So many publicity/marketing sites talk about the importance of branding yourself and having a platform. First, can you define brands and platforms, and second, are they important to you and your colleagues in making a decision as to who will get a contract and who won't? Are brands and platforms significant in the LDS marketplace?Branding
Branding yourself as an author means that you have created a body of work in a coherent style, theme and/or genre. It needs to be easily recognizable and easy to summarize. People who buy your books understand what they're going to get. Your brand begins with the first book you publish. If it's a romance, you're branded a romance writer; if historical, that's your brand. If you want to build your brand, you will stick to that genre.
This is particularly important for a national market. If you write outside your perceived brand, it can sometimes cause problems. (John Grisham's Christmas book upset many readers; Anne McCaffery's romances were counterproductive to her sci-fi/fantasy brand.) To get around this, many very famous, well-branded authors will use a different pen name when they write in a new genre. (Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb; Stephen King/Richard Bachman/John Swithen; Robert Jordan/Regan O'Neal/Jackson O'Reily.)
There aren't a lot of LDS writers with a strong brand, simply because there aren't many with a large, coherent body of work. Anita Stansfield is branded—like her books or hate them, you know what you're going to get. Jack Weyland is another, as is Rachel Nunes. However, if any of these authors started writing in a different style or genre, they'd have to recreate their brand.
Now, that said, you don't have to stay pigeon-holed in the first genre you start writing in. Many authors successfully write in a variety of genres, with or without a pen name. However, you, your agent, publicist, publisher need to work together to make a genre change thoughtfully—to minimize reader disappointment and to incorporate the new genre into your evolving brand.
There are actually two uses of the word "platform" as it applies to writing. The first refers to your message, your credentials. This applies more to non-fiction than to fiction. Think of it like a political platform. Maybe a therapist writes frequently about depression—that's their platform.
The other use of the word "platform" refers to the machinery behind marketing your book(s). What methods do you use to get the word out about your book? This would include a website, maybe a blog, publishing related articles for periodicals, a newsletter, public appearances, your agent/editor or publicist.
Are branding and a platform necessary in the LDS market? Well, they happen automatically, whether you're aware of them or not, so I say, use them consciously to promote your writing career.
Does a brand and platform determine who gets a contract and who doesn't? Not directly. Good writing determines a contract. But on the other hand, good writing with a unique story line or style, brings with it the seeds of branding. Also, all things being equal, in a pinch the author who has a good marketing plan (platform) may be published ahead of the author who has not given it any thought.
However, branding and platform are not where you put your energy—at least not in the beginning. Your first concern is to WRITE A GOOD STORY. After that is done, then start thinking about branding and platform.
Here are a few links that talk about branding and platform in more depth:
The Basics of Author Branding
Are Books Bound by Their Brand?
Your Personal Brand
How to Build a Writing Platform
The Truth about Author Platforms
Build an Author's Platform