Thinking About Author Branding

I was commenting on a friend’s blog post about author branding (linked below), and it got me thinking. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you all and see what you think as readers and writers.

Since the Internet opened ways for authors to have more control of, and responsibility for, marketing their books, writers at all stages have been told to develop a brand, something that would be tied to their books in readers’ minds.

On the surface, this makes a lot of sense because you want your name or titles to come to mind whenever a particular concept is mentioned. This is what advertising attempts to do with other types of products, which has proven successful. Marketing journals often talk about how what matters is name recognition, which is why good and bad attention serves a purpose. When someone is scanning the shelves, they’re more likely to pick up the book with an author they have heard of, even if they don’t remember where or when that connection was made.

While books definitely have differences from other products, in the basic sense, the marketing principles should apply.

Therefore, thinking about your brand is important.

A couple years ago, I was making new business cards for a convention (my old ones were an inside writer joke and caused general confusion) and worked out a new tagline with a friend: Tales to Tide You Over. The reason this tagline speaks to me is because I began as a storyteller, and the point is to entertain, absorb, and trigger an emotional reaction. My stories should get you through the hard times, the boring times, or just when you want to experience something not common in your life. That’s my goal, and I think my tagline speaks to that goal.

However, brands are something that are developed, not applied. For example, Toyota is experiencing brand problems right now with their technical difficulties that may be caused by cosmic rays (a literal “act of God”). Other auto companies have had recalls and serious problems, so why has Toyota made such big news?

In part because their brand is safety, reliability, and quality. This problem hits them on every single point of the ways customers have come to depend on them. These brand concepts were not developed by Toyota saying they were so. Toyota came into the market with cheap cars. Then they became less cheap as people realized how reliable they were and they became a big brand. The point is that the brand developed as the cars proved to have brand qualities.

This is where the branding concept, especially when pushed on new writers, never quite made sense to me until yesterday. Stephen King didn’t announce to the world that he was going to make us afraid of our inner selves…or our cars. He wrote the books that captured people’s nightmares, and readers started telling other readers that he could be counted on for digging deep in the soul and showing us our dark side.

Branding isn’t something you can pronounce. It isn’t something you can build on the outside. It’s something inherent in what you have to offer.

Now does that mean you should sit on your duff and wait for it to happen? Not at all.

As a writer, you need to look at your writing and find the commonalities. Find the things that readers can count on you for no matter how different the books might be. If you write in multiple genres, you may have to identify multiple brand concepts, but you do need to look at what you have to offer as an author because, though you cannot create your brand in the readers’ eyes, you can suggest the ways that you see, and capture the ways your readers tell you. That is what you can show to the world and suggest readers come to you for.

For example:

I have taken to reading Karen Traviss (see book reviews for specifics) because the first book of hers I read was sociological science fiction. I can count on her to create interesting people (human or not) with fascinating cultures. This was even true in her Star Wars novels because the culture is in how the team works together and interacts with those around them.

S.L. Viehl/Lynn Viehl can be counted on for mouthy female and complicated male main characters.

Suzanne Brockmann gives me interwoven stories that stretch out before and after the book to give a sense of a bigger picture while also having a broad spectrum of characters in various situations.

I could go on–I certainly have enough favorite authors–but I think I’ve made my point.

In my case, the one thing my books have in common is a happy ending. Not necessarily a happily ever after (HEA), but no matter how dark they get, my books end with a glimmer of hope (which is what I realized in responding to that blog post). However, that’s not much of an identifiable characteristic for my romance novels since the HEA is required, so I’ll need to identify another characteristic for those.

That’s what we need to do in the start because readers don’t know us. We need to offer something that makes them both want to try our first books and to continue reading to see that we live up to it. However, the brand itself may not turn out to be what we’ve identified. It may be that readers discover another thread that speaks to them, and if so, don’t fight it. Your readers will be better able to identify what stands out than you will just because they don’t have the baggage of being inside.

And now it’s your turn, whether reader, writer, or both.

What do you count on from your favorite authors? What concepts have branded themselves on your memory?

And if you write, what common threads do you see that might become your brand once readers have the chance to try you out?

P.S. Here’s the post that sparked this one:

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3 Responses to Thinking About Author Branding

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Tales to Tide You Over » Blog Archive » Thinking About Author Branding --

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Ah, branding. I do marketing in my day job, so I understand its importance. But as an aspiring writer, the thought of it makes me flail.

    Personality? Rational and calm – good qualities, but hardly endearing to readers (editors, maybe). Interests? Vegetable gardening, nature, fitness – very little of which appears in my books. And the writing itself – a mix of adult and young adult. Mostly novels. Almost all fantasy. Almost all secondary-world fantasy. Almost all with female protagonists. Is “secondary world fantasy with lots of female characters” a brand? It might have to be.

    Step 2 would be translating that to my online life: my blog, twitter, etc etc etc. That’s where it goes from tough to tougher.

    • MarFisk says:

      Yes, applying is the hard part, but until you identify it, applying is impossible.

      If you really can’t see any trends that cross your books, I’d say start smaller. Take just your YA, for example, and look at all of them. See if you can’t find something in common. Or ask one of your early readers what they see, since I really think branding is driven by the readers (as you might have guessed ;)).

      However, I’d say Diana Wynne Jones made her brand exactly that. The difference is that she did it in the beginning, so you may need something extra.

      Good luck figuring it out, but I’d guess once you do that your marketing background will make applying it easier than for the rest of us :).

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