Harnessing the power of your personal story to create a memorable author brand and grow your audience of book buyers is one of the most powerful promotional tactics available to writers. This strategy, sometimes called story marketing, is built on the belief that storytelling is the most powerful way to initiate emotional connections and encourage word-of-mouth (viral) publicity. The marketing experts at Self-Publishing Relief know that storytelling is the foundation of any personal brand.
If you’ve ever found yourself…
- Telling a friend about a funny commercial you saw
- Recounting the story of something unusual that happened to you
- Talking about an unbelievable comment someone actually said aloud
- Thinking about a story someone told you
…then you know the power of storytelling as a marketing strategy!
We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling. —Jimmy Neil Smith
Here are a few reasons why storytelling is profoundly effective for marketing to modern audiences:
- Great stories stick with us because they rouse powerful emotions. Long after a story is over, we’re still thinking about it.
- When a story is good, we want more. Writers know this; readers do too. If you have ever closed a book and thought Oh no! It’s over! then you know the power of story.
- People share stories. The better your story, the more likely it will come up in conversation or be passed along via social media. And as most writers know, financial success as an author is often built upon word-of-mouth book sales.
- Stories drive home the personal and make it emotionally accessible. While facts, statistics, and numbers impact readers on an intellectual level, stories grab us on an emotional level and don’t let go.
- Sharing stories helps forge lasting relationships. By openly sharing the events that have shaped our lives, we create powerful social bonds. Often, feelings of personal connection can underscore a reader’s decision to buy an author’s books time after time.
- Stories are invitations. When you are willing to share parts of the story of your life with your potential readers and fans, you imply that you are an approachable “real” person—as opposed to a collection of boilerplate words that make up a generic biography. When you share your true story, you hint to readers that you are willing to connect with them because—fundamentally—you are just like them.
Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories. —Roger C. Schank
How Writers Can Harness The Power Of Personal Storytelling To Promote And Publicize Their Books And Build Their Writer Brand
You can share the story of how you came to be who you are.
You can share the story of how you came to write what you write.
Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal. —Dr. Howard Gardner
Think Like A Promoter: Why Your Backstory Matters To Book-Buying Fans
In the old days, some literary agents and editors might have greeted bits of personal information included in an author’s biography with a little bit of smirking and eye rolling (as if I care whether a writer has a dog or enjoys kayaking! I only care about the book!).
But savvy denizens of the publishing industry would never make that mistake now.
Social media has changed the game. Eighty-six percent of adults are using social media. They are making decisions based on what they read and learn on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. They are taking note of their friends’ reading interests, keeping their eyes peeled for social sharing opportunities, and making judgments based on the underlying stories that people tell on their social media profiles. When they want more information about a writer, they turn to the Internet.
So who you are is an essential element of the marketing, publicity, and branding that will influence the success of your book sales.
If readers like you, they will be more inclined to buy your book. If they like you, they will be more inclined to share your writing with their friends.
And just to drive the point home: If they don’t like you, they’re gone. Some readers may withdraw their support from creative writers who rub them the wrong way.
Even individuals need to develop a brand for themselves…Whatever your area of expertise, you can take steps to make people think of YOU when they think of your field. —Accelepoint Webzine
As a modern writer, storytelling for branding—the deliberate sharing of personal narratives—is not only increasingly powerful; it is increasingly necessary.
Many writers have turned their personal narratives into powerful marketing tools to establish memorable author brands. Not taking that step could invite obscurity.
Think Like A Writer: Why Your Backstory Matters To Readers
Inside each of us is a natural-born storyteller, waiting to be released. —Robin Moore, Author
As a writer (and natural-born storyteller), you are in a fabulous position to take advantage of the incredible fan-building strategy of story marketing. All you have to do is what already comes naturally: Think about the evolution of character.
But in this case, the character is YOU!
The importance of backstory can be shown in the character Gollum, the ring-obsessed creature from The Lord of the Rings. In the narrative present, Gollum seems to be a one-note character: He wants my precious!
But from his backstory we learn that Gollum was once Sméagol, an ordinary hobbit-like guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Suddenly, a one-note character we might’ve cared little about becomes one who tugs at our heartstrings and stays in our memory.
Gollum’s backstory is a testament to the power of storytelling. Although your personal backstory hopefully doesn’t involve an unyielding fixation on one ring to rule them all, there are ways to use your personal story to create a compelling, memorable narrative.
It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story. —Patrick Rothfuss
Examples of How Real Writers Share Their Life Stories Online To Connect With Their Fans
The following author biographies and texts were curated from around the Internet at the time of this publishing. Check out how marketing-savvy writers are building their own life stories into their promotional texts in order to invite readers to connect with them on an emotional level.
Here is #1 New York Times best-selling author Lora Leigh’s bio. Interestingly, instead of calling her page “About The Author,” she calls it “Meet Lora,” implying deeper familiarity and friendly invitation. After a short bio, she offers a calendar of appearances and invites readers to come shake her hand.
Lora Leigh dreams in bright, vivid images of the characters intent on taking over her writing life, and fights a constant battle to put them on the hard drive of her computer before they can disappear as fast as they appeared.
Lora’s family and her writing life coexist, if not in harmony, in relative peace with each other. Surrounded by a menagerie of pets, friends, and a son who keeps her quick wit engaged, Lora finds her life filled with joys, aided by her fans whose hearts remind her daily why she writes.
Leigh could have used her author bio to talk about her enormous fan base or her accolades as a writer. Instead, she offers readers a glimpse into her everyday life—which makes her seem relatable and friendly.
That said, we would caution you against downplaying your publishing accolades, especially if you are a beginning or midcareer writer. When in doubt, brag strategically about your books! The movers and shakers of the publishing industry will want to see your literary successes spelled out, and fans can be moved to explore your writing when they see that many others are already doing the same.
Let’s take a look at another example of personal storytelling. This is from Kevin Kwan’s website.
Kevin Kwan was born and raised in Singapore, where he attended Anglo-Chinese School in the mornings and spent his afternoons either hiding from his Chinese tutor or chasing after neighborhood dogs on his bike. When he was eleven, he moved to the United States, where the next few years were a blur of trying to survive high school, reading too much F. Scott Fitzgerald and Joan Didion, and dreaming of living in New York.
Once again, we see a writer talking less about how many books he has sold and what best-seller lists he’s on, and more about how he became the writer he is. As readers, we love to root for the underdog. We love to see the hero/heroine overcome an enormous challenge. And really, what writer hasn’t been challenged—really challenged—to see his or her dreams come true?
If you want to know me, then you must know my story, for my story defines who I am. —Dan McAdams
Discover The Most Powerful Aspects Of Your Own Story As a Writer: Interview Yourself
To turn your personal story into a narrative that will help you build your audience, you need to ask yourself some questions. Our self-interview questions will help you tease out the strongest elements of your personal narrative so that you can craft an online persona that shines.
Stories are memory aids, instruction manuals and moral compasses. —Aleks Krotoski
What are the most emotional and compelling elements of your story? What is going to make people want to learn more about you?
What obstacles have you overcome in order to reach your dreams? Sharing your backstory means opening up about your challenges. To root for you, fans need to know what you’ve been up against.
Who are the people who have made a difference in your life? Is it a mentor, a child, a spouse? These are your secondary characters: Show how they have been integral to your success.
What occupies your time when you’re not writing? Who you are when you’re not typing at a computer or scribbling notes on bits of paper will interest most readers.
What are your beliefs? Does your writing reflect your beliefs about the world? How did those beliefs come to be shaped? How is your life better for the act of writing?
What are you grateful for? While it’s important to be proud of your accomplishments, make sure you don’t appear overly arrogant, conceited, or righteous. Gratitude and appreciation tend to win friends and supporters.
What next? Although you may have already overcome some of your writing obstacles, chances are you’ve still got big dreams ahead of you. Tell readers what you hope to achieve in the future. One writer we know noted in her author bio that she dreamed of seeing her book turned into a movie someday. Guess what—a production company optioned the film rights!
At its very core, marketing is storytelling. The best advertising campaigns take us on an emotional journey—appealing to our wants, needs and desires—while at the same time telling us about a product or service. —Melinda Partin
7 Opportunities To Share Your Personal Story And Build Your Readership
Now that you have crafted an author biography that tells your personal story, it’s time to put it to work!
But remember: Not all author bios are created equal. It wouldn’t be socially acceptable to drone on about yourself for twenty minutes in casual conversation at a cocktail party—and a three-page biography in the bio section of your Facebook author page would be just as tedious and unwelcome.
You should tailor your true story to the social context in which it appears.
Here Are A Few Examples of Different Ways To Use Your Personal Story In Your Book Marketing Materials
A two-line bio. An efficient two-line bio can impress readers by hinting at your publishing prowess (without going into detail) and offering a tiny snippet about your personal life.
A mid-length bio. For everything from writing conferences to your author website, your mid-length bio is the workhorse of story branding. Here are some articles to help you craft a traditional author biography that will tantalize readers with the promise of a good reading experience (courtesy of your awesome publishing credentials) as well as entice them to learn more about you (to establish a strong emotional connection):
- Your Query Letter Bio: Listing (Or Skipping) Your Publication Credits
- How To Build Up Your Writing Bio Super Fast
- Tips For Your Professional Writing Bio
- Doing The Publishing Credits Shuffle
- Getting Personal In Your Author Bio: How To Know When It’s TMI
Guest blog posts. Guest blogging offers you a great opportunity to share the story of who you are with potential new readers. If you are guest blogging on a reader/reviewer website, your audience will be reading with the specific intention of gleaning two things: whether they will like your writing, and whether they might like (and be willing to connect with) you as an online personality.
Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell. —Seth Godin
Your “welcome reader” letter. Some authors choose to publish a “dear reader” letter on the front pages of their author websites to immediately establish strong story marketing. Learn more about how to write your own welcome reader letter.
Your “about me” page. While we do believe that a good “about me” page should include compelling information that allows writers to promote their book reviews and sales, the primary focus of a writer’s “about me” page should be biography. Poke around the Internet and take a look at your favorite authors’ “about me” pages for some ideas.
Interviews. We love writer interview opportunities because they really give an author the opportunity to share the information that is most salient and exciting to audiences. Sometimes, writers are able to make interview question suggestions beforehand; if that’s the case, consider “asking yourself” a few entertaining questions that will allow you to promote your personal story.
Query letter. If at any point you decide to get a literary agent for your book, your query letter offers a great opportunity to tell the story of who you are. Just don’t overdo it! A query is short by necessity. Sometimes, hinting at the power of your personal branding can be done in a few briefly sketched lines.
Example: I started writing my novel Journey Into The Jungle Of My Heart when I was on a fishing trip on the Amazon River and I met my future wife. Now, she and I live with our five kids on a sprawling ranch, where we attempt to keep our children from running as wild as our goats and alpacas.
Your Online Persona: The Truth About Who You Are In Real Life Vs. How You Tell The Story Of Your Life
All of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You. —Tom Peters in Fast Company
If you’re beginning to freak out about the idea of sharing the intimate details of your life with a bunch of anonymous readers on the World Wide Web, let us put your mind at ease.
Embracing personal story marketing does not mean revealing every single detail about your life.
Instead, it means making informed choices about what you will share with readers and what you will not in order to build a homogenous author brand.
In fact, it would be a mistake to think that who you really are when you are at home with family and friends should be a mirror-image representation of who you are when you are chatting and posting online.
The best marketers understand the power of creating an online persona in order to harness the power of personal branding.
Your online persona is a reflection of those parts of your life that you actually want to share—and not one word more. It is authentic and never contrived, but it is not necessarily a complete and comprehensive narrative that represents everything about who you are.
The same way you control the narratives of your writing is the way you should control the narratives of your own personal branding.
In fact, in some situations, it may be detrimental to share too much of your true story with potential fans.
Storytelling offers the opportunity to talk with your audience, not at them.― Laura Holloway
The Fine Line Between Honesty And TMI
Your online persona should present the best version of yourself. Your hopes, joys, and passions. Your personal morality: your belief in living a good life. A powerful online persona seizes the opportunity to build positive relationships on positive subject matter.
Very few people get away with being offensive or belligerent as part of their personal brand. When in doubt, always ask yourself: How would I feel if I read this on someone else’s site?
Your public life can touch on subject matter that is friendly to public discourse. But the events of your private life are probably best kept private.
If you want to share the intimate details of your personal life with friends online, we recommend creating separate social media profiles for your private self and for your “writer self.” This way, you can maintain control over the “story” of your author persona while also having a less formal, separate place to connect with your family and friends. There, sharing controversial opinions or complaining about the annoyances of your life will not negatively affect your personal author branding and the positive impression you hope to make on fans.
It’s important to build a personal brand because it’s the only thing you’re going to have. Your reputation online and in the new business world is pretty much the game, so you’ve got to be a good person.—Gary Vaynerchuk
Face It: The Power Of Your Author Portrait
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and your author head shot is an extremely powerful element of your personal branding strategy.
More and more, the power of Internet marketing is driven by strong images. A good-quality head shot implies good-quality writing. Plus, a professional head shot tells booksellers and readers that you are a professional writer, as opposed to an amateur.
But the power of your author portrait extends beyond the World Wide Web. Have you ever flipped to a book’s back cover to see the author’s photo—even before you’ve read a single page of the book? Some of your readers will do the same. By publishing the same image on your author website, your social media profile pictures, and your press materials, people will begin to connect your face to your name—which makes you easier to remember.
A great author portrait immediately conveys the story of who you are as a writer. When readers see your face, they can connect with you as a person—as opposed to a block of text. If you look like someone readers will want to know better, they’ll be encouraged to enter into a long-lasting (and profitable) relationship with you and your work.
Here are some great articles that will help you create an author portrait that embraces story marketing concepts.
What If You Really Don’t Want To Share Anything Personal About Yourself Online?
Purposeful storytelling isn’t show business, it’s good business. —Peter Guber
As a writer, you are the captain of your fate. If you don’t want to share anything at all about your personal life or use the power of personal marketing—no one is going to make you do it.
That said, it may be worth taking a moment to consider why you don’t want to embrace story marketing —and whether there might be a simple solution that allows you to reap the benefits of personal branding without feeling overly exposed and vulnerable online.
PROBLEM: You’re concerned about safety and privacy. You don’t like the idea of making your life very public—especially on social media.
SOLUTION: There are a number of things you can do to maintain your privacy online. First, consider using a pen name. Second, take safety precautions. Keep reading for fantastic safety tips that will help protect your identity.
PROBLEM: You don’t enjoy being in the spotlight in social situations—online or in real time.
SOLUTION: This is where your author persona can come in handy. Stop thinking of your author persona as YOU. Instead, think of it as a personified representation of your writing—almost like a customer service representative. Maybe your online persona looks like you and sometimes talks like you, but it isn’t actually you. It is a necessary device that builds your writing reputation.
A Final Caveat About Getting Personal Online
Whenever you’re writing about yourself, be sure you are taking basic precautions to protect your identity. Here’s what you need to know about concealing personal information when you are embracing personal storytelling to build your author brand online:
- Author Website Survival Guide: What You Must Keep Private
- How To Provide Author Contact Info And Still Protect Your Personal Data
- Your Secret Identity: 7 Ways To Safeguard Your Author Pen Name Online | Web Design Relief
- Strategies To Keep Your Author Website Safe (For Yourself And Your Visitors) | Web Design Relief
- Essential Vacation Safety Tips For Your Social Media (And More!)
- Safety Tips For Social Networking: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Safe Online
- Your Author Website: Privacy Protection And Safety Tips
There is no greater power on this earth than story. ―Libba Bray
Your Personal Story Is More Than Just Lip Service; It’s Who You Are And What You Do
While your author persona may appear to readers as a singular, memorable, unified character, your personal branding is in fact built upon the small, day-to-day choices you make in terms of how you are going to tell the story of who you are.
Every time you choose to share a photo online—that photo is a representation of your persona.
Whenever you like someone else’s post—your decision says something about who you are.
If you post a review about a book you have read or a note about how you have chosen to spend your afternoon—you are adding to the narrative that is your story.
Follow your instincts, stay true to yourself, and share as much or as little as you are comfortable with. The result? Readers will be more inclined to connect with you, remember you, support you, and cheer you on!
(Editor’s note: Find more great quotes about the art of storytelling as a marketing strategy!)
Writer: Can you help our readers learn by example?
Consider sharing your author bio in our comments section in order to show how you incorporate your personal story into your brand-building efforts. Links welcome!