The Bullshit of Branding for Writers

There are no miracles in marketing. That’s especially true for writers. To draw attention to your work, in the parlance of so-called social media mavens, you need to have a brand and flaunt it shamelessly to the masses.

Access to social media, they say, is a great leveler. Writers can reach out across the great Worldwide Web and claim a brand and advertise themselves accordingly.

But there are two major impediments to this one-size-fits-all strategy. First, there’s the incessant noise of every other writer promoting his and her brand.

“Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused, and it is therefore become necessary to gain attention by magnificence of promises, and by eloquences sometimes sublime, and sometimes pathetic.”

So said Samuel Johnson in 1758. He could have been talking about Google Ad Words or banner ads online. Just as in the mid-18th century, standing out in the crowd as a writer today is a matter of luck or an investment of riches.

The second problem is with writers themselves. Contrary to popular perception, few of us are hucksters, willing to thump our chests and shout from the rooftops: “Read me! Read me!”

That’s what publishers are for. Writers write. Publishers print and promote the writer. Or they once did.

Yes, many famous writers are good at self-promotion. And one could argue, they are famous because they are relentless at the task. Johnson himself was a tireless self-promoter. But the very nature of writing for most of us is to shun the spotlight, to work in solitude, hoping against hope that the work will stand on its own.

Johnson once said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” Without becoming a recognizable brand, we’re told, financial success will elude the modern writer.

I respectfully disagree. Writers aren’t brands. If you think of yourself as such and your work is merely to promote the brand, you’re a sad case of a writer. This doesn’t mean you have to be a wallflower. If you’ve written something fine, tell people about it and use all the social tools you have at our fingertips. It would be foolish not to.

But don’t write to fulfill your brand. Don’t constrict yourself. Don’t hold yourself back. Take chances. Wander intellectually and emotionally into ideas and realms where brand has no meaning. Be bold. Ignore the advice of hucksters. Define your own success. Above all: just write.

© Mark Everett Hall 2011

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4 thoughts on “The Bullshit of Branding for Writers

  1. Writers needing to do their own promotion is a sad by-product of the publishing industry. The industry isn’t failing, per se, but in America at least it’s overwhelmed by competition, poor submissions (due to social ills: lower standards of education, more desire to be a “superstar”, less ability / desire to do research or adhere to guidelines), rising costs of traditional publication, and a public that is more likely to read Cracked articles for five hours a day than the latest Great American Novel.

    So publishers are not as interested, or as able, to do the promotion for the author – no matter how much faith they have in the writer’s book.

    This “branding” nonsense is.. well, nonsense. It’s in a writer’s best interest to promote their book, if they believe in it, but not all writers have the desire to become social media mavens or professional marketers – nor should they. It’s part of the creative professional’s mystique to be self-deprecating, or at the very least, self-monitoring and somewhat leery of conformism.

    I think writers should promote their books to the local area, to their friends, to their families, to their colleagues – and then wait and see what happens for a while. If it takes off and gathers speed on its own, excellent. If not, well, maybe this isn’t the best book they could write. Maybe the next one will do better.

    Maybe not all authors SHOULD shout their own praises from the social media megaphones. Maybe the best books will be carried along by word of mouth, slowly, and the success enjoyed by the author will not be a financial one, but a lifelong stream of love letters from far-away strangers who have read his words and recognized a kindred spirit.

    That, to me, is the reason to write – sending messages out into the world for those as-yet-unknown friends.

  2. A writer’s voice is his brand. His themes, his genre, his name. Those are his brands.

    A writer’s brand is organic. Elmore Leonard. Ernest Hemingway. Raymond Chandler. Cormac McCarthy. Nora Roberts. JK Rowling. Joan Didion.

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