Summer School – Self Publishing Edition: Branding

 

Summer School Graphic 2019

Mondays in summertime are totally different than non-summer Mondays, don’t you think? To me they are packed with far more potential and excitement. What new things will we do this week?

Today, I’m the one holding the microphone! *insert maniacally evil laughter here*

Wait! Where are you going? Hang on! No, no, sorry, the course for aspiring evil villains is down the hall. This class is for authors and aspiring authors wanting to know how to figure out their author brand!

*shuffling about as a few students sheepishly exit*

There, that’s better. Now that we’re all sorted out. Let’s begin, shall we?

Branding!

Now, thankfully, this doesn’t involve hot irons of any kind, but I can understand why some of you might be nervous! If you’ve considered publishing for any amount of time, you may have heard it said that you need to “figure out your author brand.” But what does this mean? And how does one go about figuring it out and implementing it?

Well, I’m no expert, but I’ve come to believe that it is actually pretty simple:

Your author brand is the persona you portray to your audience so that they know exactly what they are getting when they pick up one of your books.

I’ve heard it said that your brand is “your promise to your readers.” It’s not just a logo or a tagline or a set of images with specific colors and design aspects, it’s also the way people see you as an author: which includes your personality, the various elements they tend to expect to find in any book of yours, and also the emotions that hearing your name evokes.

But the most simple way to say it is this: Your brand is YOU.

This is important.

Your brand is NOT your first book published!

Why is this important? Well, if you’re planning to only publish one book, then it’s not important. Your first book can be your brand. But if you are planning on ever publishing anything else, be careful not to fall into the mistake of making your brand all about your first book or newest release! It can be tempting to name your website after your first book, and create your social media presence around your first book, but then you run into some thorn-bushes when you go to release your next book! And what happens when you start a whole new series? Remember, your brand is who YOU are as an author, not just about your specific titles. You want a brand that is going to encompass all of your works, not just one.

Now, the good news is this: if you’ve started putting anything out there for people to read or know about you, you have already begun working on your brand. The trick is refining it!

Of course, there may be far more to you than your author brand. But there are always going to be aspects of you that won’t necessarily fit your brand. If the genre you write in is light, fairy-tale retellings, for example… then your brand does not have to include your deep personal passion for software coding. (That’s just an off-the-cuff example, of course).

So how do you figure out what your brand is, and how do you implement it?

First of all, look at your writing. For whom are you writing? What is your ideal audience? What are the common elements or themes that make it into your stories? What experience do you want your readers to come away with? What emotions do you want them to feel?

For myself, I’m still working on a lot of this. But over the past year, we’ve been looking at doing some redesigning of my website when Turrim Archive comes out. Now, I already have a brand, but that refining process is still happening. We’ve been looking at colors and taglines and trying to figure out who my ideal audience is and so I’m right here with you, in the trenches.

As I’ve considered these questions, I’ve kept circling back to one defining element: the feeling I had when I read The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time, or watched The Neverending Story for the first time. It’s not that I want to identify myself or my writing with those stories, but I love that sense of wonder and exploration I experienced when I read/watched those stories as a kid. I loved the adventure of it, the worry that my favorite characters might not make it through the story safely, and, as I’ve grown and matured and fallen in love with hundreds of other stories since then I’ve come to realize that the thing I love most about stories is that I never make it through them unchanged.

That’s what I hope to do for others with my own stories.

I also love true stories about explorers, those who forged the path for others to follow. Stories of explorers like Lewis and Clark, Ernest Shackleton, and Scott Fisher and so I wanted to incorporate an element of that into my tagline, as well.

Thus, my author tagline and the new (though, as yet unused because we haven’t gotten around to updating the website yet) title of my blog/website has become:

SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL

Which is not my brand in its entirety, of course, but it is one element figured out – it says a little bit about something I love, it says a lot about how I want readers to interact with my stories, and it encompasses everything I write, not just one book or series.

It is important, as you think about your brand, to think about it every time you post anything on social media. What is your tone? Are you a teacher? Are you whimsical? Are you witty? Are you a comedian? Are you sincere and serious? Just like finding your author’s voice, this can be difficult to find and may take time to perfect. But consider your tone, your “brand voice” if you will, and make sure you are consistent with it.

There are many other aspects to creating your brand and figuring out what your brand is and how to tweak it, but I think those are the Big Picture questions to consider when getting started defining your brand. If you still find yourself floundering, there are people out there who will chat with you and coach you and work with you to find your author brand. One that I know of specifically is Janeen Ippolito, one of her passions is helping authors figure out their brand!

Let’s chat!

Have you figured out your author brand? Are you still working on it? What are some of the defining elements of who you are as an author that you want readers to know or connect with when they hear your name? Who is your ideal reader or target audience? What common elements or themes can be found across your writings?

Do you have any more questions about branding? Have you gotten any particularly awesome advice on this subject you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!

~ jenelle

4 Comments

Sarah Pennington

Definitely still working on branding, so thanks for doing a post on the topic. I think part of my problem is that some of the main elements of my what I want as my book-brand — the magicalness and wonder and streetlights-in-the-dawn-type beauty that I try to have in pretty much everything I write — aren’t as easy to express (especially on social media) as are some of the other elements — the excitement and the emphasis on friendship and family and the idea of, on some level, appreciating life where you are (even if your life isn’t great). So, yeah.

One other thing I’m curious about: how do you balance your brand when you write books that are fairly different from one another (e.g. in very different subgenres of spec fic)? Currently, as you know, I publish fairy tale retellings, but I also have some portal fantasy and epic/heroic fantasy novels that I want to edit and release at some point in the future, plus a few dystopian/science fantasy novels, and all of those will have a different tone and different emphases than my fairy tales, so . . . what do you do then?

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jenelle

Branding is definitely a process – and sometimes it takes publishing a few books to find out exactly what YOUR brand is. Sometimes reviews can be helpful with helping you discover parts of it: what are the common elements that people seem to enjoy in your books? What do they mention positively? What feeling do they seem to come away with after reading your books? It sounds like you’ve got a great start already, you know the elements you want to convey in your writing. The difficult part before you is how to express it in something as short as a tagline.

Your question is an excellent one! If your books are vastly different from one another, you might want to consider a pen name or two. I know multiple authors who write under multiple pen-names so that they can write across genres.

However, the list of things you said you want to write, I think all fall pretty squarely within the speculative fiction genre, so I don’t think that’s what you’re looking at… I think what you really need is to figure out what your common themes or “feels” are across your books (and it might take writing a few more to really get a handle on it). Regardless of whether you write fairy tales or dystopian or sci-fi or epic… what is your “promise” to your reader? A brand will transcend genre to some extent.

Take for a few examples:

H.L. Burke. She writes fairy tale/myth retellings, light fantasy romance, steampunk, magical cats, and is currently working on a huge epic fantasy. Her “brand” however, has become: “Impossible Worlds with Sincerity and Snark” which perfectly sums up what I expect to find when I open one of her books, regardless of slight (or even large) differences in genre.

Kyle Robert Shultz’s brand used to be: “These Are the Stories You’re Looking For” – which does a good job of conveying his love of pop culture (the Star Wars reference) as well as his sense of humor that permeates everything he writes, whether it’s a fairy tale retelling or a fantasy western.

Savannah Jezowski’s brand is: “Creating Gritty Worlds Pierced by the Light of God’s Love” – she writes fairy tale retellings, fantasy regency romance, and fantasy-zombies… but this brand encompasses all of these vastly different types of stories with a promise of what you’ll find within.

Hopefully that helps you with some direction and ideas to run with as you look at your own potential brand!

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beckythemothling

These are pretty good lessons for a traditionally published author as well, I think.
Although now I really really want a lighthearted fairy tale retelling that involves a deep passion for software coding…

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