Depth Over Frequency for Growing Your Brand

If you're interested in growing your brand or amplifying your voice, here's what we found in the research.

Aim for depth over frequency.

For my latest book, I researched over 6,000 individuals named to the Forbes 30 under 30. I wanted to see what stood out about them. It wasn't the schools they attended, the graduate degrees they help, or the companies they worked at. It wasn't even the companies they started.
Over 85% of them had a "Creation Event" -- a substantial, public project that they used to demonstrate their expertise, credibility, curiosity, and competence.

Nearly all of them 'went deep' on something outside of their job or work.

We found 9 creation events among these individuals, including:
  • hosted an event series or conference
  • hosted a podcast
  • created a video series
  • organized a concert or exhibit
  • published original research
  • wrote a book
  If you're looking for a path to elevate your voice or enhance your personal or business brand, focus on depth over frequency. OR, start with depth, and then add frequency based on the depth. Invest in a Creation Event. The best investment is an investment in your own growth. What's the most impactful creation event in your career/life?
Modern Author Strategies to get Booked for More speaking Gigs

From a Book to the Stage: Four Strategies Authors Can Leverage to Get Booked for More Speaking Gigs

If you want to get paid to speak, you need social proof. I’ve tested four strategies. 

Why Does Public Speaking Matter (Especially Today)?

We consume a lot of content today.  Some content is for entertainment, but much of what people consume is to help us learn, improve, or grow.   If you want to cut through that noise, you need to capture attention. And one of the best ways to capture attention is to stand in front of an audience and speak directly to them You may have the greatest shot in those few moments to truly stand out. If you're a coach, consultant, business owner, or thought leader, you need attention for more clients, customers, and business opportunities.  Personally, speaking has created some of my warmest relationships and can be quite profitable.  I've spoken in some amazing places -- the White House, UN, Google, Microsoft, GE, baseball stadiums, etc. -- and some funky places like bars, basement offices, and high schools.  Quite a few have been on Zoom too... which can be great too.  At the end of the day, regardless of the venue, it's a business strategy, and I look at it as marketing.  It's led to clients, customers, and more paid speaking. It’s high-value attention.   But it's hard to break into the game... people often ask me about speaker bureaus or consultants.  Frankly, to break in... you'll have to do it yourself (then maybe those can help).  You need a social proof strategy.

It’s Not What You Say, But What the Audience Will Hear

One of the biggest fallacies about public speaking is you just need to have a great speech.  I spoke to one of the individuals responsible for booking talent for TED and TEDx talks, and what he told me surprised me:
“We want ideas that spread, not just inspiring stories.  We’re not in the business of promoting anecdotes.”
You need social proof:
  • Social proof of your idea isn’t just an inspiring anecdote
  • Social proof that your idea can move an audience
  • Social proof that your idea is new and forward-looking
  • And you can be strategic in creating it and leveraging it.
Modern Author Accelerator Program

Social Proof is Not One thing; It’s Multiple Things That Build on One Another

Social proof isn’t a single thing – it’s not your published book, it’s not your TEDx talk, it’s not your article, and it’s not one testimonial.  Social proof is the story you tell (or show) about why an audience would be moved by what you have to say, share, and teach. How you tell (and show) that story is the key to getting you booked for more speaking opportunities.   These four things- usually in combination- prove you're worth booking.

Here are the four strategies I've seen work:

  1. Thought Leadership. This is the most important -- do you have an 'unconventional' insight backed up by evidence (your research, interviews, data)?  Things that demonstrate thought leadership are a book or upcoming book, a research-driven article in a publication like HBR or Forbes, a TEDx talk, or a badass interview (usually on a stage). Without this nailed, it's an uphill battle.
  1. Testimonials and reviews.  This isn't about the 'fame' of the person but the relevancy to the audience. More variety you can customize the better.
  1. Social Media Engagement. Do you think your posts create conversations?  Will your talk spark similar conversations IRL?
  1. Past speaking engagements. I put this last because people overrate a 'speaker reel'... it helps (of course). Yes, it helps, but today having 1-3 with some podcast interviews, YouTube videos, etc., can be more powerful.

Design Your Strategy to Improve Each Dimension of Social Proof.

It’s a journey – not a destination I look at my own growth as a speaker over the past few years and realize some of today’s opportunities wouldn’t have been possible two or three years ago.   Could you design a strategy for your social proof?  Most of today's best thought leader speakers create social proof by being
  • (a) unconventional (but evidence-backed);
  • (b) relevant;
  • (c) engaging; and
  • (d) compelling. 
  Remember... you're not competing with established thought leaders for speaking slots... your goal is to position yourself as the next thought leader. How? One of my favorite ways to strategize on this is to figure out how to be a "poor man's" _____.    Sure, you're not Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, or David Goggins (yet)... but use 1-4 above to help showcase where you could offer something those more prominent names don't.  Consider creating a grid and scoring some of the names you aspire to be like – then score yourself (but be kind).  What are the areas you can improve in… as you get more evidence and proof points, update your score. Review yourself as a speaker on those four dimensions -- and update as you grow. 

Strategically Establishing an Author Brand Through Social Media and Other Platforms

Let’s say you have written and published a book, or are in the middle of writing a manuscript for a book, or maybe just starting to think about writing a book and one day becoming a published author, or maybe the first book is on the cusp, about to be released upon the world. What must be considered in terms of author branding? How do you sell yourself to potential readers? Do you sell yourself? According to Mark Coker writing for Publisher’s Weekly, author brand is “a bundle of perceptions and expectations that form in readers’ minds over time. A brand is a promise; it’s what readers expect from an author.” (1) Think of your favorite authors and the books you buy and read based on their names alone. A few of my favorites include David Mitchell, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jeffrey Eugenides, Victor LaValle, Stephen Graham Jones, Barbara Kingsolver, Zoje Stage, Josh Malerman, Cormac McCarthy, and more. I would blindly buy books from any of those writers. The list is different for everyone, but all avid readers have a list. It doesn’t matter what any of those writers mentioned above write. As soon as their books come out, I snag a copy, full price. There’s no hesitation. I simply buy the book the moment it’s out and it goes to the top of my reading list. More often than not, personal bookshelves (mine at least, and many of my friends’) are organized in groups by author name, more so than listed alphabetically by author, or by genre, or by publisher, or even (for some chaotic yet artistically-pleasing reason) by color. And more often than not, these books are collected and stored on shelves. They help define who we are as readers to those who may happen upon the collection. No matter the book, as soon as a new title is released by our favorite authors, we devour them. We instantly add them to our ever-growing TBR (to-be-read) pile, or move them to the top. There’s no need to go into a store and flip through pages to determine if the story or author warrants our time, and there’s no need to use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to check writing quality; we simply discover (or anticipate) a new book by our favorite authors and read them. But why do we do this?

Perceptions, Promises, and Expectations

Let’s say Stephen King is on your list. There is a perception that any new book will be a doorstopper, a hefty book with lots of character development, mystery, magic, and maybe a little (or extremely) terrifying. And you, his Constant Reader (as he likes to address his following) expect his name to be emblazoned on the cover in that large, familiar font. And there is a promise that as soon as you start reading, his voice will pull you in like that of an old familiar friend.
  • Perception
  • Promise
  • Expectation
Consider those three things as the base of your brand, and in terms of your author name alone. How will your name be perceived? What does your name promise to a potentially constant fanbase? What can readers expect from each John Doe book before ever knowing the particulars? It should be good, and it will be good. The author’s brand begins (or should) with the first book. It is highly important that a debut makes an impression because once it is out in the world, there is no going back. It will always be the author’s first book. Now think about all the writers on your list of go-to's. Do you remember their first book? Most likely you do, or you at least remember the first book you read by that author, because they instantly hooked you into their world and became a favorite. If your book is published, was your manuscript highly polished prior to publication? Did it go through tireless rounds of revisions, maybe some rewrites? Was the manuscript professionally edited, line edited, copy edited, and proofread? Is the cover eye-catching and represents not only the book but you as its author? And if you haven’t yet published your debut book, is that the plan? Those are a lot of questions to consider, but important to ask when considering author brand. Another big question: Is the book a solid start to your legacy? Always keep in mind (unless a one-hit-wonder) that the goal is to be a name writer others will someday include on their favorites list.

Branding Builds Career

Author branding is how an undiscovered writer becomes discovered. When a potential reader sees your name on a book cover or spine, consider what you want that name to represent, beyond genre categorization. This is difficult with only one published book (or if not yet published), but imagine having an entire row of books one day. When a second book is released, or a third or a fourth, what are the reader’s perceptions of you as a writer, and as a person (as you represent yourself to the public)? What can you promise readers with each of your books, and with your name alone? What are the readers expectations each time a new book is announced? What legacy will you leave behind? Book #1 needs to be so good that by the time Book #2 is announced, readers are already eager for it and will buy it sight unseen. Successful branding means readers are not buying the book, they are buying the author. If you have aspirations to continue writing, whether as a career or an extended hobby, consider the long-haul. Be the best version of yourself online (no matter where) because what you post is a representation of you, and your brand. Just like with family and friends, discussions on race, religion, politics, money, sex . . . they can all be dangerous topics online, and others behind keyboards are often quick to react. A wrong or even accidental turn-of-phrase from a blind spot can be damaging, even career-cancelling. And keep in mind that once something goes online, it’s pretty much permanent.

Sell the Writer, Not the Book

One thing all successful writers have in common is they rarely solicit their work. A new book comes out, they post about it a few times on social media or on their website, and that’s about it. Author brand takes care of the rest. A book signing here, a book review there, but for the most part, they mostly share personal things about themselves: family, friends, pets, favorite films or shows or music, and often other author’s books . . . One thing most novice writers have in common, on the other hand (those with aspirations to become bestsellers), is they tend to oversaturate. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Instagram, TikTok, and so on, are all bombarded with advertisements for books from newer writers, which is understandable. New authors need the attention; otherwise, how can they ever become a household name? The key with a social presence is to sell the writer, not the book. The last thing any potential reader wants is to be overwhelmed by advertisements. Readers want an understanding of their favorite authors, some kind of personal connection. The books, if an author has made one’s favorites list, are basically pre-sold already because of a solid author brand, so there’s no need for the author to do anything other than be their real selves online. Follow the footsteps of successful writers: post a few times about the book, but focus on the self. Share a cover. Share a book unboxing video. Share a reading. Share information about the process of writing and how the book came about. Share something amusing or even funny. Share anything but the price of the book and the link where to buy it. Most importantly, share anecdotes about your life that are not book-related. Let both potential and constant readers connect with you. Readers know where to find books. They go into bookstores (unfortunately not as often as in the past). They have their places online where they purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Wal-Mart, Target, wherever. Unless offering a means of purchasing an autographed or personalized copy, readers do not need to be shown a link where to buy books. Ever. Social media algorithms tend to filter out such things and limit viewership anyway. Is a book on sale for 25% or 50% off from a certain distributor? It makes sense to share to help readers save money. Is an eBook on sale for a limited time at $1.99, $0.99, or free? It makes sense to help out readers who are money conscious, and because readers are more likely to try a new author if not paying full price for a book. But, for the most part, readers never need to be told where to buy books. All avid readers need is the author’s name if the branding is strong enough.

Social Media and Other Platform Consideration

Part of one’s branding requires a healthy social presence and consistency, which leads to my first piece of advice for successful author branding.
  • Secure a unique author name or pseudonym.
Whether using a real name or a pseudonym, do a little research beforehand. See if there are similar author names in the world. Is your name unique? If not, can it be made unique? Where might your books fit on store shelves, alphabetically by last name? The author name is the most important part of one’s branding. Almost twenty years ago, I was in the process of writing and then publishing my first novel, Palindrome Hannah. Social media wasn’t around then, so a big part of author branding was having a website. Excited about the book, I secured (no longer active) and setup a website. Good idea, right? Not entirely . . . While the Internet wasn’t then what it is today, one lesson I quickly learned about author branding was with website domains. I ran the site for a handful of years, and it didn’t occur to me that I had run into a problem. I was about halfway through editing my second novel, Phoenix Rose, and thought, like I had before, I better grab that domain too, But someone else already had it, and for the next ten years (and they still have it today). My next thought was to secure a domain for my author name instead, which is my second piece of advice:
  • Secure a website domain using your author name (if at all possible), even if only buying the domain and parking it for a while, or forever. It’s not expensive. And if the plan is to publish multiple books under an imprint, secure a website domain for that name.
A website can be the hub for all writerly things: a short biography, a bibliography of published works, links to social media platforms, to the books themselves, or maybe a blog, and, importantly, a Contact page. If you have no use for a website, consider getting one anyway; that way, at least no one else can use it, thus protecting your author brand. With a common first and last name, I unfortunately learned that was already taken (and still is today, despite not hosting a website, and despite my constant efforts to obtain it). I can secure a domain with my middle initial, but I don’t use my middle initial as part of my brand. Years later, after I decided I didn’t want to be a one-hit-wonder, I created a small press called Written Backwards. As part of my branding (for my press), and part of my re-branding (for myself as an author), I obtained, as well as, which is now my hub for everything book-related. And since, by then, social media has basically taken over the internet, this leads to my third piece of advice:
  • Secure all social media handles that match your author or imprint name, even if you never plan to use them.
Consistency is again key. If you have a website like, keep your social media handles as uniform as possible, such as @johndoe for Twitter, for Facebook, as well as using the “johndoe” name for any new social media handles. It will take research on your part to see if names are already taken, but it’s nice having them match. If you are set on your author name, and perhaps fortunate enough to secure your own name-matching website, yet matching social media handles are unavailable, consider using something close, such as johndoe_author. It is not always possible, but try to be consistent with naming conventions across all platforms. This will make it easy for potential readers to find you across the expanse of social media, and looks good in terms of author branding. Some social media platforms even allow cross-platform posting. In Instagram, for example, one has the ability to cross-post to both Facebook and Twitter. With a domain as unique as, I was able to secure for Twitter, and for Facebook, and likewise use “nettirw” for Instragram and LinkedIn and even TikTok (which I don’t use). I even have an Ello account. Basically, I grab every handle that consistently matches my branding the moment any new social media platforms surfaces. One name to rule them all. I don’t plan to use most social media platforms, but securing the handles protects my author branding and keeps others from stepping on them or holding them for ransom.

Represent the Best Version of You

Maybe you will publish a single book and become a one-hit-wonder, or maybe a New York Times bestselling writer and author to many books, but no matter the scenario, represent the best version of yourself to the public. Protect your author brand.
1. Coker, Mark. “Seven Author Branding Tips.”, November 16, 2018.
Michael Bailey is a Senior Editor and the Head of Developmental Editing at Manuscripts, LLC. He is a recipient and nine-time nominee of the Bram Stoker Award, a four-time Shirley Jackson Award nominee, and a multiple recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Award, along with over thirty independent publishing accolades. He has written, edited, and published many books. His latest is Righting Writing, a nonfiction narrative about dedication to the craft. He is also the screenwriter for Madness and Writers: The Untold Truth, a creative documentary series about writers. Find him online at, or on social media @nettirw.

Why Category-Defining Books Start With a Question (Hint: You Don’t Need to Be an Expert Before You Write a Book)

“Why would anyone listen to me?” “I don’t know enough about the topic.” “Do you think I need to get a Ph.D. first?”
Expertise. It’s a common misconception about writing a great book. So the thinking goes, you become an expert and then just tell people how. But the reality is quite the opposite.   I asked author Dan Pink about the origins of his recent book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, and his answer surprised me. “That book had its genesis in this office. In an attempt to answer how I should approach my work.” A question he wanted to answer for himself. I asked Arianna Huffington why she wrote Thrive: Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. “I collapsed from exhaustion and burnout in 2007, and started studying the whole phenomenon of burnout, covering a lot of it in the Huffington Post that I was running at the time. And then I started wanting to write about it. So, that's how Thrive came about it. It was really my new passion.” A question she wanted to answer for herself. Even my recent book Super Mentors began with a question: “Why wasn’t I a very effective mentor?” And the resulting work and book taught me something compelling that I shared with others through the book. This a question I wanted to answer for myself. None of us were experts, but we became experts by writing these books. Great books begin with a question.  But how do you find yours? * * * First, some wrong questions often clog the potential book writer’s mind:
  • Is it unique?
  • Will it sell?
  • Can I finish?
Those are different from the kinds of questions to fixate on. Sure, they are concerns, but truthfully they are much less relevant when you have a driving question.

Find Your Driving Question

Great books are based on a type of question I call your driving question  Driving questions are deeply personal, cross-cutting to numerous aspects of your life, and they nag at you often through an emotional thread.   It’s something that bugs you.  
  • Why can’t I . . . 
  • How come I . . . 
  • What’s stopping me from . . .
  • Why don’t we . . .
  • How come they won’t . . .
For Dan Pink, it was when he should be working to maximize his happiness, health, and success. For Arianna, it was how she should take care of herself to maximize her long-term well-being. For me, it was how to make a difference with others when I tried to help.   The way I summarize this is to ask yourself: What annoys you – and no matter what you’ve read, watched, heard, or done just doesn’t seem to fix it for you? That is a driving question.   What’s vital about driving questions is that conventional wisdom – what most people think or believe – is just unsatisfactory to you.   Sure, there may be answers from experts, research, and other places. But it’s unsatisfactory for you. You’re annoyed that you can’t find something that works or is satisfying for you.   Congratulations. You’ve got your driving question.

Is It Worth Finding Answers to Your Driving Question

Finding a question is relatively easy. Finding a driving question is more challenging. But the real trick is deciding something different: Is it worth finding answers to your driving question? Most likely, answers exist to this question. Books have been written. Podcast interviews are out there. Blog posts are plentiful.   Don’t expect to be the only one thinking about your driving question. Driving questions likely drive others too. That’s a good sign people are trying to answer it. But you’re on the right track if you find the answers unsatisfactory, incomplete, or too general. Remember, Dan wasn’t the first person or only person to write about the power of timing, luck, time management, or similar themes. There were dozens and dozens of books on wellness, sleep, purpose, etc., before Arianna wrote her book. And mentorship is one of the most covered subjects on the planet.   But none of them were satisfying, complete, or specific to us. Something was missing.   Remember, driving questions are deeply personal, and that’s part of what makes books special and unique:
  • Dan Pink was a modern, independent worker. As an author, he doesn’t punch a clock. Many books about time management or understanding timing were built when we didn’t control our schedules. He needed a unique and updated view for people like him. 
  • Arianna wasn’t a scientist, but she’d risen to fame and simply couldn’t go off in the wilderness and meditate to find her wellness. She needed to examine it for busy and ambitious professionals who wanted more. 
  • I was exploring modern mentorship in the digital era where the internet had changed access to advice and information. Nothing I’d read offered that modern look. 
But how will you know if it is worth finding answers to your driving question? I suggest you answer two questions:
  1. Is it something I’m willing to spend the next year going deeper into for myself?
  2. Is it something I’m willing to teach to others like me?
If your answer is yes to both questions, then you have checked a very important box in the book process:  This is a driving question worth finding answers to.

Where to Find Help Answering Your Driving Question

This is where many aspiring authors get stuck – answering your driving question isn’t easy or straightforward.   The answers will be nonlinear, more like a treasure hunt than a path.   And this is where the process is critical: You don’t look for an answer. You look for people who can contribute to your answer. This is critical – you should assume there is no answer. Dan Pink shared that he took a yellow notepad and began creating a list of people he wanted to learn from or talk to to answer his question.   Assume every expert will offer you something helpful, but it’ll be unsatisfactory, incomplete, or too general. There is no one magic TED Talk, book, or framework that answers your driving question. But they will have helpful contributions. What is a contribution? According to our good friend Webster (the dictionary), it’s when you give (something) to help achieve or provide something. For an aspiring author, the “something” here differs from what people usually expect from hunting for answers. Hunt for stories. I recently wrote a longer post about the hunt for stories called "Master Story Gathering: Four Steps to Research Story Ideas for Any Nonfiction Book". Especially early in your journey, you’re looking for contributions through the stories of others.  

Share Answers to Your Driving Question

Early in your writing journey, keep your writing short – usually, 50-250 word snippets that summarize the story from a podcast, an experience in your own life, a TED Talk, an interview you did, or just something random you thought of.  These smaller answers – contributions – are what will guide you toward answers that are:
  • More satisfactory
  • More complete
  • More specific
Remember, your book isn’t the only answer out there…  I can't guarantee that reading one book will change your life. But I can guarantee that writing one will. Through that process, you’ll answer your driving question,  and have something to share and teach others who also feel like you. * * * Most of the best books I’ve read didn’t start from a place of expertise; they started from a place of curiosity. Find your driving question and commit to answering it yourself and sharing it with others through a book. So, what’s your driving question?
Eric Koester is the founder Manuscripts, LLC, a b-corporation whose mission is to inspire, teach and support tomorrow’s creators — authors, podcasters, speakers, entrepreneurs, corporate innovators and course builders. Through his work he’s coached nearly 1,000 first-time creators. He is also a Professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Georgetown University and the school’s only two-time entrepreneurship professor of the year, faculty at Growth University, and the executive director of the Intrapreneur Institute, which researches, trains and develops future innovation leaders.