Novelists and poets don’t usually like to think of themselves as “brands,” but that’s exactly what writers are, just like Tide, Nike, and even Martha Stewart.
Actually, I shouldn’t say that you are a brand – especially if you’re just starting out – but that you should want to be a brand. Why? Because branding yourself means that it will be easier for people to recognize you and feel like they know what they’re going to get from your work.
Even better, if you do a good job building a quality brand for yourself, they can come to recognize you as things like “the expert,” “the funny guy,” or “the depressing one” (in a positive way, I promise) the second they see your name. This recognition will make many people more interested in reading (and buying!) your work.
But how, as a writer, are you supposed to do this branding thing? After all, it’s not like you’re going to take out billboards or something. Except that, in a way, that’s exactly what you are going to do – they’re just going to be smaller and have a lot more words on them.
This is how we circle back around to that Martha Stewart example. Though not primarily a writer, she used writing to expand her business beyond catering, through a cookbook initially, then newspaper columns and magazine articles, and eventually even her own magazine. Most of us are relatively familiar with companies and personalities doing this kind of writing – they use it to market their “real” business.
Obviously, it’s not exactly the same with creative writers, but the principles are very similar. Online outlets that need ongoing content are often thrilled to get work from people who actually know how to write, and if you’re smart about which places you choose (e.g. sites with audiences that should be interested in the kind of creative work you do), it can really help to establish you. Just remember that this kind of branding and audience-building is something that takes time and needs to be continually cultivated, so you should expect to see a jump in sales overnight.
But let’s get more specific. Exactly where are you supposed to be doing this online writing? Your options are actually pretty limitless.
Sites that pay. I’m listing this first because in general these kinds of writing jobs are the hardest to get. Think about places like the Onion and io9. Not only are they big enough that getting articles posted on any of them can be a nice boost, you actually get paid to write for them!
Even better, all of those sites are branded in pretty specific ways. io9 has sci-fi/fantasy/horror pretty well staked out (no pun intended), and the Onion is great for anyone who writes with a comedic flair. As long as your work is in one of those genres, you’re likely to pick up followers and eventually customers over time.
What exactly do you write? Well, taking i09 as an example, you can review books, TV shows, and movies, wax philosophically about the socio-economic messages in Superman, and – naturally – write lists about anything and everything even remotely related to speculative storytelling, from best vampire series’ to favorite casual video games. No matter what, you get to include an all-important bio which, if you’re smart, will have links to your work.
Blogs. Hold on to your butts, because this means a lot more than you think it does.
First off, there are non-paying sites that are technically blogs such as Pink Raygun, which covers all things geeky and girly. They don’t call themselves a blog, but that’s what they are. Typically, these sites don’t pay, but they often (not always) have far bigger audiences than regular blogs.
Second, there’s guest posting, which involves those regular blogs I was just talking about – like Writing Forward. Often, the blogs for these sites don’t get as many visitors, but the audiences tend to be more focused on just a few particular subjects and more involved than those on bigger non-paying sites. Find a few of these types of blogs that really focus on your genre of writing and you’re sure to get a lot of clickthroughs from your bio.
Your Own Site.Finally, there’s writing a blog on your own website that features your work. Obviously, doing this probably isn’t going to have as big of an immediate effect on your numbers as either of the other two options, but continually adding quality content to your own site is just smart, because it not only brands you through the blog, but raises your site’s profile and search rank. That will bring in even more people, and the whole thing can eventually become relatively self-sustaining.
Just remember that even though your ultimate goal is to get more people to read your creative work – just like Martha Stewart wants to sell her cooking and housewares – the point of these articles shouldn’t be to sell you, but to give the world a good sense of who you are while providing people with information that they’ll find valuable.