So far in our series on personal branding for authors, we have talked about the basic framework of personal branding as found in my academic research and the first of two strategies that an author might have for personal branding. While some authors choose to try to build a person-focused personal brand, as I wrote about last week, many others choose to build a product-focused personal brand, or multiple personal brands of this sort. This is a type of personal branding that is done all the time, but that isn’t talked about a lot. So what is a product-focused personal brand and how does it work?
Why Would You NOT Want to Build a Person-Focused Brand?
Can you not want to be a celebrity for your own sake and still share your personal information to drive up the value and recognition of your products? Absolutely. The problem with building up a single person-focused personal brand is that single brand then is your platform for everything having to do with you. If you, for instance, write dark, edgy fiction but also love painting delicate unicorn sculptures and selling them, that might not make sense for your customers. We expect people who write things that are dark and edgy to have a more gritty lifestyle, and so the books that they write seem more real and valuable if their authors fit that mold. We expect people who love unicorns and painting to have more delicate, innocent sensibilities, and so it doesn’t make sense to us that they would also sell dark fiction. Trying to be connected as an entrepreneur to both of these products is therefore tricky. Some customers may not even give you a chance to sell them your dark fiction if they know that you don’t fit their stereotypes of “good” authors of this genre.
More relevantly to authors, if you write in two different genres that wouldn’t be appropriate markets for each other, you might not want to have your name connected to them both in the same way. It might be relevant to share that you are a homeschool mom with three kids if you write books for younger audiences, but that knowledge wouldn’t help readers if you’re trying to sell them an R-rated police thriller. In fact, your brand perceptions might seem incongruent and lead to individuals not wanting to purchase your books, and not even enjoying them as much as they read them. In my own case, I write both fantasy stories (as found here at phillipsfiction.com), but I also write academic research papers targeted to a completely different audience. My fantasy audience might think that my stories would be horribly boring if I let everyone know that I also write academic research articles, and my academic market might not take me and my research seriously if they think that I care more about fantasy worlds than the real one.
What’s the Solution?
For authors, the best solution to the different-genres/different-markets problem is that of using a pen-name. You don’t have to be secretive about it: I tend to write under the A.L. Phillips name for my fantasy and fiction, and under the A. Lynn Phillips name for my academic work. When I am advertising books and stories under the first label, I share information about myself that fits and corresponds with adding value to my fiction – I am the author of the published fantasy novel The Quest of the Unaligned, and my goal is to carry readers off into epic adventures in worlds that seem real, delighting them with new cultures that make sense, and thrilling them with stories that capture their imaginations. I share that I love J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, that I have been making up fantasy stories since I was a child, and that my writing is clean and appropriate, but engaging for adults. For my academic writing, I share very different personal information – my teaching and research interests, my academic publication record, and my skills at (boring to most people) methodology and statistical analysis. People who read about A.L. Phillips, and then read about A. Lynn Phillips might almost think that they’re different people. And that’s okay – it’s part of my branding strategy. By being more focused but limited in what I share about myself and my work in a particular context, I can build a brand image that makes sense in the minds of potential customers without turning them away.
Which of these two strategies resonate with you? Do you prefer to try to promote yourself as a whole person and hope that people who like you will buy your products? Or do you prefer to use specific parts of your background to promote a certain product or set of products?
Starting next week, we’ll get into the four different motivations identified in my research for why people share personal information about themselves in a personal brand. Stay tuned!