Whole books have been written on author branding, but I wanted to go over the basics today since a lot of people seem confused by the idea. Even though I have a background in marketing, I used to be intimidated, too, until I realized branding is really about how you present yourself to the world. After watching my day job company go through a multi-year re-branding process and reading up on it applies to authors, I’ve learned quite a bit.
We usually think of logo, maybe tagline, when we hear “brand.” Yes, those are the most obvious aspects, but branding is much, much more. Think of the term as meaning your “whole package.” Within that, there are elements that are more internal to you as an author (but still affect those you interact with) and those that are more external-facing to your audiences.
The key with all of these elements is consistency. Pick something (a color, a voice, etc.) and stick with it. Otherwise you will confuse your readers. You also will fragment your image if you switch around too much. Every element of branding should work together to provide a cohesive view of who you are as an author, much like facets in a gem. Below are some of the main elements to consider:
- Voice – This is both your authorial voice in your books and the voice with which you write on your blog, in social media, etc. It is internal because it is part of you. Do you use contractions or not? Do you prefer large words or common slang? Are you one for short, clean sentences or are you verbose and flowery? Think about it this way: a YA author is likely to have a much more relaxed voice than a literary fiction author because literary fiction is concerned with the art of word-craft first and foremost, whereas a YA author takes on a fun, hip voice in order to relate to their audience. Similarly, a non-fiction history writer would sound much more serious than a non-fiction inspirational or motivational author.
- Attitude – How do you talk to those whom you communicate with? Are you positive and cheery or are you serious? Are you helpful or do you give off a sales-y vibe? Anyone who comes in contact with you will be able to tell. This is why it’s important to stay off of social media when you are unhappy or angry. No one is going to be Polly Sunshine all the time, but following someone who is constantly negative is a turn off (trust me, I have followed someone like this). But then again, people have made tons of money embodying a character, so that may be something you want to consider as well, especially if you’re writing a long-running, very popular series. (I personally prefer authenticity, but you can make up your own mind.)
- The way you interact with fans – This is similar to the two above because your voice and attitude play into it. Are you quick to reply to emails/messages/tweets? Are you open to answering questions? Do you pose for pictures with fans at events and engage them in conversation? Or are you more standoffish and closed to online or in-person interaction? Some authors will sign books for hours, while others refuse to ever give an autograph. Think of your best and worst experience with authors you love and you’ll immediately see why this is important and know who you want to emulate.
- What your books are about – This informs your voice, what you blog about, and how you see the world. Let me give you an example: I write historical fiction about women whose stories are in danger of being lost to history, as well as romantic comedies about strong modern women. This means – not surprisingly – I am a feminist. You will see a lot of social media activity from me on women’s issues, as well as historical articles about women on my blog. It also means I will give a very different interview than a woman who has more traditional views on woman’s roles in society.
- Why you write about what you do – The why is almost more important than the what because it gets to your core motivations as a writer. Do you write mystery because you love solving puzzles and are insatiably curious? Do you write YA because you want to be a positive influence for the next generation? If so, you’d have a different brand from someone who writes in that genre because it’s what is hot or because it was the best time of their life. Like the “what,” the “why” informs what other marketing activities you may do, groups you may be part of, even locations for your author events, all of which are part of your brand.
- Logo – Not every author has a logo and that is fine. But having one can help people readily identify who you are and what you are about. You can (and should) put it on your web site, business cards, swag items, posters, etc. Everywhere. You don’t have to have something fancy or spend a ton of money having one designed. As long as it is distinctive and says what you want it to, you’re fine. Example: Nora Roberts‘ logo is her initials in a particular font with a circle around it. While being easy enough for a non-designer to create, it conveys class and authority, two things she is well known for.
- Color choice – This may seem odd, but consider that corporate brands go so far as to trademark their exact shade of a color. (Think Tiffany blue or Coca-Cola red and you’ll begin to see the impact color can have.) Color works the same way for authors. Have you noticed that a lot of romance authors choose pink or red? Or that crime writers tend to go with dark blue, black or another dark color that conveys seriousness and the dark side of life? Cookbooks abound with green. You will want to have one or two consistent colors that you use in your logo, on your website and all of your collateral materials. It will tie everything together and begin to build a vision of you. (My colors are navy blue, white and yellow, in case you were wondering. Navy blue is for the seriousness of a lot of historical fiction, and yellow is for joy. White is a color of both freedom and innocence, aspects of both types of fiction I write.)
- Font – This may seem like a little thing, but if you’ve ever done any design, you know that font can make or break what you are trying to say. Think of a deadly serious message written in Curlz font or a love note written in Chiller. Doesn’t work, does it? Font conveys a feeling, whether you want it to or not. That’s why you’ll see romance writers leaning toward cursive, curly, curving fonts and thriller writers using thick block caps. Like your colors, you will want to keep this consistent. Find one, maybe two, that are you and stick with them.
- Tagline – Both books and authors can have taglines. Either way, a tagline is a short, one-sentence hook that says what you (or your book) is about and draws people in. The more creative and emotionally evocative you can be, the better. Examples: Mine is “Stories of Strong Women from History and Today” because that bridges the two genres I write and conveys what I am about in both. My fellow Spellbound Scribe, Liv, uses “Laughter, life, & romance under partly sunny skies.” That tells you what you will get from her: humor and romance, but with a serious side, as well.
- Header graphics – You want to have a consistent image that says “you” regardless of where people encounter you. That means you should use it on your website, social media, event posters, business cards, etc. You want people to know it is you before they even see your name. When you have a new or recent release, this will obviously tie into your book cover, but you need something for the in between times. This can be something you create from scratch or have designed. Or you can layer images from stock image sites (please only use images for which you have or have licensed the legal copyright, don’t use things from Google). Mine is a composite I created of a silhouetted woman (so that she can represent every woman I might write about) between a castle (history) and the Chicago skyline (the setting of my contemporary novels). Above her are my name and tagline, and there is plenty of room for images of my books. Check out the web sites of your favorite authors and you’ll begin to see things like this, even if they aren’t specifically in the masthead (top header) of the site.
- Book covers (especially in a series) – Whether or not you have full control over your book covers, you should at least advocate for consistency in font and, if you are writing a series, some element that ties your titles together. Traditional publishers are very good at this, so you likely won’t have to worry. Indies, however, are responsible for these elements and more. The key here is making books in a series look like they belong together. This can be done through images, font family, font size and overall design composition. If possible, there should also be consistency among your books that aren’t in a series so that people know they belong to the same author even before they see your name.
- Author photo – First, please have a professional photo taken. That is part of being a published author and speaks highly of you to your fans, potential readers, the media and anyone else who may look at your book or website. Most of us will have a generic headshot, but you can spice those up by using bright colors, which the eye is drawn to. If you write in a specific time period or genre, you may want to reflect that in your author photo. For example, historical mystery writer Leanna Renee Hieber goes full on 19th century gothic in her photo, historical fiction author Yves Fey is a little more subtle, wearing a Belle Époque hat in her photo, while romance author Chanel Dolz Cleeton as an air of romance/sex to her photo. It’s really up to you.
- Website design – This is your online presence in the world, so you want it to represent who you are. Try to tie in the colors you’ve chosen, your fonts, header graphics, logo, etc. This is where it all comes together. And make sure your pages are written in your brand’s voice.
- Email signature – If nothing else, you should have your tagline below your name in your email signature, along with your website. You may also want to link to your books, include social media information, or a newsletter sign up link. I also include writer organizations I’m a member of and awards my books have won (although my signature is getting out of hand *humble brag*). Think of your email signature as a concise way to sell yourself and your books.
- Business cards – As mentioned before, your business card should include your name, tagline, genres and contact information at the very least. You may also want to include your book covers, header image, or even your author photo on your card. I’m including all of these in my new card and it looks snazzy!
- Social media – This was covered somewhat above, but you should always use your author photo in your social media avatars, not your book cover, because people connect better with faces. Again, tie in all of the other elements of your brand here and keep your voice in mind when posting.
There are even more elements we could discuss, like choosing where you host your events, with whom you associate online (no, this doesn’t mean you should shun people who you feel are beneath or less experienced than you), and what conventions or events you attend/speak at but this may already hold the record for longest Spellbound Scribes post ever. I hope you found it useful!
What questions do you have for me on branding or its many aspects? I’m happy to help because this subject fascinates me.