How to NOT Build an Author Brand: Learn From My Mistakes

Wednesday, March 23, 2016
A little over  a year ago, I wrote a version of this blog post for my writing friend, Shannon Yarbrough's blog, which by the way is a great blog full of writing advice, nutritional advice, funny posts, and more! Check it out here if you never have before. I've updated my post a bit and changed some things, as my opinion changes about this writing biz, but basically here it is: 

One of the biggest pieces of marketing advice out there is build a platform, grow an audience, and write in the same genre. Sure, people with several books, such as picture books or self-help, will decide to write romance and get a pen name. But generally, good, little authors write a young adult fantasy, and then they write a sequel or at least another young adult fantasy. It’s very smart.

But I did not do this.

Hopefully, there’s at least one other author out there besides me who likes to struggle through marketing and building an audience. If you are nodding your head, then please find me on Facebook, and let’s start our own private Facebook group, where we can complain and whine together. We can call our group: "Authors who like to make the hardest business in the world even harder."

Seriously, what happened to me?

Before I had any idea what I was doing and before the explosion of the e-book and self-publishing world, way back in 2000, I took a correspondence course where lessons were actually snail-mailed to me, and I wrote Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength in Vicksburg. This is the novel I always wanted to write for kids in upper elementary grades to read at school and home. It took three-plus years to write because I taught full time and had no idea what I was doing. Then it took three more years to revise it and figure out what to do with it. That was 2006, still the dark ages considering where self-publishing and e-books are today.

This book was freaking hard to write. Historical fiction is the most difficult thing I’ve ever tackled, and I thought the whole experience might kill me. (Especially when I signed my contract, did my revisions, and then my publishing company almost went out of business. . .) But alas finally, in 2012, I held my book in my little hands and had a party.

But what happened between 2006 and 2012? I wrote other books, of course, but I vowed to never ever write another historical fiction for kids. The whole experience, as I mentioned, almost killed me. So, I wrote a few picture books and a contemporary YA, and I started to pursue publication with a couple of these manuscripts. Lo and behold—I was offered two contracts—one on the contemporary YA and one on a cute, humorous picture book.

Do you see where this is going? I know what you are thinking: Margo, you have no platform or consistency.

I KNOW! But luckily, I have great writing friends who did things correctly, such as my publisher, Robin Tidwell. One day she said, “Just try to look at what all your books have in common. They all have girls as the main character.”

She was really trying to help me! But yes, I went with it. They do all have girls as the main characters, and in each one, the girls are smart and funny, kind and bull-headed. Then, one day, in the comfort of my living room, I came up with this tagline to try and pull all this together:

Be Unique. Be Strong. Be Yourself.

Not only does it encompass my books, but it also says a lot about me and my personality.

The lesson here for me? I have to work with what I have. I’m proud of my books. I love talking to kids and teens, and because I have such a wide range of audiences, I am more versatile when it comes to speaking—there’s probably something I have for any age of kid or grandkid you have. (hint, hint)

Now I have to figure out what to write next since I've been in a slump. I have a middle-grade mystery ready to go and another humorous picture book almost ready. I also want to do a blog where I am writing about life issues, trying to reflect on some things I learned this last year going through a divorce. So, we will see what the future brings.

I would also love to hear about how you created a platform--either the right way or the wrong way!

Check out more about Margo Dill on her website.
Photo of tools by Dylan Foley on


Cathy C. Hall said...

Well, yes, branding is a good thing BUT it also can be confining!

I like your tagline and it works for you. But I don't think that it really matters so much to have a defined platform for a kidlit author. I know LOTS of kidlit authors who write ALL the categories. They have a kidlit author platform and it works just fine for them.

My platform is mostly as a humor writer, and somewhat as a kidlit author. Since all of my published children's books are Korean, I could probably go with a platform in ESOL writing but I don't want to restrict myself (I have MG books out on submission!). If my MG books sell here, I might consider a new website. But I'd still go with an author platform. Which is basically what you have (and you have a good one!).

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--Perhaps you've already done this or have already discarded this idea, but I've seen a few authors create a video about their book or about their writing process when writing a book and it was another way to connect with the author. It brought the link between the reader and the author alive.

I am still navigating what a platform is--other than a big shelf to hold something. ;)

Unknown said...

Margo, what a great post topic to share about the writing life!

Renee Roberson said...


I have the same issues as you! (Except for the fact that I haven't been published . . . yet!) I'm interested in writing about a lot of different topics in Kidlit so I'll probably never write one of those fantasy sagas, as much as my kids beg me to.

I have seen authors like Lauren Oliver successfully navigate writing MG, YA, and even adult novels. (She also has a fantasy trilogy, but I digress. She's incredibly prolific!)

Have you thought about taking one of your stories and retelling it from another character's point of view? I've seen other authors do that and it seems like a great way to expand your content without reinventing the wheel with a whole series.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--Renee's suggestion is brilliant. I loved the "Auggie and Me" book I think that's the title), and although I have not read it yet, there is a book by the same author from various characters' perspectives.

Do it (if it appeals to you).

Annika Dunklee said...

Hi Margo, I really appreciated your post! It made me realize further, that I too, don't have a platform. I've been writing picture books for children, and the first three were for girls.
So, I decided to switch it up a bit and write a couple of books for boys. I still don't know what my niche is, or if I should even have a niche, but I guess time will tell. I am the worst at marketing myself, so thank you for the nudge : )
Warm regards, Annika Dunklee

Margo Dill said...

Sorry to be so late in responding to all these wonderful comments.

Annika: Maybe you are a picture book writer! That's a common thing at least. Marketing is hard--it's important but most people I talk to say that.

Renee and Sioux: Thank you for the suggestion. I haven't tried that yet. :) But I know I have read series where that has also occurred. :)

Patricia: Thanks for stopping by!

Cathy: Thanks, Cathy. And you are right. Platforms can get confining and creative people do not seem to like to be confined. Best of luck to you with your MG submissions!

Anonymous said...

Even I am struggling with my author platform. My author website is not exactly tailored to the book I wrote...It's more broad as I've not exactly decided the tagline for it for its really confusing as the path to my future writings isn't exactly clear. It's hard and believe me,I can really relate to how you're doing. It's good that you have connections but not all of us are lucky enough..

Anonymous said...

Even I am struggling with my author platform. My author website is not exactly tailored to the book I wrote...It's more broad as I've not exactly decided the tagline for it for its really confusing as the path to my future writings isn't exactly clear. It's hard and believe me,I can really relate to how you're doing. It's good that you have connections but not all of us are lucky enough..

Margo Dill said...

Jassie: I understand as you can see by my post. :) Thank you for stopping by and best of luck with everything!

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