Writer, Brand Thyself: What’s in a Name?

I feel the need to post a disclaimer before I start this series, because so many writers around the ‘net express feelings of being overwhelmed with social media, and guilt for spending time socializing when they could be writing. The last thing I want to do is create any more guilt for people than they already have, or cause people to be overwhelmed by the wealth of options we have to use the internet to our advantage (and/or detriment). So please understand – this series is about the strategies that I am employing to build my personal brand, with the resources and time that I personally have available. You may or may not have the same resources/time, and it may be that you just don’t “click” with some of the things I’m doing – and that’s okay. I’m not just going to share what works for me – I’m also going to share what doesn’t work, and how I judge when it’s time to pull back or avoid certain things to keep myself sane. You need to make those decisions for yourself, and not feel guilty doing so. Feel free to speak up in the comments if something I do isn’t your cup of tea – because there’s probably someone else lurking out there who needs to hear that they aren’t the only one it doesn’t work for.

I started my foray into this whole brand-building business by deciding what name I wanted to eventually be published under. It sounds simple, but I really had to put a lot of thought into the subject. For one thing, I won’t be able to quit my day job at least for a while even when I do get published, so I had to decide whether I was okay with people I work with seeing my name on the cover of a steamy romance at the grocery store. This comes with other potential problems too – like will people at work think I’m writing instead of doing my job? Will the people at the top think it’s inappropriate to have an employee writing “those novels” in her spare time? Will the men in the company treat me differently if they know/find out I write romance novels? These are all the questions that swirled around in my head while I was trying to decide what name to write under. For fiction writers like myself, my platform – the thing that establishes me as a professional writer – will be the books I publish. And my name is what will tie them all together – it will brand them as something uniquely mine. My name is what could ultimately influence someone to pick up one of my books, when given the choice of a whole shelf full of them. A name can be that powerful – really. Think Nora Roberts. Danielle Steel. Stephen King. I don’t just think about a person when I see those names – I think about a body of work that the name encompasses. It’s far easier to build a name now with the internet than it was when they were starting out, and that much easier to make mistakes too.

Ultimately, I decided that owning my work, seeing my real name on my books was more important to me than the potential concerns in my work environment, and chose to use my real name for my romantic suspense. Other genres might raise similar questions to those I faced, or might pose no conflict at all. An elementary teacher writing kid lit or young adult novels may not have to worry about whether their genre will raise eyebrows. It’s definitely something to consider though, from as many angles as possible before going too far with a personal branding strategy.

I do plan to use a pseudonym (already picked out) for any erotica I might publish, specifically due to potential concerns in my personal and professional life. If/when I do that, I’ll build that name into a brand through the same venues I’m using for my real name. Many authors connect their pen names through a shared web site or blog, but I think I’d prefer that any pen names I use be kept strictly separate.

Why is it important to pick a name before building a brand? Simply put, I wouldn’t want to spend time and effort building my name into a brand only to switch everything later. Is it doable? Sure…nothing is set in stone. But I’m all about efficiency – and having to rebrand everything I’ve worked hard to build up isn’t the slightest bit appealing (and would take hours and hours of time). I recently changed my twitter username, and that was bad enough (I still forget to change it on blog comments, etc). Consistency is important, and far easier in the long run.

In order for people to recognize my name, I need to use the one I’m going to publish under everywhere. That’s a big part of what “branding” is all about – using one name consistently as many places as I can, so that when people see my book in the store or online, they stop and say, “Hey, where have I seen/heard/read that name before?” It could be the difference in whether my book is “just another book on the shelf” or if it’s worth a closer look, even if they don’t remember me specifically as a person. It’s the name recognition that counts. 

Have you decided what name(s) you want to be published under? If not, what’s holding you back? And how is your current WIP going (I’m going to be asking this every week – because that’s the whole point, right)?

Next week’s topic: Time Management