Imagine you’re at a science fiction convention and Neil Gaiman walks in the room. Quick: What’s he wearing?
Black jeans, black t-shirt, black leather jacket.
How do you know this? Because that’s what he always wears. It’s part of his personal brand.
If you’re an up and coming writer, you need to think about your our brand and how your clothing is a part of that. What you wear will say a lot about you. Plus, it will help you get recognized.
What is a brand?
Often, we think of “brands” and “logos” interchangeably. But the best way to think about a brand is your reputation doing fieldwork. (And I am certain someone coined that phrase, but a 20-minute Internet search yielded nothing. If you know who said it, leave a comment.) It’s how you feel about something.
For example: Dunkin’ Donuts (or Tim Horton’s for you Canucks) and Starbucks. Both are coffee places. But some of you just rolled your eyes at Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee and can’t live without your morning grande skinny mocha. Others are rolling your eyes at “grande skinny mocha” and want an honest-to-goodness cup of joe from Dunkin’s. Others are Booster Juice addicts and couldn’t care less about coffee.
Regardless of your camp, I hope you get the point. Brand is how you feel and perceive a product.
In the world of writing, let’s mention names like Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer or E.L. James. Your reactions to these names are not based on them as people, but as writers. That is, the brand names they have become.
So why brand yourself as a writer?
Writing should be a meritocracy where the best writers sell the most books and have the most fans.
This is not the case. It’s human nature to identify with and support those we like. This is why writers go to signings and conventions. They can grow and strengthen their fanbase through interaction. They understand that if someone likes the writer, they’ll buy the writer’s book(s).
But to be more precise: If readers likes who they perceive the writer to be, they will buy books.
Another aspect is industry professionals at a convention. Agents, editors and publishers are looking for authors who take the business seriously.
So what kind of impression do you want to make?
This is where your personal brand comes in. It is not about misleading someone or creating a false identity. But what sides of yourself will come through? After all, if you don’t have a marketing machine like King or Meyer, you need to do this work yourself.
Since someone will see you before they talk to you, clothing is the first step.
How to build a brand through clothing
First, your style of clothing should reinforce who you are and how you want to be seen: relaxed, professional, brooding, spirited. Do you want to dress all in black since you write vampire fiction? Leather and bright colours to reflect your epic fantasy novels? Or maybe a blazer over a collared shirt to show you’re a professional regardless of genre.
For me, you’ll find me in blue jeans and a collared short sleeve shirt over a t-shirt with something clever on it. As a writer of dark, brooding science fiction and horror I want people to know that, as a person, I’m relaxed and approachable. Plus, it’s versatile enough to allow combinations and I can wear it outside the convention hotel.
What’s more, dressing in a consistent manner will help you be found. If someone you think is Neil Gaiman is walking around in a tie-dye t-shirt, khaki cargo shorts and flip flops, it’s not Neil Gaiman. (Or maybe he’s going incognito.) If you’re consistent, you will be found more often. Considering how many people attend a convention, being able to be spotted across the room and people being certain it’s you is essential.
Don’t go too far
But you can risk going overboard with your own personal style—be it goth clothing with pancake make-up and black lipstick; to steampunk or high fantasy cosplay—and sending mixed messages.
Clothing that is too dark and brooding might make you look unapproachable. Or, if you dress too casually you might appear like an amateur to someone in the industry. Since cosplay is a fandom domain, you could be mistaken for a fan and not a creator. There’s nothing wrong with cosplay if you are going to a costume ball or competing, but if you wear it all the time people might wonder if your “costume” is there to compensate for weak writing.
(For example, I once spent an uncomfortable elevator ride with a science fiction “author” dressed in elaborate military SF outfit. Turns out he had spend months designing and building the costume, which was a character from his novel. I asked who his publisher was, but it turns out he hadn’t even started writing it yet. I admit his costume was very good and give him full marks, but had I been a publisher or agent I would not have spent another moment on him.)
Now go find your personal look
How you dress as an author doesn’t have to be how you dress in real life. But it should reflect some part of you. It is not a costume to hide in, but a way to help others approach and engage you. You should feel comfortable and confident in it. If you are part of a niche genre, include some signal others in that genre will recognize and respond to.
Build yourself as a brand and get recognized.