How to develop a personal brand as a writer
I come at this issue from two different sides of two different coins: as a 25-year veteran travel writer and as an Acquisitions Editor for a national print publisher and iPhone travel app company. Every day, in many ways, I massage my brand and am pitched by other writers who have (or have not) polished their image with varying degrees of efficacy.
1. Be clear, simple and consistent in your message.
Whether you are posting on Facebook, engaging with other bloggers, spreading snippets via Twitter (which I confess to not pursuing much), writing a guidebook or speaking informally to colleagues at a professional gathering, decide who you are and stick to the message. Are you a fun-loving raconteur with a lively nightlife? Are you a resort reviewer who knows the value of a $650 a night room at Amangiri? Both are fine, but it’s tough to convince the world that you do both well. I’ll probably hire both writers at some point, but these two hypothetical people are not right for the same job.
2. Narrow your scope of expertise.
Skimming the surface of many topics, while perhaps personally exciting, might brand you a dilettante in all those topics – which is fine if “dilettante” is your brand. I became an expert on Boston, New England and Cape Cod, and then I moved outward into regions I frequented and was passionate about: the Southwest, Hawaii and Florida. By spreading myself too thinly, though, I stopped having time to exploit my expertise in all those areas. By cutting back to a few areas, I created the space to pitch myself again.
3. Write a book and then parlay it.
Think of yourself as an entrepreneur rather than simply as a travel writer. It probably won’t pay well, but the book will brand you as an expert and provide a launching pad for better paying and (potentially) more prestigious work. You probably won’t be an expert before you write it (even though you will have to pitch yourself as one), but you will be afterwards. For about six months, you will be the expert on that topic. Exploit the heck out of that window of opportunity while it is open. It will open other doors and windows; keep leaping from one to another before they close.
4. Not every gig is a perfect fit.
The Universe abhors a vacuum, but don’t seize everything that falls into your lap. If you don’t leave time and space for the right project, it won’t appear. (I know, that’s a very “Northern California” concept, and you know what I mean because Northern California has a very strong brand.) Be like Northern California; be instantly known. There isn’t time for anything but an instant, strong impression.
5. Question yourself unrelentingly.
Who and what, professionally, are you? (Skip the metaphysical answers for this exercise.) Make and continually scrutinize a 12-month plan. Be patient and persistent. Assess which jobs are furthering your path and which are not.
6. Image matters.
Once you build it, guard your reputation. Of course I would say this: I’m also a photographer. But presentation matters: from design and font selection to paperweight and PDF headings; from associations with colleagues and organizations to your revolving weekly update on LinkedIn. It all matters; build it with care and attention. On Facebook, I belong to the Change This fan page but not The Soup. There’s nothing wrong with The Soup, but the signal it sends doesn’t fit my brand as a travel writer who works in new and social media.
7a. Don’t necessarily use every means of communication available.
Choose your weapon(s) wisely and push each to the hilt. Develop wide circles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media outlets. If you don’t have time to maintain them all, pick one or two. Post frequently to your own blog; keep your web site up to date with clippings, radio interviews and upcoming appearances. (Yes, this presumes you have those to begin with.) Build an author page on Amazon; get friends and colleagues to comment on your books and blog posts. Give them talking points to stay on message – your message.
7b. Don’t ignore low-tech methods.
Print and distribute thousands of postcards promoting your books and website(s). Wear out some proverbial shoe leather by going door-to-door – virtually or literally. Print a dramatic business card that clients will keep for one day instead of one hour.
8. Be passionate about what you do.
People will notice when you are passionate, when your ideas almost sell themselves. How many people have you talked to today who absolutely love what they’re doing? We remember the ones who do (and I hire them). I love what I do, and I prefer to work with like-minded people. It’s a privilege to say this and mean it. It takes some luck – and more work – to get to this place.
9. Ultimately, you must produce a superior product.
No amount of branding will render you immune to what’s important: you must be an exceptional writer who knows how to research, organize and communicate your thoughts, provide value to your editor and reader, deliver on time and be pleasant to work with.
10. Use All the Great Resources You Can.
Here are a few to get you started:
For more notes on how to make it as a travel writer, check 6 Tips for Making the Most of a Writers’ Group, Video Portrait of a Travel Writer, Do Freebies Undermine Honesty in Travel Writing?, How are Writing Conferences Relevant to Travel Writers?, and The Importance of Connecting with Travel Writing though History.
Other branding ideas? Comments? Give us a shout below.
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