Ask The Lit Coach: The Difference Between Brand and Platform and Why Every Author Needs Both

PLATFORM: All the ways in which you are visible to and communicate with your target audience. 

AUTHOR BRAND: An author's perceived image and identity.  

Rather than the typical Q&A we normally do on 'Ask the Lit Coach,' we're going to focus on THE two things, aside from actual talent, that will make you, the author, appealing to agents, editors, publishers, and most importantly, your readers - Platform and Brand. Whether you're considering the traditional route or indie route, you absolutely must have an author platform and an author brand to differentiate yourself from the masses staking their claim on the quickly crowding publishing landscape. 

Okay, so those of you who read the writer's magazines, who've read past issues of this column, who follow agents and editors on twitter must know by now that having some kind of author platform is important to your success in not only landing an agent, but earning a publishing contract and luring readers. Even if you plan to go indie, you have to have a buying audience. Basically, your platform is all the ways in which you're visible to your audience - all the channels in which you communicate with them. Let's break it down.

PLATFORM

VISIBILITY

If you're a novelist, people in publishing (PIP) want visibility. Who knows you and your work? Where can they find your work? Does your work regularly appear in a publication, online or in print? Blog? How about literary communities? Are you an active member in any national writing community? Do you enjoy any influence across the social medial channels? Who are some influential people in the community that follow you? Now, what's your reach? What are the numbers behind all those media venues - what's the circulation of the magazine you've published in or have a regular column with? How many hits a month does your blog get? How many people subscribe to your blog? How many Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc. Publishers LOVE good looking numbers. Substantial numbers = audience = book buyers. 

STREET CRED

Next, PIP would love to know your credentials. Do you have an MFA? From where? Who were some of your instructors? Did they comment on your work favorably? If you don't have an MFA, it's not a deal breaker - not in the least! It's an added bonus - especially if you happened to earn your MFA from one of the top 50 MFA programs in the country. 

AUDIENCE

This seems like an obvious point, but all the visibility in the world isn't going to do you much good if you're not reaching your target audience. For example, if you're writing Transgressive fiction, this is THE place you need to be. This is the community you need to be a part of. You need to be active in the writing contests, workshops, etc. If you're writing Romance, head over to RWA and do the same - immerse yourself in the community. Kid Lit, head straight to SCBWI. Mystery and thrillers? Try Mystery Writers of America or International Thriller Writers. Not only will you learn the essentials of your craft within the right genre organization for you, you'll learn a tremendous amount about your readers, what they're reading and how to reach them. 

Before you feel too overwhelmed, agents, editors and publishers are the first to recognize great fiction often comes from unknown writers. You don't HAVE to be this literary rock star to send a query to an agent. With fiction authors, the FIRST thing they want is really great writing. But I would urge you to at the very least seek and secure publication in other journals, mags, websites, blogs, etc. before you submit to PIP. It's good experience and you'll need to continue to publish work like this once you've signed your book contract anyway.

BRAND

Some of you cringe at the word BRAND while others don't think much about it - it is simply who you are. And that's exactly the right attitude to have about this piece of publishing marketing.

Your brand as a fiction writer should be nothing more than a natural, organic extension of who you are because THAT is the only way you should be writing - authentically.

Usually, it's nonfiction authors who approach publishing with a brand image they (and the marketing teams they hired) worked hard to create. Dr. Oz, Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, Suze Orman - if you know the names you probably had an instant reaction when you read them. You know how you feel about them. Branding expert Marty Neumeier defines brand as, "...a person's gut feeling about a product, service, or company." I would say the feeling is a reaction to the brand not the brand itself, but you get the point. So, what kind of emotional response do you want your readers to associate with your work? 

Let's look at some fiction authors. What's your emotional response to their work? How would you sum them up, even after just reading the first page?

  • Chuck Palahniuk
  • Walter Mosley
  • Sherman Alexie
  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • James Patterson
  • Nora Roberts
  • Dan Brown

As a reader, you know whether or not you're into the story and the way the author chose to tell it. And so, readers will have the same reaction to your work. What feeling do you want them to associate with your name?

You don't have to attend branding seminars to figure this out. Please, save your money. Your brand as a fiction writer should be nothing more than a natural, organic extension of who you are because THAT is the only way you should be writing - authentically. Don't try to be Palahniuk, Welsh, Clevenger or whoever is your favorite author. That corner's taken. Write like you. Leave your readers with an experience authentic to you. That's all.
 

How will platform and brand make a difference for you?

There is more being published today than ever before. Despite its recent challenges, publishing is big business and it appears everyone has a book to sell. So how will you stand out on that vast prairie of traditional and indie published authors? By being VISIBLE, INVOLVED, and most importantly, AUTHENTIC. 

I know this process isn't easy. It takes time. Well, quality always takes time, don't you think? 

That wraps things up this week, LitReactors. As always, thanks for your reads, shares and comments.

You've got work to do. 

Image of Putting Your Passion Into Print: Get Your Book Published Successfully! (Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write)
Author: Arielle Eckstut, David Sterry
Price:
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company (2005)
Binding: Paperback, 448 pages
Image of Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands
Author: Marty Neumeier
Price: $17.37
Publisher: New Riders (2006)
Binding: Paperback, 192 pages
Erin Reel

Column by Erin Reel

Erin Reel is a Los Angeles based publishing and editorial consultant, writing coach, columnist, blog host of The Lit Coach's Guide to The Writer's Life and outspoken advocate for writers. A former literary agent with nearly 10 years in the industry, Erin has worked with a wide array of writers worldwide. She has contributed to Making The Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye (Sands, Watson-Guptil, 2004); and Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents (Frishman & Spizman, Adams Media, 2005).

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Comments

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. June 11, 2012 - 7:02am

I've never even considered brand.  I've ony thought of brand in terms of a voice.  But you're right, I'll pick up a book and look for a certain voice (brand) of the author.  And if it's not there, I won't be as likely to finish the book.

I wonder what the 'howie brand' is?

Erin's picture
Erin from Omaha is reading manuscripts... June 11, 2012 - 7:36am

Thanks, Howie. You're right, your voice as a fiction writer is your brand. So, for those of you uncomfortable with the word 'brand,' think of it as voice. Does it stand out? Is it original? Is it uniquely yours?

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books June 11, 2012 - 9:06am

Look, look with your special eyes!

My brand!

 

 

Sorry.

.'s picture
. June 11, 2012 - 11:02am

It would be nice to have an MFA but I don't think writers could handle that kind of debt. 

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 11, 2012 - 5:42pm

Excellent column, Erin. Lots of great information. I always love hearing your thoughts.

I'm very familiar with both platform and brand, and have been working hard the past four years or so to develop both. What would you say is the SINGLE most important platform item of an author like myself, somebody who has published a few stories, a novel, with a growing FB, Twitter, and blog/forum following? Aside from landing an agent (which I've recently done) and securing a huge book deal with a major publisher (trying to do that right now) what can I do to improve my platform? Just keep doing what I'm doing?

Thanks,
Richard

Erin's picture
Erin from Omaha is reading manuscripts... June 11, 2012 - 6:11pm

@Jacks, well, writers do handle that kind of debt and then they pay it off...eventually. It's your choice. You certainly don't have to. I don't have one but I would love to go back to school to get an MFA in writing...in all my spare time. ( :

@Richard, thanks. I don't know what more you could do that you haven't already. Keep doing more of the same! Obviously, it's working. You're doing everything right, from the look of it. And congratulations on the agent...she was a great editor once upon a time.

 

 

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 11, 2012 - 8:31pm

@erin, thanks so much. means a lot.

@jacks - there are many MFA programs that have funding. the more funding, the harder they are to get in. but you can look into it. there are also low-res programs, so you aren't a student full-time, that's what i had to do, down at Murray State University in Murray, KY. 

oliviasander's picture
oliviasander August 9, 2014 - 12:01am

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