the online art of developing your author brand molecule global microbrand thing




People don’t respond to marketing. They respond to vision.


In this engaging and well-written post, blogger Siddhartha states that “authors shouldn’t have to be social media experts”.

Writing and marketing are different, require different skillsets, and most artists just want to do their art anyway. So let the writers do the writing and the marketers do the marketing of it. The ideal would be a partnership between a writer and a social media expert.

And it makes a lot of sense.

And writers can hire cutting edge PR agencies like this one to help them do the stuff they likely don’t want to do in the first place.

But leaving aside the whole notion of ‘social media expert’, which is kind of problematic to begin with, I think what writers need to remember is that there’s a difference between marketing your book and marketing yourself as a (for lack of a better term) ‘brand’, or ‘author brand’ or ‘global microbrand’ (I love that latter term, the pleasing contradiction between ‘micro’ and ‘global’).

When a key element to survival on the Web is authenticity, and when a key element to a successful brand is its level of engagement, can anybody else ultimately be responsible for defining (to the extent that it can be defined) and marketing (to the extent that it can be marketed) the brand of…you?


The Web is about unmarketing. People don’t want to be spammed, marketed or sold to (they’ll promptly click away from you). They want to be intrigued, attracted and engaged. The idea of unmarketing – at least as I understand it – is that the marketing is built in to the brand itself. In other words, the brand is so engaging and remarkable that people talk about it, share it, feed it forward, etcetera.

People don’t listen to marketers – they listen to each other.

I don’t want some brand promising me that their coffee will transform me into a sexy beast with bouncy glorious hair and charisma to spare.

I want the brand to to offer consistent value in my near-daily life. I want the brand to have a purpose…and possibly to connect me to a sense of larger purpose.

So how to apply this to the idea of an author brand?


A brand used to be a fixed, controlled, one-dimensional message that was beamed out from radios, televisions and billboards to the masses, who passively received it. A brand meant one thing, and one thing only, because to step outside the message would only confuse the audience and dilute the impact of the brand.

An ‘author brand’ conveyed– and still does – the type of book you could expect to get, the type of reading experience you would have, from a certain author. If a writer dared to step outside that ‘message’ – that genre – he or she was told to use a pseudonym so as not to confuse the reader. Dean Koontz used a multiciplicity of pseudonyms before he became just Dean Koontz. Literary writers like Joyce Carol Oates and John Banville write more ‘commercial’ fiction under nom be plumes like Rosamund Smith and Benjamin Black.

Now, however, a successful brand is interactive, organic, and multi-dimensional. THE BRAND INNOVATION MANIFESTO teaches the idea of the brand molecule, where a brand grows through its interaction with the people formerly known as its audience. The brand goes out into the audience, who adapt it or ignore it in whatever way they see fit, and then talk back (via the Internet) so that the brand senses what works and what doesn’t. And the brand evolves accordingly. It still has a central, coherent identity, but it explores new cultural ideas that can grow naturally out of that identity.

For better or worse, an ‘author brand’ – that shared mental imprint people think of when thinking of a certain author – is no longer defined by the books she releases every now and then and the interviews she gives (when she chooses to give them, or when people care enough to pay attention), but also by the writer’s online presence. And that presence is constant, and constantly accessible, because whatever you do on the Web tends to stay on the Web.

I still remember when the president of a company told me, years ago, how he had advised a (now very successful) nonfiction author that “his books support his blog, and not vice-versa.” At the time I found it a radical and slightly dubious concept, but now I think I see what he means.

Your books come out intermittently.

Your blog (or tweetstream or Youtube channel or whatever you decide to use) is always there, always discoverable, always conveying a sense of who you are and what you care about. It doesn’t mean that the books themselves are any less important – in today’s cluttered chaotic marketplace, it’s more important than ever to be as kick-ass as possible.

It does mean that the personality of the author is front and center in a way that perhaps suggests that the whole idea of a ‘writing career’ has to be re-envisioned. Neil Gaiman’s fans can experience him everyday – through his blog and Tweets – in a way that Stephen King’s fans, when I was growing up, could not (except by reading his books). And Neil doesn’t engage his fans by bleeting “buy my books”; he provides them with stuff they find interesting.

It doesn’t mean that a fan can expect to have a personal connection with Neil himself (although that sometimes happens), anymore than I can expect to have a personal interaction with the CEO of Starbucks (even though I go there everyday). But fans can expect to have a personal experience of the ‘brand’ of Neil, and if they want they can connect with other fans and talk about Neil’s work and become a part of the community that’s grown up around it (and him). And this experience could prove so positive that a casual reader soon turns into a fan (and future purchaser of Neil’s book) and perhaps even a ‘brand’ loyalist and evangelist who turns other people onto Neil and continues to expand his already staggering audience.


I like this definition of brand as a “driving force” with: “a sense of purpose so compelling that it will move customers and employees to action.”

So for writers, maybe it’s “a compelling sense of artistic mission that compels readers and the writer herself, to action.”

That sense of mission extends to what you do on the Web (and how often you do it), and forms the core of who you are (or become) in the minds of others.

Rather than thinking of socialmedia or blogging as the marketing element that is separate from yourself and your work, perhaps it is more helpful (and inspiring) to think of it as the opportunity to explore and grow your brand – your brand molecule – in a way that wasn’t possible before.

Which ties into your own evolution as a person and an artist.

Because it’s all connected.

Online, you have the chance to ‘own’ your audience and develop a level of artistic freedom that isn’t restricted to one genre or one central defining ‘message’ about what readers should expect from you.

Online, you have the chance to build out your vision in a myriad of ways that aren’t interrupted by the long stretches of silence between novels. Readers can see how everything weaves together (whether or not they choose to read all your books) into the bigger picture of…you, your brand, your body of work.


In my last post I wrote about the writer as “creative entrepreneur”. I also think writers are what the book KARMA QUEENS, GEEK GODS AND INNERPRENEURS refer to as “innerpreneurs”:

Innerpreneurs let their moral compass and passion for exploration guide their lives. Innerpreneurs have an inborn need to be creative, challenge assumptions, seek new pathways, and define new horizons….Work and life are inextricably tied together for [them]…Innerpreneurs have recognized that which makes their heart sing and have followed its siren song [and are] translating that passion into a career.

It’s that kind of authenticity and passion that makes for a compelling online presence. So while writers can (and probably should) seek out advice and coaching when it comes to marketing (and unmarketing), I suspect the real key is to figure out how social media can help you explore, refine and expand your creative vision through regular interaction with the people formerly known as your audience. This transforms social media from a marketing chore (and likely an unsuccessful one) into another opportunity for personal and artistic growth which can’t help but feed back into your ‘real’ writing.

It’s through your vision that you differentiate yourself, that you specialize, that you “rise to the top of the Google list by sounding one, clear, strong note” as Christina Katz put it.

But you have to know what your vision is, what your passion is: you have to “let love burn away the inessentials” (to quote from from THE CULTURAL CREATIVES).

Which means that the question isn’t necessarily, “How do I get on Twitter?” or “Should I have a blog?”

But rather: “Who am I and what do I want to accomplish as an artist? What do I stand for? What is my mission? What are my passions? What is the experience that I can provide for people? What can I contribute?”

(And then you can figure out how to get on Twitter. In fact, you can read this article here!)

It’s not easy to figure out those questions. It’s hard, challenging work.

But it’s work that we’re uniquely cut out for.

Apr 30, 2010

25 comments · Add Yours

Very nicely said. I like where you’re going with this concept.

The whole idea of social media and personal branding has made all of us rethink how we’re supposed to fit into the big economic picture. You are one of the few laying out a clear path and course of action.

I also like the phrase global microbrand both because of the apparent contradiction and because it’s apropos to the emerging reality. We are living in a time when every person with access to the internet has global reach, but also a time when our “tribe” can have highly specialized interests and tastes.

What authors need to do is tap into the tribe, their tribe, which appreciates what they have to offer. For any given author this will likely be a small group, hence the micro, yet will also likely be widely dispersed geographically, hence global.

Thank you for introducing that term to my vocabulary. I’m sure I’ll get some mileage out of it.


I strongly agree with Siddharta’s argument about this.

In his post, he talks about the economic concept of specialization. I think another economic concept applies here: opportunity cost. The hundreds — possibly thousands — of hours you are spending blogging could be spent doing something else, and that lost opportunity costs you something. Because we only experience that cost indirectly, we don’t feel it in the same way we experience the cost and benefit of the way we DO spend our time.

There are lots of perceptual biases operating here as well. Because you love blogging and social media, you’re drawn to — and you publicize — people who share your love, not people who disagree with you. Blogland is a vast echo-chamber for this kind of thing. But, as with multi-level marketing schemes, there is an enormous population of people who are not finding success in spending their time this way. You don’t hear from them because they drop out.

A personal story: I took some time at New Year’s to count up the writing I’d done in 2009: personal journal entries, essays I posted on Facebook, post comments (lots to your blog, Justine), and a little bit of fiction. 80,000 words. That’s a novel. Instead of spending my time writing my novel, I expended the same effort doing writing that did not move me even one inch closer to finishing my novel. There was a huge opportunity cost here.

The multi-level marketing analogy is a good one here, because an author who bases her marketing plan on blogging and Twittering is engaged in a race against time. It’s a small market now, but in a couple of years — partially because their agents and publishers are forcing them to — tens of thousands of published authors will be writing blogs and Twittering, and readers will be as lost now as they are when they walk into a Barnes and Noble store. When that time comes, readers will use the time-honored default filter: they’ll follow the most popular blogs, which will be the one’s that got started a few years earlier. Like yours, Justine. But many tens of thousands of other author-bloggers will be literally wasting their time, and at an enormous cost — to them and to us as readers.

With the iPad, the death of the publishing industry as we know it has begun in earnest. When I worked in the business in the late 1980s, 50,000 titles a year were published. I’m hearing now 200,000 titles per year — and that’s with all the traditional gatekeepers (agents, publishers, bookstores) working as hard as they can to limit access. When the gates are dismantled, consumers will have a huge filtering problem, and they will reward those who solve it for them. Is a blog and a Twitter stream a solution to that problem? I honestly don’t think so. A blog is just more content. It’s part of the problem, not the solution. I say this as a blog-lover. But I read 20 blogs, not 200.

You’re engaged in an interesting experiment, Justine, because the content of your social media platform doesn’t bear any resemblance to the work you’re trying to sell: you blog about advice for writers, and you sell vampire stories. This is quite different from most other bloggers, whose blog and product are exactly aligned — but that’s merely what you identify here as the “old” idea about branding. Your next book isn’t going to be a vampire story. This is a huge problem for your publisher, who is set up to market you as a category author (if they bother to do any “marketing” at all). You can re-define your brand away from your old category, which seems to be what this post is mostly about, but all you’ve done is move your target audience from one category to another — let’s call it readers who like your “vision,” regardless of the content. That may be a bigger category, and it may broaden the appeal of your “brand” but it’s still fundamentally the same paradigm.

I agree completely with your idea about the actual mechanism by which blogging will translate to sales:

“…this experience could prove so positive that a casual reader soon turns into a fan (and future purchaser of Neil’s book).”

The question, though — still unanswered, but you’re one of the many trailblazers who are testing the hypothesis — is whether a reader who hears from a friend about Neil’s ‘vision,’ likes Neil’s blog-personality, and has an iPad, will buy Neil’s book, or whether she will simply buy what Oprah recommends this week, regardless of what it is. Or neither. Or both.

I think that blogging appeals to some writers because it’s a completely accessible and controllable way they can contribute to their own marketing program. Marketing under the old publishing model was almost completely closed to authors, who were expected to do radio interviews and bookstore appearances in their home state for a month and then wait 12 months for their royalty statement to see how that worked. From a reader’s perspective, though, hearing an author interviewed on the radio during their morning commute was a great way to learn about a new book; I’m absolutely convinced that following your 15 favorite authors on their blogs every day is not. The old system — closed as it was — had a lot to recommend it for both authors and readers. The new system — endlessly open, infinite choice — carries with it enormous frustration and cost for both readers and authors. If under the old system readers were searching for a needle in a haystack, proliferating author platforms simply makes the haystack much, much bigger.

My short answer to all of this is that authors need to put their time into creating practical, sexy, hip, viral filtering tools for readers. A blog is a rifle shot — it’s putting all your chips on one number, one spin of the wheel. And when you become exhausted and can no longer spend 1000 hours a year posting three times a week, or you have another kid, or you lose your job and have to take two to make the same money, and your time evaporates, you lose the only marketing tool you had. This is not the answer. The answer is to look at this problem from the reader’s perspective — not the author’s, and certainly not the publisher’s. A blog helps to solve a publisher’s problem, but it doesn’t solve a reader’s problem. Part of the reason for the success of the Kindle is that it solves an entire set of problems that reader’s face. Oprah solved a reader’s problem. The New York Times Book Review solved a reader’s problem. The tables at the front of every Barnes and Noble store solve a reader’s problem. What reader’s problem does a blog solve?



You’ve put down a lot of good stuff here. I encourage anyone skimming the comments to go back and give it a good, thorough read. There’s wisdom there.

I heartily agree with Dan in that authors MUST take account of the time they’re spending on developing their platform and make informed decisions about opportunity costs. Big point.

That does not mean I agree with entirely with Dan’s perspective, but it’s all worth considering as authors made the very important decisions about how to spend their time.

One of my thoughts as I was reading Dan’s comment was about the future of publishing and smaller groups of readers. While an author’s blog may not appeal to a large audience, it may really connect them to the readers who love their work.

In the future it may not be a handful of bestselling authors who dominate the publishing world but a large number of moderately successful authors who capture their devoted reader’s loyalty. Numerous small tribes following their own author-soulmates.

Something to think about as authors develop their platform.


Sid —

It’s definitely the case that we’re increasingly living in a long-tail world. The old publishing model was terribly suited to marketing to micro-segments of the market, although they counted on micro-segments for a great deal of their revenue. The burden of finding long-tail content fell entirely on long-tail consumers.

Authors are going to need to settle this question for themselves. Richard Nash made this point cogently in his recent interview with Bob Edwards: in the future, most authors are going to have to satisfy themselves with 2,000 devoted readers, and the lifestyle realities associated with a micro-audience. Of course, that’s been the reality for most authors up to this point anyway, but the institutionalization of long-tail business models will make it harder, not easier, for authors to break into large, Harry-Potter sized markets.

Is Justine’s model a long-tail model or an Oprah model? I think it’s a long-tail model that is hoping to become an Oprah model. A social-media model that goes viral — Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter stream — is indistinguishable from the Oprah model, even though they arrive at the same endpoint by following two very different paths. Each involves an investment of time, and each carries costs that I think need to be talked about explicitly. Justine, help us here: how much time do you spend blogging?


I’m not going to go on and on like these other guys.

“…I’ll immediately be transformed into a sexy beast with bouncy glorious hair and charisma to spare.”

So, what coffee have you been drinking? ;)


So get out there and do what you need to do.

Which most likely is write.


This post was just what I needed to read as I try to better instigate my online strategy. The concept of the Innepreneur especially resonates. Kind thanks!


As always, your posts are informative and encouraging. I’ve been so busy lately, that I had to devote the entire evening for “catching up” to your latest article and, of course, reading the links. I’m pleased that you are focusing on marketing and social media, something I’ve been wrestling with for a while, as in, how to make the process sincere. And this latest post clarifies that issue even more.

Also, just to let you know, just because I don’t post back on every one of your blogs, doesn’t mean I’m not reading them.

Thanks again for your collection of wisdom.



Wow, what a creative blast of inspiration.

Marketing and branding has truly changed since the dawn of the internet – and most people still don’t fully realize it.

You’re right, a brand isn’t fixed anymore – the old hierarchy where you produce and distribute to the fellas below is vanishing – your brand is in a current flow of mutual relationships – the way you blog and interact with your audience and readers changes BOTH sides of the game. Marketing, feedback and promotion – it’s all organic now – the restrictions and borders are diminishing.

It’s awesome, and it’s a new challenge to fully embrace your unique voice and take your place of the world by storm.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAawesome article !


I think it was Hugh MacLeod who came up with the term ‘global microbrand’…His blog ( is awesome (as are his cartoons).

As for the rest of your well-written post…

Yeah. What Siddhartha said.


How much time do I spend blogging? It varies. It could easily rank as a part-time job (and that’s kind of how I look at it) especially once you include all the reading/research I do…on average maybe 8 hours a week? Honestly not sure. I’ll start clocking my time, it’s a good point & an interesting question.

It is an experiment, there is no guaranteed outcome, and it is a bit of a gamble with my time…But I also find the process incredibly rewarding partly because of conversations like this one…And I also started blogging about this stuff as a way of learning about it, exploring it, and turns out I have a passion for it.

And I really do think that’s key. Because your social media presence revolves around your content as well as your voice, you have to make that content relevant and interesting to *you* so that it will be relevant and interesting to others…You have to figure out a way to love and enjoy the process (instead of just shooting for an end goal) and make that process a regular part of your routine.

And that’s partly why I’m psyched about the changing state of publishing…The old ways of marketing just weren’t interesting or relevant to me, so I didn’t do any (although life circumstances also played a strong role in that), and book sales reflected that.


Jeff, you are awesome. ‘Nuff said.


Justine, your brand molecule hypothesis could have a Darwinian effect on writers who just want to express themselves in “books” (whatever those end up being). Brand molecule theory (BMT) supposes that the writer is motivated by business entrepreneurship (i.e. “if I do X I’ll get so many customers”) rather than a passion to write (e.g. “I’ve always been fascinated by people who go thru their whole lives in denial. I MUST write about this phenomenon!”) It would be perfect if the two were found together in the same writer/entrepreneur, but the unlikelihood of that reduces the numbers, don’t you think? And if BMT prevails, the non-entrepreneurial writer (think the reclusive Harper Lee) will likely fade away. I think that’s sad.

Also, I very much agree with Dan Owen’s comment that we need to think about the opportunity cost of our time. He estimates he could have written a novel. So could I. Has it been worth it? Well, maybe. Two things motivate me: the excitement of the random, viral stroke of luck, and the fear that if I don’t put out a certain volume of matter, when the future hits, I’ll be left behind.

Oh, yeah, three: I very much ENJOY social media, but as a writer/entrepreneur, it’s not necessarily adding to my bottom line. Probably subtracting from it.

Years ago in Lamaze class I learned that, just before the baby is born, you go thru the stage called “transition” which is characterized by nausea. Hopefully our current state will yield a bouncing, vibrant publishing future.


I suppose it could (have a Darwinian effect) but that’s actually not how I intended it to come across…I meant it more as one aspect of a passion emerging naturally from another aspect of that passion…Passion is the central defining thing. If anything, I think “if I do X I will get so many customers” is doomed to failure, because that kind of approach won’t be charged with the kind of electricity that people respond to. When I said that a brand is shaped by audience interaction, I meant it more in terms of one riffing off the other. When two forces come together, they synthesize into something new, and no one can quite know what that will be until it happens.

Yeah, social media is tricky. You need strategy and purpose and overall guiding vision, I think, which most writers don’t have (they’re still overcoming their fear and distrust of Twitter, bless their souls). As far as ROI — how to quantify or measure that? Actual *sales* are going to be a down-the-road, indirect benefit (if they happen at all…) The real treasure you’re accumulating online is *influence*, and again, how do you quantify that (especially since it’s about *who* you’re reaching just as much if not more than *how many* you’re reaching)? Down the road there will be no question who the big influentials are — they’ll be the ones commanding all the eyeballs and making all the money (since money follows eyeballs…) — and setting the models for others to emulate…but right now it’s all up for grabs and we’re more or less following our instincts. Some of those instincts will prove sharper than others.


Alexander, I loved this intelligent and very entertaining comment of yours, and it’s really good to see you around again. I’ve missed you!


If we knew where this was all going we could become millionaires, either by building the perfect tool, the perfect service firm, or by investing in those who do. But we don’t. We don’t know. And why I don’t know, I like to watch some, think some, and do some. I bet you’re better off for giving this a whack, Justine, than not.


“When” I don’t know. “When.” I also like to post comments without proof-reading, evidently.


I think there’s an overlap, and Justine has hit it perfectly.

You’re not blogging just for the sake of blogging, just for getting your name out there — you’re blogging about writing. Which gets your name out there and allows you to find another audience (though I’d imagine most of them are also writers), but you’re also learning about writing as you blog.

What we need to learn the most is what’s best for us to teach. There’s so many intangibles. Yes, if you spent less time blogging you could finish more stories — but would you get as many eyes on those stories? Would they be as good?

Every choice made necessitates a sacrifice. In this case, you’ve managed to sacrifice time that could be spent writing stories in order to learn about various aspects.

It’s one thing to do “thought of the day” blogging, which doesn’t really help anyone. It’s another to use a blog not only to promote yourself, but to learn as well.


I’ve done the kind of blogging that could be a full-time job. That taught me a few things, like how to write to deadline — even if it was only MY deadline. It also taught me about the importance of voice, and how much more important it is to have cohesive voice that echoes through out your Public Self.

I dropped that blog, and that Public Self because it didn’t mesh with my work. Plus it was tied to my Real Life Self — as it turns out, my first job requires a security clearance, so it’s just as well I cut the strings as best as I could.

Best choice I ever made.

What I don’t like about the term Brand is that it doesn’t link to ‘how/what/why you think the way you do.’

That’s not what you’re ‘selling,’ but it is what you are putting out there.


Very well said, Justine. I’m learning about developing a “platform” at this time. Refreshing advice to look toward my inner compass for direction. The world throws voices, campaigns and loud clanging symbols toward us all, each and every day. I don’t want to add to the assault. I want to contribute to society as a whole and to individuals in their need. Thank you.


this post made me think about authors who are brands- whereby the mere mention of their name is better than a bundled EPK, Twitter following, online presence etc…(Stephen King, JK Rowling, Clive Barker etc…)

Consistency of quality is the key (I’m not saying that the authors I’ve mentioned are 101% fantastic)- but no amount of branding, online presence etc… is going to sell a crappy product.


LOVE this! I will have to reference this in my next blog on social media. This post was inspiring and validating, and I am so happy that someone other than me is saying these things.

I have a soon-to-be-released book called, “We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media.” I wrote this book in large part because of what I saw happening to writers when faced with the reality that they will have to market themselves more and more as the publishing paradigm shifts. Alll too often I watched as talented writers morphed into spam bots, or they turned inward and didn’t market at all…because they didn’t want to turn into spam bots, and they associated this with good marketing.

I focus a lot on content that serves the reader and habits that make interactions fun and meaningful and are based on relationship-building and having a servan’t heart. No one likes a form letter or spam, so why send it?

I made this point in my blog yesterday. People are gravitating to social media by the millions because they are tired of always being pulled at. They desire community. If you just bring more spam into their sacred space, they will be resentful, not grateful.

Thank you, thank, you, thank you for this post!



I think my top one playboy girl is Kim Kardashian What do you people think of her? She is very sexy to me.
Loving by the way, coolest website I’ve found in ages. Anyone know where I can get more pics of her? So far I just have these two (Kim Kardashian)


This is an excellent post about blogging and social media. I will share it with Janet Conner, author of “Writing Down Your Soul,” and teacher of the “Plug In” telecourse I’m currently taking. Thanks so much for sharing.


Thanks for share



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