I need to bore you with some nostalgia before I can get to the crux of this post.
As a kid, one of my favourite programs to watch was Murder, She Wrote. I don’t care what you say, Angela Lansbury was hands-down awesome as Jessica Fletcher, the intrepid crime-solving author. I watched that show and used to marvel at how much travel Jessica Fletcher did – either to family and friends, or book tours, how people would instantly identify her – Jessica Fletcher, you’re that mystery writer, yeah? Or the copies of her book that would turn up in the most unlikely hands. Doors would open for her, allowances would be made for her… And then there was that lilting theme – I can still picture her, riding that bike near her cottage in Maine.
Murder, She Wrote may have had a little to do with my desire to become an author. Now, as a somewhat-mature adult, Castle is my crack (cue drool). The one thing these shows have in common (apart from writers solving murder mysteries, Stephen J. Cannell, quirky theme music and sometimes far-fetched storylines – but come on, that’s what we love about them), is that these authors live a life that many aspiring and new authors dream of.
So maybe I should insert this qualifier – this article is not for the bestsellers, high-ranking, high-selling, multi-published, movie-rights-selling industries of the written craft, such as J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, Dan Brown, etc. This article is for the rest of us.
I’ve dreamt of the day where I’m asked for my autograph (preferably on the naked torso of a very attractive man, a la Richard Castle in Episode 1, Season 1), attend the movie premiere of one of my novels and (flutter hand in front of my face) grudgingly acquiesce when the local constabulary plead with me to help them on a case – preferably by teaming me up with Detective McSexy.
Until then, I have to work on my craft, and my brand.
With today’s attraction and obsession with digital technology, the publishing world is slowly changing. I’m still trying to hang on to that image of me doing the traditional publicity tours, but I have to face facts. Things are different to the way Jessica Fletcher did things. Richard Castle, on the other hand, seems to be enjoying the best of both worlds, utilising technology as well as traditional means for both publishing and crime-solving. But that’s not my experience. Drat.
As a digitally published author, I’ve learned a few things.
1) Not every author gets a publicist.
2) Not every author gets a huge budget to spend on publicity and promotion.
3) It’s really hard to hold a book signing if there is no physical book to sign.
So a lot of authors today have to do a lot more than just write. Gone are the days when you could expect to publish a book, travel to different areas for book-signings and interviews, and after approximately six weeks just fade back to your desk to write the next book. Oh, how I wish…
With the glut of e-books on the market, the new presses and publishing houses setting up, the ability to self-publish without the term vanity being applied, it means one thing – great times if you’re a reader! (Which I am, so I do enjoy the variety as well as the decreasing cost to support my reading habit). It does mean that it’s harder for an author to find their sweet spot – you know, with a loyal readership that will wait for your next book, who won’t get distracted by all the other seductive white noise on the market (and yes, there is some really good white noise out there, by the way!) For the majority of writers, we will need to perform the tasks of promotion ourselves, and just like a traditional or digital publisher, we won’t have an inexhaustible budget with which to do it, so we want to make sure that whatever we do, it’s effective.
With any good thing (and a writing career is a good thing), it takes time. Time to build your readership, time to establish your name, your reputation. Time to build your brand.
Building your brand is critical to your success as a writer – just as critical as the next book (keep reading and I’ll explain why).
What is a brand?
Hm, well, maybe it’s easier to start with what it’s not. A brand is not a logo. It’s not colours, or a funky little picture, or theme music. A brand is like an identity, and how you associate with that identity. For example, think of it as a person – lets say… Susan. Yes, Susan. In and of itself, Susan is just a name. But what if Susan is always baking, always smells like warm cinnamon scrolls, and is always ready with a cuppa and a listening ear… we think of her as warm, welcoming, gentle and wise. Or what if Susan is a wheeling and dealing contracts negotiator who likes chrome and glass… we think of her as cold, ruthless, determined.
These are impressions that we form, and that’s what a brand is – a way of associating – or relating – a name/image to an impression. Sometimes those impressions provoke an emotional or physiological response. It’s what builds a rapport with your customer – or in this case, your reader.
As authors, we instinctively build our brand with the stories we write. For example, Roxanne St Clair writes sexy, dangerous romantic suspense, Nalini Singh writes drop-dead gorgeous and sexy-as-all-hell paranormal characters and stories. As a reader, you’ll generally pick up one of their books, with an impression of what you’re likely to find in it. It has nothing to do with the logo on the cover, the image or text on the cover, the colours on their website, etc. It has everything to do with the content.
And when it comes to marketing and promotion, content is king – but that’s a whole other post.
So, as an author, how can you build your brand?
Like I said, generally it’s instinctive, and has everything to do with our author voice. What do you write? Dark, dangerous suspenses? Light romantic comedies? Poignant family sagas? Twisted spy adventures? Magical paranormals? Dramatic historicals? The general tone of your writing will drive your brand. For those of us who have to do the work ourselves to promote our books and ‘me’ as an author, this will involve reading your work with an objective eye. It’s not want you want to write, it’s what you do write.
In my day job as a copy/content writer and business consultant, I would sit down with my clients and ask them some key questions, and I’ll share some with you today:
- How do you want people to see/think of you?
- What kind of impression do you want to make?
- What do you need to do in order to create that impression?
- What tone and style is needed in order to create that impression?
Unless we self-publish, writer’s don’t get much of a chance to affect their covers. That’s generally handed over to the marketing and art departments. But if you’re lucky, you might be consulted, which is an opportunity for you to share your vision of your author brand with your publisher. Failing that, take what you can’t control out of the picture, and focus on what you can control when it comes to branding.
At every opportunity that folks can form an impression (eg; reading your book, visiting your website, your blog, attending a talk or workshop), you can build on your brand. And the key to brand-building is consistency. In your books you’re consistent with your author voice, your tone – it’s instinctive. Take that tone, that style, and incorporate it into your website, your blog, your business cards, your promotional material. With a consistent brand, people will form an impression, will start to relate to you, and that relationship will feed into building your readership.
And of course, it all starts with the book you’re writing now. So, if you instinctively write sexy, dark, and dangerous, use those elements in your promotion. If you write fun and flirty, bring those elements to your promotion.
At each opportunity, consider ‘how does this affect my brand? Does it build it? Or not?’
So consider your voice, your tone and style when building your brand, but most of all WRITE.