If you are a new or up and coming author, chances are someone along the way has given you the sage advice that you need to build your author brand. Leaving you scratching your head going, what the heck is an author brand? And how the heck to I build one?
You’re not alone.
When I began writing, back in the dark ages of nearly ten years ago, it was a relatively new concept. Few people knew what an author brand was or why you need one. I stumbled through my first few years without one and, guess what, it sucked. I sucked. So when I tell you that yes, you DO need one, please believe me. Without a good author brand, you are left floundering in a sea of digital crapola struggling to find your place and connect with potential readers.
So what is an Author brand?
Basically, it’s you. See, gone are the days where you can just market your books and never actually show your face to anyone. Those days of writer hermitdom are gone. RIP. We live in a world where social media and digital connections make up a huge chunk of our existence. It’s how we communicate, how we reach out to new people and ideas. It’s the digital frontier. And for better or worse, you need to know not only how to exist in it, but how to leverage it to make your mark.
An author brand is your digital self, the brand that will carry you across platforms, linking you with a recognizable and accessible product–ie, your books.
Take a deep breath and let me explain.
I’m not just talking about a logo (though logos are good), but I’m talking about the image that you want to project, how you want people to see you. You’re THEME. If you write children’s books, perhaps you want people to think of bright pink hippos or colorful rainbows when they think of you. If you write steampunk you may want people to connect you with gears or airships. If you write romance you may want people to connect your name to sexy were-shifters. You get the idea. If you write in many different genres, your job is a little harder. You need to think of something that equates to you as a person or to the image you want your brand to project. Again, not necessarily an photo, but a tone, a feel. At the very minimum the fonts, colors, and images you choose should carry across from your Facebook to Twitter, to your Website and etc. Tag lines are also great. I’m going to show you one author brand that I just love. It belongs to Indie author Belinda Boring.
Now, this image is a great example. It has her name (prominently featured), her tag line, and her logo. This image is the same on all her social media pages, her website, and her business cards and swag. All together it makes up her author brand.
Let me be very clear. Once your brand is established it does not have to ‘fit’ every single genre you write in. It just has to be recognizable at a glance.This is why i always suggest that when buying a domain name for your website, it should be YOU and not your books. www.yourname.com vs www.yourbooktitle.com.
Here’s mine. It’s much simpler and while I don’t have a logo per-se, it’s very recognizable and is used across all my platforms, on my banners, etc.
The purpose of an author brand is to have one cohesive online presence that also carries over into real life. If someone sees this on a banner at an event, they immediately know who I am and mentally connect me to my online presence.
BUT that’s not all. Author branding isn’t just colors and logos. Those are just the foundation, the building blocks. It’s also about knowing and exploiting your unique place in the marketplace. It’s about being able to take your brand and use it to get exposure for you and your books. Your goal, once the foundation is laid, is to push your brand out into the world, to create that recognition. This is done in a variety of ways. Interviews, guest blog posts, chats, conferences, conventions. Basically, through promoting the living crap out of it.
But that’s another post.
So, why do you need an author brand?
Well, here’s the bottom line. Strong author brands will sell books. Weak author brands actually deter sales.
Let that sink in.
As an author, you are expected to be a professional, and are held to a higher standard. If you fall short of that, people simply don’t take you as seriously, and they will assume that your books are of a lesser quality. On the flip side of that, if I walk into a book store and see say, Anne Rice’s name on the front of a book, I’m probably going to buy it–I may not even read the blurb. Why? Because I know her brand means it’s a book I will likely enjoy. I trust it. A strong brand can influence buyers to purchase your book when they have only limited money–especially if they have already sort of heard good things from another source like a book blogger or online reviewer. It will also create a loyal readership that can bring you bigger contracts from publishers and more attention from agents as well as readers.
When I started publishing I got some great advice from a dear friend who is wildly more successful than me. He told me, “You are only as successful as you look online”. I think that is incredibly true. When you project success, you become successful. It’s not about lying online–I never condone that. It’s about presenting you and your brand as a high quality product.
So on to the hard part. How do you create your author brand?
First, be sure you have a product to sell, and that it is of exceptional quality.
Second, discover your author brand. Decide what image, tag line, logo, color scheme, or theme you want to project. Is there one quality, topic, or aspect of your books you’d like to highlight so that you become known for it? If not, what are your passions, your interests? For example, I have an author friend who writes both fiction and non fiction, but all her books carry a strong theme of healing. She also lives in the southwest so she uses a lovely desert-scape image for her brand. I know another author who writes urban fantasy and paranormal novels with strong female leads and her tag line is, Damsels Not In Distress.
What sets you apart? What theme do your books carry? Who are your readers going to be? If you can’t clearly communicate your niche in the market place, then how do you expect to connect to readers looking for what you’re offering?
So really think about you and your books and the image you want to present to the world. Once you have that in mind, proceed to step three.
Step three. Have a professional online presence, that includes a website and at least a few social media accounts, and use that brand across each one. I suggest you use the social sites you are already comfortable with. If you have no idea what snapchat is or how to use it, then just stay away. Have a few core places you visit, but not so many that you spent hours a day keeping them updated. But whatever you choose, be active and engaging. Remember the 80/20 rule. 80% of what you post should be about YOU and should showcase your life, your voice, you as a person. Only 20% of what you post should be blatant promotion.
Step four, when in doubt, get help. Having a functional website and online presence is much more complicated than it sounds. There are a million tiny things you should have when you launch your brand. For example, do you have a catchy newsletter sign up form? Or do you have individual pages for each of your books? Did you know that branded purchase links will get 3X the clicks as text links? Do you have google analytics set up so you can monitor traffic on your blog or website? Do your social media sites cross-post? Are your images easily clickable and shareable? Did I just begin speaking another language?
Don’t be afraid to look at what other authors are doing, especially successful authors in your similar genre. Take the best parts of what others are doing and learn to implement it yourself. Or, look for a service to help. I use Author Branding Essentials and highly recommend them, but there are many similar services you can find on the web. (I suggest doing your homework, though, and speaking to their clients before dropping cash on anyone. You will want to find someone who gets you and who you can trust. Don’t go to just anyone. Look at their work, their experience, and talk to clients to get a real idea of what it’s like to work with them.) This is one of those places where you get what you pay for. If you buy a $5 logo on Fiverr, odds are it’s going to be less than professional, or at least, less that what you really want. If you are going to spend money anywhere when starting up, I suggest spending it on a good website. It will help you sell more books than all the bookmarks or buttons in the world.
Step five, be aware that your brand will grow and evolve over time. That’s great. It’s supposed to happen that way. But switching from one branded platform to another is hard, so go into it knowing that it will grow and giving it room to do just that. It will save you enormous headaches down the road.
Step six, try to enjoy the ride. If you are miserable, people pick up on that, whether online or in real life. If you aren’t excited and engaging, then people will avoid you like the plague. You are always the face of your product, and as your brand grows, that only becomes more true. The happier you are in the process, the happier you will make others. People who like YOU as a person are always going to be your biggest fans and best buyers.
I know all this can sound daunting, but once you get your author brand established and the wrinkles smoothed out, I promise it will stand on it’s own legs and you will be free to focus on other things, like actually writing books!
Until next time, cheers!