It occurred to me, after writing last week’s article on blogging and other marketing tools all authors should use, that in order to effectively use those strategies one must first have something to say that goes beyond the book itself. I also realized that branding and platform building are just as challenging to talk about in meaningful terms as they are to do. I suspect this is because we are moving the focus beyond the subject matter of the work to a much more personal topic–you, the author.
What is an Author Identity?
I have to say that writing and talking about myself is still one of the most uncomfortable things I am ever asked to do–kind of like pulling my own teeth. It is hard to talk about yourself, even harder to decide what to say. But, in essence, this is what platform building or author branding or positioning is — creating a reputation for yourself as an authority in, or credible spokesperson for, your work.
To put it as simply as I can, an author identity is a composite of skills, achievements, expertise, and personal traits that you already posses that are somehow brought to bear on your writing life. Let me offer myself as an example.
Just who am I, Anyway?
In the beginning, I couldn’t bring myself to talk about myself as a writer. In those days, while I was quietly drafting my first novel, I was earning my living as a marketing consultant and publicist for self-published authors, small press publishers, and some minor public personalities. It was much easier to talk about my clients and what they were doing than it was to talk about myself. But, I needed to build my business, and to do that, I had to find a way to position myself.
On a whim, I attended a workshop at a writers conference on professional networking by Frederick Levy, a film industry expert who had written a book on the business for screenwriters. Frederick talked a lot about the importance of relationship building, and having a clear and memorable way of talking about yourself. As an exercise, he asked everyone in the class to come up with a tag line–a one line modifier that someone might remember long after they had forgotten our name. Wow, that was hard. At the time, I was working as a publicist for a couple of actors. I lived in Seattle, and they were living and working in Los Angeles. I came up with the tag line “a Hollywood publicist in Seattle“. It seemed corny to me at the time, but it was the best I could do. Frederick though it was creative and original, and when I later contacted him on behalf of a client, he rememberd who I was–and took my call. As it turned out, that tag line worked magic for me for many years. But then I realized it was time to take myself seriously as a writer.
The Writer’s Resume
When I set out to define how I wanted to be perceived as an author, I did what I had been advising my clients to do–I began with my resume. A lot of what was on that resume had nothing to do with my writing credentials or my area of interest. I tossed all of that stuff aside and honed in on the back story of my life that had a direct impact on my creative process. It wasn‘t much, but it was a start:
*I have a degree in Journalism
*I minored in medieval history
*I have invested years to the extensive study of ancient civilizations, mythology, and folklore.
*I am a published poet and journalist
*I worked for over two decades in advertising, marketing & publicity — the last ten years as consultant, speaker and instructor in the book trade
This is an over-simplified list of line items from my background, but each of these experiences directly inform who I am as a novelist- as an authority in my genre (I write fantasy and alternative history), as a trained writer, and as a book marketing expert. My creative and professional background gave me a voice and something to say, beyond my book. After all, I wasn’t a published author yet. But that didn’t mean I didn’t have something of value to share.
With this information as a starting point, I eventually developed a way of thinking and talking about myself as a writer. I worked on a writer’s resume and a short bio. At first, I only ‘wore’ this persona at writers conferences and trade events. Eventually I realized it was time to practice what I preached to my clients, and bring that secret identity out of the closet. It’s a pretty comfortable fit now, but it took some time. I began as many of you have or will, blogging about what I know. Case in point, my posts on author marketing. I also write about mythology, history, writing craft, and the business of writing. It’s all relevant to my author identity. One day, hopefully very soon, I’ll have books to promote. But until then, I have plenty to talk about.
Taking Center Stage
So, just who are you? Have you tried to craft a writer resume yet? If you haven’t, I suggest you put it at the top of your to-do list. Start with an old resume, one you’ve used or are currently using in the world of your day job or profession. Does that day job or career relate to your writing? In what ways? What else have you done to further your creative dreams–classes, contests, degrees, certifications, conferences, areas of study? Are you an expert on something, or a collector? Don’t forget to personalize your public persona–do you have hobbies or interests that others would find interesting? Do you have a special charity you support? Once you start pulling together a list of pertinent and interesting factoids about yourself, your author identity will begin to emerge. Before you know it, you’ll be thinking and talking about yourself in a new way.
If you’re still not sure what an author identity is, I highly recommend looking at the websites and blogs of your favorite authors and/or bestsellers in your genre. Think about writers like John Nance (a former pilot and aviation expert who writes about terrorism, air disasters and espionage), or John Grisham (lawyer who writes legal thrillers) and how who they were in their former lives helped define who they became in their writing careers.
Remember, it’s never too early to start. Begin by sorting out how you want the world to see you, and discovering what you have to say–and then say it. Start tweeting and blogging, and don’t forget to set up that Facebook Fan Page. And for help with blogging, which is the most effective of the three basic marketing tools every writer should be using, take a look at Anne R. Allen’s articles on blogging for beginners — How to Blog and How Not to Blog .