Branding for Nonconformists
Developing an Author Brand When Your Passions are All Over the Map
A decade ago, back when people were still reading personal blogs (remember those?), my sister remarked, “You’d attract a lot more readers if you only wrote about one thing” — an observation rather than a criticism. In addition to the writing advice and book recommendations you’d expect from an author, I posted with equal enthusiasm about my knitting and sewing projects, vegetarian (and later vegan) cooking, and our adventures across five continents.
Maintaining separate blogs on each topic didn’t feel like an efficient use of my time, and the prospect of limiting myself to book talk felt inauthentic. The downside was that a reader who’d enjoyed one of my fantasy novels might react to my blog content with puzzlement or disinterest instead of becoming an even bigger fan, but I decided that was a risk worth taking. I continued to thumb my nose at any author asserting that real writers don’t indulge passions apart from the written word. Creative cross-pollination had always seemed perfectly self evident to me: each of my artistic outlets continually informing and inspiring the others.
So when book marketers started pushing the concept of author branding, I was at a loss. How could I effectively “position myself” if I refused to specialize? The question compounded itself as I branched out from novels about cloning ancestors, witchy spies, teen cannibals, Marian apparitions, and time slips (plus my guidebook to Ireland) into “sneaky self-help” books on ego management and turbocharging one’s creativity through ethical veganism. I’ve been publishing for well over a decade now, and while I am in regular social-media contact with a small group of loyal fans, it seems as if the majority of my readers are enthusiastic about only one of my books, and then they move on. I could hire a marketing consultant, but I’m pretty sure what they’d say: the problem is I’m all over the map.
Is it even possible to develop a cohesive author brand without choosing between writing for adults and writing for children, impossible scenarios and practical philosophy, literature and veganism? Few authors have attempted this wide a range; the first who comes to mind is Martha Brockenbrough, who publishes picture books and young adult fantasy along with Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary and Unpresidented, which are meticulously researched biographies primarily for a teen audience. While her body of work seems eclectic at first glance, Martha is consistently writing for a younger audience, so that a reader of hers can start with her picture books and in a few years move on to The Game of Love and Death.
My body of work offers no such logical progression; if a tween enjoys my cozy children’s fantasy they could eventually crack my young-adult horror novel, but the tone of these two stories is so drastically different that I don’t expect this to happen often. Marketing gurus tell us an essential element of one’s brand is reliability, which is to say that both new and established readers have a clear idea of what to expect from you. I, on the other hand, have essentially made a career out of 137º turns.
The catch about personal-growth writing is that you have to reserve a certain amount of creative bandwidth for following through on your own advice. In my forthcoming book on veganism and creativity, I suggest my readers shift focus from minimizing their weaknesses — becoming less of what they don’t want to be — to becoming more of what they already are. That’s the approach I intend to take toward developing a more effective author brand, and in the process I’m hoping to create a useful case study for other multi-passionate writers. Here are four initial steps I’m taking toward figuring out a brand that works for me:
Get super clear on why I’m doing this (or why anyone should).
I don’t need 100,000 Twitter followers; what I need is to position my work so that it’s as easily findable as it possibly can be. Here’s how I articulated this challenge to Heather in an email the other day:
I’ve been thinking about my initial attitude about all this — ‘oh, I just need to get this content out there and if people are going to find it, they’ll find it’ — and I have replaced this with a much more useful evangelist-on-a-city-corner analogy, which is that we can have insightful and potentially life-changing messages to share, but if we’re sharing them on a backstreet overlooking the railroad track, then we ain’t savin’ nobody.
Having a website with SEO keywords isn’t going to accomplish that in and of itself. Posting daily on social media isn’t automatically going to do it either. So what is?
Find the through-line.
Is there a unifying theme across my seemingly disparate body of work? Can I create my brand along this through-line without letting go of the things that bring me incredible amounts of joy—all of which make my work worth reading?
Connect with my ideal audience where they’re already hanging out.
Back in May I started a weekly Youtube challenge so I can become more comfortable in front of the camera (and with being seen in general). No matter how solid the content and production values, though, building a channel from scratch is tough going. When I got back on Medium recently after publishing a piece on Tenderly, it occurred to me that the readership here values fresh and innovative writing on creativity and personal development. Reading great Medium content, becoming an active community member, and publishing my own work here is the most natural course of action.
Get as clear as can be on this one, too: what’s the need my work is answering?
In the case of Life Without Envy, the book’s promise is clear from the subtitle: Ego Management for Creative People. Many people have told me they knew they needed to read it based on the title alone. But my forthcoming book on veganism and creativity is going to be a trickier title to position, since I’m articulating a need that potential readers don’t realize they have, highlighting a connection between emotional wellness and unethical food sources that they may not feel ready to make. It doesn’t surprise me that the only readers who seem to be excited for this one are the already-vegan—but do I want to build my author brand with an underlying attitude of “oh well, maybe I’m too far ahead of my time”? Baloney. Over the past few years I’ve become a teller of uncomfortable truths, and I have to figure out a way to work with this.
In the coming weeks I’ll be making a more intentional and strategic effort at building an author brand, and I’ll share my experiments and self-analysis here on Page Count. Hopefully the result will be a collection of specific tips and actionable insights for writers like me who refuse to box themselves in.
Camille DeAngelis is the author of several fantasy novels, a travel guide to Ireland, and two books of practical philosophy: Life Without Envy: Ego Management for Creative People and A Bright Clean Mind: Veganism for Creative Transformation (forthcoming in October 2019). If you liked this post, you can subscribe for updates (and to thank you, you’ll get a link to two free sample chapters from Life Without Envy).