Personal Branding for Authors: Part II

Here’s what all the experts know about personal branding: Every author has a personal brand. Your personal brand is the sum total of everything that people think about you professionally – sort of like a reputation, only that instead of only focusing on your character and quality, it includes your story, what types of goods or services people expect you to sell, and anything else that describes you as a person. While a personal brand is impacted by people’s interactions with you as an author, you have the power to shape that personal brand through the information you reveal about yourself to others. Your products, what you say about your products, and how you portray yourself all contribute to your brand perceptions.

Here’s what the experts DON’T know about personal branding: according to the research I have done, there are actually two strategies for building a personal brand, with very different types of behaviors that authors would engage in for each. The next two weeks’ Savvy Saturday post will discuss these two strategies and their advantages and drawbacks. The two strategies in question are: building a person-focused personal brand, and building a (or a set of) product-focused personal brand(s).

Person-focused personal branding

The first type of personal branding, person-focused branding, is one that you may have seen before in webinars and blog posts. The goal of this type of brand is to focus on promoting an individual – what is unique and special about them – for the purpose of gaining a large number of followers or a large amount of notoriety. The reasons for doing this are twofold. First, celebrity status in itself is attractive to some people. By seeking to become a writing guru, or a well-known name in fantasy books, authors are seeking recognition, approval, respect, fame, glory, and all those other euphoric emotional states that validate them and their work.

Of course, this isn’t the only, or even the primary reason for seeking to create a strong person-focused brand. Many authors and other entrepreneurs view celebrity status as a way of actually opening doors for new opportunities, as well as increasing sales of all their current products. Think about it – if J.K. Rowling writes a new book, people will buy it and read it even if they typically hate the genre, because they love J.K. Rowling. If you’re a celebrity, then people will purposefully look to see if you’re selling anything, because they want to buy things that are associated with you. Seeking celebrity status, then, is a way of seeking increased financial success for all your products – even ones that have nothing to do with each other.

People who try to build a person-focused personal brand may share information about themselves with customers that has nothing to do with their products, and that even might cause controversy or alienate some potential customers. Think of your favorite (or least favorite) Twitter celebrities – the ones who are constantly giving updates about their clothing purchases, eating habits, funny exchanges they had with their families or friends, recipes they’ve found, causes they support, and so forth. Does any of that have anything to do with their field of expertise? Does it make their product of higher quality? Very rarely. Instead, by sharing things with customers or fans that are relevant to the celebrity’s general life, they are hoping that those fans or customers will think of the celebrity as a friend and thus be more willing to open their pocketbooks to help their friend out…or the celebrity might be keeping doors open for pursuing new opportunities down the road. For instance, an author who writes fiction might choose to also share about her difficult childhood in an inner city, with the hope that someday she might also write an autobiography, or be invited to be a motivational speaker. At the same time, by sharing about difficult childhood, the author may be inviting her customers to relate to her as a person, and to through that relatedness, come to value all the books she sells more highly.

Of course, problems with seeking celebrity are that the more you share, the more chances you have of over-sharing and turning people off. At the same time, people don’t really approve of people who are seeking fame for its own sake. Just like you can tell when others are trying too hard to become famous, other people can tell if you’re doing the same thing. Seeking celebrity for a good reason can be even more difficult – you have to convince people why you in particular are awesome and worth listening to as a person, separate from any particular product that you’re selling. For some authors, this is easy. For others, not so much.

Does building a person-based personal brand sound like something you’d be good at? Is it something that makes you shudder? Check back next week for the other main option: building a product-based personal brand that still incorporates who you are as a person, but is more focused on the products you’re actually selling.

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