Can you describe the concept of branding?
Branding is a marketing term. It means that to be effective to consumers, you need to have some sort of consistency for them to keep coming back and purchasing the product you are offering. In our case as authors, this branding is about who we are and what we write. Here are some examples:
I’m a free spirit, so this branding thing has bugged me for years. Plus, I write both fiction and nonfiction, so that clouds things a bit. But now in the building years of my ministry, I’m coming to understand its importance not simply for those who buy my books, but for me as a person. Looking through my life, finding how God uniquely wired me, has been a huge blessing to me. Below is an article I wrote about my journey. While it doesn’t answer every branding question you have, it will highlight a few key points. Feel free to ask more questions in the comment section.
The thing I wish I would’ve thought through when I signed my first contract was to think through who I was and what I wanted to be. (I was just too thrilled to sign that contract to think ahead or be strategic. For all I knew, it was a fluke and I’d never write for publication again!)
I wish I would’ve grappled with a mission statement way back when. Now I’m going backwards, trying to mine who I am from what I’ve already written, searching for common themes, different messages. It’s been really hard to do in retrospect (but a valuable exercise).
If I could pull aside a new writer today, I’d say, “Think it through. What do you really want to write? What are you uniquely gifted to do in the writing arena? What are your strengths? What is your life message?” Answering those questions now will help you develop a brand, a tag line, a direction, a laser-like clarity about what it is God is calling you to.
A writer asked me this:
I know that’s what publishers and agents want from writers — but it sounds like you’re saying it is valuable to you as well (the one thing, common message). I’m curious where you are in figuring this out for yourself.
Answer: Last summer I started working with Rob Eager of Wildfire Marketing. I initially believed having Rob mentor me would be simply about boosting sales and building my speaking ministry. But the cool thing is that God is moving in my heart. Going back to the deepest part of me and figuring out who I am has given me so much. I feel as if God is honing me through the process. It’s never easy to grapple with what your life message is, but it’s such a valuable personal experience, beyond what it may do to help with sales.
I am getting closer to a tag line, a “brand” if you will. It’s taken weeks and weeks of thinking, talking to my husband, asking friends for feedback. I joked that it’s been easier for me to write 80,000 words than it has been to write 7 words in a tag line. But I wouldn’t trade the journey for anything. (Note from Mary: This has now come to fruition. My tagline reads LIVE UNCAGED.)
The writer continued: I’d love to have you pull me aside if you’re serious. It would be helpful as I wrestle with these answers myself to bounce them off someone. You don’t know me, of course. But I am a serious writer trying to figure out what to take on (several commercial projects always on the hook) and what to say no to so I can have more time to finish my novel and figure out how to make my non-fiction manuscript salable.
I wish I could pull you aside, but unfortunately with this marketing stuff, working on books, and being a wife and mommy and business woman (ah, yes, this writing is a business), I just don’t have the time to spare. I’m having to turn down folks who need endorsements just so I have enough time to get the important things done. However, I will say your best allies are your writing friends and those who know you best. I’d send an email that says something like:
Dear friend, I am learning to be strategic as I flesh out my writing career. I want to isolate what I believe is my life message, but I need your help. When you think of me, what words come to mind? What has God uniquely gifted me to do? To communicate? When someone finishes something I’ve written, what do they get from it? How do I specifically benefit my audiences? Thanks for your time….
There is no easy way to go through this. It takes time. It takes a lot of interaction with those who know you well. It takes journalling, thinking, praying. But I believe God will show you what you’re all about. He’ll show you how He’s uniquely gifted you. He’ll spotlight your strengths. I know part of this exercise may sound selfish. I thought so on the surface of it. But going through it, learning who I am in light of what God has done, has been one of the biggest blessings of my life. Why? Because I’m tracing the faithfulness of God through my life, finding His redemptive thread through it all. It’s humbling. And beautiful.
The writer finishes with: I am still refusing to zero in at this point — but it sounds like you wish you would have earlier. How could you have done that, though without going through the process which brought you to this point?
When I signed my first book contract, I wasn’t thinking strategically. I didn’t know if I’d ever sign another contract. I was just tickled someone wanted to publish me. I really do wish I’d thought about who I was, what my message was, and what I wanted to be known for earlier in my career. It would’ve helped me have better direction. I tend to be this crazy, idea-producing machine, flitting hither and yon with all sorts of schemes. Knowing my life message then, or at least a good idea of what it was, would’ve helped me not be so willy-nilly.
I will say that going through the hard work of finding out who I am is already garnering great benefit for me personally. I’m thinking more and more about how I come across to others, how selfish I’ve been. I want to know my message, the one God lays firmly on my heart, and translate it so it greatly benefits others.
I hope my response has been helpful. I do pray for all of you, that God would stir you deeply, show you His great message He wants to convey through you, and that He would deeply encourage you to walk with integrity before Him.