I’ll admit, before I attended the workshop on branding at the Maun International Arts Festival (the second half of the poetry workshop), when I heard anyone, especially writers, talking about branding I thought less of them.

I usual assumed they were full of a lot of pompous air with very little substance to support their lofty words.

I didn’t see how branding and writing could exist together.

Branding seemed an artificial construct imposed on things so as to market a person better to the public, and this seemed toxic to writing.

A writer must write the story that they need to write, the one that comes to them.

If you begin to consider “your brand” first, I think immediately your writing is tainted.

I’m not sure I’ve completely moved away from my original position, but I’ve learned to give branding a wider definition and learned to look at myself more critically.

The workshop was run by Nigerian born and Canadian living poet and coach, Juliet Kego Ume-Onyido.

She explained branding for an artist as the artist understanding what is important about their art to them and then being true to that, being honest.

To find out who you are, according to Juliet, you first must find your why. Why do you do you write? Do you want fame? Money? To leave a legacy?

Do you want to understand the world better? Why do you write?

Next you need to know where you are in your career.

She says there are four levels of learning and you must be honest to yourself where you are and how far you still need to go. They are:

1. You don’t know that you don’t know. When you begin, you really don’t know where to start.

2. You know what you don’t know. At this stage, you can begin to search for the knowledge you require. You know what you need to learn.

3. You know what you know. Now you’ve got the knowledge and you are consciously implementing it in your work.

4. Unconscious Competence. This is where professionalism is, you unconsciously get on with your work implementing all of the knowledge that you have gained along the way.

These two things (knowing your why and knowing where you are on the levels of learning) will help you to know who you are as a writer.

You also must look at things such as if you have certain themes or messages that run through your writing.

You should attempt to try to say who you are as a writer in a space of 30 seconds.

This I found difficult. She pointed out that you might meet an important person (i.e. an agent or publisher) who wants to know about you and only has a small bit of time to listen. Be ready for that moment.

One very interesting thing she said was that praise is not what you should listen to. You must instead pay attention to the people who criticise you, who irritate you.

That is where you can learn to improve. This is important in Botswana where false praise is endemic in our artistic community.

I find false praise actually undermines a writer, the speaker is saying “this is good enough- for you” placing you in a substandard category.

If they respected you as a writer, they would tell you the truth.

Some of the branding advice also included just simple professionalism. If you are asked to speak or perform for five minutes and you go on for ten, it’s unlikely you will be invited again.

If you are asked to start at 8 am and you arrive at 8:15 am, you are showing the organisers that your brand includes being late and that your brand does not respect the time of the organisers or the audience. Again don’t expect another invite.

She also said that part of your brand as a writer is your audience- who do you want to reach. And you should be specific with this group.

“Everyone” will not cut it. Even saying Africans- which ones? Be specific. Knowing this will also help you to achieve your why.

She also warned artists to take care with their digital footprint. If you want to see what your digital footprint is type your name into Google.

What appears is your digital footprint. She gave the example of a person who has their private Facebook page where they are one person, and then an author page where they pretend to be someone else.

You are not two people, you are one, so be authentic to that.


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