Does the idea of “author branding” make you groan, or is it just me?
“Branding” sounds like something evil corporate titans do to make people buy gross, unethical products. It doesn’t seem like the purview of writers. And that’s true…as long as you never intend to sell what you write.
Being an author, on the other hand, means you want strangers to pay money to read your books. When something’s for sale, you’ve got to know what the product is, who it appeals to, and be able to communicate why it’s worth spending money on. The book business is a business like any other and the sooner you accept it, the more likely you are to be successful.
So…back to author branding.
What is a brand?
An author brand is a writer’s professional reputation. Yes, that potentially includes a logo, website, and tagline, but more than that: your brand is what readers expect when they pick up your book.
I know I’m going to get a twisty legal drama when I read John Grisham. If I’m in the mood for a deep dive into American family life, I might turn to Jonathan Franzen. But brand is more than the type of book you write, it’s also the quality, presentation, narrative style, pacing, length, etc.
When identifying your brand, imagine yourself as a reader. When someone sees your name on a spine, what are they going to get?
Figure out your unique selling point.
Lots of writers tackle legal thrillers. Many attempt a family drama. Not everyone is Grisham or Franzen. They add their own style and spin to the literary landscape. What about you?
Think about what makes you and your books unique. Is it a stylized voice? Is it the fast pace? Is it that you have a specialized skill or knowledge that your stories draw on, like experience in the military or as a quilter? What do you bring to bookshelves that others don’t?
This is a good exercise whether you think you’re ready for “branding” or not. It doesn’t matter if you self-publish or sell to a publishing houses, or anything in between, you’ve got to understand your place in the market. That means write what you want but be able to articulate where you fit in or how you stand out.
Brand yourself not the book.
To have a career, an author must write books not a book. Therefore, you need to create an author brand that extends beyond your first manuscript. Think of it as your author persona. This persona should be reflected in what you post on social media and in the presentation of your books.
Presentation means cover art and quality. It’s also knowing the type of book you write and the audience for that book. For example, if you write young adult science fiction and young adult thrillers—that’s fine. No need to be pigeon-holed in a specific genre. However, if you’re going to use the same author name for both, make sure you understand the through-line of what you do. I write fast-paced, exciting stories about teenagers in dangerous situations. Apply this example to your own work.
The other thing about branding? You need to be able to state it explicitly. If you have a hard time explaining your brand, practice doing it for your favorite authors. You can probably sum up theirs easily. Once you get the hang of it, do it for yourself.
Choose the look and apply everywhere.
Once you identify your brand, come up with a look and apply it everywhere. First-time, self-published (basically, all) authors must do their own advertising. You’re going to need social media and a website at minimum. Put thought into what you’re trying to connote with your look. For instance, if you write horror, pink fonts aren’t going to get the point across. Same thing goes with social media. If your books are light-hearted, don’t constantly post about depressing topics.
For many writers, the idea of branding, marketing, and advertising is overwhelming. However, putting thought into your author brand will help you better understand and articulate what you write. Helping your readers find you will always be worth the effort.