an_interview_with_maria_ross_How to Define your Audience and Boost your Brand as a Writer

How to Define your Audience and Boost your Brand as a Writer 

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It’s not only business owners who need to build a brand and promote themselves online nowadays –  writers, authors, editors and publishers do, too. Building a brand helps you figure out what you are all about and who you are talking to.

 A lot of writers do not feel comfortable with self-promotion and marketing.  But Maria Ross, speaker, author and founder of a marketing and branding consultancy, Red Slice, believes that:

“you owe it to the world to let them know what you are doing. It’s not about an ego trip, it’s about promoting your work in the world, making sure people hear your message and benefit from it.”

This week on the Mash blog we asked Maria to share some of the branding tips and insights that she speaks about in her book: Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget. (for writers, authors and publishers)

Edita Vitkute: Nowadays, the terms marketing, social media, PR and branding are all used somewhat interchangeably; however, they are all very different. Could you explain what branding is and how it differs?

Maria Ross: Branding is the core and the essence of your story and what you’re all about, and branding strategy answers the big questions of:

  • What is my value?
  • What do I offer?
  • Who am I talking to?
  • Who is my audience?
  • Why am I different?
  • How am I going to portray myself in the world?

And then you infuse that brand into the tactics that you’re engaging: social media, press, speaking engagements—all of those are tactics, and they are part of your marketing mix, but all of those things should be informed by your brand strategy. What you talk about on social media and how you portray yourself should be based on your brand strategy.

Edita: How much time, effort and budget should writers invest in branding themselves?

Maria: To invest in creating your brand strategy only takes your time of putting together the strategy. The thing that usually costs is building the things that communicate your brand strategy: website, logo, your copy, advertising. However, there are a lot of free things that you can do to create your brand and a lot of successful writers and businesses have done that without spending a lot of money. You can use resources that are online; you can use my book, “Branding Basics for Small Business”, which has a clear process; or you can find people who can do it for you on a small budget.

It’s about how much time are you going to spend answering those questions and putting your brand strategy into place. If you sat down and did it, it could be completed in a day. If you needed to do some additional research online or with different people, then maybe it would take you a couple of weeks. Also, you need to know the main platforms where your audience is and really embrace those ones instead of trying to be on all of them.

 Imagine that you are running your own magazine: what is my editorial calendar? What are things that I want to say? What does my audience care about? If you don’t have a content/editorial plan, it’s like throwing darts in the wind.

Edita: When creating a brand, you need to know who your audience is. How would you advise writers to define their ideal reader?

Maria: You have to sit down and create some character profiles. It doesn’t mean that only those types of character profile will read your work, but equally, if you are writing science fiction, “everybody” is not your audience: it’s a myth that everyone who reads a book is your audience. There’s clearly an audience that specifically craves sci-fi or detective or romance, so who are those people and what are the common threads among them?

Try creating a profile of “Richard” or “Susan” and ask questions like: How old are they? Where might they live? What are their interests? What might they be reading sci-fi for? What do they enjoy about it? What is their personality like?

It’s not that good to stereotype people but you can create a little stereotype of people who would read your genre of books. It will give you a clear target to shoot for instead of shooting into the wind. We’ve all come across reviews where people say “I’m not sure what genre this is” or “who is this book for?”, and that could certainly be avoided by doing this.

Edita: No matter how much writers love writing, they also need to live and make money from it. As a published author, what’s your advice on translating your brand as a writer into book sales?

Maria: Marketing and social media are amazing means of promoting your work but only if done in the right way. That is why you need brand strategy: to guide you on where you need to be marketing and what type of marketing you need to be doing. If you know who your audience is and where they are you can start looking for them and talking to them.

Make sure you do not market on all platforms: not everybody’s readers are on Pinterest, Facebook or Google+. Choose one or two platforms that you feel comfortable using and you know your audience is active on. Consider contributing articles to magazines or blogs that are popular and write about your genre, or create podcasts. Always make sure that all those communities are full of the people that you are trying to reach, otherwise the results might disappoint you.

Edita: In your book you talk about the importance of having a “killer elevator pitch”. What is it and should writers craft one as well?

Maria: I think you should have a quick description, or “elevator pitch”, of the kind of writer you are so that people can make sense of you and understand where you fit and what you write about. It’s like writing your query letter: you have to concisely explain what it is that you write about, who your audience is and why they should care. In screenwriting it’s called the logline.

If you cannot explain it yourself then people won’t be able to make sense of you and will probably choose another book and author.

Edita: With competition so fierce, every writer knows what it means to be rejected. How would you recommend dealing with rejection?

Maria: As someone who’s been rejected by a number of publishers and agents in the past, I can tell you that you cannot take it personally. I find it really hard, but your writing is not a good fit for everybody. It’s for a specific audience, and if that agent or publisher is not for you, they will never be able to market or sell your book. Knowing your audience well will help you target the right publishers and book buyers. If you don’t know it well and just take a blanket approach, that is where you are going to experience the rejection. Also, publishers and agents are running a business, and if your writing doesn’t fit with their businesses goals at that moment, they might not accept you; however, it doesn’t mean it’s bad writing.

If you know that your audience is there you might want to self-publish and reach your audience directly; there are a lot of examples of people who have done that very successfully.

Sometimes rejection can be useful as it gives you feedback that you can improve upon.

Edita: What little things do you do on a daily basis to build up your brand?

Maria: Luckily I have put a strong foundation down but every year I revisit my brand strategy. I’m in the process right now of revising my customer profiles and coming up with a content plan for moving forward. On a daily basis I check my social media for about 10–15 mins every day. Social media needs to be interactive; you cannot just set it on autopilot. Social media has to be social and you need to interact with your audience. One of the biggest mistakes some people make is that they rely too much on social media scheduling tools and they do not remember to get back and actually interact with people —this part can’t be automated.

I also use my calendar to make appointments with myself that are devoted to marketing and business development. If you do not schedule in your calendar, it will never get done. You can also do it for your writing, which is something I have recently started doing because I was so busy with other work that I wasn’t spending any “creation time”. That is your currency and you need to make sure you have time to do it. You have to discipline the muse sometimes.

Edita: For your company and brand, Red Slice, you use specific words like “juicy” and “elixir”. Would you advise writers to use specific language/attributes for their branding?

Maria: I think that with creating your personality, you need to think, what are your brand attributes? What feeling does it evoke? These are the things that are authentic to you and it’s helpful to have a personality that has a hook in it. I chose fruit imagery and language because I’m all about making it irresistible for the audience, and what’s more irresistible than a wonderfully juicy piece of fruit? That makes sense for me. For you it might be military/spy language, for example. Don’t force it too much because it will look unnatural but try to find language that reflects your writing and your personality.

Edita: Thank you, Maria, for your insights into brand strategy. Mashers, where are you in terms of branding? Have a great strategy? Or don’t know where to start? Why not share your thoughts here on your own and each other’s brand personalities?

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Edita is the Director of Social Media at Mash Stories. She is a trained linguist and an English teacher with a BA in English Philology.

She’s passionate about building a loving community and introducing new people to the world of Mash Stories.

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