“Top Ten Tuesdays” — Please Welcome Judy Dunn of CatsEyeWriter.com

Welcome to our new feature, Top Ten Tuesdays, a series of guest blogs by winners of the “Top Ten Blogs for Writers” contest hosted at Writetodone.com

Your Blog as Stage: Building a Believable Author Brand

By Judy Dunn of CatsEyeWriter

When I teach blogging workshops to aspiring authors, eyes always glaze over when I get to the part about building an author brand. My students think of consumer brainwashing, of taglines and commercials— Coke (“refreshing”) and Apple (“Think different”).

“I don’t need a brand,” they say. “I’m not a ‘product.'”

Don’t confuse branding with advertising slogans.

Branding is simply the feeling you want your readers to experience when they see your name—the emotional connection you want them to feel with you as an author.

And a blog is a perfect stage upon which to build your author’s brand.

Your author brand is the character and your blog is the stage.

Like a character, your brand has a personality. It has a way of looking at the world. It behaves in a certain way.

Your brand is not the story, but your brand has a story to tell.

Your brand matters because it is how readers figure out who you are, what your message is and—ultimately—whether they want to buy your book.

Like well-crafted characters, good brands are:

Consistent- Did you ever read a book where a character did or said something that was so not who you thought they were that they became unbelievable? When your brand’s character shows up on your blog, who it is should not change.

Clear- Be sure you know what market niche you fill and how you are going to communicate that. Knowing your audience and your message helps you get clear with your brand.

Convincing- Share the character that is you the author—and you the person. It’s where readers get a sense of who you are and why they should care about you.

How to use your blog as a branding stage

1. Get the look right.

Your story’s character has an exterior and so does your author brand. On a blog, that would be what we first see when we land on the home page: the look.

But unlike a fiction character, who might mask her inside with an exterior that sends another message, your brand’s look should mesh with your story, message and content of your blog.

A good brand can be ruined by bad design.

Choose a style and tone that’s consistent with your brand. Even the font types you choose tell something about your author brand: playful? dramatic? quirky?

Consider your blog’s colors. They should not clash with your brand, whether you have identified it by genre, by audience or by something else. For example. a writer of stories of the old west would probably not use pastel colors on her blog.

While you’re at it, get rid of every sidebar widget that doesn’t relate to your blog’s focus. You may love the “Top 10 Songs by Decade” widget or the one that shows the daily rainfall in Belize but they just water down your brand—and confuse your readers.

2. Define your audience niche.

You may focus on a certain market (readers of historical fiction) a character in a series (think the TV detective show Monk),  a region (stories set in the deep south), or your own personality (“thriller novelist with a sense of the absurd”).

But the way you define your niche determines who your audience is—and what you will blog about. So nail down the thing that makes you different, and highlight that in your branding.

In other words, be clear.

One of my coaching clients, who is testing the book publishing waters with her blog, has branded herself as The Erma Bombeck of Grief. She blogs about the unexpected death of her husband and being shoved into single parenthood, but her posts are infused with humor. Sad subject. Interesting and unusual take on it.

And within ten seconds of landing on her blog, you get who she is, what her brand is and who her audience is.

3. Consider a tagline.

Movie trailers do this well.

Think of the taglines for the film The Fight Club: “Mischief. Mayhem. Soap.” Or Mission Impossible: “Expect the impossible.”

But unlike movie taglines—unless you are John Grisham and everyone on the planet knows you—your tagline should be specific enough to let your visitors know up front what they can expect to find on your blog.

Take Larry’s tagline here on Storyfix.com:

get it written. get it right. get it published.

When you land on his home page, you know right away what Larry the blogger is all about.

He gives his readers tips on how to manage the writing process and get the work done (get it written.). He teaches form and structure so your plot doesn’t fall apart (get it right.). And he helps you explore publishing options and find the right one for you (get it published.)

With those three bold statements, I get a sense of his brand: he is a no-nonsense guy and he’s not going to sugar-coat things.

4. Find and claim your blog’s voice.

Your brand has a voice. It can be elusive, but when you’ve finally claimed it, your branding is complete.

Your blogging voice should be congruent with what you write and how you write it. As people get interested in you, your blog and the things you write about, they are going to want more.

And where will they go? To the bookstore, of course, to read more of this author with the unique voice.

5. Show your real, three-dimensional self.

Your author brand should be convincing.

More than your newest book, more than your recent reviews (although these are important), your blog’s readers want a  ‘behind the velvet rope’ moment. They want to see who you are, what you are passionate about, what makes you tick.

They want to know—to be convinced—that this is the real you.

Let your readers in close. In addition to a compelling, authentic about page, consider a bio box of the sidebar of your home page with an engaging, brand-centric photo and a few sentences about who you are, what you write and the things you care about.

First-time visitors will appreciate this introduction-at-a-glance because they are deciding in scant seconds if they want to hang around. Help them out.

What about you?

Do you have an author blog?

Do you know what your author brand is?

Judy Dunn is a blogger and a content marketing specialist. She serves up tips and advice at CatsEyeWriter blog, one of 2011 Top 10 Blogs for Writers. She also blogs at bestbloggintipsonline.com. Her upcoming webinar is 30 Design & Content Secrets to Skyrocket Your Blog.


Filed under Guest Bloggers

28 Responses to “Top Ten Tuesdays” — Please Welcome Judy Dunn of CatsEyeWriter.com

  1. All the advice here is good. You’re trying to teach a concept that goes against the creative approach to art, but can be combined with consumer expectations of a business. Some will get that.

    My advice is you change the wording a bit. I consider authors need to become a value added aspect of their books. Authors are not a one-trick-pony but a myriad of stories and characters-in-process. However the author needs to understand they are writing to an audience. That audience had needs, goals, desires, according to themselves.

    When an author “gets” the audience connection to the work an author has created, the author becomes a whole lot happier with becoming a value-added aspect of the art they have created.

  2. Pingback: How To Use Your Writing Blog To Brand | Collective Inkwell

  3. Cathy Keaton

    Only earlier today–TODAY–I was racking my brain over what I’m going to do about an author blog, or some way to establish a platform, because I have none whatsoever. What do I blog about? What theme should it have to make it relevant to my genre of fiction? What do I care about so much that I’d blog about it for umpteen years to come?

    I really needed to read this brilliant and helpful post. Thank you so much, Judy! I watch your blog, too!

  4. Thank you for this post. I have been considering blogging again and this post makes the subject lucid. Keep up the great work, Larry, and keep adding more value to your blog as well!

  5. This is the perfect article for me to read today. I’m in the process of trying to learn my ‘brand’ of blogging and it has given me a good direction to start.

    Thank you! I’ll be following Judy!

  6. I’m a little concerned that we, as authors, might have too much “branding” going on.

    A writer’s blog seems unlikely to attract anyone but other writers. We can’t break out just selling our books to other writers.

    In my pre-writer era, I was a federal agent, married, and had young kids. I read a lot of Tom Clancy back then, but even had the Internet existed, I would not have bothered to read a blog by Tom Clancy, particularly if it was about writing. I was too busy with work and my family. All I wanted out of Mr. Clancy was a good story. I didn’t care how he wrote it. Structure, character development, pacing–these things meant nothing to me.

    Now that I am a full-time writer, those things mean everything to me, and they might mean something to someone with an interest in writing, but selling my latest novel to 50 or 60 of my closest writer friends is not going to get me on the bestseller list or garner me a six-figure advance.

    I think writers’ blogs also carry the risk of alienating potential readers when the writer/blogger strays from the topic of writing.

    A couple of years ago I saw Billy Joel speak at the National Press Club. He was supposed to give a lunch-time talk on celebrities and politics. But when he took to the podium, Mr. Joel said that since we live in a very polarized country, he saw no advantage to discussing politics because no matter what he said he was going to make half the audience mad. And that half would likely never buy another of his records.

    I think he was right. I have very strong political views, and knowing that about half of the country disagrees with me, there is no advantage in it for me to pontificate on my views because by doing so I will likely alienate a ton of potential book buyers.

    In my own book buying, I don’t need to know the personal philosophy of the author. If I did, and if I disagreed with it, I might not buy his or her book.

    In fact, I had a blog for a long time in which I bashed all of the stupidity I saw in the news and in popular culture, but I deleted the entire blog for the very reason stated above: I was not willing to offend half of the reading public.

    That leaves writers blogging about either the craft of writing (which is boring to the vast majority of book readers, who only want to read a good story) or about “safe,” non-offensive, thus non-opinioated, topics. And who wants to read that?

    So what does all this mean? I think writers spend too much time “branding” and “getting their names out there” and not enough time actually writing.

    Novelist E.L. Doctorow said, “The most important lesson I’ve learned is that planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.” (The New York Times, Oct. 20, 1985.)

    Just my two cents.

    Chuck Hustmyre

  7. Patrick Sullivan

    @Chuck: Branding only works on other writers if your branding efforts spend a ton of time talking ABOUT the writing, which is a bad way to lure in readers.

    Which is part of why I’ve been pondering which facet of who I am I would focus on for the blog to make it the most effective, otherwise it is a waste of time as we as writers need to target as wide an audience as makes sense for our books.

  8. @terripatrick: You bring up an interesting point. Authors do have many stories and many characters in them. So branding themselves may feel limiting. But, as a business (and selling books is a business), the advantage is developing that niche audience. The blog readers who love what you write will want more of it. And they will want to know what they can expect from you. People don’t always go to the bookstore looking for a specific title. They go looking for the latest John Grisham book because they want a satisfying legal thriller. Or a Stephen King book because they like horror. So, for authors, identifying and nurturing a specific audience becomes important. Thanks for adding value to the conversation here.

    @Cathy: You are on the right track thinking about those questions. For aspiring fiction authors, there are dozens of ways to go with a blog and lots of different kinds of posts they could write. But passion is key. You need your excitement to come through in your blogging and you need your readers to feel it.

    @E.J.: Thanks you for reading. It is truly and honor to write a guest post for such an awesome blog as Larry’s.

    @Selena: I am so glad that you took away something useful. It’s the best thing a blogger can hear. : )

  9. @Patrick,

    That’s pretty much my point. As a writer, once you veer off the writing-as-a-craft and how-to-get-published topics, what are you left with? Popular culture, current events, movie reviews?

    As Billy Joel said, no matter what you say (or in this case write), you’re going to make some people mad, and that is just not good business. And they don’t call it the writing BUSINESS for nothing:)

    I’m not anti-blogging, but it takes a couple of hours to conceive and write a good blog. You do that two or three times a week, you are diverting a lot of writing time to things other than writing.

    Notice that E.L. Doctorow made that comment in 1985, before there were blogs. Were he to say that same thing again, he might add, “Blogging is not writing.”

    Sometimes I think we writers look for any excuse to not write. (I’m doing it right now, while MS Word stands open on my desktop with my new novel screaming to be edited, yet here I am typing a monograph on writers not writing. I better get back to my book…)


  10. Patrick Sullivan

    @Chuck – In my case as a Fantasy writer I’d probably focus on stuff in the genre, which wouldn’t be that hard per se, but the flip side is how to do enough to keep people interested without spending too much time blogging and not enough writing 😉

    It heavily depends on your audience what makes sense to use as a primary topic/focus point of a blog.

  11. I believe that branding isn’t about creating a false, safe facade in order to lure as many readers as possible into a one-sale stand.

    I believe there’s nothing wrong with pissing people off if they aren’t your audience. There are some readers out there who think romance is for sub-literate morons, and happy endings are for fools. Not my audience.

    That said, I’m not actively attacking people who aren’t my audience, either, or looking to polarize my fan base. I’m a novelist, not a pundit. I don’t want my brand to be “that ranting woman who complains a lot.”

    I believe that brand is simply reader perception of you. It’s not something that can be controlled, per se. The only thing you can do is be consistent, be authentic, and choose what you’re going to emphasize.

    If you blow off reader emails or maniacally push your books on reader forums, the coolest website and tag line will not change the fact that most readers probably consider your “brand” to be one of a used-car-sales-styled douche.

    I think author blogs are an important tool in showing your potential readership your writing and your personality. I run two blogs: one for writers (rockyourwriting.com) and my author site, cathyyardley.com. My tagline for the first: “Sell a lot, without selling out.” My author tagline: “Geekgirl writer — Fun love stories.” There’s some overlap between the readership, but I don’t expect a huge portion of one to populate the other. They look similar, have a similar feel, but that’s because they’re both ME. I’m being as “me” as I can be, while still maintaining a healthy boundary and recognizing the purpose of the sites.

    Readers are friends. They’re not best friends. I think that means be honest, but don’t hand over the keys to your house.

    Sorry, this is running long, but author branding is a passionate subject for me. Thank you for this great post.

  12. Cuck,

    I was waiting for this one. : )

    In fact, I am so glad that you said what you did. (And what a long, thoughtful response to my post. Thanks for that.)

    So here we go:

    It depends on the goals of your blog, whether you write about the craft of writing or not. Larry does and it works well for him because he sells services and products—workshops and books—to writers.

    For ASPIRING authors, a blog helps you build both your platform (audience) and your brand (name recognition). I have read recently from agents and publishers that for an unknown (unpublished) writer, “no blog, no book.” Now that’s harsh, but it is in fact becoming a reality.

    They are unwilling to take a chance on a writer who has not developed a following, however small it might be.

    If you are an unpublished writer and going the self-publishing route, it is just as important (if not more so) to have started cultivating an audience. Because readers don’t just wake up with an urge to go online and order your book.

    On the Billy Joel thing, yeah. Talking about politics or gay marriage or any other hot button issue will divide your community, whether on your blog or Twitter or Facebook. And really, what does that even have to do with you as an author or your work? So I agree with you there.

    “I think writers spend too much time on ‘branding’ and ‘getting their name out there’ and not enough time actually writing.”

    You have hit on something important here. Writers write. Period. But ASPIRING authors would do well to keep in mind that cultivating an audience is key so they have some readers and buyers when their book does come out. It’s a balancing act that every blogger must deal with. I create curriculum for blogging webinars and I coach bloggers but my blog is my lifeline in terms of promoting my business. Authors need a way to promote their products, too!

    Some of my nonfiction author/clients use their blogs partly as “laboratories,” trying out ideas and getting reader feedback as they work on their books, There are just too many variables to say that there is any one right way.

    Wow, you really got me going here. The sign of an excellent reader comment!

    “A writer’s blog seems unlikel

  13. Cathy,

    Not sure you were addressing me, but I’d like to respond. You make some valid points here. And I agree with many of them. Brand is not about creating a false facade. And it IS okay to “piss people off.” I wrote a post recently titled, “Why Losing Blog Subscribers Is a Good Thing.” My premise being, why do you want people to hang around if they are not your audience, if they are not interested in you and what you write about, in your products and services. If they would never buy a thing from you. Losing the wrong people just opens the door for more of your right people.

    But your statement:

    “Brand is reader perception and not something that can be controlled”?

    It CAN be controlled. And you say in in your very next line:

    “be consistent, be authentic and CHOOSE what you are going to emphasize.”

    In a nutshell, that is what branding is.

    Thanks for leaving such a thoughtful, helpful comment. I’m loving the discussion this post is provoking. : )

  14. Sorry, I needed to be more clear. I think you can control your efforts and your message. What you can’t control is how your audience is going to take it. You can control you: you can’t control THEM.

    This is a great discussion!

  15. A.C. Nixon

    Great topic,

    Before I began my writing journey I frequented many of my favorite authors websites and blogs. The ones I enjoyed the most were those that parted the curtain so I could see the person behind the books. Perhaps I’m just weird, but I like seeing the real person , I felt more connected and invested in their books and their worlds.

    As a writer, I still enjoy it, but my interest is primarily on writing. In my opinion, the best blog has elements of both.

    Well, time for me to stop surfing the web, and start writing. Have a great day everyone.

  16. @Cathy Y.- I agree with you thee. Control your own message, but how readers will react? Out of your hands. (And that’s a good thing.) : )

    @A.C.- Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts here. And yes, the best blogs are am mix of razor-sharp content and personality. Now get back to work! : )

  17. As always, a wonderful article Judy! I love articles like this that offer a gentle reminder about building your brand–it gives me that extra nudge to make sure I’m going in the right direction. My blog is documenting the revival of my writing career, and I hope that it also becomes a safe haven for those who need a little inspirational boost for their own writing. It has helped hold me accountable with reaching my writing goals, after all, without doing so there would be no central theme for the blog, *snorts. I agree that connecting with your readers and “being yourself” is the best way to build your brand and stay passionate.

  18. I hear advice given to aspiring authors all the time–have a blog. YOU MUST have a blog and post regularly. You must let your readers know who you are…

    But being accessible to strangers via the “journal” format isn’t everyone’s strength. Letting others (or even yourself) know who you are by what you write about your life is a creative excercise many hide in their fiction–when they’re NOT talking about themselves.

    Great advice in this post!

    I strongly encourage all new bloggers wondering why they aren’t getting the traffic they want in their site hits or comments to rethink what they’re blogging about. Does it interest you? Or are you writing about what others think should interest you? Are you writing to reach your audience, or to make it easier for your readers to understand you and your world view?

    Share yourself, no matter how difficult that might seem in such a direct format. Give readers your view of your world and theirs, and they’ll find you!

  19. @Krissy,

    Sounds like your blog is similar to that of Ollin Morales (Courage 2 Create). He is writing about his journey as he tackles his first novel. And, yes, I think that kind of blog is just the kick in the pants a writer needs to keep her own momentum going, meeting deadlines, getting that ‘seat time.’ You’ve gone public with this so now you have to do it, right?


    I wouldn’t give the advice that EVERY aspiring author must have a blog. (Wow, that’s a lot of pressure.) But it’s working for lots of first-time authors. On the topic of what to blog about, I have heard some publishers and published authors say that your online presence (blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) doesn’t even have to focus on writing a book—that you just need to cultivate followers who would consider buying your book. Interesting thought.

  20. Very well said. When approaching topics and especially launching a blog I looked at things from a design stand point. Everything had to have a cohesive look and tone including the writing. I used a lot of posts like this to judge how the design should mesh with topic and voice.

  21. Thank you for this helpful post. I already have quite a strong, if dark ‘identity’, something I try to bring to my website/blog so visitors get a taste of me as a person/author. It is still a work in progress, but I like the challenge of trying to create a site that represents both me , and my writing.

  22. @PW: You are wise to be looking at brand consistency. And design definitely plays a part in that.

    @Julia: If a site brands an aspiring author by what they write in connection with the audience they are trying to attract, and also gives readers a sense of the author herself, I’d say that’s the best of both worlds. : )

  23. Great post! You gave me a lot to think about. I believe I do have an author brand/blog brand. My tagline is:Guidance for writers who struggle to get started. And that’s exactly what I offer.

    I’d like a better blog design thou. I need to work on that.

  24. Jennifer,

    So you work with start-up writers, then? Or people who need help defining the writing process, have time management issues, etc?

    You might be interested in a post I wrote recently for bestbloggingtipsonline.com. It’s all about the importance of one’s blog tagline. Lots of good discussion and sharing in the comments.


    Thanks for sharing here. : )

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