Our Author Brand—The Choice Between Meaningful and Empty, Sad Imitation

Meme from Facebook

Meme from Facebook via imgflip.com

When I saw this meme on Facebook, I though my husband was going to have to scrape me off the floor I was laughing so hard. And, like most things in life, if I’m left long enough to marinate on something, I frequently discover a hidden truth or a lesson we can all apply to life, our work and our art.

There are a lot of lessons out there about author branding (I’m right, though :D). There are those who hail the genius of automation, or claim we should be outrageous, shocking, and rattle The Establishment (whatever that is). I suppose all paths are viable, though all will yield different results.

The Automated Path

There are marketing technophiles who will gladly (and often for a fee) set up our social media to act on its own. We spend an hour writing clever snippets, plug them in and POOF! A machine can tweet, post on Facebook, post about our blog and we can happily do whatever other more important thing we have to do without ever worrying our pretty little heads about social media.

Yet, I would say that, whenever we consider our author brand, we need to also consider whether it is authentic, because in the Digital Age, authenticity is something people are desperately seeking. In the sea of 0s and 1s we long for that human touch and voice that gives information its meaning.

As Jaron Lanier states beautifully in his book You Are Not a Gadget:

A computer (social media) isn’t even there unless a person experiences it. There will be a warm mass of patterned silicon with electricity coursing through it, but the bits don’t mean anything without a cultured person to interpret them.

I’ve often stated that social media (like all forms of communication) is meaningless unless there is another person engaged on the other side to see and then act. Five or even three years ago, we had a hard time spotting people from bots.

Now? We’re far more sophisticated and not easily fooled.

Plant seeds of automation, and we shouldn’t be shocked if all we harvest are bots using the same tools, algorithms and tactics. When we rely on tools and gadgets, we are imitating being human, so why are we expecting to gain anything real in return?

Being Outrageous

Back to the meme above (*still giggles*), there are people who can pull off knocking over apple carts. Shock-and-Awe is, of course, an option. I’m never here to tell anyone what to do, only to help you do what is right for you and your brand and educate you on possible outcomes.

We can rant and rave and shock and push buttons, but I will warn you. There is a cost. Nothing in life is free ;). Being shocking or controversial will gain attention, but it’s a gamble. Will it garner enough positive attention to outweigh the bad?

As artists and writers many of us fall in the INFJ or ENFJ sectors of the Myers-Briggs. What this means is that we process information and interpret our reality through intuition (N) and emotion (F). We have a heightened sense of empathy.

This can be a good thing. It makes for great actors, writers, songwriters, dancers, etc. We are emotional creatures. This said, the sensitivity we feel toward emotion is far higher than, say, someone who is a natural accountant, who is logical and processes their world analytically.

We can say we’ll remain rational, but we also say we’re going to go to the gym five days a week and only have one cookie. Everyone is human, but artists are particularly human. It’s what makes us good at what we do, yet it’s also what makes us vulnerable to negative energy.

Sure, Miley Cyrus took a gamble on her career and she’s laughing all the way to the bank. But there are other stars who made similar wagers and shattered. Time will tell if Miley’s antics will be worth it. Or, will we one day read headlines about the ruined wreckage of a once-lovable Disney star now in jail or in rehab or dead?

Since I’m wagering I’m mainly speaking to writers and not former Disney child stars contemplating dancing nude with leaf-blowers, I’ll stick to author branding. Being outrageous comes with a lot of negative energy, criticism and trolls. If this is a path you want to take, make sure you have the skin to take the heat.

I, personally, am a total wuss and admit this with pride. I think it is possible to be shocking, outrageous and controversial without inviting in mass negativity. Don’t believe me? Just blog about the Star Wars Prequels, LOL. People feel VERY passionately about a made-up universe.

The Authentic Path—Be the Best You, Not an Imitation

I think the meme above is so clever because it shows how, when we try to copy, we can end up looking like fools. It’s one of the reasons I spend so much time in Rise of the Machines having you do exercises to mine the genuine YOU and then showing you how to connect those unique aspects of your personality, loves, likes, dislikes, hobbies, strengths and short-comings to a reading audience and to cultivate a community.

I’ve been told my humor blogs remind people of The Bloggess, my informative posts sound like Seth Godin or even some of my craft teaching is resonant of Larry Brooks (which for me is very humbling because these folks are all fantastic writers). I can honestly say I never copied any of these other writers. In fact, I never heard of ANY of them until commenters made the observations.

Yes, it is a compliment to be compared with other peers. When we get TOO different, too odd, we lose people. Being authentic doesn’t mean we have to be so bizarre we can’t be compared to other writers or artists. It just means being the best us that we can be.

And if that “best you” is licking a red pen suggestively and then, while nude, running your first WIP through an industrial shredder, please make a vlog…or maybe don’t.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Miley is all that shocking. Hmmm, a former Disney star hits seventeen, starts being seen in bars drinking underage, wears less and less clothing, “accidentally” releases a sex tape, amps up antics to outdo previous Disney child star, etc, etc, etc. It’s gotten to the point it is boringly formulaic.

But that’s my two cents.

What are your thoughts? Are there some artists or writers who’ve won your heart with being outrageous and controversial? How did they do it in a way that didn’t make you run screaming the other way?

Are there some who’ve lost you? Maybe you once loved them and then the controversy spoiled it? Are there some writers who’ve won or lost you through knocking over apple-carts?

No need to name, names, btw.

Are you a wuss, too and not a fan of being troll-fodder? Or, do you have the ability to brush off trolls like dust? Maybe you have some tools or suggestions for the rest of us still growing emotional heat-panels capable of reentering theEarth’s atmosphere.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).


WANACon now has Day One and Day Two for sale separately so you can choose if you only can fit part of the conference. 

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU–including the LEGEND Les Edgerton. 

Get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE for $149 and all recordings for anything you miss or need to hear again. Sign up today, because seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

For those who are total newbies, I am running a Writer’s Guide to Social Media Class tomorrow for $39 5-7 EST (NYC time). Use WANA15 for 15% off. We will cover the major platforms, what they do, and which ones might be right for you and your brand.

I am also holding ACHOO!! The Writer’s Guide to Going Viral 5-6:30 EST (NYC time). This class is $49 and, again, use WANA15 for 15% off. Not all content is created equal. This class helps you understand how to understand how search engines work, how to gain favor, and how to create content that will give you traction. Feel like you are blogging to the ether? This class can help.


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  1. First to comment! Bonus!

    I just want to say that this is karma- author branding has been on my mind for the past couple days, so it’s nice to get a hand-delivered article on it. Do you offer classes for this? I’d love one. Then again, I’ll probably just go read your book now. Thanks Kristen!

  2. I can think of artists who were “outrageous” in a smart way and provoked thoughts out of me, and I can think of artists who did the opposite, I consider myself a bit of a wuss too btw… 😀

  3. I’ve never liked the automated tools. Used them a little bit (I use them on tumblr, actually, for different reasons), but in general I’d rather have control of what’s going on on my streams.

  4. Actually, this just reminds me of Robert Downey, Jr. He hit rock bottom, folks felt pity toward him and even said they had predicted his downfall. But look at him now, hot as ever. (Iron Man, hellooooo.) He WAS a hot mess. Now he’s just hot.

    Author branding is probably still one of my largest hurdles.

    I’m no wuss, but I really prefer not to have a target on my back either. So I’ll leave the naked weed-eating, scrotum stapling and other outrageous behavior to the gentlemen of JACKASS.

    Until then, two thumbs up on another wonderful blog post.

  5. I can honestly say that when I try to sound like anything I’m not, I come out lookin’ like a moron. And besides that, it’s exhausting. I am definitely a bit of a wuss. In some cases, I’ve got rock-hard rhino skin. But in others, I’m a marshmallow. I’m okay with this. 🙂

  6. Yes. There have been some authors, writers, and FB friends who have lost me…..most of the time it involves politics, religion, rants, or excessive posting. I think these things are tolerable separately and in small doses….I have my stance, faith, moods, and opinions, too. But, for the love of Pete…. if I didn’t have some blocked from newsfeed or on lists so I can visit them on my socially generous days – I wouldn’t bother keeping them around as a friend.

    Social media has a learning curve, I’ve realized, because I’m learning like everyone else as Facebook consistently “updates”. More people should read your blog, Kristen.

  7. I hate when I lose respect for someone because they have to “prove” something. I’m mainly thinking of the former Disney girls. What’s Disney doing to them anyway? I hope the current Disney stars can break the inevitibility (is that a word?). I gotta say though, I can’t enjoy a Tom Cruise movie as much as I use to.

    As for me, I’m all about being real. And if that means I’m a modest school marm type, then so be it. 😉

  8. That meme is fantastic. Got a great laugh this morning. I’m just wondering about your class: writer’s guide to going viral. Will it be recorded? Tough time for me living on the west coast….thanks!

    1. All classes are recorded and come with a PDF of notes :D.

      1. Fabulous thanks!

  9. Reblogged this on Lenora's Culture Center and Foray into History.

  10. I am toward the end of your book and working hard on my word cloud.(how do I notate a dislike?) I’ve decided it needs it’s own document! I love your research about the human brain and behavior. I’ve yet to lose the anxiety diving into social media has caused, but the more of my questions I track down answers to the better it gets. I also got my first twitter follower last night! My blog picks up a follower every week though nothing like the initial 8 followers in one day! Facebook has one follower– My daughter, but that too should pick up eventually.

    Having worked in theatre I know all about shock and awe. It doesn’t impress me unless I can suspend disbelief. It may take more effort to shock people through the subtle, but from decades of theatre experience I have learned it is worth it. They remember the depth of your story for longer.

    I plan to keep plowing forward and pray that my platform works out as I get closer and closer to publishing! Thank you for your insightful and entertaining blog posts!
    (ps- I still can’t figure out how to link back to your blog! I am obviously less tech savvey than I thought. Being a puppet artist didn’t set me up for this stuff!)

    1. LOL. I am no tech expert. Are you using WordPress as your blogging platform? If so then all you have to do is opne your blog, then open this post on another page. Click the title so it shows in the URL (that http: thingie in the bar up top). Then on your blog, click the words you want to make active, like “read Kristen’s post” and then you will see an icon that looks like a link of a chain on your dashboard.

      When you click that a box will appear with an http: to guide you. Highlight the link from my page, the

      Then delete the http: prompt and paste in this long thingie above. Click the box that says “Open in another window” because you don’t want to navigate people off your page. You want my blog post to appear on its own page. Click Approve and the words should turn blue.

      VOILA! A hyperlink.

      If you ever goof it up or have to redo, just hover your mouse over the blue words (hyperlinked text) and hit the symbol that looks like a broken link and it will remove it.

      1. Thank you. I will give that a try when my kids give me a chance! What a juggle being a writer and artist is, but through a deep soul searching process this summer I found that I have to create! So the hard work of writing is worth it, the lack of financial return on making puppets is fine and that showing my kids what many of the possibilities out there makes creating an imperative.

  11. Miley Cyrus is my guilty pleasure. There, I said it. Hopefully, when I’m as famous, this post won’t come back to haunt me :p

  12. The problem with going the shocking route is that once started on that road one has to go shocking-er and then shocking-est as the audience gets numb-er and numb-est.
    Thanks for another great post!i

  13. Miley Cyrus bored the hell outta me by pulling the same stunt i’ve seen former disney starts pull over and over again. I wondered if when she hit 17/18 if she would turn into a supposed “hedonist” just to get people’s attention. Meh! Anyway, onto something more intellectually stimulating the questions you posed. Yes, a number of artists have won my affection by speaking their minds and being true. Others who just did it to TRY and be real lost me for doing much like Miley did and try to pull the “im a free spirit” card when we all knew they were just doing it to try and expand on their corporate brand name.

    However, I myself actually have some thick skin when it comes to trolls. I’ve always followed a very simple rule of “dont feed the troll.” People who troll are 99.9% of the time doing it to get your furr bristled up and get you to start an internet fight with them. To share a meme of my own for Internet fights: http://i3.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/000/500/616/998.jpg, that’s how i feel about them. I also know, however, my thick skin only goes so far and if i get too outrageous something could and most likely will be said that actually does injure my feels. So I remember to present myself as real as possible but still try to maintain my manners and sophistication i pride myself on.

  14. So I had a friend blogger who blogged one-sided shock and awe stuff about Canadian politics. (yes, we can be shocking too…) He had a great number of followers, and he really is passionate about it. But, I got bored. Same tactics, same arguments, often wrong in my opinion. I just stopped reading, because shock and awe, one after another, just gets boring. I prefer someone surprising me with their talent. Like the actors who go for entirely different roles to challenge themselves.

    At the same time, I think I am anti-shock. I have my opinions, but I don’t really want my blog to be a forum for arguments, which I don’t enjoy. I’m also struggling to be authentic in my blog. I have ideas, but I back down because I don’t want to be controversial. And I don’t want to add just another opinion to all the others out there. Not that personal = controversial in terms of content, I just feel that way. I don’t want to be attacked for a personal opinion. I don’t enjoy arguing, which is probably why my poetry is better received than my pieces on healthcare architecture. It’s more personal.

  15. Life’s too short to try to be what I’m not. The big problem I see for writers and modern technology is that it’s too easy to be distracted by the tech and believe that you are studying the craft of writing, when if fact all we are doing is reading what others say, reacting to it in one way or another, usually online, then recirculating it all to our friends and fans, and watching it come full circle back to the original source.

    More and more I feel we “learning writers” are on a merry-go-round of not writing that disguises itself as writing. We’re all sharing the same unoriginal thoughts but recasting it to sound like our own personal revelations

    I’m as guilty as anyone.

  16. I’m still really new to using Twitter, but I’ve already discovered that people who are All Ads All The Time are ANNOYING. Had to unfollow someone who occasionally posts cool quotes (how I got hooked) but mostly posts five different versions of “next book is coming!” within an hour. Done less often, I would probably have skimmed over the occasional ad and waited for the next cool quote. However, I was forced to unfollow because my feed was clogged with the junk tweets and all the exclamation points and awesome adjectives were giving me a headache. 🙂

    My current approach is saying hi, one person at a time. Someone posts something I can relate to, and I say so. Already found a writing friend who is hip deep in the same period of history that I am, so we have lots to chat about. Also like connecting with others during my day. Keeps the writing from feeling so lonely.

    I find myself drawn to the tweets that are real — in the moment comments on what a person is doing, thinking, feeling. Blog links can be OK, but they don’t pull me in as much as the personal stuff does. So I’m taking that as a lesson that the majority of what I put online needs in some sense to be me. When my blog is going, I’ll put up my blog posts, too, but I will be careful not to make my social media all about my blog.

    Thanks for this post, Kristen, and even more for your great book! Really excited to be working on my brand/platform as I work towards publication.

  17. I like what you said about authenticity and the honest portrayal of one’s true self.

    When controversy turns to dishonesty, that’s when I check out. I used to love reading Robert Tannenbaum’s legal thrillers. They had great plot and a truly fun voice, but after I heard that his cousin had penned them, I stopped reading. Similarly, I was fully engaged in A Million Little Pieces until that turned out to be based on a lie. I would have happily read it if it had been properly labeled an autobiographical novel. But when controversy swirled around his fudging with the “facts”, I put the book down and never picked it up again.

    Both of these authors lost me as a reader, and I think I’m not the only one.

  18. I totally agree with you about being authentic. It was recently recommended that I should re-do my site and make it more trendy, less retro. I couldn’t even if it meant tech savvy folks thought it too homey. I’m still working on the branding since I like a lot of different things under my vintage umbrella. I’m hoping it will come together organically. This post was reminder to keep it real and not cave under “what everyone else thinks” pressure.

    P.S. I shared your blog on my FB, but it doesn’t have a good spot on my site (best I could do 🙂

  19. I can think of one prominent, NYTBSA who might want to try some “shock and awe”. His writing has gotten worse and worse over the years, which makes me very sad. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his books. He’s stuck in a rut, and he’s only digging it deeper. He did try having a different style of ending in one recent, stand-alone volume, but it really pissed me off. I think he was going for PLOT TWIST and ended up yanking the rug out from under his own main characters.

    I’m an INTJ on the MBPI scale, but I’m a high-functioning sociopath– err, T. Emotions are very hard for me to understand and embrace, though I think I manage to emulate them fairly well. People say I’m a caring individual, so I must be faking it well.

    Thing is, I know I’m faking, and I’m doing it because I think it’s worth it. Most people in this world have emotions, making the use and expression of emotions part of daily life. I want to have healthy relationships with family and friends, so I do what I can to uphold my end of the connection. As many physical trainers will say, you don’t have to feel like working out in order to work out. You do the action, and the mindset follows. Same for emotions: do the right actions, even when you don’t “feel” them. Because the outcome matters.

    I love the quote by Jaron Lanier; I will be following up on that link. 🙂

    • Laurie A Will on September 23, 2013 at 8:03 pm
    • Reply

    Authenticity is the key. Some have lost me because I felt they were being shocking just to draw attention to themselves. And some I’ve stayed with because I felt that their shocking behavior or behavior that was “was out of the norm” was part of their personality or their brand. So, I can forgive an authentic “shocking behavior.” I’ve never been a Miley fan, but if I had been, I wouldn’t be now. I didn’t find her behavior shocking, but in poor taste and disappointing. I felt she was trying to shock the world to get free publicity. And I think it will be interesting to see how this plays out for her.

  20. I’ve been on the internet, writing fanfics and stuff, since I was a teen. So I do have a brand, I just hadn’t realized it. I’ve recently gone back to that crowd with helpful craft articles, free sketches, that sort of thing, to court my old fans. It’s made them very happy.

    Since my books aren’t all that far removed from the fanfics I was writing (I think I have all the magic, adventure, multiple worlds and all–the only thing I haven’t added in are robots, because those are for later in the series, heh), I think I can get my fanfic fans interested. Just plugging away and being friendly. And getting people to talk about themselves. People LOVE that.

  21. AS I’ve grown older, I find I’m drawn less to the ‘shocking’ and more to the ‘authentic’. Perhaps that does simply come with the decades. Which doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy the shocking, if it’s done well.

  22. Home Depot is not a stage and the customers shopping at Home Depot did not pay admission to be entertained.

    1. I counter with the VMA is not a strip club and people didn’t watch to be horrified. And the meme is a joke ;).

      1. I will assume that VMA is Video Music Awards. I have never been to a strip club so I guess that I missed something. Just because I was told college senior ladies I knew stripped to pay for tuition does not mean I frequented the establishment. I asked to go however. The studs did not want to bring me. I did not even know where it was, the joint. But VMA is all about entertainment. Home Depot, do the counter sales ladies and the employees even sing like at Sirloin Stockade when a customer has a birthday celebration at the restaurant?

        1. Maybe they should…and drive LOWES out of business with their carpenter saw dances.

          1. LOL now i’d pay to see that.

          2. People from Arkansas do the chicken dance. It is probably because Arkansas is the state headquarters of Tyson Foods, which is known for Tyson Chicken. When I disc jockeyed a dance at PURDY, Missouri more than twenty years ago after the no dancing at Purdy High School (FOOTLOOSE 1 1984 movie); I was asked if I could play the chicken song dance. I did not have a copy. Alabama and George Strait, they still danced at the Purdy Town Hall. Can you access the Gmail log in page? I have not been able to for two weeks now and Google and Google Chrome do not reply to FACEBOOK messages. I hope it is not the end of Social Media. We need E-mail accounts to have access to FACEBOOK and Google+ is gone since I cannot access the log in page.

  23. When people do “shocking” things for the express point of getting a “shocked” response from others and being popular, I don’t find myself liking them that much.
    I’m drawn to REAL people and that goes for books too. 😉

    And I have tell you – I only follow personable people on Twitter and I interact with them for a while before adding them, so it’s not often I get automated people. But today I had a DM with someone saying they’re so glad to get to know me and read my books ….. and here’s a link to my book.
    0_o It was crazy. I was sitting there thinking, would it be rude to respond with a link from Kristen Lamb’s blog?

    1. No you would have been that person’s guardian angel. Except they probably would never see the message, what with not checking his/her inbox.

  24. I love the all-naked blurred lines video. In fact I find it more sex-driven when they wear skimpy outfits than when they’re naked. I mean, for christ’s sake, 50% of the population look that way! It’s not porn. If you want to see porn just go see the white queen or game of thrones …

  25. Thanks for the reminder that nothing ever beats authenticity and that people gravitate toward what’s real and true always.

  26. Reblogged this on Cynthia Stacey and commented:
    Awesome post by Author Kristen Lamb Author

  27. Great Article Kristen. I am always trying to find new ways to get out there and break my shell. I have no intention of licking hammers or running naked with my pen though (I might hurt myself).lol

  28. Great article as always! Love that meme!!

  29. I’ve spent years trying to ride the line between running the automated gambit of social media, and the extreme of shock and awe. Only recently have I been realizing that the median between those two is just being myself – and that is what my readers are looking for. Great post – as always – that only confirms what I’ve been dealing with as of late. Thanks!

  30. Reblogged this on elizabethacieri and commented:
    More great advice!

  31. So very informative!! Needing some guidance in this area so I’ll just follow along for the ride!! Taking a break from being an RN and rediscovering my creative side! My only accolade so far being my Best Story Award in 2nd grade! No certificate but I do have the paper with a big shiny gold star on it!! Yes, I was the pride of Lexington Elementary!!

  32. First time, newbee, across all fronts. Woke up one night, with an idea, 4 days 27kwords later the story arc was completed. Now to make it worth while. I appreciate the work put into the WANAcon. Your PM session was the best of the day, and helped me more than the others. Tomorrow, I will get up to catch the first session. Today, between breaks, I mixed, kneeded rye bread, and made a batch of Blini. Did not have time to eat any. The light of my life says it was “acceptable.”

    many thanks again!

  33. My, oh my Kristen… you’re not the only one who laughed about that theme on top of your post. I nearly cracked up.

    As for the celebrities that got on my wrong side: I’m actually afraid there are plenty of them occasionally getting letters from me on my blog.

    Sometimes I think it is like a path nowadays that a young celebrity (or celebritiy child) does have to follow only to stay inside gossip magazines. They hardly know what they’re doing. To me this isn’t authenticy anymore. They all become one face and one personality to me and I think it’s sad.

    I actually like it to be “me” and will try hard to keep “myself”. There are days I think, for some reason, I guess I’m kind of “unique”. To others it might not seem that way. But still: is it my writing, is it my humor…? I don’t know. But I’m fine and hope I’ll be fine for another long time. 🙂

  1. […] days ago, Kristen Lamb’s blog post stated something that caught my attention. She said, ”As artists and writers many of us […]

  2. […] Lamb: Our Author Brand—The Choice Between Meaningful and Empty, Sad Imitation. “There are marketing technophiles who will gladly (and often for a fee) set up our social […]

  3. […] Branding: The You That Is Everywhere Our Author Brand—The Choice Between Meaningful and Empty, Sad Imitation—Kristen Lamb Do You Have the 5 Elements of a Powerful Personal Brand?—Michael Hyatt […]

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