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The Art of Personal Branding as a Writer 

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What do you mean to your readers? How do you want to present yourself and your work to them? These are questions that confront many interested in personal branding. But how does a writer go about creating a brand?

“Brand isn’t about logo, or advertising, or any other aspect of marketing,” says Simon Middleton, a branding advisor, motivational speaker and business owner.

“Brand is about the creation of meaning. To succeed you have to mean something to people.”

simon-middleton-book-brand-new-youMiddleton discovered his interest in branding after a decade that began with losing his place at the University of East Anglia, wandering through several careers, and ending with the launch of a successful writing career. He consults as a Brand Strategy Guru and his knowledge has led to appearances on Newsnight, BBC Breakfast, Today, Bloomberg and CNN. He’s also written three books about branding strategies: Build a Brand in 30 DaysWhat You Need to Know about Marketing, and Brand New You.

Middleton recently published his first novel, Graveyard Kings (Everyday Life Amongst the Dead, Book 1) under the pseudonym S.R. Redfern. Graveyard Kings tells the story of Robyn, a young boy who, in need of a friend, finds two who are no longer living.

When he’s not consulting or writing, he’s keeping busy running a business, first Left Hand Bear, which sold musical instruments for left-handed musicians, and then Banjos Direct, a leading banjo retailer in the UK. He also sings and plays guitar in the band The Proposition.

Simon Middleton and Shackleton Banjo

Simon Middleton was kind enough to take some time and talk to Mash Stories about the art of personal branding. It turns out writers are in a great position, because building a brand is all about story.

Josh Flynn.: You went through several different jobs before you reached the moment when you realised branding was what you wanted to focus on. What initially fascinated you about branding that set you on the path to being a branding guru?

Simon Middleton: I spent many years in various different aspects of marketing, from PR to advertising copywriting, to being a creative director, but I began to become intrigued by the ‘strategy’ behind the creative ideas. In other words ‘why’ we were telling a story in a particular way. The more I read into the subject the more I realised that it’s all about telling a compelling story. And of course from there it’s a short step to understanding that brand narrative is really the only factor which can really make one product or business stand out from others.

Josh: What were the first lessons you learned about branding that others should contemplate as they begin creating a personal brand?

Simon: That brand is not about logo. It’s about creating an authentic, distinctive, compelling story. By compelling I mean a story which engages people’s emotions and imagination as well as their minds. All great ‘brands’, in whatever field, become great by making people feel something and by creating ‘meaning’. Another way of describing the art of branding is to describe it as the creation of meaning.

Josh: How does a writer start building a brand? What are the tools they need (or probably are already using)?

simon-middleton-books-build-a-brand-in-30-daysSimon: Writers are perfectly placed and equipped to create a personal brand, because they are storytellers. Yet so many writers don’t think they need to. They assume that their work will always speak for itself. But if that were the case then publishers wouldn’t need to spend money on book design and on marketing, and there would be no need for literary prizes, or book tours. The work (the writing) is of course the most important element, but that work may never get read unless the concept of brand is applied to it. My book, Build A Brand In 30 Days, would not have sold many copies if it had been called ‘A series of exercises in strategic branding for small business owners  who have no marketing education’. So the writer, just like the restaurateur or the fashion designer, needs to have an eye on their own story and what they want people to ‘feel’ about them.

Josh: For those who are maybe resistant to or uncomfortable with self-promotion, why should they embrace branding?

Simon: In every field of writing, it is harder and harder to get noticed, and indeed to get published. Don’t think of personal branding as being the same as self-promotion. It isn’t. It’s not about saying “look at me, I’m brilliant”. Instead it’s about creating a narrative which draws people to you. Think of Donna Tartt and her image as a refined intellectual with an air of precise thinking, slow writing, and some quality of mystery. Or of
J K Rowling and the long-standing story of her creation of Harry Potter whilst sitting in coffee shops as a young mother with no money, and her involvement in politics, and her publishing of detective novels under a pseudonym. Or of Stephen King’s affable scruffiness and incredible work rate, and his willingness to chat and write about the craft of writing.

“Stories, behaviours and stances all give those writers a personal ‘brand’ which draws in new readers and which maintains their vitality in the minds and hearts of existing readers. They create meaning about themselves, not just about their books.”

Josh: How can writers keep a healthy balance between producing and promoting? How do you manage this balance?

Simon: The work comes first and has to. But when the work is done then I think it’s healthy, as well as productive, to use the break from creating to do the promotion. But it gets tricky if you try to mix them up.

Josh: You are also a motivational speaker. Writing is a lonely process filled with self-doubt and sometimes lack of support. What can writers do to combat these moments and stay on course to fulfill their goals?

what-you-need-to-know-about-marketing-bookSimon: My only advice on that is make sure you have another aspect to your life too, a more social one. I’m not a full-time writer. I run a manufacturing business, I speak, I mentor. All of these get me away from the solitary writer thing. But actually I’d be a better writer, I’m sure, if I dedicated myself to it, though whether I have the right personality type for that I don’t know. Stephen King writes a fixed number of words every day and says that if he gets it done early he can enjoy himself doing ‘normal’ things for the rest of the day. That seems healthy to me.

Josh: Along with your own books and work, what other resources do you recommend people study and keep up with to develop and improve their own marketing strategies?

Simon: Just to be aware of two things. One is that social media, PR opportunities etc. are changing all the time, and you’ll be more effective in marketing if you keep up with those changes. But the other is that human beings remain the same: they’re interested in the same human stories as they ever have been. Tap into what really motivates people and they will be keen to hear what you have to say.

Josh: Thanks for taking time to share your branding knowledge with MASH Stories. Readers, if you are interested in branding, check out Simon’s books for more information. And remember: branding is story and that’s what we do best.

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A writer and journalist, Josh Flynn is Mash Stories’s official journalist and one of the main blog writers. His essays, stories, and articles have appeared in The Indianapolis Star, Nuvo Newsweekly, Slam Magazine, genesisNerdSpan, and Punchnel’s. You can follow him on Twitter at @joshflynn.