Thursday, January 29, 2015

Establishing Your Author Brand

I spent a few years in corporate branding in my last role, so I know how important it is to a company’s success. But did you know that it’s also very important to your success as an author? I’m hoping that you are currently nodding your head—I know I’m not the first to bring up this subject. It’s not a new or novel idea. However, it’s a subject that’s important enough to keep talking about and sharing tips.

In case the concept of branding has somehow escaped your notice, I’ll start with the basic definition. In its most simplest of terms, a brand lets consumers know what to expect from a certain product or service, and how that product or service is different than its competitors.

While I’m relatively new to the author world, I’m not new to the concept of branding. I think this is an element that many new authors either forget about, or avoid because they are intimidated by the process. Therefore, I thought I’d share my thoughts with you on branding, hoping that it will help you with your own branding efforts.

There is so much that goes into branding that I’ve decided to talk about this topic over my next few posts (which here on Across the Board is about once a month). I’m not yet sure how many posts this series will encompass, but it will be more than one.

The critical first step in making your brand effective is to understand what your brand is. Here are four important questions you should ask yourself as you start the branding process.

What kind of books do I want to write?
While branding is critical, it can’t exist without a product. Your first step is to figure out what kind of author you want to be. The brand for a fiction author might be very different than that of a non-fiction author.

For example if you want to publish non-fiction cook books with healthy recipes, then you should want your brand to represent a healthy lifestyle. Your brand might need to inspire motivation. However, if you want to publish fiction novels about werewolves, then you’d want a brand that evokes fantasy and the supernatural. You would want to have a brand that tells readers you will transform them into another world.

If you are an author who plans to write in more than one genre, then you will also need to determine how different they are from each other. If they are on opposite ends of the spectrum—such as romance and children’s books—then you will need two separate brands. However if they are similar—such as women’s fiction and romantic suspense—then you can probably get by with the same brand.

I knew I wanted to write books that are real-to-life fiction. My books may or may not have a traditional HEA (happily ever after) ending, but they will always have endings that inspire hope. I want to write books that my readers can connect to emotionally, on many different levels.

Who is my target audience?
Once you know what kind of author you are going to be, then you need to think about your target audience. It’s not that your brand should change based on your audience, but it’s likely that your message will.

For example, maybe part of your brand message is that your books should be sold with a box of tissues—i.e. your novels will create a strong emotional reaction for your readers. This might be a successful hook for female readers, however if a large part of your target readership is male then you might not draw them in. Your brand might need to be communicated in a way that tells readers your books create real life connections rather than emotional connections. It’s a subtle difference, but it could be important.

Another example is for those of you wishing to write middle grade or children’s books. While your target audience is the child, it’s the adult in that child’s life that has all the purchasing power. If you fail to understand how your brand relates to the adults as well, they may not be willing to buy the books.

I know that my target audience is women—approximately somewhere in the age range of 35-55. This doesn’t mean that men or 25 year old women can’t read and enjoy my books (several have, in fact, read and loved my books), but I understand where the majority of my reading audience falls.

How are the other authors in my genre branded?
Again, part of your author brand should let the reader know how your books are different than your competitor’s. For example, you might be at a disadvantage if you’re an overweight person about to publish a book about living a healthy lifestyle, and all the other authors in this genre are athletically fit. It doesn’t mean that you can’t publish and sell that healthy lifestyle book, but you’ll need to seriously think about what sets you apart from those other authors. You’ll need to find that unique hook that will have the readers trusting in you and your book.

When I was launching my first novel, I visited several websites and social media sites of other authors in my genre. I looked for areas where we were similar, and also areas where we differed. One of the main differences is that my books will not always follow ‘the norms’ of book writing, or a standard blueprint for a women's fiction novel. For example in my third novel, Shattered Angel, I start at chapter 24 and count down. Basically, I’m going to push boundaries and think outside the box.

Do I already have a brand in place?
Once a brand is established, it’s hard to change it. Asking yourself this question will help you determine if you need to use your real name or a pen name. For example if you’re a minister’s wife who’s planning to write erotic romance, then your personal and author brand will likely be in conflict with each other, and you might want to use a pen name.

I spent 17 years in the corporate industry at a global Fortune 500 company before writing my first novel. I have an established brand that works well with my genre and my audience. I wanted to be able to leverage this to my advantage.

When I went through this process, I added up all my answers to these questions and the end result is that I’ve branded myself as a Literary Engineer. My undergraduate degree is in Mechanical Engineering, and I like that this title represents all aspects of who I am. Literary Engineer represents the idea that I don’t want to just write books—I want to engineer reading experiences. I want my readers to feel as if they’ve been on an emotional journey with my characters. It’s also a unique title, representing my desire to think outside the box and try new things in my novels. You never know exactly what you will get with each new book I publish.

In my next post I’ll start talking about how you use your brand throughout the writing process—from your book cover to your blog posts.

So what about you—have you thought about your author brand?

~ Carrie


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I love this post! Author branding is so important. Before I had my website done, I thought long and hard about what kind of branding I needed. I consider myself a YA mystery author so my brand needed to be obvious. I write Ya paranormal mysteries and straight up mysteries but they're all mysteries. On my website is a girl sleuth. I love branding conversations but it does require authors to truly think ahead. And that's not always easy to do.

Leandra Wallace said...

I love your brand and have always thought Literary Engineer super clever! And I just pre-ordered Shattered Angel, super looking forward to it. As for my brand, I'm all about the fluff and light-heartedness. I don't do many serious, weighty posts, as I'm more about the entertainment. And that's what I want to do w/my stories, is just entertain ppl and take them somewhere else for a few hours. Hopefully they will someday!

Carrie Beckort said...

Your girl sleuth is so cool! I love how you thought about your brand and tied in the elements. Maybe we branding nerds should 'talk shop' sometime :-)

Carrie Beckort said...

Thanks, Leandra - for the complements on my brand and for pre-ordering Shattered Angel! I think your concept of brand fits you well, you should be able to easily translate that when you're ready! And, if your future books are anything like your posts I know they will entertain!

Unknown said...

great post! I'm the "girly author" ...I write about makeup and try to keep things light and fun with my writing. Branding is def a strange thing, since we all have diff sides to us, and writing is an art so of course there will be times I'm going to write things that might be a bit darker. But on a whole, I like being the girly author--it def fits me!

Arlee Bird said...

This is an important marketing topic. I don't know if eclectic is a good brand or too broad, but I hate confining myself. Right now I think my name has mostly become a blogging brand, but when I ever manage to extend my reach to publishing books I hope I have enough focus to be recognized for what I am.

This topic fits into the marketing realm that I think about a lot. Thanks for keeping my mind on this.

Arlee Bird
A to Z Challenge Co-host
Tossing It Out

Carrie Beckort said...

Girly is good - and fun :-) I think that we all have some latitude do some different things. If that's important to you, just keep it in mind as you develop your brand. It might just take some creative marketing or communication when it comes to publishing that darker novel.

Carrie Beckort said...

HA - I always say I want to invent a new genre that I will write in: Eclectic Fiction :-) I agree, that it's not comforting to be confined. I intend to write different types of novels, but I do believe that the majority of my readers will remain the same for all books. That's why I want my brand to speak about creativity, emotional connections, and the unexpected. No matter what genre I write, those will always be my elements!

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