Every January 1st, people make New Year’s resolutions. They commit to making changes: positive changes. Some want to lose weight, exercise more, travel. Others hope to change careers or go back to school. And though I didn’t really make resolutions about my personal life (or rather, none I’m willing to share) I do have to make one big one in my writing life.
For years, the word many authors feared was ‘platform’. We were told we had to have one, had to build one, had to maintain it constantly – even if we weren’t quite sure what it was. Now I rarely hear that kind of advice given with the urgency I heard in 2011.
Now the word many authors fear is ‘brand’.
Well, maybe not many, but this one sure does.
I was pretty clear on my brand – though I never used that word – when I started writing. I was writing about an unusual topic: grieving the death of a friend. So unusual that my first Google search of the top 100 responses yielded more sites for grieving the death of a pet than a human friend. I set out to raise awareness of a kind of grief that is often dismissed and disrespected.
After seven years – starting two years before my first book came out – I think I’ve done pretty well. I became a bit of an authority on a type of grief that wasn’t widely respected. I knew who I was. My readers knew who I was. They knew what to expect.
My next book is not about grief (though it is a necessary component). Like fiction writers who hop between different genres, I now find myself wearing two hats: I write about grief and friendship but I also write about HIV/AIDS and the straight women in the community. There’s a little overlap. But it’s still two different topics.
That means, as I’ve been told time and again, my books are not my brand.
I am my brand.
Well, let me tell you, that’s a frightening proposition. What I fear more than the word ‘brand’ is the realization that I am my brand. That means I can’t hide behind my books, as many authors at least try to do. And I’m someone who hates having their picture taken!
So, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought the past couple of months. It feels a bit like an existential, midlife crisis. But it’s also a great exercise. It has forced me to look back and forward: to consider how I got where I am today and where I want to go. Some parts of that came easily. Some are a challenge.
The good thing is I don’t have to do this alone. I have colleagues and publishing gurus I can consult. My readers will help, too, because their feedback has always guided me. I will say this: don’t expect an announcement, a blog post with the headline “This Is The New Me!” That’s not going to happen. There will be changes here on my blog, on my website, in my writing. You may not even notice them at first, but they’ll be there.
If you’re a writer trying to define your brand, here are some articles that may help you find clarity: