Setting and Straying from your Brand

BrandBranding is even more about defining the essence of a writer than it is defining the niche or genre. We all leave an imprint on others—some of us do this in a strategic way while others leave a message without meaning to. So why not be intentional?

How is it some can write different types of books and be consistent to their brand and others seem to be disloyal to their readers by branching out? It all depends on voice. Does the voice match the brand?

For example: Liz Curtis Higgs. I once talked with her at the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) and told her, “I use you as an example in my marketing classes. When I teach branding, I explain that writers don’t have to declare a niche but they have to be true to their writing essence. Even though you write fiction, nonfiction, Bible Studies, humor and children’s books, your voice is consistent in each work. I see and hear Liz Curtis Higgs in every piece I read by you. You have no idea what a relief that is to writers who are so confused by the industry push to get branded into just one little box.” We had a good discussion about this topic. Then I told her, “When you are true to your voice, that’s the best brand of all, because it’s the imprint God wants you to leave.”

But then there’s John Grisham. His readers expect legal suspense. And he’s good at it. Made his money with this point of view. Any time he veers from this identity, some of his loyal readers feel betrayed. They don’t get what they are looking for in between the covers. They find a confused voice. Others have loved it. Is it worth it to take the risk? He can get away with it because if only 25% of his loyal readers buy his books when he strays from his brand, that’s still a big seller, but can a regular writer afford to only sell 25% of their normal book sales if they depart from their brand?

My advice to writers setting up a brand is to create a think tank or wisdom team and conduct a survey. Make sure it’s a variety of people who know you well (in the publishing industry, in ministry, from your target audience, family and friends). Ask them to give you some key words that best describe your essence (as a person, in your writing, in your speaking, in your ministry, etc.). Pay attention to the words that pop up on several lists. Try to capture those descriptors in your brand, and also make sure it has a “deliverable” quality to it. Those paying attention to your brand have a WII-FM mentality (What’s In It For Me).

For me, the words “light” and “shine” kept popping up. So I created my taglines and brand around that impression. This way, people know my voice, and know what I bring to the table when they connect with me.

Brand combines voice, style, audience, content, tagline, logo, style, colors, and more. It’s that overall impression you make (strategic) or leave (accidental).

The industry does want your brand—your voice—to speak to certain groups. It’s easier to sell to niche markets than to general markets. It’s better to categorize yourself as a certain type of writer, and then set yourself up as a go-to-writer in those genres or categories. Once you are established, and you think you can be true to your voice, then you can branch out. Let your brand be your filter so you know what projects are a good fit, and which ones to pass up.

What impression are you leaving?

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KathyWillisKathy Carlton Willis spins many plates as writer, speaker, editor, and platform coach. She writes and speaks with a balance of funny and faith—whimsy and wisdom. Kathy discusses the key issues that hold believers back and shines the light on their paths to freedom. Kathy’s passionate about helping audiences have lightbulb moments. All told, nearly a thousand of Kathy’s articles have been published online and in print publications. Speaker to Speaker: The Essential Speaker’s Companion (OakTara) and Grin with Grace (AMG) are set to release in 2014. She serves alongside her pastor husband, Russ Willis, in local church ministry.

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About Greg Johnson

I’m the president of WordServe Literary in Centennial, Colo. and founder and president of FaithHappenings.com. More importantly, I’m married to Becky, and together we share six adult children, and are grandparents to seven. In previous years, I've been a Campus Life leader (10 years), Breakaway magazine editor (5 years), author or coauthor of 21 books. But for the last 22 years, I've been a literary agent privileged to work with a great family of authors and staff trying to make a dent for the Kingdom.

8 thoughts on “Setting and Straying from your Brand

  1. Great advice. I consider Liz one of my writing heroes; I love that she does so many different things but keeps a consistent tone/voice through it, as you so deftly pointed out. Thanks!

  2. This is encouraging, Kathy–thank you for sharing it! I recognize that light shining from you, and it makes perfect sense to find out from a few trusted others what qualities come out consistently.

  3. I usually really like it when an author I like writes a different genre book. I love John Grisham’s legal thrillers, but Painted House, Calico Joe, Playing for Pizza and some of the others where he’s deviated from his norm’ are some of his best work.

    Likewise, I grew up reading Louis L’amour’s westerns, but my favorites were (and are) Last of the Breed, Fair Blows the Wind and others where he deviated from his norm’.

  4. Kathy, grateful that our paths crossed awhile back. You’ve certainly been a blessing to my journey as a writer. And I agree, the word “shine” and “light” do pop up when I think of you. I have another word for you – “reflection”! Keep shining His light, friend!

    • Karen, it’s great to “see” you here! Thanks for the “reflection” word. I like that one better than the others even because it means I’m reflecting God’s shine instead of my own. YAY! I know you’ve been fine-tuning your own brand. Wishing you all God’s best as you continue your writing journey.

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