You Are Not a Brand. . .

Why Writers & Artists Should Not Be Limited By Those Who Want to Define Us

brand /noun
1. a type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name.
2. a mark that is burned into the skin of an animal (such as a cow) to show who owns the animal.


I’ve been googling author websites as I’m trying to redo my own website so it doesn’t look as if it were created by a four-year-old and I’ve been finding this disturbing trend I want to discuss — branding.

Not cattle or clothes, but people.

Here’s something I read that annoyed me:

I was reminded again how many authors think that by just hanging a website in cyberspace they are somehow building their brand. As it turns out, not so much.

This idea that we (authors/writers/artists) are “brands” is really disturbing. (And the idea what we’re just hanging out in cyberspace, is also equally disturbing as well.)

I have heard about this “create your brand” and “you must have a platform” at a few writer’s conferences I’ve been at, but I thought it was something trendy like bedazzling your jeans — I thought it would be seen as ridiculous and then fade away, but it seems not to be the case.

There’s tons of websites dedicated to helping you “build your platform” and honestly, unless you are in a bathing suit and jumping off this so-called platform into a pool, then I don’t want to hear about it.

It kills my spirit to hear writers and artists being talked about as if we were corporations with logos and mottos and theme-songs.

I am not going to walk into a grocery store and find your sweeping name across some sugary cereal. I am not going to recognize you for your commercial jingle.

For me, this “branding” idea feels limiting.

It feels as if it’s another way for people who don’t really write to sell things to writers: Be Your Own Best Brand! How to Create Your Brand for only $295. Build Your Brand BEFORE the Book!

Are you an artist or a commodity, my poet’s heart asks.

There is a part of me that knows many of us became writers because we could not *not* write, not because we thought of ourselves as a product. Maybe this branding is for those who became writers for the big bucks (spoiler alert: you may have chosen the wrong profession if this is your ultimate goal).

But it’s not the money-thang or the success-thang I’m arguing here, don’t get me wrong. I definitely do not believe being a writer should equal a life of poverty. I want all of you to sell many many books. I want original art hanging in everyone’s home — it should! I want poets and writers and artists to have so much money they have no idea how to spend it all. I want all your pockets filled with pencils, success, and spending money.

And yes, I even believe it’s part of the job to promote your book, share your art, be part of the conversation, and the community. But I don’t think it has to be done by limiting yourself creatively or positioning yourself as a so-called brand.

Maybe branding feels like selling something else.

Maybe it’s that by focusing on branding we dilute our passion for writing and instead, put the emphasis on being a “Writer” (capital W).

The journey is in the creating, not in the end product.

It also feels that this “branding” and “platform” language was made *for* us, not *by* us. And I take issue with that. It’s hard enough to be a writer without someone trying to tell you to figure out exactly who you and what you want to write about before you begin.

The beauty of art and writing is in the DISCOVERY.

You can write sci-fi and poetry. Fiction and romance novels. You do not need to limit yourself because it doesn’t fit with “your brand” or because you were told you are an expert on bananas from South America, you can still be an expert on doughnuts in Cleveland. Or sex. Or bathmats.

When I hear sentences like this one (one that almost makes me weep): Brand-building is constant. It should always be in the back of your mind, what I want to say in response is:

Writing is constant and should always be in the back of your mind.
 Or replace “writing” with “art” or “art” with “creating,” but don’t use brand. 
 Anything but brand. 
 I know I can’t let myself be put in that box. I am not a Twinkie. You are not a Ding-Dong (okay, you could be a ding-dong, but I don’t know that for sure). But you are definitely not a Twinkie, that I know. 
So there I’ve said it, I’m against this idea of branding oneself. I don’t like it. I’m pretty sure it’s for livestock and not writers. And I honestly question whether it’s good for livestock too. 
When it comes to writing and art, your nametag should not read, “Hello, I’m Whomever You Want Me To Be.” Ever. It should read, “Hi, I’m me,” a complex creative person with complex thoughts and ideas who wants to (and should be able to) explore them all. Various and Diverse. Absolutely impossible to limit. And that box you want to keep me in, well, don’t put a lid on it, it’s overflowing. . .


Originally published at on November 19, 2010.