Brand Building for Burgeoning Poets—Why it Matters and How to Do it Well
You know your writing is good. Your friends and family adore the samples you’ve shared. Teachers in school wrote notes in the margins of your homework saying things like “Great voice!” and “Your word choice is spectacular.” But now that you’re working on getting people who aren’t in your inner circle (yet) to fall in love with your poetry, you feel overwhelmed. It might seem like standing out among thousands of other talented authors is going to be a near-impossible task, but it doesn’t have to be.
As an emerging author, it’s important to realize that you aren’t just trying to “get your words out there.” Of course, that’s your bread and butter, but your brand is a vital tool that will help you publish your poetry and connect with a wider audience. If you can dial in your unique voice, use consistent themes, personalize your aesthetic, and build authenticity into your persona, you’ll be growing a loyal fanbase before you know it.
Let’s dive in.
Find and Hone Your Unique Voice
The first step in laying a good foundation for your poetry brand is knowing who you are, and how you sound. Your voice is what sets you apart from other authors, and will ultimately be one of the most important aspects of retaining readership. It’s the way you share personality through the page via syntax, grammar, tone, imagery, rhythm, diction, punctuation, and more.
Take these poems, for instance:
Tell me it was for the hunger
& nothing less. For hunger is to give
the body what it knows
it cannot keep. That this amber light
whittled down by another war
is all that pins my hand
to your chest.
– Ocean Vuong
I drove all the way to Cape Disappointment but didn’t
have the energy to get out of the car. Rental. Blue Ford
Focus. I had to stop in a semipublic place to pee
on the ground. Just squatted there on the roadside.
I don’t know what’s up with my bladder. I pee and then
I have to pee and pee again. Instead of sightseeing
I climbed into the back seat of the car and took a nap.
I’m a little like Frank O’Hara without the handsome
nose and penis and the New York School and Larry
Rivers. Paid for a day pass at Cape Disappointment
thinking hard about that long drop from the lighthouse
to the sea. Thought about going into the Ocean
Medical Center for a check-up but how do I explain
this restless search for beauty or relief?
– Diane Seuss
They descend from the boat two by two. The gap in Angela Davis’s teeth speaks to the gap in James Baldwin’s teeth. The gap in James Baldwin’s teeth speaks to the gap in Malcolm X’s Teeth. The gap in Malcolm X’s teeth speaks to the gap in Malcolm X’s teeth. The gap in Condoleezza Rice’s teeth doesn’t speak. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard kisses the Band Aid on Nelly’s cheek. Frederick Douglass’s side part kisses Nikki Giovanni’s Thug Life tattoo. The choir is led by Whoopi Goldberg’s eyebrows. The choir is led by Will Smith’s flat top. The choir loses its way. The choir never returns home. The choir sings funeral instead of wedding, sings funeral instead of allegedly, sings funeral instead of help, sings Black instead of grace, sings Black as knucklebone, mercy, junebug, sea air. It is time for war.
– Morgan Parker
Clearly, these authors’ writing styles vary greatly, which affects how we perceive their work. The je ne sais quoi of each writer’s voice ties together the other elements of their writing for truly unique, recognizable work.
Maybe you were lucky enough to find your voice early—if so, congrats! If, like many, you’re still working on it, fear not. There are plenty of ways to strengthen your voice through writing exercises, intentional reading, freewriting, and more. The more you work at it, the more confident you will become in your writing.
If consistent writing isn’t helping, try studying the works of authors with distinct voice and see if you can notice what makes their writing truly theirs.
Crafting Your Poetry Brand
Once your voice is dialed in, it’s time to focus on how you present yourself and your work. The themes you write about, your style, and your tone should become consistent, so that someone who reads your work can tell you wrote it, even if your name isn’t on the page.
Think of how you want the look of your work to feel. Do you want it to feel like a cozy reading nook? A surf shop? A yoga studio? A greenhouse? A midnight walk down 5th Avenue? Consider your voice, the tone of your writing, and your authentic personality, and match your look to them. Your aesthetics will become part of your calling card across cover art, social media, your website, in-person signage, and beyond, so it’s important to get them right.
Build a Memorable Author Persona
Both online and in person, getting people to want to revisit your work relies on a consistent persona. Social media and (eventually) your website will be key places you engage with your audience. Make sure to respond to comments, reach out to other authors, and cultivate a community around your work.
Authentic interaction is a huge draw and will not only help grow your audience, but it will make sure your audience is made up of “your people.” You don’t have to turn your life into a 100%-always-on content-fest, but make sure that the content you do share isn’t overly polished. Just be real with people and they’ll respect it. Relatability is rad.
Of course you’ll need to extend your persona beyond the internet, but being consistent with your brand at in-person events isn’t tricky if you’re being yourself (again…just be real and people will respect it). You’ll attract the type of people you want reading your poetry much more easily this way than if you try to be someone you’re not.
Need some inspiration? Check out these website for a few stellar examples of authors who have crafted an authentic online experience that reflects who they are. Note the continued elements between social pace and website, as well as what each does differently:
So You Built a Brand. What Next?
You honed your voice, you put together a killer aesthetic, and you’re starting to see your audience grow. Using this personal brand as a foundation, shift your focus to getting your work in front of as many eyes as possible. Luckily, there are plenty of avenues to explore. Whether you’re marketing a book, a self-published poetry collection, or submitting your work to literature magazines and journals, it’s important to get your writing somewhere people can see it. That can (and should) be done on social media, but make sure to check out local poetry scenes as well as online communities. You’ll make valuable connections with your target audience and maybe even set yourself up for a mutually beneficial collaboration or other project down the road!
Consistency in your branding is key, but consistency in your writing is also key (no surprise there). Getting your brand up and running, and promoting your work afterwards, will be work. But make sure to keep writing with frequency—after all, that’s why you’re ultimately doing this in the first place!
And don’t forget—feedback is your friend. Listen to what others have to say about your style, your look, your tone, etc. Even if it is a criticism, the people you care about just want to see you succeed. Sure, you don’t have to pay attention to trolls on the internet, but if you value someone’s opinion, let them give it to you.
Get After It.
Alright, that was a lot. But a good lot. Hopefully your mind is bursting with thoughts on what your wonderful brand will one day look, sound, and feel like, but remember, you can take it one step at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Nail your foundation by establishing your distinct voice, settle in on a “vibe” for your brand, and implement your plan with consistency and authenticity. You’ll reap what you sow here, and we’ve got total faith you’re going to like what you come up with.
Crafted by Liam Norman.