As an independent author, you might think, “Hey, I write books. That’s my mission. Why do I need a statement about it?” But I’m here to tell you, if you are serious about your products, you might want to be equally as serious about your personal brand that represents them.
Authors who pay attention to their personal brand have a leg up on the competition by making themselves more memorable in the minds of their readers and helping those readers to believe in and trust the quality of their books. A mission statement is a vital part of a serious personal brand.
And, to do it well, you’ll want to get serious about it. Some people try to create their brand simply by drawing a logo, or having a friend design one, and “Voila!” Others choose pictures, colors or phrases that represent interests and feelings, and call it a brand. These approaches are fine exercises as far as they go, but they will not serve you well for the many demands that will come to the committed author, and they won’t stand up for the long-term.
A personal brand that defines your values, your vision and mission delivers the same strength and attributes of a multi-million-dollar corporate brand. Corporations know that investment in their brand will establish them in the mind of their customers, distinguish them against the competition, and help them grow for the long run. Putting some rigorous thought into your brand just as you do your products will cost you little, and help you much.
What is a mission statement?
A mission statement captures your values, defines what you do, defines WHY you do it, and can also define what you do for your community and for the world, for that matter. It helps you stay on track when distractions tug at you. It helps you understand your own purpose, and stick to it.
Have you ever been at a book signing, a festival, or any kind of event where someone made a statement or asked you a question, and it stuck in your mind? And then you heard it again somewhere else, or maybe read it in a blog post, or heard someone say it in a movie or news program. Maybe you shrugged these repetitive messages off. But maybe, just maybe, the messages were meant specifically for you.
In my case, I write historical fiction set in 17th century Ireland. Why? Because I love Ireland and I love history. This makes my work feel not like work but like something richly rewarding. When I first started promoting my books, wherever I went and whenever I talked to readers or potential readers, I heard something like this: “Oh, I never thought about the 17th century.” Or this: “I enjoyed this book and learned a lot, but I never would have thought of reading something from this period.”
Then I read a survey of historical novel readers produced for the Historical Novel Society that ranked the 17th century 7th among periods this particular audience was likely to choose. Seventh? Really?
In the words of J.P. Sommerville, author and University of Wisconsin history professor, the 17th century is “probably the most important century in the making of the modern world.” And according to historian Christopher Hill, “What happened in the 17th century is still sufficiently part of us today, of our ways of thinking, our prejudices, our hopes.”
The more I read about this period, the more devoted I became.
And so my mission almost wrote itself. It was not only to create and sell a collection of books based primarily in Irish history that illuminates, entertains, informs and inspires readers, but also to elevate understanding of the importance of the 17th century.
How do you spell success?
This mission really comes into play when I am clear about how I define my own success as an indie author. Think about this:
Is your success based on volume of sales? If it is, your mission statement will help you be specific about it and set goals to take you where you want to go. It becomes both an affirmation and a battle cry. Everyone wants to be a bestselling author. But selling books can be hard work for an indie. You’re up against the proliferation of other books, the pressure for buyers to choose “bestsellers,” the credibility issues around indie books, the time and expense of reaching a wide audience, the borrowing and sharing of books, and the websites that offer “free” books. These obstacles may not be insurmountable for you, but still toughen your way. So, if you fall short of your sales goals, does that make you a failure?
Is your success based on fame? How will you measure it? Can you get Oprah to recommend you? Can you get Starz or Netflix to produce a series based on your books? And if they don’t, does that make you a failure?
Is success based on awards? They contribute to your credibility and help confirm that you’re on the right track. But how many are enough? Which ones? Do they translate into sales or loyal readers? What if they aren’t forthcoming, or if you always come in second-best? Would that mean failure?
No. Sales, fame, and awards are results for which you have marketing goals, and while they may be part of your mission, they should not define you. They don’t say anything about what you do for your reader, and why you do it. To get to the sales, fame and awards, and to experience the joy of success, you have to consistently and repeatedly offer something of value. Make THAT your mission.
Let’s go back to my mission statement and my readers. Am I entertaining, informing and inspiring them? Am I getting the 17th-century story out? Success. I hear the comments and see the reviews, and even if not by the hundreds, the message is the same. “A wonderful and compelling historical novel.” “A compelling story rich in detail.” In addition, readers say things like, “The 17th century in Ireland is a period I knew little about so I was fascinated to learn so much while being happily carried along with the engaging story.”
So, with this kind of a mission statement you will know you are accomplishing your mission, bit-by-bit, reader-by-reader, one day at a time. It is gratifying to be fulfilling what your true purpose. The sales also will come, but you are already successful, and the knowledge of this will carry you through all the inevitable ups and downs of marketing.
Should you have a mission statement? Only if you want to work like a professional, stay focused on your purpose, and get a sense a fulfillment you never knew you needed.