B&N Week 145: Managing Your Brand

| October 1, 2013


It’s a beautiful day in the Tuesday-hood, a beautiful day in the Tuesday Fine, so I don’t have the best singing voice. That doesn’t matter! What matters is that we have another Bolts & Nuts today! That’s important! So, let’s get to it!

Today’s question is really quite simple:

What are you doing to manage your brand?

Now, most of you are thinking this: Steven, I don’t have a brand. All I want to do is the work. The work, mind you, is different for everyone: for writers, you want to tell your stories, whether creator- or corporate-owned; artists, you’re storytellers in your own right, gravitating to a certain type of story you enjoy drawing [and some of you going on to writing your own stories, too]; inkers don’t generally get the chance to tell their own stories, unless you’re like Jimmy Palmiotti and got into writing your own stories through the backdoor of being a world-class inker, but your work is not unimportant, either; colorists, you may want to try out different techniques and effects; letterers, you’ll want to get into logo design and, if you go really deep into lettering, font design. Editors, your job is deceptively difficult: trying to help the creators tell the best stories they can within their abilities.

Each of these jobs has a brand attached to it, and quite often, that brand is the individual. That brand is you. This is not to say that there aren’t houses or studios that have several people doing the job, such as ComiCraft for lettering. However, more often than not, the brand is simply you.

Again I ask: what are you doing to manage your brand?

Today’s world is extremely small, and shrinking daily. The internet has brought us together, made collaboration cheap and easy, and has given everyone a who wants to be heard a voice. Creators of art, whether they are in words or pictures, always want to be heard. So, how do you go about managing your brand?

Your Brand: Personal and Professional

In today’s world, your brand is really two brands: there is the work, and then there is the person behind the work. Both brands are important, especially to the newer creator. For the newer creator, your first works will likely be in the indies or through self-publishing, and this is where you will start managing your professional brand.

Professionally, you manage your brand by doing the best work you can, and you do it within the deadlines set. I recently had to fire an artist from a project because they couldn’t stick to their own deadline. I had asked them how fast they worked and how often we could expect to receive pages, as well as I had asked them what was going on in their private life that might preclude them from finishing on time. The answer I got back was encouraging, but when the deadlines started to fall by the wayside and the artist came back saying they wouldn’t be able to make it that’s not managing your brand very well.

Your personal brand can impact your professional brand. Sometimes, you’re just so good that people will support you almost no matter what you do. [There are exceptions.] Dave Sim, creator of Cerebus, is painted as a misogynist, but he’s still able to get work done. Some of his comic ideas may be out there and the competition is stiffer, but he’s still able to make headlines if and when he wants to. Frank Miller is seen to be a crazy old codger, but he’s still going to get work whenever he wants it. Orson Scott Card is seen as a homophobe, and his stance against gay marriage has seen an artist disappear from a story he was working on with DC, and since no other artist has stepped up to fill the void, that story is on hold.

In today’s hyper-connected world, what you do and what you say can impact your professional life either positively or negatively.

I know Tyler James lives on Twitter and Facebook. He watches a lot of creators there. I know for a fact that there are some creators he won’t work with because of their personal attitudes attitudes that they send out for all the world to see. That’s their personal brand interfering with their professional brand.

Your personal brand is all over the place, folks: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, your own personal blogs, and message boards. Who you are is very easy to see. While Twitter has a 140 character limit, you’re able to get entire thoughts down and out on Facebook. Want to be defriended or unfollowed in a hurry? Be on the opposite side of a controversial issue. Post something about politics or religion that has an unpopular take or slant on it. Be a radical, unreasoning voice of dissent somewhere. These are your personally held beliefs, sure, but that will impact your ability to get work.

Understand this, folks, because it cannot be any simpler: your brand, personal or professional, is how you get work. If you want work, you have to cultivate both.

My personal brand is based on bluntness. I’m going to give it to you straight, and you can like it or lump it. Creators who come up to me say that they appreciate that honesty, because I don’t beat around the bush in saying what I do and do not like. A few writers come back to me after the first pass of their script and say they thought it was going to be worse. But because I’m the same all over the place, they know what they’re going to get: honesty, bluntness, some movie references, with some light-heartedness thrown in for good measure, all while helping them achieve their goals. Has my personal brand cost me some work? Most assuredly. However, I’d rather that than wondering why I’m working with a creator who has no real will to get better.

The ComixTribe Brand

At ComixTribe, when it comes to publishing comics, we don’t yet have a brand. Well, let’s break it down some: The Red Ten is superheroes/sci-fi/mystery; Scam is superpowers/sci-fi; The Standard is superheroes/sci-fi; The Oxymoron is superheroes/sci-fi; Runners horror/sci-fi; Epic is superheroes/sci-fi so, I guess you could say that the ComixTribe brand is science fiction with a superpowered slant. We also do our best to make sure that we put out quality, commercially successful books. How do we know we’re succeeding? We average about a pitch a week, even though we are not actively looking for them.

How do we manage our brand? We have learned the art of saying no, while trying to be helpful at the same time. This isn’t that fine a line to walk. We’re doing better than most companies that are accepting pitches in that we look at every single one of them, discuss both the good and the bad points, and then get back to the creator with things we feel they can improve on. Most companies looking for pitches will do one of three things: take everything they can get their hands on; take only a few while never getting back to the creator; get back to the creator with a form-letter that basically says keep working on your craft.

We generally say no, because we are extremely aware of our brand. All we need to do is accept one book that doesn’t have high marks in quality across the board, and we’re sunk.

Saying your brand is quality doesn’t say anything. Know who else has quality? Apple, Ford, Coca-Cola, Purdue, Ikea. As a value, quality is extremely subjective. I know a woman who won’t buy anything by Apple because they’re overpriced junk, even though she has never owned anything by them; I will not buy another Ford vehicle; I don’t like Coke and eschew most of their product line; my grandmother does not like Purdue chicken; I know a lot of people who won’t buy Ikea.

Marvel and DC manage their brands by putting out quality books, generally on time. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and Iron Man are now known the world over. [Which is amazing when you think about it: Supes and Bats have decades on both Spidey and Shellhead, but you’d be hard-pressed to find people on the planet who are not aware of these characters, and Iron Man was a B-list character at best.] Remember, quality is subjective. Although the Vocal Minority claim that both of these publishers are putting out sub-par books, they are either still collecting them or quitting, because if these two behemoths aren’t putting out good books, how are the little guys supposed to be able to compete?

What can you do to manage your brand? (click to tweet)

The first thing you need to do is to take an unobjective view of what your brand is. Go across the internet, take a step back [look outside of yourself], and actually see what you’re putting into the world. Look at your Twitter stream, look at your Facebook wall, check the posts you’ve made on the message boards you frequent. What do you see?

Are you embattled and embittered towards comics and everything else? Are you putting out a woe is me vibe? Are you bitching and moaning about everyone and everything? Are you complaining about how life isn’t fair, and all you want is a little break in order to get things moving in the right direction? Are you trying to bring others down in order to feel better about yourself?

Guess what? That’s your personal brand. And do you know what’s going to happen? Potential collaborators and potential publishers are going to go the other way, because no one wants to deal with that.

Setbacks are the occasional consequence of trying. Things happen. Life happens, and while you don’t have to make lemonade out of lemons, you have to do one of two things with them: either be seen as colleting the ingredients for lemonade, or just don’t talk about the lemons or lemonade at all. Everything does not have to be white light and fluffy bunnies—you are allowed to have shadows and such—but the bright side should overwhelm the dark stuff.

Managing your personal brand takes effort. You have to think before you share, be it an event, an emotion, or a thought. In the back of your mind, you have to think about what kind of impact what you’re putting out will have on your brand.

Jules Rivera has a great brand: she does all the work on The Valkyrie Squadron, and her Twitter feed is full of her work, sarcasm, insights, and some personal stuff. No over-sharing, not a lot of cursing, and she manages to be funny a lot of the time. She has a brand that is working for her, getting her views, getting her work. (She also has a Kickstarter project that you can back right here!) She’s definitely someone I want to work with. A lot of you could do a lot worse than to follow her example.

There are others out there who do little more than complain, in a vulgar manner, about how things just aren’t going right for their book. One setback after another, it seems, and none of it their fault. The book is gorgeous, though, but they just can’t seem to get it finished and into the hands of retailers. This leads to more vulgar complaining, and it seems like a cycle. This is not a creator I’d want to work with, because it seems like more trouble than it would be worth. Their brand is about complaining. Who wants to work with that?

That’s really about it for this week. Your homework: think of ways to manage your brand, both personal and professional. If you’ve damaged your brand, how can you mend it?

Next week, we’re going to talk about increasing brand awareness.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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