Savvy Saturday – Personal Branding for Authors: Part I

One important part of being an author is developing what is called a “personal brand.” Very simply, a personal brand is the collection of associations that people bring to mind when they think about a given individual. An author might be “a funny homeschool mom with four kids who writes intelligent mysteries for grade-schoolers,” a “retired policeman who writes gritty thriller novels that draw on his experience in the force,” or simply a “thoughtful writer with a poetic voice and characters so real they could be your next door neighbors.”

Everyone seems to know that personal branding for authors is important. After all, people want to like a book if they’re going to spend hours reading it, and the surest way of knowing that you’re going to like a book is knowing what type of book an author writes. The type of book an author writes, in turn, will have to do with the type of person that they are.

But what people don’t know is how, exactly, authors should engage in personal branding. There are many bits of conflicting advice out there. Authors should tell people their life history. Authors should remain private and mysterious, letting their books speak for themselves. Authors should speak their mind about what they believe. Authors shouldn’t say anything that readers might find offensive. Should an author share pictures of their pets on social media? Should an author talk about his or her hobbies that aren’t writing-related? Should an author post pictures from his or her last vacation? No one seems to know.

As a Ph.D. student in marketing as well as an author, this is a question that I have been interested in for a long time. And while I don’t have the answers, my current research has started to at least map out the questions that can be asked – and start to piece together how authors can think about the ideas of personal branding. Over the next number of weeks, then, my Savvy Saturday blog posts will discuss what I’ve been finding out from authors (as well as other artisan-entrepreneurs, who are in the same boat!) about personal brands, the different motivations that people have for sharing personal information about themselves with their potential customers, the different types of personal information that people choose to share, and how these all relate to different types of success for entrepreneurs.

For those of you reading this blog who aren’t familiar with the way research works, here’s a caveat. I’ve done one study, with a non-random sample of entrepreneurs and a fairly low sample size. This means that while I believe that the qualitative results that I have found are likely accurate in general, I have no way of knowing that for sure, or even within a given margin of error. More importantly, the numbers that I’ll be talking about and statistical relationships between variables shouldn’t be taken as gospel truth for everyone. Just because on average sharing a specific type of personal information tends to be associated with higher entrepreneurial emotional satisfaction, for instance, doesn’t mean that if you start sharing that part of your life with your customers you’ll be happier. In addition, this research is a work in progress, so I will be sharing what results currently are, but they might be refined or tweaked or even completely redesigned in the future as I study the phenomenon of personal branding of authors and other entrepreneurs in more detail.

So with all of that legalese disclaimers, what DO I think is worth sharing about my research? Lots of things. No one before now has ever actually explored how authors and other entrepreneurs view personal branding in an objective, academic fashion, based on both the stories and real experiences of entrepreneurs and also based on statistical analysis of different types of branding actions and reported outcomes. It is my hope that the results of this study will give other authors a new, useful, organized way to think about personal branding, different types of personal branding actions that could be considered, and some examples and tendencies of how certain actions and thoughts have worked together for some other people in a similar situation.

As a teaser, here are the topics of personal branding that will be considered in the future:

Two strategies for personal branding: Are you going to try to become a celebrity, or just focus on selling a particular product?

Four motivations for sharing personal information: Authors might engage in any one of these four, but your motivations for sharing information typically will influence the types of information you share.

Types of personal information that are shared: People who share certain information also tend to share certain other information. Using statistics, I found five different categories of types of information that authors tend to share about themselves.

Outcomes of personal branding: How might strategies, motivations, and types of information relate to different entrepreneurial outcomes for authors?

This is exciting stuff – and it’s as cutting-edge as research gets. Whether you’re an author, a reader, or both, I hope it’s useful and interesting to you!

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