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Author Identity: The hero must discover who he is

Remember Luke Skywalker in the very first Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope? He was a clueless farm boy stumbling into one of the greatest power struggles in the galaxy.

Luke Skywalker on Tatooine

Now think about Luke as he appeared in The Return of the Jedi. He was confident, he had a plan, and you could see peace and determination shining through his every word and deed.

He knew who he was. He had embraced his identity as a Jedi with power of the Force and as the son of Darth Vader, right-hand of the evil Emperor. He had decided to save his friends and continue the fight against the Empire. When hardships hit, he did not waver. When things looked impossible, he did not give up. Ultimately, his unwavering faith saved his father and defeated the Emperor.

Luke and Vader after the Emperor is defeated

When you know who you are, you are unstoppable.

Take a look around the entertainment world. It is not the most talented, most unique or wealthiest that are the most popular.

Successful entertainers know who they are and what they are about. They have found effective ways to communicate their identity to the world. This is often called branding and authors need it, too. People are drawn to others who have a sense of purpose or a strong sense of identity. It speaks to our shared inner need for meaning in life. When we see someone who is committed to a passion or a cause, we admire it and often we yearn to be part of it.

But how do we get there?

Brand Identity is a process

Sometimes, you know from the very start what it is you want to be. When I was in my late teens, I wanted to become “the Stephen King of light and goodness”. His stories were amazing, but so dark. I wanted to be prolific and popular with stories that focused more on the light than the darkness. My goals have shifted somewhat over the years, but that’s a good example of choosing an identity up front. If you choose a memorable identity and gear every story and every aspect of your online presence towards that end, a strong brand can be established very quickly.

Other times, you begin knowing only that you want to write. Stories bubble out of you. Maybe they’re all similar, maybe they aren’t. You write what you feel like writing. Over time, an author’s style and voice and story tendencies come through. A brand can occur organically and over time.

Authors have built their careers both ways in the past, but in today’s saturated market you need a strong brand now. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. It can change over time. You may need to experiment a bit to make it memorable and engaging.

Your brand identity is the magnet that attracts others to you and your work. But it also has great benefits for you. It provides a compass for direction and a way to assess priorities and measure success. We’ll talk more about these benefits in future posts.

Action Item

Make a list of 6 well-known authors. Next to each name, write down what you think their brand identity is. “Suspense author” or “writer of creepy, complex plots with large casts of characters” or “the queen of forensic murder mysteries”.

Now go to their websites or scan through Amazon.com’s descriptions and endorsements of their books. What identity do you find reflected there? How are they described by others?

Share one or two of your findings in a comment below.

 

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6 Responses to Author Identity: The hero must discover who he is

  1. Phyllis Wheeler October 2, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

    Concise post! Good food for thought.

  2. Suzanne October 11, 2015 at 2:20 pm #

    I often tell my family I want to be a popular author but not well known in the traditional famous sense. I want people to enjoy my stories and be changed or challenged by them but I don’t want to have to hide from the public because my face is so recognizeable either.

  3. J. L. Mbewe January 3, 2016 at 2:49 pm #

    Louis L’Amour: western frontier stories
    Nora Roberts: romance

    But I wondered about J.K. Rowling. She has published in three different categories, so I’m not sure what kind of identity she has.

    • #SpecFicCollective January 4, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

      I’m curious, how would YOU categorize Rowling based on books of hers that you’ve read? It wouldn’t surprise me at all if most people only know her as the author of Harry Potter. Until and unless she puts out other things that become popular (or at least well known), that may be the label that sticks.

      • J. L. Mbewe January 4, 2016 at 7:44 pm #

        If I based it solely on the books I’ve read, I’d place her as a YA fantasy author. But I see her more as an author who advocates for social change or bringing awareness to social injustices, disparities between “classes” kind of stuff. Not sure how to put it exactly. But then I’m not familiar with her military novel whether or not it draws from similar themes as did Harry Potter and The Vacancy (having not read it though, but hearing her talk about it). I loved her for Harry Potter, but as much as I loved her style and all, her other stories did not interest me.

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