• Branding the Aspiring Novelist

    by  • February 10, 2011 • Branding, Marketing, Writing

    Personal branding isn’t new; Fast Company made Tom Peters article a lead story more than ten years ago. Today, ‘the branding of you’ is helping people meet their personal goals. Yet, many shy away from personal branding. Why? Is it because they are afraid of appearing ego centric? More likely, they haven’t a clue how to brand themselves. Maybe I can help.

    Aspiring writers are poor souls trying to break into an industry that doesn’t want them – that’s a preposterous statement to those unassociated with the business of publishing. Suffice to say it makes sense that publishers would rather publish the next John Grisham legal thriller than take on an unknown. Is it any wonder literary agents shun the endless piles of queries and manuscripts from unpublished authors?

    One thing is certain — there won’t be a publishing industry a hundred years from now without new voices. The traditional publisher’s armor is full of abrasions. Mergers and acquisitions have done little to shore-up profits or strategic health. Young-adult paranormal author Amanda Hocking decided to take the route of digital self-publishing. USA Today reported that she sold 164,000 e-books in 2010. Her success should have been a wake up call to the old school. In a way it was; in March 2011, she signed her first conventional publishing contract for four books, at a price of two million dollars, with St. Marin’s Press.

    The fact that less than 1% of all newbie writers break through the traditional query slush pile is seemingly enough to motivate the rest of us to keep trying. There is more to getting an agent or publisher’s attention than superb writing and story-telling. Non-fiction writers require a ‘platform’, a means of marketing to an audience. A literary agent would look more favorably at a book on the workings of the human brain from a notable brain researcher than from John Bell. Although a platform isn’t mandatory in fiction, positioning the author as a brand can have immeasurable advantages.

    My positioning shtick is my background as a former CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Frankly, that doesn’t do much for my proficiency as a novelist. But as a unique ingredient to a human interest story about a retired grey-hair finding contentment in words, there’s a spark of intrigue.

    Figure out your point of differentiation. You don’t have to make yourself better than everyone else. All you have to do is find a word or phrase that establishes your particular niche. This might be in your background or the way you write or how you view the world. In the political arena, John McCain positioned himself as a ‘maverick’. That differentiation resonated with many. But McCain was already branded. To the public he was an American war hero. That branding could not compete with Obama, the ‘change-maker’. Other examples: Lady Gaga is the ‘over-the-top’ entertainer. Donald Trump was positioned as an ‘outsider’ who could drain the swamp. That’s what got him elected. I’ll stop there on that subject.

    Now it is over to you. Identify your differentiation and market your positioning with consistency in everything you do.


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    Formerlife: Jacobs Suchard CEO (Kraft, Nabob), Strategy Consultant. Afterlife: Palgrave Macmillan Author, Historical Novelist, Business Journalist

    3 Responses to Branding the Aspiring Novelist

    1. Stanislav Kasl Fritz
      February 18, 2011 at 8:39 pm

      >I enjoyed reading your article "The CEO afterlife," not the least because as a former Executive VP (much smaller company than your background) I often feel some of the outside looking in since the decision to retire at 41 and now that I am 50 feeling all the frustrations of the novelist trying to break in. It is much harder than the corporate world!

      In my frustration, I am starting a new publishing company (www.newlibri.com). I suppose this is partially as a technology executive, I think in startups and technology.

      I think that just as the music industry went through its changes, the publishing industry is also, but the issues are different. A band has live venues to get the viral word out, while the writer relies on brick and mortar book stores which struggle (ala Borders recent Chapter 11).

      Self publishing (which we also handle at NewLibri) is one route, but if 1% of slush pile submissions get accepted (and I think you are being generous) then the number of self published books that "make it" is several decimal points to the left!

      It is a new world out there and we (authors and a new breed of publishers) need to figure it out, shape it, carve our niche.

      Take care,

      Stanislav Fritz

    2. Brendan
      February 19, 2011 at 9:11 am

      >Hey John,

      Best of luck with your writing career! As a writer with a corporate sales background, the best advice I can offer is cold call, market and sell your work the same as you would any product.

      The first magazine article I ever had published internationally was based completely on a cold call, good timing, an open-minded editor, some excellent luck and salesmanship.

      I'd be happy to trade ideas with you if you're interested.

      -Brendan Munro
      Vancouver Observer – Money Section

    3. John
      October 14, 2011 at 9:07 am

      Thanks for the kind words, Lynna. I’ll do my best in the future but keep in mind, I’m pretty new at this. I didn’t start blogging until this year. Good luck with your own blog.