Thursdays with Amanda: Creating an 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.
In response to last week’s post on author brand, some of you admitted that you didn’t really know how to answer the question of “who am I?”
This is one of the many questions that a company or individual will ask when on the hunt for a clear brand identity. They may also ask:
“What comes to mind when hearing my name (or company name or product, etc)?”
“What feelings do people have when thinking about my name/my company/my product?”
“What do they associate with my name/company/product/etc.?”
“What do I want them to feel or think or associate with my brand/company/name/etc?”
Many companies will pay tens of thousands for answers to questions like these. They end up with lengthy research reports on their brand, the image it conveys, the climate of their client base, etc.
But authors don’t usually have tens of thousands of dollars, do they?
So let’s try a back door approach.
EXAMPLES OF AGENT BRANDS
You may think that agents are just agents. That we have no use for a brand, and that there isn’t really anything that defines us as individuals aside from the deals we do and the authors/genres we represent.
But let me show you something…
If you’ve met or are familiar with our agency president, chances are you didn’t just think “agent” when reading his name.
Instead, you probably thought of his Scottish heritage and penchant for wearing a kilt. You probably thought about how he is blunt and intimidating (things I’ve heard him described as), or how he has a strong personality but a kind, generous heart if you get to know him.
Chip isn’t just an agent. Chip has a brand. His name or picture evokes a reaction that is more than his job title. Authors who want to work with him want to be part of that brand. And conversely, authors who don’t want to be part of his brand, don’t want to work with him.
When reading my name, do you just think “agent?”
Maybe…I mean I’m not really around when people are talking about me. But I do know that folks have described me as “young,” “funny,” a “straight-shooter.” But those things don’t really stand out, do they? At least not in the agent realm, because there are tons of young, funny, honest agents out there.
When I first became an agent, I knew I needed a brand. I needed to capitalize on something that I possessed that most agents didn’t. Sadly, I couldn’t choose “former model” as my brand or “heiress” or “moonlights as circus performer.” But I did manage to find an angle…
I’m the “marketing agent.” The agent who used to work for a real life marketing firm. The agent who has been part of big marketing campaigns with national brands. The agent who has done market research and launched YouTube channels and Facebook pages and taken risks with large clients. The agent who is willing to share with authors all she knows about marketing and who strives to communicate these things in a practical way.
This is the brand I gave myself. Did you hear me? I GAVE MYSELF A BRAND. It happened in an afternoon. I spent a bit of time thinking about what would set me apart and what skills I had to pull from, and BAM. My brand was born.
I put this brand everywhere. In my bio and in my conference workshops (you’ll never see me offer a class on craft). I started blogging about marketing every Thursday (and years later, we’re still trucking!). I embraced the “marketing agent brand” because it allowed me to stand out. It was something that other agents weren’t doing, and it was something that authors craved.
If I gave myself an agent brand, then you can give yourself an author brand.
When we approach this question of “who am I?” I want you to couple it with the question: “what do I have or what is it about me that others want/like/need?”
Think about your hobbies.
Think about areas in which you’re an expert.
Think about your job experience.
Think about the volunteer work you do or the causes in which you’re active.
Maybe you’re awesome at genealogy research or scrapbooking or cooking. Maybe you used to be or are a psychologist. Maybe you worked in television or news. Maybe you love animals and volunteer at a shelter. Or maybe you’re into local politics and give your time that way.
Each of these things could be the start of a brand. The key is to think about who you are. Who you want to be.
This isn’t about your books. Books are so…fleeting. But your brand should stay with you forever.
So, consider the prompts above… what are some things that define you? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Be detailed. I want to know what you’ve come up with!
I love the idea of self branding, but isn’t that then what you become known for writing as well? I’ve tried to tweak and refine and focus what I’d call a tagline (branding?) and it feels like it’s never quite done…
As a writer I am all about mining the Christian past seeking wisdom for the changing, challenging present and future.
Vocationally I am a seminary Church history prof with a ministry background, and my writing goes both of those directions.
I love to cook. I love to share table conversation with interesting people. So far those have not become part of my brand. But they do improve my family’s life together.
I like the “Christian Historian” angle. I think you could find a following for that, Gary.
Thanks Amanda — I’m sure working on it!
Chip drew on my foot in the lobby at ACFW conference last fall. I was yakking with my roomie, one of his clients, and she was making fun of what he was doing on the other side of me. Since he couldn’t get to Cindy he drew on my foot. Then he stole my seat at the airport four hours later. Oh Chip….
I’m the writer of romance for the hero lover. The hero is always my favorite character, I can never get enough of him, I want to be in his head all the time, and when I write it’s, you guessed it, all about the hero. Everything I do online is themed around this.
It’s very easy for me to stay on target. The two series I’m most in love with reading right now are not remembered by the titles. They’re remembered as whoever the hero is. Like Ravyn’s book, and Kyrian’s book, or Judd’s book, or Vaugn’s book. I’m about to start Drew’s book.
Romance for the hero lover also covers whatever genre I find myself drawn to, and tells readers exactly what they’re getting when they open a book with my name on it.
My response? Rachel, who HASN’T drawn on someone’s foot while waiting in a hotel lobby? It’s a common thing among agents. As for stealing your seat… sorry. But thanks.
Cindy and I laughed about it all for days.
Talking about Chip’s brand including more than one topic helped. I have varied interests and am having trouble with choosing my focus. My degree is in music (oboe), but being pragmatic, I also majored in business, where I especially liked marketing. I worked in personal finance (insurance/investing) for many years and have certifications to prove it (if that matters?). As a journalist, I’ve had a personal finance column, written lots of news/magazine stories about money, and also human interest pieces. I have interviewed a lot of authors. Another passion is boys and reading/academics, and I sold my piece on that to Family Fun magazine. I’ve helped a number of authors with their marketing, and given a talk and done blog posts about authors and marketing, (mostly on the traditional media aspects, not social networking). I wanted my brand to be personal finance. There is such a need and I have so many ideas. But informal market research tells me money is not “romantic” or engaging enough for women, who make up most of the reading world, so that will not be my brand. Yes, this is TMI, but you asked, and I am stuck!
Lol…I like the personal finance angle…is there a way you could make personal finance sexy? Pretty? Fun? I think most women bristle at it because it’s math and numbers. But if you could find a way to turn personal finance into something that incorporates things women love, then you may have a home run. I take it you want to be a nonfiction author?
I don’t believe I can develop the necessary platform for nonfiction. In fiction, I’m developing a secular cozy mystery with a music shop owner whose family tries to woo her into their financial planning business. :/
Oops, my post left out my last name. Cathy Shouse
When I think of Chip, I think, smart and witty. And knowledgable! And when I think of you, I do indeed think of the marketing expert. And I think of Christian YA fantasy. And myself? Unfortunately, it seems that I am known in Christian publishing as the picture book agent. 🙂 Yeah, baby! I have that market cornered, and we all know what a hot market it is.
Hmm. I’m going to have to think about re-branding myself. I want to be known as the agent who is the expert on Newbery Award books. Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Amanda!
I would prefer when someone thinks of me, they think of someone “tall and handsome,” sally, but I guess I’ll settle for “smart and witty.”
I’m the librarian at an elementary school, so I know how much librarians spend on books a year. I don’t know how picture books aren’t a hot market. There are some amazing ones out there (Peter Brown is a favorite of mine lately), but we need more!
You’ll get no argument from me. I want more picture books. But Peter Brown is not publishing in the Christian market. Not many Christian publishers put out picture books. When they do they are often 1) written by best-selling adult authors like Max Lucado or Francis Chan or 2) contracted as work-for-hire projects.
In the general market there are a lot of places for me to send picture books. In the Christian market, not so much. Add that to the fact that some lovely Christian people who write picture books can be a wee bit preachy in the execution and you have my inbox stuffed full of submissions that are probably not going to sell. 🙂
Gotcha! 🙂 Have you seen Kadir Nelson’s book “He’s Got the Whole World in HIs Hands?” I love that book, but you’re right, many of the Christian picture books are preachy. Too many people think they have to spell things out for kids, but they get more than we think they do!
Okay, sorry for getting off track!
Very helpful, Amanda. I’ve done much soul searching about my “brand,” and it’s funny how the process requires digging… My interests and professional work have been diverse (seminary, theology, creative storytelling, advocacy/activism). It’s taken a long time, and some experimentation, to connect dots and narrow my focus. For a long time, I thought it was about “gender and justice.” Going deeper, I came to see it is about building vibrant communities (justice is a piece of that). Going deeper, Henri Nouwen’s words have resonated–God desiring to bring the divided human race to a new unity (transcending divides in Jesus’ body)… That’s where I’ve settled for now… But I see narrowing that down a little more in the future.