy more? Or should I just keep blogging about whatever interests me?

  • Rachel Dawn Allen

    Thank you! I’ve been struggling with this very issue, today actually. This post definitely put things in perspective.

  • Terri Thompson

    This blog is a breath of fresh air. Sometimes all the talk about branding is suffocating. In my heart I know my first priority is to write the best novel I possibly can. But the pressure to do everything else (when I don’t even know what I’m doing) mounts.

    The answer to your question is 1-3. I write two short blogs and post them to Facebook and I read a few writing blogs. That’s about all I do so far. I realize it will have to increase after publication. I write/edit my novel three hours a day. Wish I could do it full time.

  • http://lisalwelch.blogspot.com Lisa Welch

    40% of my writing time is spent on social media, probably more. But I have a good reason for this. I’m a total newb, and most of that activity consists of reading (lurking/stalking)to gather information on the business of publishing.

    What little I do put out there on Twitter, my blog, etc., is always done with platform vaguely in mind. More importantly, I talk about stuff that matters to me as an aspiring novelist, stuff that hopefully has value for someone else. If there comes a day when that lends me some authenticity as a brand, great. If not, meh. I do it because it’s helped me find my voice. I do it because I like it.

    Not that this is a charity ward, but I’ve gotten terrific insight and advice from things authors, agents, and editors have served up on social media. Another value of building a platform is to inspire and teach others. Or, we could just make Rachelle do it all.

  • http://davidatodd.com David Todd

    I haven’t yet figured out how much time, as a percentage, goes to each of these facets of the writer’s profession. Certainly, when I’m hot and heavy near the end of a writing project with accelerating productivity, my platform building activities suffer. But write now, while I’m between writing projects, I’m ramping up my social media presence and research into other marketing areas. I just can’t put an aggregate percentage on these.

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  • http://laurenspathtopub.blogspot.com/ Lauren F. Boyd

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Rachelle! It seems like so many writers feel the pressure (self-inflicted?) to get as many followers or friends or likes as possible on the social networking outlets. But you are so right: Writers just need to focus on writing well! That IS what will get agents’ attention and ultimately a book deal. Unfortunately, many writers are likely spending more time networking than writing these days.

    Thanks for bringing home the point about the (lesser) importance of networking vs. the importance of writing, as well as branding.

  • http://writingbeforeyoureyes.blogspot.com Pauline Matterson

    Thank you for this post! After having a baby, moving to a new country and getting married, I’m going through a writing re-org. I feel less anxiety about getting my blog up and running again, becoming active on Twitter, creating a website, etc. Thanks to your blog, my energy with be focused on kick starting my writing. I hope for an hour a day to write in the morning and three blog posts a week with some social networking thrown in for good measure until I get the better part of my first novel underway. The first step back into writing was a visit to your blog. Can’t thank you enough.

  • http://www.tyneal.net Ty Neal

    Wow! Great post. you share a lot of value in this post. Now in this day time you must brand yourself I once heard dont build a business build a brand.

    I notice having a publish book is very important for your platform it open doors to alot of more opportunity.

    Great post.

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  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Exceptional counsel. I’m reminded of a quote from the book “Art & Fear” by Bayles and Orland. “At a recent writers’ workshop, the instructor labored heroically to keep the discussion centered upon issues of craft (as yet unlearned), while the writers (as yet unpublished) labored equally to divert the focus with questions about royalties, movie rights and sequels.” Thanks for the redirect.–Tom

  • http://www.lexisderothschild.com Lexis De Rothschild

    I stumbled on this brilliant post this morning. It took ten years off my life.

    I’ve been so consumed with Branding and Social Media, becoming this package that sells, that I never feel like I can do enough to be liked. It’s been like high school -revisited.

    This post set me back on course. I love writing funny, quirky books that make people laugh. That excites me.

    Thanks so much, Rochelle, for your wisdom.

    Lexis De Rothschild
    author of “The Cat Letters: A Tale of Longing, Adventure and True Love”

  • http://chickdickmysteries.com Nancy Lauzon

    I totally agree with you, Rachelle. But in my experience as a Big Six Reject (sorry, but that’s what I am, even though I believe I’m a very talented writer) the reality is, publishers are looking for a brand. The next ‘Stephanie Plum’, the next ‘Harry Potter’, the next ‘Twilight’. They seem resistant to taking chances on fresh, new voices (even though they claim that’s what they’re looking for)and they certainly aren’t willing to nurture them.

    I’ll give you an example. As a reader, I enjoy lighthearted mysteries. There’s a sub-genre from Berkley Prime Crime called ‘culinary’, which has spawned a whole wagon load of cutesy mysteries that include dog-walking, embroidery, gardening … ‘put in the name of a hobby here’. Except they’re not very good stories. The titles are great. ‘Finger-lickin Dead’ and ‘Toast Mortem’. But they bore the crap out of me. So why are there so many? Who decided these were good books? Editors who have hopped on the culinary mystery brand.

    Nancy Lauzon
    Chick Dick Mysteries (my brand)
    http://chickdickmysteries.com

  • Anonymous By Choice

    Thank you, Ms. Gardner, for your clarification, and thank you to all the other people who’ve replied too! I am 15, and so not at all far from “being a YA myself.” In fact, I’m currently in the process of working on a YA novel of my own! :)

    But unlike most people my age, I’m not comfortable with things like social media and putting “the real me” online for anyone and everyone to possibly pick up on. I get very nervous when people say that platforming (if that’s a verb?) is about “being authentic and showing the real you.” But as the “brand” band I know as Hall & Oates said a long time before I was ever even born, “I can’t go for that. No can do.” ;)

    I’m OK with the brand being my genre and the platform being the subject matter. But if the platform includes identity as an essential element of the “whole deal,” then I’d please ask someone to go back and reread the above comment by the ’80s pop duo. Is an essential part of platform REALLY the identity and/or personality of the writer? I’m not a bad or (worse) boring person, I don’t think, just very shy… :{

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