Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Should Writers Brand Themselves?

At recent writing events and online, I've witnessed several writers claim that the future of making money writing will be through writing a lot of thin slices of content covering everything. These writers claim that the way for freelancers to move ahead is by spreading themselves out horizontally writing on several different topics, making them as much an expert on cooking as on the automotive industry or (insert subject here). I may be in the minority on this, but I don't think becoming a generalist is the way to freelancing success.

First, freelancing is a business, and the most successful businesses specialize. Law firms specialize in particular fields of law. Top shelf restaurants specialize in certain dishes. Why should writers be any different? Sure, I think it's fine for writers to offer multiple services, but they should really try to focus on those few niches to make themselves "go to" writers on those topics.

Second, freelancers who write on any and every thing run the risk of turning their finished products into a fast food or Wal-Mart type product. The writing could be great, but since you're offering everything and are an expert in nothing, your chief weapon of choice will be to offer lower prices. This means the generalist writer is spending more time working for less money, while the "go to" writer has more room to negotiate better rates and terms.

At the end of the day, I feel writers should brand themselves as experts. It's important for freelancers to know who they are trying to be and what their target audience wants. If you're chasing after everything, you might make some money, but you're going to work yourself to death in the process. There's a lot of work involved in branding yourself, but eventually, the work will come to you, and you may even find yourself turning down assignments that aren't "right for you."


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


While it's not specifically geared toward freelance writers, Seth Godin wrote a great book on this topic called Linchpin, in which Godin speaks to the importance of making yourself indispensable.


Anonymous said...

Yes, they should. Self-branding is actually a form of humility...i.e., I'm not a genius, I need to follow the rules. Good reminder here.

Jennifer Ruth Jackson said...

OT a bit: There are writers out there who say if you write one thing (poetry for instance) you should never write anything else. They claim you will not succeed doing more than one thing as there are others who are happy in their little niche who will be learning more than you about the type of stuff they write.

According to them, someone like me who writes both fiction and poetry is never going to succeed in any major way. I find that interesting...

Erin Reel said...

I've noticed the same thing, Robert. Thanks for posting this.

Becoming an expert in many things dilutes the public's perception of the word expert, your value as a professional writer and your chances of being taken seriously.

Author branding is about knowing your reason for being, your "mission statement," if you will, as a professional and author and clearly communicating that across your platform.

Focus is a really really good thing.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Thanks, Erin and Aaron!

Jennifer, I know many writers are able to juggle both fiction and poetry. And that's their specialty--perhaps along with book reviews and interviews. It's kind of a literary specialty.

Like I mentioned in the post, it's healthy to have a few options. However, I don't approve of those experts who are advising to chase everything. As Erin commented above, "Focus is a really really good thing."

Just Joan Marketing Services said...

I completely agree with you. Erin put it best: "Focus is a really good thing." If you focus on one area (or one main area, and then a few sub-topics of the industry you're most interested in), you will begin building trust with your followers and become well-respected for what you are passionate about. When you spread yourself too thin on too many topics, my first question as a reader would be, "Why should I listen to you? Just make up your mind already!" LOL

Jennifer Ruth Jackson said...

Thank you, Robert!

Where do you weigh in on degrees for writers? I know it would be helpful to have but some writers claim you can't be a writer until you have one. Do you know any figures on published authors that could shed some light?

Erin Reel said...

Well said, Krissy!

BuddyWeb said...

Branding yourself doesn't necessarily mean that you are shoehorning yourself into one or another genre. For example, Shel Silverstein didn't limit himself to just kids books and poetry. He also contributed to Playboy.

I think modern branding is helping your audience and your editors to see what kinds of stuff you like to do. Personal branding helps people discover your work, which may be diverse, but something needs to bring them through the doors.

Brand yourself, but don't limit yourself to one thing. (Unless that's what you want!)


Sheila said...

thanks, Robert...According to your comment I am a literary specialist and that makes me smile :)

JCarberry said...

If you write for companies and businesses, you can specialize based on your services, such as speechwriting or corporate histories. You can also specialize based on your experience in writing about an industry, such as healthcare or real estate. As a specialist, you can build a brand, land clients, and charge higher rates.