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The Importance of Protecting Your Author Brand

There have been some tough changes in publishing over the past year, changes felt by editors, agents and authors. How people handle these changes will differ from person to person. Some will pull up their big girl pants and see it as a new opportunity while others will find themselves struggling to get past the feelings of hurt and betrayal and figure out what’s next. None of these feelings are wrong and all are to be expected. As long as you keep them to yourself and a tight-knit circle of friends.

The struggle with social media is that we get comfortable and start to see our followers and friends as friends. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. As an author you are a small company. You have a brand you need to promote and protect and finding new buyers is dependent on how they perceive your brand. Everything you do is scrutinized and judged and impacts a potential new reader, or even a lifelong fan.

Protecting a brand is why Speedo dropped Ryan Lochte after the 2016 Olympic scandal and why Paula Deen lost her endorsement deal with Smithfield Foods after her scandal. Companies have a brand to protect and that brand speaks to consumers in a way that touches their morals and values as well as their pocketbooks. Whether we want to believe it or not.

An author has a similar brand to protect. If you write sweet, funny cozy mysteries you don’t want to seem like a bitter, angry, cursing sailor. Inspirational romance authors probably shouldn’t be posting nude photos and vegan cookbook authors probably shouldn’t be photographed eating steak. It makes consumers question your sincerity.

Sadly, authors don’t have a brand manager, but they do have agents and editors and they should consult them. I cringe when I see authors publicly complain about their situations, some going so far as to bash or criticize publishers and agents. Admittedly, I don’t think they always realize what they’re doing or how they come across. That being said, it is never a good idea to publicly complain, whine, or air personal information about contracts, your career, or your publisher’s plan. Coke is never (or should never) go public to complain about how buyers are buying more Pepsi and they lost a contract with a major fast food chain. Instead, they are going to sit down with their team (agent) and figure out how to fix it. Authors should do the same.

Consumers (readers) are fickle. There are a lot of choices out there to replace the author who has left a bad taste in their mouth or represents a brand they can’t trust. It might be hard, but if you write uplifting stories you need to be as uplifting as possible. Even on your worst days.

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12 comments

  1. In my opinion as a reader, expressing views or complaining as an author is such a slippery business. Indeed, I unfollowed authors (you probably know by now I do reading like other people do opiates so yes, I follow a number of authors) because their personal views on controversial matters shone through and I suddenly began to see the PERSON instead of the BRAND. Now, that’s bad and very dangerous. People identify with your writing; they INHABIT your stories when they read them, they internalize them, they read them with their own inner voice and make your stories THEIRS. That’s why they buy your stories. When you, the author, become a person, then you kick the reader out of the stories and inhabit them yourself. This is how I honestly feel about it. I’m also a writer, but I’ve been a reader for much longer, and felt the need to express my view as a reader here.

    1. This really hit me when I saw John Green answering questions from readers about what everything “meant.” His answers mostly boiled down to: It’s your story. If that interpretation resonates with you, then that’s what it is. The most he would say is: X or Y was the inspiration for a certain moment, or character. I’ve since noticed this reticence in more best-selling authors. A lot of their blogs and tumblrs actually have fan art, or fan comments, not their own thoughts.

      I realized that part of writer-me wants authorial control over what readers think and interpret, which was useful to realize, because I don’t think that’s a good thing! Like you wrote, my ideal is to be a story collaborator, both as a writer and reader. I’ve been actively monitoring this tendency to over control in my WIP, but it’s interesting to think about the connection you drew between our online presence and the readers’ ability to inhabit and collaborate.

    2. I really miss the days of no social media for that reason exactly. When I’m in a story I don’t want intrusive thoughts about how that author once had to clean up cat feces from the dining room table or whatever…. but unfortunately we’re in a time when authors are highly encouraged to ‘engage’ with their audience on a personal level, and even excoriated if they don’t. That’s why I like Elena Ferrante. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the reminder, Jessica. Sometimes it’s hard to keep emotions from overriding common sense, in so many different areas. Some of us need to keep in mind that not only might we lose some potential readers, but authors querying for agents might be a little disappointed when agents see them performing at less-than-professional levels…and that can impact a career even more than losing a few readers. Uh…I guess that applies to too-hasty blog comments, too…better go back and re-read this before I click on the

  3. I have a personal rule that says I shouldn’t post anything negative on Twitter. I try to keep it fun, positive, and engaging. In a medium such as Twitter, with a limited output, it’s too easy to find yourself down the rabbit hole of negativity. With the ability to block or mute people, it’s easy to curate content to see what you want. My feed includes sports, dogs, food, and some of the writing community. I find the negativity exhausting and choose to avoid it. Whining and complaining should be saved for discussions over beers with close friends – in person 🙂

  4. My husband says, “Never write anything (email, FB, twitter) you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper.”

  5. This is actually very good advice. The other thing I try to be mindful of is what my author friends post. This sounds picky, but I’ll say it anyway. My brand is sweet romance, and I always try and purchase covers that reflect that. If I get tons of feeds with bare chested men on my Facebook account, I don’t find it offensive, but my older friends who like sweet romances or inspirational are sometimes put off by this. Our brand is everything, and we need to be mindful of that.

  6. I agree and I would say that would go for any professional – even agents. I myself keep an eye on agent’s Twitter feeds. Constantly complaining? Maybe I don’t want to query that person, or send my friend to that person, or even work with that person when their client inevitably shows up in my inbox, as I’m a journalist. I’d say it goes for lawyers, doctors, teachers, anyone. I’m astonished at what people will put out there for everyone to see.

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