Thursdays with Amanda: How to Change Your Author Brand
Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Last week, we had some great discussion on author brand and how to get started with creating one. The driving idea behind the post was to think about who you are, your likes, interests, hobbies, experiences, etc. and to turn that into a brand. We will eventually talk about HOW to turn that into a brand, but in the meantime I want to address an issue that was raised by fellow literary agent…I don’t know if she wants to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her Agent Example.
Agent Example said that she has suddenly realized she is being thought of as the “Picture Book Agent”…which really really really isn’t what you want if you’re hoping to make money at this any time soon. It’s like a career death sentence. Especially if you work in CBA.
How does this happen?! How do you end up with an author brand that you don’t want?
Remember, you give yourself a brand. You don’t sit back and wait for brand to happen. In Agent Example’s case, she probably wasn’t as aggressive as she could have been about her brand, and before she knew it, she was the picture book agent. Here’s how this works:
1. When you are a person of interest, the very group that is interested in you will look for ways to differentiate you from others like you. So when there’s a panel of agents on stage, authors in the audience are looking for ways to label each one so that they can process things, tell others about the agents, and determine whether or not said agents are worth their time.
The same is true with authors. When there are a gazillion romance novelists to love and follow, readers of that genre look for reasons to attach themselves to specific ones. If a novelist does not give them a reason to attach to HER specifically, then readers will attach themselves to others. Or, they’ll attach to a book. And like I said last week, books are fleeting. A reader who loves your book could easily move on to a different favorite author once that series is over. But a reader who loves YOU will stick with you for every book you release.
2. When you don’t provide that label for them, they will fill in the blank themselves. And that is scary, because…
3. When they fill in this blank, it will always point to what stands out the most to them. In Agent Example’s case, they latched on to the fact that she is open to considering picture books (few agents working in CBA are). This is a characteristic of her as an agent makes her unique. Plus, it’s a piece of information that is valuable to her clients and audience. So it was a clear choice.
4. When your brand is chosen for you, chances are it’s not what you want to be known for. It will be something super specific to the point of driving potential followers away (like in Agent Example’s case), or it will be purely superficial. Like, “oh, that’s the author who wears hats” or “that’s the super young agent.”
Superficial brands are helpful to a point…they can get you noticed in a crowd, and they can help people remember who you are. But if they aren’t paired with something of substance, then you will never evolve past that one physical trait that defines you.
So what do you DO when you find yourself with an author brand that you don’t want?
There is a reason that people have given you whatever brand they’ve given you. They didn’t just make it up! They created your brand from what you offered them.
So, the best way to change the way people think about you is to stop promoting that very thing that you don’t want to be known for.
In Agent Example’s case, she should limit how much she talks about picture books. It may be tough! And it may feel like she is keeping a secret, but since that is what people are gleaning from her talks and from her panels and since it’s not what she wants them coming away with, then it needs to be downplayed.
Following this, she should FILL that picture book void with whatever it is she does want to be known for. Then, she needs to infuse this new thing in everything she does and says.
Let’s say she served in the military and wants a military agent brand. Whenever she talks or blogs, she needs to pull examples from her military service. She needs to talk about how she runs her business the way she would lead a squadron or how she is organized like a soldier. I realize these may seem silly! But I can’t tell you how clear and great of a picture this kind of brand would paint. She’d become the military agent. And frankly, I think that is a kick-butt brand.
I hope this is making sense! What questions do you have? Have you found yourself with a brand you don’t want? What is it, and what would you like it to be?
It’s difficult to know the brand others might perceive of me. On the journalism side, an older church friend used to say, “You’re an easy read. That’s what I tell my friends.” Someone else said, “I read all your stories,” and I always strive to tell stories, not just report stuff. Once an editor didn’t use my byline and someone said, “I knew you wrote that even without your name on it.” My brand as an upbeat, entertaining story-teller seems vague. I’m wrongly branded in fiction, without even being published. Some writer friends in the mainstream market assume my fiction stories will be boring because of my quiet personality and my subdued lifestyle as compared with theirs. It’s frustrating. I read widely and write widely. Recently, a fiction editor I submitted to said I have a “contemporary voice” and deal with “emotional issues.” Per your last comment on this blog, I have been more intentional about incorporating financial angles into my nonfiction writing, as an experiment. In July Jane Friedman spoke at Midwest Writers Workshop about being “strategic,” which will be my word for 2015. I don’t want others to brand me and must strategically create my brand. Cathy Shouse