I’ve never put much thought into personal branding – I had a bunch of stuff I liked, but I couldn’t put them all together in way that made sense. My first header logo was a dumpster fire. I’ve had to learn to withhold enthusiasm, and add more space, because less is more.
I’ve always focused on simple, minimal WordPress websites for authors, because who cares what it looks like if nobody visits. Recently however, now that I actually have traffic (from articles and content marketing) I’m disappointed by how little traffic converts. For every 1000 people that visit my site each day, 900 leave; 100 stick around and come back, 50 subscribe.
That’s pretty good actually, but there are things I could do to presuade people to listen to my message or consume my content; and get them to actually feel good feelings and connect those feelings with me (all without reading anything!)
For example, I recently updated my Twitter profile from “Derek Murphy” to “Derek Murphy, PhD” – I don’t like using my initial but I did spend ten years earning them, and they do make people slow down and hesitate a second before reading my Tweets or following me. Getting them to slow down and pay attention is half the battle won (once you have their attention, you have to create sympathy and provide value).
I’d already laid out a new website based on my favorite examples, and it’s a great wireframe for what an author website should do, but it doesn’t have any mood or emotion or personality (that’s what the words and pictures are for).
Content matters first.
Until people are on your site, who cares what it looks like?
If you aren’t selling many books, why create a personal brand at all?
Do readers even want to learn more about the authors?
ANSWER: No, most of them don’t.
But getting them to care about you is YOUR job.
And the easiest way to do it is NOT the words you use, it’s the colors and fonts and style (even things like the white space between elements or on screen color-clashes). Get them comfortable and they’ll be much more likely to stay awhile.
Share great content with just enough personality and they’ll come to adore you.
Which means, instead of begging for their help during your next book launch, they’ll be eager to help you promote.
BUT ALSO: Honestly most author websites don’t get any traffic, and you don’t want to spend a bunch of time and money building yours (focus on your cover and blurb, 95% of the time, that’s the only thing that matters).
However, in my quest to become a more prolific writer (which only means writing 2000 words a day, or about 2 hours) I’m reassessing the importance of “joy anchors” – small, commonplace items that you use every day. If you can customize these to your preference, you may already have a step up in your author branding.
How to create a mood board
Honestly I’ve never really been into Pinterest or mood boards until I recently made one on accident. It started when I had to buy a new computer. I shopped for weeks and finally went to the store, but they didn’t have the exact model I wanted. I coveted that laptop (the shiny new Huawei 14″) but the sales clerk was an asshole anyway and the keys didn’t feel perfect, so I spent six more hours shopping and narrowed it down to two alternative choices. First, the Asus… really nice machine, identical specs to the Huawei, keys were light if a little plasticky.
A very practical decision, and I felt like I should get it… but I just didn’t want to. Something about the style didn’t feel like me.
The other contender was a 13″ stealth blade from Razer. I wouldn’t have even noticed it, except the Razer store, unlike all the other bright and shiny tech stores, is all done in black and green and shadow, and glowing, magical rainbow lights; and they have long tables set up with laptops and earphones and you can just play games, or research the best laptops of 2019 (like I did ad nauseam).
I finally decided to buy it, but then realized the model was 256GB instead of 512GB, which meant it was more expensive for 1/2 the storage space. I waited another hour and bought it anyway.
I wasn’t sure I liked it at first, but now that I have it all set up, I’m realizing how good a decision it was. It may not have been the smartest decision – based on features alone – but I was underestimating the value of cool.
It looks cool, which makes me feel cool. I’m not a huge gamer, and I’m not even very attracted to Razer’s neon green and black branding… but I learned some stuff about me when I started looking for accessories.
I wanted to get something cool to go with this cool laptop.
What’s cool to me is basically the same stuff a teenage goth girl would like.
Maybe that’s why I write young adult fantasy.
I started a new folder on this new laptop called JOY – inspired by Marie Kondo’s:
“Does it spark joy?”
Her methods are about decluttering and minimalism, but I want to go in the opposite direction.
The truth is, as full-time digital nomads, my wife and I don’t have many things, and we’re very practical. Which means, a lot of our stuff is utilitarian or basic. It’s not beautiful. It doesn’t spark joy.
And that’s a shame.
This is our life, right now – we should be surrounded by beauty and joy; and if not, then we deserve small things that make us feel happy, even if they are ridiculous or impractical.
When I was looking for a laptop bag for my new little black box, I went down a rabbit hole of goth and diesel-punk fashion and discovered I have a whole secret fantasy life I’m not living: a cross between Aleister Crowley and Edgar Allen Poe – the gentleman philosopher, who moonlights as a dark mage.
In terms of personal motivation, I’m going to start slowly replacing all my common staples (wallet, bag, backpack) with silly things I think are awesome, even if they do make me look like my mid-life crisis struck a year early.
Some of these items are too weird to actually wear; but I could use them during conferences or writing events (if you’re an introvert like me and already feel awkward, you may as well dress loud). On the other hand, so what if I go into Starbucks with an occult leather backpack and an antique style wooden typewriter? Or so what if I get all dressed up in my special, kick-ass gear and stay home to write?
If something as simple as apparel or accessories can boost our mood and confidence (which may lead to MORE WRITING) then we should embrace it. In other words, I want to be a guy so confident in his writing that he can go to a cafe and pound espressos and bust out 10,000 words a day over six-hour writing sprints, and that guy is probably weird and eccentric and wears fingerless gloves all the time to keep his knuckles warm like a pro athlete. The guy who has a carefully regimented ritual of creative process learnt from years of focus and experiment – someone who is always in the zone and doesn’t need to artfully stew for months without making progress.
Back to branding…
I got way off target, but here’s the new thought of tonight: all these things I like, my readers will probably like, too. And I don’t have to BUY all this stuff or show it off at events to incorporate it as part of my author platform or brand identity. I can do something as simple as making a page of “things I like” on my website. If readers also like them, they’re already more likely to like me (it’s scientifically proven).
But I can do more than that. If I take all these images together, I may be able to distill a unique brand out of it. Keep in mind, I’m not just intentionally creating a fake author persona to attract my audience (though, there’s nothing wrong with that, and you probably should think about your audience). My point is, I’m a vamp-geek and actually love this stuff.
So, how could I quickly and instantly get more people to like and follow me, faster? How could I get them to stay on my website longer, to want to be there, to want to hear what I have to say?
And beautiful web design is really hard to do by yourself, and can be really expensive. PLUS, you don’t want to spend years messing around with your sight, or try too hard and end up with something distracting and ugly. If you don’t know what you’re doing, go simple and easy. Focus on the content.
However, at some point, when you’ve validated your book idea and now you can make money at this business, if you just build a funnel and boost visibility + conversion (the only two things that matter)… then you may want to get more deliberate with your author brand.
So… I’m going to attempt to “rebrand” myself with a website makeover, on the predication that:
- My readers stick around, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when it’s not practical, because I’m appealing to them on a deeper, emotional level of shared likes.
- They’ll be more engaged with my content and want to interact.
- This will increase book sales.
Number three is iffy though.
The truth is, all that really matters is getting more books out, with great covers and blurbs, and finishing longer series. Taking a month to redo my website is probably not the biggest immediate payout. But it’s also something I can do once and leave it for the next 3 to 5 years. And in that time, if it’s SO PRETTY people want to share it or use it as an example of an amazing author website – please do by the way – it’ll get more subscribers, more traffic and build my platform on autopilot.
So the big things with author websites:
- FIRST have the right content, in the right places, that pulls them in and gets them on your list.
- SECOND, make the experience beautiful, make them feel good, share common interests.
However… yesterday I was trying to choose fonts for a project and shared this image on Facebook; honestly the background was just something I grabbed and I thought it looked cool; the background wasn’t the point, I just wanted feedback on the fonts – but the problem was, the background was so distracting, so gross and ugly, that people couldn’t consider the fonts themselves.
Which means, the background of your content (fonts, images, colors) matters just as much as your actual content, and you can also dramatically boost (or ruin) people’s perception of your content if you screw up the design.
Create a mood board for yourself. I recommend putting it in a “JOY” folder, and listen to your body. Shop around and look at stuff.
WARNING: you can’t just take random pictures off the internet and use them on your website. Use a stock photo site for main pages, especially headers and branding materials, or make sure they’re royalty free.
People actually do this frequently, especially on Twitter – technically it’s not a good idea, but be especially careful on any advertising or product design. The safest bet is to use Pinterest, then take a screenshot of your pinterest header.