Five tips for creating your author brand... and why you shouldn’t mention coffee and cats in your bio.
What is an author brand?
Whether you’re a novelist, a poet or a food blogger, if you’re sharing your work in the public domain, then – like it or not – you already have a brand.
Your brand – your name and how you present yourself – is what sets you apart from everyone else. It helps people categorise you and it helps them remember you. It’s important that your brand represents you and your work well.
Think about the following fictional social media avatars. What do they tell you about the author’s brand?
The first person comes across as a serious author – perhaps someone who writes non-fiction or literary fiction. The second person also seems like a serious author, but they’re probably not writing romance novels –– they’re more likely to be a fantasy or sci-fi writer. You can’t tell much about the third person other than that they can’t upload a photo properly. Don’t be that person!
In this article I’ll expand upon five tips for developing your author brand:
1. Conduct a self-audit
Before you develop your brand you need to do some background research – on yourself. Take some time to answer the following questions:
2. Write your story
Whether it’s your twitter bio or the author’s note that appears in a journal, your story helps your readers connect with you. You’ll need two different biographies of different lengths – your social media bio and your submission bio. Keep them on hand so that you can quickly and easily edit them as you need them.
Social media bio
This is the short teaser that you’ll use on social media such as twitter. Be specific and interesting – and don’t mention coffee or cats. No matter how much you love coffee and cats, no one wants to read another bio about them.
Bad: Scribe, cat lover, coffee addict.
Better: I’m a Dunedin-based author excited about gothic architecture, local history and combining photography with the written word.
When you submit work you’re often asked to submit a bio. Submission bios are generally written in the third person (though once you’ve changed it into first person, this is the bio that you might want to use on your website). This is your opportunity to go into more depth about your achievements and reveal something personal (but not ‘coffee and cat’ personal) to your readers. Keep it relevant and up-to-date.
Bad: Jemima Ted was born in Dunedin in 1972 and attended Dunedin Secondary School where she won the prize for fiction every year. She studied fiction at university and went on to write for magazines and publications before writing a novel. Jemima lives in a mid-century home with her cats Binky, Bompy and Bill. Jemima is a coffee connoisseur with a weak spot for a macchiato.
Better: Jemima Ted attended Otago University where she completed a degree in journalism and Master’s degree in creative writing with first class honours. Jemima wrote for the magazines Architecture Unlimited, Historical Observer and Photographic Weekly before self-publishing her first novel Sunken Seas, a story based on the 1889 ‘Lotus Flower’ shipwreck, which was accompanied by Jemima’s original photos.
3. Find your mission
Now it’s time to set some goals. First, define your mission by answering these questions:
Bad: I would like to make millions of dollars and appear as a guest on the Graham Norton show before I die.
Better: In the next five years I aim to publish two books: a collection of essays on Dunedin’s past and the novel Buttermilk, a fictionalised account of the fire that destroyed Dunedin’s first dairy farm.
4. Create your own personal style guide
Have a think about your written and your visual style. Go back to the four words you want your readers to associate with you. Whether you’re fun, whimsical, modern, cynical, obtuse, poetic, ordered, intellectual, biting, goofy or spooky, you want your written and visual style to reflect it.
If we go back to our social media avatars:
5. Get to know your audience
Think about who your target audience might be. Is it the newspaper editors who have the power to accept or decline your submissions. Women who read erotic fiction online? Tech-heads who love reading new product reviews?
Bad: I think everyone would probably be interested in my work.
Better: My work appeals to academics and people with an interest in New Zealand history. My audience reads specialist magazines and historical fiction.
Once you’ve defined who your audience is, you can start figuring out how to reach them. More on that in an upcoming post – Promoting your Author Brand.
If this post has been useful for you please let me know in the comments!
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.