Saturday, February 26, 2011

Personal Branding I: Business Cards

Personal branding is the core of publicity. My publisher has explained this principle to me—the same principle found in numerous how-to books for writers: The publisher’s job is to publicize the book, and your job is to publicize yourself—starting NOW. It’s called platform. If you don’t have it, you’d better get it.
It’s an odd word, platform, used like this; but I’m beginning to make peace with both the term and the concept. I have to, and so do you if you’re counting on the public to support your creative efforts.
At least now when I hear the word platform, I don’t think of platform shoes. Instead, I automatically picture a stage, maybe one with a section that rises amid blinding lights and billowing smoke, like Justin Bieber’s did in Never Say Never. In my case, the vision is symbolic of what the shy, solitary writer now has to do.
I had to draw up a publicity plan for myself. It seems that bookstore buyers want to know who this so-called author is--and why they should care--before they decide to carry a book. That’s power.
A neophyte when it comes to self-branding, I once tried to re-brand my tenth-grade English teacher by deliberately mispronouncing her name to new students so they’d trip up. Some people just invite mischief.
This was the same teacher who asked me a question in class about the origin of my surname, which back then wasn’t Congdon. In tenth grade I didn’t know what a surname was. As it turned out, I’ve had three: my family name and two others gained or lost in love—branding of a different kind.
One of the easier tasks on my publicity plan was ordering business cards. I’m glad I did that, because already—seven months before my book pub date—people ask. It’s good to be able to hand them something.
As with many jobs, I began with research. Fortunately, others have gone before us. I used a blog by author Jennifer Hudson Taylor as a guide for what to include on my card. Did you know that author business cards are different from those of companies? I didn’t. Hudson tells why; check it out:
I took Hudson’s advice to use a photo—I am my “company,” after all--and to highlight my product, which is my book. I made up a tag line and put the essential contact information on the card. That was it. Oh, I shouldn’t mislead you; I hired a graphic designer to give my business cards the professional look they need.
I didn’t take a pen name, even though many people misspell or mispronounce Congdon. I don’t see what’s so difficult about it, but in making restaurant reservations I use a simpler surname.
And that brings us back to my tenth-grade English teacher. She was a compact lady with perfect gray curls, professionally dressed and quite proper, so it was a shock when one of her hands would disappear inside her blouse to fish a wayward strap out of her sleeve. She did this by touch, never missing a beat of the lecture or conversation and never taking her eyes off the class.
Mrs. H. was at her most fascinating in short sleeves. We used to watch her arm flap when she wrote on the blackboard, and sometimes one of those errant straps would come right out of her sleeve, and we’d get to follow her hand on its spellbinding journey. Now and then fingers would even appear, like a magic trick. All she needed was a top hat.
My point is that people will remember something about you. What do you want it to be?

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