Building a Personal Brand 101 : For Writers

Building a web presence came up last month during my writers group meeting and I’m going to be leading the talk this month about getting online and building your personal brand. So this post is for my writer’s group (hey guys!) and anyone else who might find this info helpful.

I’ve been managing my own sites and building a web presence in different niches for eleven years now, so I know a little. 😉

Your Personal Brand

You are not your book or your series. You bring your unique perspective and life experience to all your work. Fans who love one of your books will seek out your other work and love it because of the flavor you bring to the story. No one else can write your stories the way you write them.

If you plan to sell your work to publishers or readers, you’re running a business. Your name (or pen name) is your personal brand. Your stories are your products. If you aren’t already thinking this way, it’s a good idea to start.

It makes it easier to invest in your craft and the quality of your products when you think of them as such. And thinking of yourself as a personal brand makes it easier to know how to present yourself on your blog and on social media sites.

Your Brand’s Look and Feel

A screenshot of my site. Ft. Lego Bob Ross.

A screenshot of my site. Ft. Lego Bob Ross.

You are a professional. Try to find a photograph that looks nice or pay to have some headshots taken. Some writers just cut family members out of photos and use them all over the place, but I don’t think it looks very professional.

Use the same images consistently. I’m bad at this. I change my pictures around too often. People are going to get used to seeing an image of you on your blog and social media and you want to keep that image consistent so they can start to remember who you are and associate a face with your name.

Take time to make your website look nice. Ask for opinions. If your website and graphics look amateur, it may make a reader think twice about picking up your books. (Says the girl with Lego Bob Ross on blog posts.)

Setting up your website

This section will be basic, because a lot of people don’t know the basics.

We’re making a website.

I know some of you aren't tech savvy. Breathe. You can do this!

Just Breathe.

I know some of you aren’t very tech savvy. Breathe. There’s no need to panic. 😉

Static sites used to be the norm. I own some and they are a pain to code. I’d rather be writing and I have a feeling you would too. But you don’t need to hire anyone at this stage. You can set up a blog yourself, which makes it easy to write new content and publish it.

You are reading this post on a WordPress blog right now. There are two ways to make a WordPress blog. You can go to WordPress.com and get a free blog. This may be easier for a beginner, but a free blog has ads (not very professional) and if you pay to upgrade, you will still not be able to easily do something like add a shopping cart to sell your own work.

I’m really not a fan of the free option for professionals. That goes for free livejournals and blogspot accounts, too. It’s better to have complete control over your site.

I believe that if you want to do this in a professional manner, you need to take a little extra time to learn what you need to learn. Learning this is an investment in your career. For the foreseeable future, you’ll need an online presence. I think it’s a better long-term investment to buy your domain name, pay for hosting service, and learn to install a WordPress blog.

(Here is an infographic comparing free WordPress.com to a self-hosted blog.)

Domain Name and Hosting

My domain name is autumnkalquist.com. There are many places to buy a domain name. If you can get your name or pen name, that’s the best choice.

You host your blog with a hosting service. Simply explained, you pay them a fee and they keep all your blog’s files on their servers and send the content to readers when they show up at your site.

I use Bluehost to buy my domain names and for my hosting. I own a decent number of domains, but I pay one monthly hosting fee, which is nice. There are other hosting companies, but I did my research and chose this one.

Once you purchase your domain, use a tutorial like this Bluehost tutorial video to help you install your wordpress blog. It’s seriously easy. I promise. After that, you can use tutorials to help you customize how your blog looks and learn how to easily write and publish new posts.

What should I blog about?

Hmmm.

Hmmm.

Please don’t blog about the craft of writing.  Tons of writers blog about the craft (like Chuck Wendig, but he’s superamazing.)

Your fans may be interested in your next book, but I don’t think most of them really care how to add tension to a scene or how to write in close 3rd.  You should think about the themes in your stories, and think about who you are and how that shows up in your work. That’s the stuff you write about. If what you says resonates with readers, they’ll be more likely to check out your fiction.

I had cancer. That influences how I see the world and what I now value.  I pursued a singing career after high school and now I’m recording soundtracks to my books.  I write characters who have passion and an inner drive to improve, who are brave, who follow their bliss,  despite self-doubt, and who question the things their cultures tell them to believe.  I’m a sci-fi and fantasy fangirl, so I make references to those things and have fun with geeky gifs on my site.

Understanding what drives me helps me to know what to blog about and helps me make sure I’m writing stories that truly matter to me. (Knowing what matters to me also helps a lot during revisions!)

Save yourself time and just read it.

Save yourself time and just read it.

Rise Against the Machines by Kristen Lamb will teach you how to figure out what your personal brand IS, what to blog about, and how to use social media in a meaningful way (vs. a spammy way, where you just talk about your book all the time.) Buy it. Seriously. I’ve read many books on personal branding and business and this one is most concise way to learn everything you need to know to get started on your web presence. Just do it.

Also, make sure you have sections about you and your work and how people can contact you.

Social Media: Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook

I’m on all of these. Sign up for an account on each and make sure your name is the same across platforms. Again, read Rise Against the Machines for more on how to act in a non-annoying fashion on social media. Don’t try to copy what other writers are doing. Many of them are doing it wrong, spamming their followers all day long. It won’t help you sell books.

Newsletters!

aweber-vs-mailchimpYou need a mailing list.

Mailchimp and Aweber are the two most popular mailing list companies. I use Aweber and have for three years. I’m glad I started with them, though I have to pay a fee each month. They let you do more than Mailchimp does and they have a higher delivery rate (your mail won’t end up in someone’s spam.)

You should be asking people to sign up for your mailing list in the back of your books and on your site. The people who sign up will be people who genuinely want to know when you release new books. You want to have these people on a list, so you can easily connect with them. Building a group of followers on Twitter or “likes” on facebook isn’t as powerful. You’re building your audience on someone else’s platform.

When people read a book by you and don’t find a new way to connect, they may drift away and never buy another book from you. You want to encourage them to connect with you.  There are different ways to encourage e-mail sign-ups. Giving away something free is one way. I’m currently offering a free MP3 of my song “Artificial Gravity” from Episode 1 of my Legacy Code series. I will give other freebies to my subscribers in the future.

For other helpful books and resources, check out my For Writers page.

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