The “B” Word
This article is part 1 in a series on author branding.
If you read many books or blog posts about how to succeed as an author, you’ll eventually run into what Randy Ingermanson calls “The B Word” in his Advanced Fiction Writing Newsletter.
That word is Branding, something formerly associated with pressing red-hot metal against cattle’s hindquarters, but branding has evolved into a marketing tool now associated with large companies like Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola and such. Branding doesn’t just apply to companies anymore. Products and even individuals can have brands too.
You don’t really have full control over your brand, but you do have influence. There are tons of books and websites out there that can help you discover and establish your own brand. But it isn’t rocket science. This series of blog posts will outline aspects, benefits and tactics of branding that you can use to improve your career as an author.
What Is A Brand?
Brand has been defined in many ways:
- “The perceived emotional corporate image as a whole“
- “…what your company stands for and what it is known for“
- “The identity of a specific product, service, or business.“
- “How we market ourselves to others.“
- The “promise” your product/company/self makes to the customer
In essence, brand is how people label you, an important trait for authors to have. Authors already have the built-in labels provided by Genre, but Brand is much more than just where your books can be found in the library. Randy Ingermanson calls it “The set of expectations the reader has when they see your name on the cover.”
Stephen King is a brand. You have a good idea what you’re getting when you buy a book that says Stephen King on the cover. Many people will buy a book simply because it has Stephen King’s name on the cover. Publishers know this. On the cover of the book, The Dark Half, Stephen King’s name is actually larger than the title of the book!
Authors who break their established branding can get into trouble with their audience. For example, Anne Rice readers were dismayed by her drastic changes in stance on fan fiction and religion.
Brand Or Be Branded
Many indie authors evolve into a brand, just letting their brand happen over time. This is like trying to grow a garden by simply not mowing your yard. And it’s going to look awfully similar to everyone else who did the same thing. Your brand shouldn’t just reflect you and your writing, it should highlight what is special about you and your writing. It shouldn’t just place you within a genre, it should make you stand out within it. There’s plenty of room for you next to Stephen King in the Horror genre, but if your brand looks, feels and smells exactly like Stephen King… why would people buy your book when they can get Stephen King, a brand they already know and trust?
It isn’t hard to come up with a unique brand that fits your writing style. You might do this if you are planning to self-publish, or if you think it might be an attractive selling point for a publisher. All other things being equal, an author with a clear brand in place might be more attractive to a publisher than an author who simply lets their brand grow wild.
Publishers know how important author branding is, and if they sign an author, they will create a brand for them if they don’t already have one. Some publishers are a brand themselves. For example, the Dummies series of books by Wiley are a brand, and authors who write for them all get assimilated into that brand. They all have the same characteristics, cover, layout, etc.
Publishers brand authors according to a market niche where their books are likely to sell best. They can also brand authors INTO a market, whether their writing fits or not. I call this False Branding.
Letting the market (or the publisher) push you into a brand can make your sales skyrocket. It can also make your sales tank. More than one Horror or Urban Fantasy author has been pushed into the Paranormal Romance genre because it’s the latest Red Hot Genre. More than one entrepreneur has tried to come across as a professional [fill in the blank] to cash in on the Next Big Thing. But what if that brand is not really representative of their work?
Readers aren’t stupid. Just because you wrote a book on a subject doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about. Just because two werewolves fuck in your story doesn’t make your novel a Paranormal Romance. Try it and reviewers will slay you, your book, and your future sales. Your author brand needs to accurately reflect your work.
Take Molly Hatchet for example. One look at a Molly Hatchet album cover and you think you’re getting some kind of Epic, Apocalyptic, Doom Metal, but listen to it, and you get a watered down version of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Completely false branding. (More accurately, a false image. I’ll explain the image portion of brand later in this series.)
There’s plenty of authors out there who could be known as The Molly Hatchet of Authors, by releasing books with cover art, cover copy, endorsements and blurbs that make a promise to readers that the writing can’t back up. Like the wise man said in Sucker Punch, “Don’t ever write a check with your mouth that you can’t cash with your ass.”
So how to you take your own brand by the horns and define a workable brand for yourself?
- Learn about branding– Learn what you can and cannot control. Read about branding and . See below for links to the rest of this series on author branding to learn more.
- Analyze the branding of other authors – Research other authors, both in your genre and not, and see how they are using the different aspects of branding. What works? What doesn’t? What are they doing well? How are they doing it? What are they lacking?
- Research the market – Look at what others are doing in aggregate within your genre. What parts of the branding are expected for your genre and what parts are assumed? Are you seeing a lot of copycat branding? Is there a place for you to fit into the genre, yet stand out from the crowd?
- Research yourself – Put on your publishers glasses or your audience glasses and examine yourself from their point of view. Look at your writing, graphics, website, blog posts, social media, comments, and photos and see where your brand is right now.
- Decide on your own author brand – How do YOU want to be perceived as an author? Who is your audience and what do they want in an author? What makes YOU and your writing different from other authors?
- Adjust your brand accordingly – Emphasize the aspects of branding that fit the brand you want to portray and minimize or cut whatever does not fit the brand you want.
The Author Brand Series
This is the first in a series of blog posts about the different elements of author branding. In the rest of the series, I’ll give examples of how myself and others use them, and how you can use them to create a brand for yourself as an author.
- An Introduction To Author Branding
- Quality, Cost, Speed and Consistency
- Content, Keywords and Tone
- The Company You Keep