3 Tips for Cultivating an Online Brand

Why are you using social media sites?

Obviously, some writers use blogging, twitter, and facebook for fun and nothing more. But a large majority are joining sites as a way to begin developing a web presence.

No matter where we're at in our writing journeys, we can start to broaden our web presences by using social media more strategically (see Monday's post). Part of the strategy involves cultivating our online brand.

Real life brands, like Godiva and Starbucks, make us think of heaven, whereas Hershey's and Folgers make us think earth—as in dirt. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

An "author brand"  refers to the type of book and the reading experience people will expect from us when they pick up one of our books. Our name becomes our brand—either favorably or unfavorably.

Justine Lee Musk in her post The Online Art of Developing Your Author Brand takes branding a step further. She says this: "For better or worse, an ‘author brand’ – that shared mental imprint people think of when thinking of a certain author – is no longer defined by the books she releases every now and then and the interviews she gives . . . but also by the writer’s online presence. And that presence is constant, and constantly accessible, because whatever you do on the Web tends to stay on the Web."

In developing a web presence, writers should begin to think about their brand—how others are perceiving them. What impressions are we forming? When people see my avatar and name throughout cyberland, what do they think? How am I establishing myself? How are you establishing your name?

Those early formations are the ones we’ll want to continue to build upon, so we need to make sure we’re laying a solid foundation with branding right from the start. Here are just a few ideas for helping us with social media branding:

1. Use Our Author Name

Kristin Lamb had an outstanding article last month titled “The Single Best Way For Writers to Become a Brand.” She emphasized the importance of writers using their names versus cutesy titles like “chocoholic” or “caffeine junkie” both of which I considered using by the way. Okay, so not really.

But, Kristen Lamb says this and I agree with her: “There is only one acceptable handle for a writer who seeks to use social media to build a platform, and that is the name that will be printed on the front of your books. Period.”

Why? Because if we’re building a web presence under the name “chocoholic” and an avatar of a double layer fudge cake, it’s not going to help us when we get that book contract and want to promote our name and book. We’ll have to scramble to form new impressions and may confuse our followers with the change. Why not start off with the real thing from the start?

2. Use a Professional Picture

Any author photo is better than the double layer fudge cake picture. Well, maybe that’s debatable. But the point is if at all possible we should use a real picture of ourselves in our avatars.

If we’re trying to establish a web presence as a future author, then we want to put ourselves forward in the best possible way. This is a business where we’re communicating with industry professionals, and if we want them to take us seriously, then we have to take the business seriously first.

I suggest getting a professionally taken picture if feasible. I had a friend who runs a photography business do my first photo shoot last year—which I did before I had an agent or book contract. I had another photo shoot done this year by a high school senior who’s very talented in photography. Neither were very expensive.

The point is, we should try to use a favorable photo of ourselves. If you’re not, why aren’t you?

3. Build a Compelling Image

I’m all for honesty on social media sites. We shouldn’t set ourselves up to be somebody we’re not. But because people are forming impressions of us every time we post or comment, we need to work at establishing positive and distinctive images.

First and foremost we need a level of professionalism, especially since we’ll be rubbing avatar shoulders with industry experts. But second, we need to keep in mind people will form opinions about us that might be hard to break. I have branded certain authors as witty, snarky, smutty, helpful, giving, complaining, inconsistent, shy, boastful, etc. Maybe those are the impressions they wanted to give, maybe not. But they're the ones that stick.

As readers connect with us online, they too, will develop their impressions of us. They'll be able to stay connected to us between books, and get an inside view of what we're working on along with the myriad of activities that make us personable and likable. We won't just be selling our books. We'll be selling ourselves.

How are you doing with your cyberland brand? Are you doing all you can to get off to a good start? Are you mindful of what people are already beginning to associate with your name, picture, and image?


  1. Great food for thought, Jody. It's important to think about what sort of impression we're giving to others about ourselves. Online presence becomes one hundred times tricker because people can't see our faces or hear our tone of voice and even sometimes the pictures we use aren't very accurate. With you, right when I saw you at the conference I knew, "Hey, that's Jody!" But I had lots of experiences when I met somebody in person and they looked nothing like the picture they used. So even choosing, not just a flattering, professional picture of ourselves, but a picture that truly looks like us is important too.

    Okay....I'm digressing.

    I think it's important to be aware of all these things and to set out to give an accurate portrayal of who we are as writers. It's nice for readers to know what to expect.

    With all that said - did you read that blog post by Maureen Johnson, an author? It's all about branding and it is HI-larious and she pushes back a bit on the whole brand-idea. Here's the link, if you're interested:

    Hope you're having a great vacay!

  2. Hmmm... good food for thought. Branding is important. My butterfly picture means a lot to me for personal reasons, but I have been thinking about changing to a photo of myself. I will give it some more thought.

  3. Well, when I think of you I think of a quiet, shy soft spoken nice person. And with others, I've also already formed my opionon of their personality. When I've met a few in person, I've usually been right.
    What I'e been struggling with is being sure I write the kind of books that are really me.

  4. This is good food for thought. Marketing our craft means many things one of which includes social networking. The more your name gets out there the more people will want to buy what you are selling.

    I wish I liked me better in photos.


  5. This is one of those posts I'll come back to from time to time as I continue to develop as a writer. I think developing a writer brand is something that develops over time. It evolves, kind of like a person brand new to writing evolves into what kind of writer they will be. The most important think I TRY to keep in mind when I'm online is "Am I being genuine, and am I being myself." It seems to me inconsistency comes from trying to develop a blog around what you want to be rather than letting your true self come through. That might work for some, but I can't imagine the energy we would expend if we tried to be anyone other than our true selves. Does that make sense? Just my thoughts for this beautiful Friday morning. Hope you enjoy your tirp in WV!

  6. For the record (see above) Heather, you are one of the most genuine people I've crossed paths with online.

    Jody, Got my retakes done last week and I get my prof. photos this weekend. I can't wait to start updating my websites.

    My prayer is that the light of Christ shines through me as I encourage others and stir them to think anew.
    ~ Wendy

  7. Great post as always, Jody! I've done a couple of the things you mentioned, but one thing I may need to tweak is setting up my blog under my name. I've reserved the name but chose to blog under a neutral web address for some reason.

    If my current wip gets published, I'll probably need to adjust my blog content a bit so it reflects a little Amish flare. But for now, I don't want to take that leap until I know it's necessary. Otherwise, I might have a blog with Amish flare but no books to match. :-)

  8. Another great post! I don't know who I appear to people, or how, but I love blogging and am honest. My only thing is if I don't have something nice to say I try not to say it, unless I have to, then I'm careful how I word the criticism/opinion.
    I'm a little worried because my romances seem to be taking a darker, not lighthearted tone, but I think I come across online as lighthearted? So I'm not sure if that'll be strange for readers someday...
    Now I need to go check out Katie's link!

  9. Wouldn't it be interesting to do a group blog post, telling each other what impressions or images we've formed based on the blogs we are reading. I'd love to know how I come across, wouldn't you?

  10. Great post, Jody. Branding can be a difficult topic to understand and the info and links you provide will be of great help to writers and authors of all types.

    It seems branding is coming up more and more in the author blogosphere lately -- we've been thinking for awhile about putting on a 'Branding Bootcamp' for authors...perhaps now would be a good time to get started on that!

  11. One of the reasons I purposely switched to wordpress was to set myself up as a brand. I'm thinking down the road when it'll be kicking in and all.... ;O)

  12. Lots to digest in this post. Thanks! I hope all is well.

    Have a great weekend,

  13. Great post. My online presence is always a work in progress.

  14. Lots of great information here, Jody! Fortunately, without even knowing that I was taking the right step, I've used my name on all of my devotionals/articles from the beginning. In the photography department, my daughter has done an excellent job taking senior pics for her classmates this year - so she was a shoe in when I needed a head shot! Working to continue portraying a high level of professionalism. As always, thanks for the great links! Have a blessed weekend, Jody!

  15. This is so interesting Jody. The first 2 things are easy enough but the 3rd is really tough. It's hard to know how you come off in blog posts and comments.

  16. I have been toying with the idea of changing my username. In regards to the picture profile, I’m not too sure I agree. Okay, this sounds terribly negative but here it goes. Some author’s picture don’t match with what I expected when I read their book. That was okay because I already loved their writing. But what about before hand will that change a potential reader of my work if my image doesn’t match up to what they expect. Am I over thinking this? I’m incredible camera shy to boot.

    I do think about what I post or comment before posting in respects to image. Sometimes I worry I’m to blah and bland because of that fear of pushing what I considered to be safe. This comment about author photos I almost didn’t post in fear some might think I’m mean or silly or ridiculous or whatever. This is a very tough situation.

  17. Like Natalie, I think number three is the toughest.

  18. Great post, Jody. These are simple things but very important to a writer trying to build a brand. I've done some of these things but I'm still working. I need to get new author pictures because the one I have is one my hubby took and since then I've cut my hair, too :)

  19. Brand-building -- one of those "must do" writerly chores. I think I'm doing pretty well in that area, trying to get that "downhome flavor" out there in the social media circles, but definitely need the professional photo (yuck!) done sooner or later.

    Another great post. Thanks.

  20. Great job, Jody, as always :D
    Thanks for this.
    I'd changed all of my stuff from silliness to say who I am just after reading Pub Rants one time.

    It changed how I saw all of this.
    If I want people to see it, read it and feel it 40 or so years down the road, I'd better make it good...still working on that, lol.

    Have a GREAT weekend!

  21. Jody-
    You're just like my minister, sometimes I think you're talking directly to me. This is something that I'm committed to working on. I've put a toe into the cyber waters, but so far I'm not setting the world on fire with this kind of thing. But this is a great area of opportunity for me, and you're suggestions are excellent. Now to implement them...

  22. There's a lot to think about here, all of it very helpful. I really appreciate that part of your brand is teacher.

  23. I try. But in the end, all I can really be, is myself. :)

  24. great post! thanks for sharing.

  25. Terri Tiffany said: "Well, when I think of you I think of a quiet, shy soft spoken nice person."

    My response: WOW!! Thank you for the "nice person" part of that, Terri! But I'm definitely not shy or soft-spoken! How interesting that I've come across that way to you! Now I'm curious if others have gotten the same impression! I like Karen Walker's idea of sharing all of our impressions with one another! I'm sure it would be very insightful!

  26. Great insight Jody! It matters a great deal to me that I represent Christ. It's my desire that my writing show a true zeal and originality.

    I'm growing in this area every day!

  27. Southpaw asked: But what about before hand will that change a potential reader of my work if my image doesn’t match up to what they expect. Am I over thinking this?

    My response: I think you've probably raised a valid fear that many of us have. Thank you for taking the time to share so honestly. If we're pursuing publication, then we have to take the plunge into the public spectrum at some point, why not right away? Most agents will require us to send an author picture with our proposals to publishing houses. And publishing houses will require an author photo to give to their sales & marketing team, sometimes for the back of our books, etc. We'll likely need one on our websites. We just can't get around the fact that we'll have to put a picture out there.

    My avatars aren't perfect. None of my pictures are. But that's okay, because hopefully it just shows that I'm not perfect either. And really that's better than being a super-model author anyway, right? ;-)

  28. Until I have a published book to promote I don't have a definite purpose for my blog except to network with writing buddies and online friends. I hope their impressions are favourable but I have no way of knowing. When I realize how 'permanent' an online presence can be, it's a little scary.

    Branding is something I seldom think about but when I do it starts knots twisting in my stomach! I have no idea what image my web presence conveys or what it should convey. I've made periodic changes in what's available on my site, including the use of my name and photo instead of a pseudonym and graphic, but my posts are still random musings, sometimes on writing and sometimes not. I only hope God shines a light through my muddlings and illuminates his purpose for me and for my writing.

  29. Good stuff. I've done some of this, and need to seriously consider the rest. Thanks, Jody:) Have a wonderful weekend!

  30. I agree 100% with #1 and #2, but I find myself pushing back a little on #3.

    I think the key, like Heather Sunseri said, is to be genuine and to be who we really are. People's opinions matter, but I think it's hard to please everyone, so sometimes we're going to have to be okay with the fact that some people just don't like what we have to say (in our books or on our blog!). :)

    And I agree with Terri, that when I think of you I think of a nice person. However, with 5 kids, I didn't peg you as quiet!

    Have a great weekend! :)

  31. Great topic and definitely something to think about. When I first started, I only went by FictionGroupie and had an avatar instead of a pic. Soon, I realized that didn't make sense.

    So now I have my name on my blog and use it on twitter/facbook/etc. (although I just use my first name for commenting on blogs). ANd I'm stuck with my blog address, which is not my name, because I don't want to transfer and lose followers.

    I haven't ruled out using a pen name either, so all of this may have been for nothing in the first place! :)

  32. This is absolutely GREAT! Maybe my favorite post by you ever. There is wisdom here for those who listen.

    Twitter is the one place I feel like I get into trouble. I'm pretty consistent with my blog posts, but Twitter is kind of hard to keep under my hat. My writer friends start chatting with me and off I go...

    Then I wonder later if I should have done that.

    This post of yours makes me want to go and ask my readers what kind of impression they have, what they think my brand is. But I'm afraid that if there were negatives, they wouldn't feel free to express them. I understand this, because I would feel the same way if someone asked me.

    But it's easy for me to give you my impression of you: warm, personable, kind, hard-working, and diligent!!

  33. Great post.

    Taking you as an example, your twitter avatar suggests you are sweet and gentle.

    Your picture on your blog, however, makes your hair look more red which instantly suggests a more fiery-Irish personality.

    Scrolling down as far as I needed to to post a comment, I see the 'friendship' and 'heartfelt' awards from Jeanette. Their pictures and the use of soft pastel colors suggests that your nature is soft and sweet like the pictures.

    The images we use on our blogs, twitter, facebook etc are VERY important in conveying things about us to our readers!

  34. I need to update my image. I'm still using the pix that Gracee took last fall!

    Great post--as always, my friend.

  35. I changed my Twitter name to my own name recently for the exact reason you mentioned - unusual for me to be ahead of the game!

    Love your blog :-)

  36. I don't believe I have a brand, though I do have an unusual name. I'm still too new to really be concerned about my brand. Goodness, I'm still in it for the support and connections with fellow writers. I know some day I will need to focus on branding, but it sure isn't on my radar right now. :)
    p.s. I admit, I too thought you might be quiet. You are so disciplined and thorough, and the people I know like that are more reserved and quiet. Just goes to show you, things aren't always what they seem! :)

  37. As usual, a thoughtful and insightful post. I have been blogging for two years and I don't have any pictures of myself on my blog or in social media. I don't like the camera and it doesn't like me. I try however to convey a sense of my personality in what I choose to write about and the geek pictures of space I have on my blog and social media pages.
    Thanks for visiting my blog Jody, as I mentioned I always find little gems to pass on when I drop by your blog.

  38. Hi Jody -

    Thanks for your thoughts on branding. I never could get with the cutesy stuff.

    Photos are a nightmare for me. I've been happy with two, possibly three, photos my entire life. How do you go about finding a good student photographer?

    Susan :)

  39. I've never thought of what I'm putting out there as branding, but you're totally right. Thanks for your insight!

  40. I'm trying to make a good start. I think my name is unique enough that it will stand out. So now I'm trying to build a solid foundation for the future.

    Have a great weekend!

  41. SHOOT! You're killing me, Jody! First, I'd been about ready to change my username to ooey_gooey_brownie_lover .... but I guess I need to slash that idea.

    And DUR! I have to be PROFESSIONAL????


    Seriously, great post! I totally agree... I'm Krista Phillips:-) My pic online (except for facebook) is one my photographer cousin took for me, although we did it quickly and at some point, (AFTER I LOSE BABY WEIGHT!) I'll have him take some more:-)

    The image ... I HOPE I have an okay image. I always have fears with everything I say that someone is going to misconstrue it... What I WANT people to see is a girl who loves Jesus, loves her family, and loves to laugh.

  42. Like all of your posts, Jody, this one is very helpful and goes beneath the surface of the topic to dig up some gems.

    I do not think you are quiet or shy, but I do have the advantage of having met you in person. However, we didn't have a long time to talk at the ACFW conference, so your blog has shown me a couple of other aspects of your personality. My dominant impression is that you are very smart, and in particular, you're an excellent analyst, which is not always true of creative writers. Is your Myers-Briggs type INTJ? Or something ending in TJ?

    I also have the impression that you are confident, because only confident people can be as transparent about their challenges and fears as you are. That is a very good thing, because your transparency also reflects your desire to help others.

  43. This is a great, clear thought:

    "An 'author brand' refers to the type of book and the reading experience people will expect from us when they pick up one of our books."

    And I'm not gonna lie, I like Starbucks and Godiva. ;)

  44. This helped solidify which direction I want to head. I appreciate the information very much. Thank you!

  45. *sigh*. And I'm so attached to (the picture of) my neck.

    Good points. I've been thinking of the picture issue for a while and I guess I'll have to get over myself and just change it.

  46. After reading this twice, I have realized that my answer is very simple: I could give a shit what people think. My "branding" across my blogs, through Twitter and Facebook, whether it be my personal page or that of the "Dying Light" fan page, is me, me, and me. This is who I am and how I approach life. There is no "professional Scott" versus the "personal Scott". I understand and am very careful with how I portray myself in every endeavor anyway, so my only real goal is consistency. I strive for only one thing: to be the same person everywhere you see me.

    My website will soon be up (, and it will be about much more than my books, and certainly consistent with my blogs and my Facebook and Twitter personae.

    If there is one thing about branding I can say, it's to be consistent no matter who you are. If you don't know who you are, however, this will be very difficult.

  47. This past year I've been feeling out the blogging world and I hope that people can see my growth as a blogger. I want to be 100% myself. :) My CMOM Productions title is mostly a "family brand," rather than writing one. I do however have my website set up under my writing/professional name. :)

  48. Great Post Jody. I am all for using real names that will also feature on books covers. I have never been a believer of psuedo names.
    As we are trying to familiarise people with our names, its better to present a positive and witty image that is immensely likeable.
    Thanks for this wonderful post!

  49. Hi, just found your link at Jeanette's.... and I'm so glad I did.

    Your talking about stuff that's been on my mind lately as I want to take my own blogging/writing to a different level.....

    I'll be back. Thanks for your ideas.

  50. Awesome blog! And not just because you quote me. Thanks for that. Great advice (sounds a lot like mine, LOL). I posted this on my FB and Twitter and posted on walls on FB where there are thousands of writers. This is a message writers need to hear. Thanks for letting me know about this.


  51. I met somebody in person and they looked nothing like the picture they used. So even choosing, not just a flattering, professional picture of ourselves, but a picture that truly looks like us is important too.
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