What Authors Could Learn From The Undertaker's Career Evolution
Anyone who knows me, knows my love affair with WWE pro wrestling. Recently, the top star of over 30 years, The Undertaker, announced his retirement. The WWE put out an exquisite 5-part documentary that gave a rare glimpse into the life of the man behind the character. Allowing fans to see him as Mark Calaway is just another example of Undertaker's evolution and how he's stayed relevant over the years. Authors, take note....
For over 30 years Undertaker remained at the top of the pro wrestling industry and a large part of that came from him knowing when he needed to switch up the character to continue resonating with fans.
Authors could learn a lot about marketing from pro wrestlers. Wrestling characters are their brands and in order to keep their brands relevant they have to run themselves like a business. As authors, we should be thinking the same way about our careers.
The Undertaker built his brand as "The Deadman" but managed multiple variations of that character. He started as a macabre, slow-moving almost zombie-like entity that didn't speak and only did what his manager Paul Bearer instructed. The mystique of that first incarnation of The Undertaker worked to pique interest but wrestling fans are a picky bunch and Calaway knew that in order to keep his top spot he would need to show more personality. The variations of The Undertaker over the years fit in perfectly with the direction the business of wrestling was going. Soon Taker started speaking more and showing more athleticism to keep fans engaged in his brand.
Then Undertaker took a big risk. Around 2000 which was dubbed The Attitude Era, the wrestling business was dominated by strong speakers like The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Taker knew that a somber Undertaker wouldn't survive in that environment. He shed "The Deadman" gimmick altogether and rechristened himself as "American Badass." His theme music changed, he roared down to the ring on a motorcycle, he even cut off his long trademark hair. He allowed a bit more of Mark Calaway to peak out and the risk worked. Fans embraced "The American Baddass" just as much as much as "The Deadman."
How to Reinvent Your Brand as an Author
If you don't know it by now I'll let you in on a fact: being an author is being in business. This is especially true today in the realm of self-publishing. Like the WWE Superstars you are in charge of your brand, it's part of your business as an author.
Having an author brand simply means that your readers know what to expect from you when it comes to your books. Mary Higgins Clark was known as "The Queen of Suspense." J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin are known for sweeping, epic fantasy. Stephen King is a master of horror.
That's not to say your brand has to be linked to a specific genre, but it does help. When I first started my career I wrote standalone novels in different genres. What I came to realize is that I was confusing my audience. Since then I've streamlined my books to encompass a central theme of success through struggle.
Now any book I write falls under this theme where I make sure specific elements are always included. For instance, I write under the fantasy tree but there are many sub genres of fantasy and depending on the story I'm working on I've been in one or another sub genre be it urban fantasy, dark fantasy, etc. But as long as I'm including my central theme which means having my characters overcome a struggle (internal and external) to find success, then I know I'm on the right path. Having this theme has also helped me branch out into self-help guides which helps people navigate real-life struggle to find success.
This is just an example to show you how to rework your brand to find your ideal readers. But like The Undertaker, don't be locked into your "character" as an author brand. Times change rapidly and you have to be willing to change with them. As long as you know the message you're trying to get across, and have a deep faith in who you are as a brand, your fans will go along for the ride with you.
Now go unleash your own American Badass!