There is a big push in the marketing field for people with passion and skill to engage in personal branding. According to this theory, it is not enough to promote your products and your services when you are engaged as an independent professional—you have to promote yourself.
It’s certainly an appealing idea. Our work is often transitory. Much of what we write won’t stand the test of time, and even if it does, more will likely follow. We want readers to be looking ahead, to be interested in all our work, not just get caught up in their enthusiasm for a single piece. We’re drawn to the idea of becoming a name. Like Stephen King. Just about everybody knows who he is, even if they’ve never read a word he’s written, and many have read his work.
There is also a great deal of truth to this theory. After all, as independent professionals, we aren’t just marketing our work; we are marketing ourselves as qualified providers of that work. Again, think Stephen King. He writes horror. He writes long. And, because of his success, we assume he writes well. People can pick up a Stephen King novel they’ve never read, never even heard of, and know what they’re probably getting. They don’t need someone’s recommendation, because Stephen King isn’t just an author, he’s a brand unto himself. In light of these rarities, we can see that personal branding theory works, because it happens.
However, despite the hype, there are other factors that are rarely considered in this push for us to brand ourselves. And this is where I veer away from personal branding practice.
First, there’s more to me than my work. As a writer, I cover a lot of topics, some of which are very personal. I use my personal life for fodder. I write about my family and my life, covering both the good and the bad. It may seem that I share so much of myself in my writing that I am my work, that my work is me. This, however, is illusion. There are things I keep back, both because of time-constraints and because of my desire to maintain some privacy. Even if there weren’t things I chose to keep back, there would be elements of “the unreliable narrator” to consider. I am an honest person and I value my integrity, but my self-awareness is like anyone else’s, it’s a work in progress. My perceptions and interpretations are like anyone else’s, imperfect and therefore distortive. There are people who know me in my everyday life who find what I share to be an imperfect reflection, not because I am being deceptive but because they perceive and interpret what they observe differently than I experience it. Therefore, one cannot say to know my writing is to know me. So, while my personal and professional lives overlap to a great degree, they are not the same thing.
Second, the fact is I am not for sale. As a writer, I sell my time and the product of my time. My expertise, my knowledge, my scholarship, my skill, my craftsmanship, my artistry all help to determine the value of my time and the products of my time for others. But these qualities are not for sale. You can benefit from my expertise, but you don’t consume it. You can benefit from my skill, but you don’t consume it. What you consume is my time or the product of my time, depending on what you’re buying. In a less literal sense, there are things I will not devote my time to, no matter how much you want to pay me. This is the sense of self asserting itself over the sense of writer. I won’t just write anything; the self—I—won’t allow it. Since I am not for sale, I am not going to market what is for sale as if it were myself, because it’s not.
Third, what I do does not easily fit under one umbrella. You may have noticed that my primary site is based on my name: www.StephanieAllenCrist.com. In the near future, when I have the site fully updated, you will be able to access pages that describe all the work I do as a writer. This includes writing fantasy and speculative fiction, as well as poetry. It also includes covering autism, special education, special needs parenting, and business topics for trade magazines. I will, in time, have pages devoted to writing about writing, Christianity and spirituality, womanhood, culture and lifestyle. This site will also have links to my social media activities, my business website, and my blogs. Now, in theory, I could create a personal brand that touches on all these areas, and in a sense I am doing exactly that. However, I prefer to create platforms for my different areas, with the complexity of the platform determined a great deal by the amount of time I devote to any one area.
An independent professional can create a personal brand, and that personal brand can add value to anything to which that professional applies themselves. That’s the advantage of a personal brand. But, that’s also the catch. It’s a wide net that not only encompasses the work the individual produces, but the individual as well, the self.
In today’s society, this is often assumed—we’re all for sale. Our private lives are no longer private—we surf the web, we post on social media sites, and little computer codes captures all of it so advertisers can pick and choose who they want to advertise to. The sites we go to, or affiliates of those sites, buy us with their free content, repackage us according to our interests, and sell us to the highest bidder. But this invasion of privacy is only a microcosm to the possibilities. Celebrities sell more and more of themselves to their fans, because their contracts demand it; and fans demand even more than many celebrities are willing to sell, turning access into entitlement, delving into the personal, particularly the sexual, lives of their idols. Some of us aspire to sell ourselves by chasing fame in the form of YouTube videos, reality television, and similar aspirations. This is the reality of the times. All this is happening. But, that doesn’t mean we have to embrace it.
Our success doesn’t depend on selling ourselves. That may be hard to believe, especially when so many people are telling you different. After all, who am I to disagree with all those personal branding gurus and the celebrities who throw themselves out into the world?
Who am I? I’m someone who looks at the cost. I see the price they pay for their fame, and I choose to opt out. I am not for sale. My work and my time is, but I am not.
Instead of selling myself, of branding myself (is it just me, or does that sound rather painful?), I choose to create platforms. I can create platforms that use those things that are a part of me—my credentials, my experiences, and my life—to add value to what I offer: my time and the products of my time. Creating a platform is like creating a high point (think a soap box, a stage, a rooftop, a mountaintop) from which to promote your products and services, as well as creating points of access (your website, contact information, social media sites, speaking and reading appointments, ect.) for your fans. The great thing about a platform is that you can throw your work into the world and reach out to your fans, and then, when you’re done for the time being, you can step off of your high point and go back to living your life.
This, of course, does not guarantee that, once you’re famous, you won’t be stalked by unethical “journalists” who want to force you to share more than you’re willing to share. But it does give you a stronger position from which to object to this kind of invasion of privacy. After all, if what you’re selling is yourself, can you really object when demand overreaches your supply and you’re left without a sense of self? When you’re ready to make that choice, think about the cost—then be prepared to pay the price of whatever you choose.