The perfect brand is like the perfect pair of jeans.

Last night I came across a wonderful blog post about brand. Can you, the author challenged, sum up your brand in one word? (Check it out here.)

Can we? When I come across people who are skeptical about brand, I tell them that brand isn’t the entire you; it’s a gateway to you and your work. And I don’t care if you say you loathe brand, if you refuse to fit the mold or narrow yourself into a brand. You still have one. You might as well own it.

Brand for authors can be a difficult notion because we’re creative-types, artists, and, often, nonconformists. At one point, I might have been skeptical, too, except that my path as a writer led me to a gig in public relations. Through that job, I met a wonderful group of people—fiercely creative folks who are passionate about their roles in the promotion of our university—and that part-time gig was my gateway drug to brand.

The thing about brands is that they are alive, shifting, and dynamic. Authentic brands feel alive; they writhe with passion and buzz with electricity. Just like us. At our university, we really do live our brand. And no one has to tell anyone to do it. Our brand is not a contrivance, an artifice, or a sales gimmick. It emerges naturally throughout the course of the day, because as a community, it’s who we are.

Like a pair of jeans, your brand should fit like a glove and feel perfectly comfortable.

I insist that a good brand is one that fits like the perfect pair of jeans: snug and comfy. But it’s not so much that we feel comfortable. It’s that we feel confident. We find our stride because it’s just the right fit. Trying to find that “one word” is a great exercise in identifying our brands.

Since we’re writers, I’m going to pull from Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” for an example. Kundera postulates that it’s the things that give our lives weight that make them meaningful. If we strip away those things, life becomes, he suggests, unbearably light. Each of our lives, as individuals and writers, has moments to which we attribute a great deal of meaning: the moment we knew we loved writing, the moment we knew we had to be a writer and damn anyone or anything that stood in our way, the moment we finished our first story. And often times, a theme runs through the milestones of our lives, our stories, and our writing journeys. The moments of our lives shape who we are, personally and creatively.

My word? Soulful. I want to write books with heart, with power, with soul. I believe life and art are a search for meaning. Sometimes I get pissed off at anything that stands in the way of my search for meaning and art. Life means something; art is the search for meaning. And I’m someone with a lot of faith, even if I don’t always know in what.

My blog in many ways is still searching for its shape, its meaning. I hope it helps people, and I’m still finding a way for it to do that. And brand is a part of all that, a taste of who we are, a way to help others understand what we’re all about. Yes, we’re complicated. Much as I enjoy the search for meaning in life, I also enjoy snarky comments, geeky jokes, and the hunt for the perfect pair of shoes. But yes, soulful. The word fits. Life can be hard, lonely, scary, and unfair. It can also be funny, crazy, wonderful, and amazing. I’m all about the journey.

Now, I want to know your word. What word fits you like a comfy pair of jeans? If you were to sum up your brand in one word, what would it be, and why?

A note about an upcoming conference:

In May, I’ll be presenting a workshop called “Your Passion is Your Brand” at the first annual For the Love of Writing Conference, hosted by the Virginia Romance Writers, a wonderful group of fellow writers—some established and bestselling, others, like me, new to the biz—who have helped me find direction in the industry. It’s shaping up to be a great conference, so if you’re a romance writer, I hope you’ll attend. I’m also excited to share my insights into brand, to help fellow authors feel their way out. For many of us, brand is this new, scary thing. For some writers, it feels contrived. My workshop breaks the idea of brand into steps, helping authors create a personalized brand built on their strengths—one that feels comfortable and authentic. If you’re interested in gathering with a great, enthusiastic, and welcoming group of writers for a writing conference at the beach, here’s the link.

Brand Is Not Evil: Learning to be our ‘authentic’ selves

I hear a lot of conversations on the blogosphere and in the Twitterverse about author brand. This is an ongoing dialogue and a topic that won’t go away anytime soon. Maybe in the post-apocalyptic world, we won’t be worried about things like “author brand.” We’ll be too busy pillaging for ammo and trying to take out as many zombies as we can with a single blast from a sawed-off shotgun. But alas, here we are, zombie-free—for now…

I’m currently taking a workshop with the talented and entertaining Kristen Lamb called “Blogging to Build Your Author Brand.” It’s meant to take the fear out of blogging and social media for writers. And you know what? It’s working. Workshop participants are opening up to each other, asking questions and sharing stories and advice. We’re making mistakes, learning, laughing, and creating, just as we do as writers. We’re not learning sales techniques or gimmicks. We’re just being who we are. What we’re learning is how to communicate that more naturally when using technology. We’re learning how to join the conversation.

At my day job, I work in public relations for a large research university. On a daily basis, I weave the university’s brand into my work. I rarely write marketing copy; I mainly write feature articles–narrative journalism. In short, I tell stories.

Now, wait. I know that brand for writers is different than brand for organizations. But at its core, it remains the same. The technique is different, but what brand is doesn’t really change. It changes its shape, but not its essence.

Take, for example, a university. It might have 10,000 students, 100,000 alumni, 1,000 faculty and staff members. It might have sports fans and donors and prospective students and parents of students. And you know what? All of those people have a story. They have a tie–for many of them, a very emotional one–to that school.  And those ties can be powerful things. So what’s a brand? A brand is the common thread that runs through those stories. A brand is the university’s strengths, what it has to offer, what people can expect of it, what it consistently delivers.

People tend to vilify brand or over-complicate it. We think brand is something corporations use to lure in buyers and stay in the black. And maybe sometimes brands are used that way. But that doesn’t mean that’s the only way–or, quite frankly, the right way–to use a brand. The best brands work because they are authentic.

I would argue that a brand is more than just a name + product. At the end of the day, Starbucks isn’t just about coffee, it’s about community. Yasmine Galenorn’s books aren’t just paranormal romance novels, they’re stories about healing, belonging, courage, and seeking meaning and connection in life. They’re about sisterhood and friendship as much as they’re about romantic love. And I love to read her blog because she seems so genuine. She comes off as a very open-minded and compassionate person, but also one who says exactly what’s on her mind.

There are lots of writers out there. But say you write paranormal romance. Well, there are lots of paranormal romance writers out there. So what can we expect of you? Who are you? What do you have to offer? Will you make me laugh? I had to stop reading Jeaniene Frost’s books at night because my laughter roused my husband from a sound sleep. Are you so red-hot we have to take an ice-cold shower after we read your books? Are your books sweet and uplifting? Will you make us cry and then put our hearts back together in the end?

Kait Nolan gave a commenter on her blog some great advice—advice that helped me too, because, while I work with brand for organizations at my day job, applying brand to myself as an author is a different ballgame. She said:

“YOU are the brand. No matter what you write, YOU and your name are the thing that needs branding. That’s what you have when you don’t have books out. You have YOU and the reputation and relationships you build. Which is really what social media is for. … What blogging and social media does is SELL YOU.”

(Check out Kait’s blog post about “Social media Ennui,” which spurred some really great conversations.)

Can we go from hermit crab to butterfly?

Since we’re writers, we are by nature thinkers. Many of us run the risk of over-thinking. Thanks to Kristen and Team WANA1011, I’m starting to come out of my hermit crab shell and be more of my authentic self. It’s impossible to connect and be yourself when you’re hiding away in your hermit crab cage.

Before we vilify brand, maybe we should think of it this way: At its best, brand is genuinely, authentically, and purely us. What draws us to the page? What do we love? What are we passionate about? If we write what we love, brand should come naturally.

No, you are not just a brand. You are a complicated person. We’re all complicated. But you have a brand, whether you realize it or not.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Am I right? Am I just another PR gal, full of crap? Did I drink the Kool Aid? Seriously, I want to know.