Thinking Out Loud – Branding: One-Oh-F–k-It

Last week, I talked about my approach to Social Media. This week I want to talk about one particular aspect of social media: Branding.

I first heard the word ‘branding’ in a marketing breakout group at a conference for children’s book writers and illustrators and I gagged. Seriously. I felt yellow mucus rise in my throat. Bitter. Vile.

On the first page of my website, it says: The only thing Lindsey doesn’t like to write is a bio about herself…Why? Because I’m not one thing and those fifty or so words pin me wriggling on a wall. (Yes, that reference is to Mr. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.)

As far as I know, the idea of branding came about through the ad world and more specifically, social media broadcasting. When I first heard about it a conference for writers, I wondered (after the bile) why would a writer ever want to brand themselves? Why would you want to be one thing? And are you a Thing? Branding ‘things’ makes sense. Coca-Cola. Cadillac. Apple. They all have a brand. I know before I swipe my credit card what each product will be. Coca-cola will always have a sweet, fizzy caramel taste. Cadillac is always a comfortable, quiet luxury ride. Apple is branded with a sleek design for all its digital toys. But an artist? A writer? A musician? Do we paint the same painting, write the same book, compose the same song over and over?  Why would you want to?

My friend Liz Scanlon is known for picture books that celebrate the outdoor world. It is a passion of hers. For a conference, she put together a postcard highlighting those books for teachers so they could include them in their natural sciences curriculum. Is that branding? I don’t think so. It is smart marketing that connects the dots for teachers and librarians. Does she only write those books? Absolutely not. I imagine if she did, she would feel limited and we wouldn’t have her gorgeous poetry. Or her heartfelt novels. We would be limited.

One more example. Bob Dylan. When he began, he was known for his folk singing. His irreverent songs accompanied only by his harmonica and guitar. When he switched to electric guitar, his audiences threw a proverbial fit. He was crossing over to the dark side. He was leaving the sacred world of Woody Guthrie. Hallelujah. He had a lot of songs inside him and he wanted to spread his wings musically. IMHO, Blood of the Tracks is one of the best albums of all time and Hurricane a chilling American anthem.

There was a time when agents and editors did not want you to explore outside your genre. If you were writing gothic young adult romances, they didn’t want you to write picture books. They warned that you wouldn’t find two audiences or that it would be too hard to market yourself. I get it. If all we wanted to do is market ourselves, then maybe writing the same book over and over makes sense. Until it doesn’t. And then what?

The world is big. The human heart is curious. Un-brandable.

Tomorrow, April 1 is the beginning of poetry month. In years past, I have explored haiku and delved into other poets’ work. This year, I will post a poem a day of my  own. Gulp.

I am not one thing: