Author Branding – Being Judged by Your Cover
It is a common trend these days for authors to focus on marketing their books rather than marketing themselves. It’s odd to think of yourself as being a product to market (should I get a barcode tattooed to my neck?), a thing that people can latch onto and connect with, but branding yourself as an author is key to your success.
I’ll admit, when I first started this blog I had very poor branding, you could in fact say I had as much branding as a tree covered in love hearts and initials, and when I first met this guest poster, the ever insightful Min Dean, she very gently admonished me for my neglect. “I won’t say the word ugly, but you may want to rethink that.” Min not only helped me rebrand myself but she also constructed this entire website. Look at how pretty it is! Aherm, sorry, was overwhelmed for a moment by being inside such a nice, new digital house… In this post Min discusses how you can brand yourself as an author without looking like a complete dooche-bag.
UPDATE: The giveaway is now over, thanks to everyone for participating! Today’s Giveaway will have TWO winners! Each winner will receive a copy of my ‘E-book Revolution Interview Series‘ and ‘Creating An Email Email List For Writers Mini-Course‘. I will be picking the winner of today’s prize from the comments below. Get your comments in before 3pm Friday 11th of April (Australian Eastern Standard time) which is also 10pm Thursday night across the pond (US Pacific) to win!
If there were no such thing as book covers, books would all look the same.
Readers would use other factors to decide whether or not they wanted to buy a book. Books would be judged on the written word alone; and certainly, once a book has established its reputation and secured its place in the world, the cover becomes less important.
But most books do have distinctive covers, and are judged by them. The cover is its initial, crucial advertisement to the world. It’s what catches the reader’s eye and sets the book apart from the others its nestled between.
The unfortunate truth is that if a cover is not impressive, distinctive, or alluring, a book may not sell as well as it should. The cover turns the bound, written words into a product (sorry. It does) and as with any product, it must be marketed to be sold. That is why the cover is so important.
In this era of digital and self-publishing, and at a time when publishing houses are requiring more of writers, the same can be said for authors themselves.
Writers are gaining more of a celebrity status than they once had.
With the good of communicating with readers directly and easily promoting their work to a larger marketplace, comes the bad of public scrutiny, and of being judged by their own covers. Authors are now, more than ever, part of the advertisement campaigns for a book, and as such, readers are basing a portion of their book-buying decision on the author’s own brand.
Branding is something writers from the time of traditional publishing never had to worry about, because the publisher and their hoard of marketing experts took care of it. The writer was free to do what they wanted to do: write.
But now? If you don’t have twitter, Facebook, a personal website and partake in a myriad of other social obligations – you will be told by everyone both in and out of the biz that you are losing readers.
The impression a lot of writers get from this requirement is that if you’re not exposing yourself entirely then you are unable to market your work effectively. And this is really scary because it makes out that you need to sell yourself, as though you are a product, not a person.
But this is where branding yourself properly can be so great for writers. By turning your name into a brand, you are not only giving your readers a professional promise, but also enabling you to distance your public face from the scrutiny of the online world. You are taking control of your online presence instead of being swept along flailing in the currents of the Interwebs.
What is Branding?
Branding is a simple set of consistent, identifiable parameters under which a product or service is presented to the world.
While it has traditionally meant defining limitations under which to present an entity, it has become much more thanks to the globalisation and fluidity the Internet has brought with it. A brand now is a living being, with its own personality.
As a writer, developing a set of branding guidelines will not turn you into a boring, repetitive marketing tool who incessantly self-advertises and gets blocked by all their followers for always trying to hock their latest product. It will instead give your readers that personal connection that they want, a promise of what to expect from you, and at the same time, protect you – the real person behind the public-facing one.
It’s All About You
Think of devising your brand as building a character in a book who is based on you.
Start with every single detail you can muster about the character.
- Are you naturally witty? Easily irritated? Overly emotional? Inspired by particular scientists or artists or writers?
- What’s your favourite food? Favourite colours? Favourite cities?
- What did you study at uni? Did you always want to be a writer?
- Do you have children? Respond badly to criticism? Have a healthy relationship with your parents?
Write down any number of items and events that have made you who you are today.
Now – unless you devise brand parameters, these are all the things that you may end up discussing publicly. In turn, these personal things will be discussed freely by anyone who wants to talk about you.
Does that make you excited or scared? Your answer, your gut reaction to this question, will determine how many branding parameters you need to set for yourself.
After building the character – yourself – you must then choose what the readers actually NEED to know about this character – your brand. Regardless of everything that makes the character real and who they are – how do you WANT them to be perceived?
The intention is not to lie about who you are; for example, if you are serious and reserved, trying to portray a light-hearted, witty personality is going to be a lot of work, and people will likely see through it.
The intention is simply to come up with a set of guidelines that you promise yourself to stick to whenever you appear in public – be it on- or off-line. Take your original list, and circle or cross out things that you do or don’t want the world to see.
Creating such a list will ensure you remain focused whenever you go online wearing your author hat.
You’ll know exactly which topics to avoid, how your voice will sound and read, and how to respond to the online world around you.
Avoiding the Rant
Inevitably, someone will annoy you online. Whether it be a bad review, an unthoughtful passing comment, spammers, or a generic Internet troll; someone will push your buttons and you will want to scream at them.
One of the most important things I’ve learned from managing online communities for nearly 15 years is that you cannot respond emotionally to these people unless you are ready to defend everything you say – because it becomes public and it will be remembered – forever – regardless of the injustice you feel it has caused you.
One of the easiest ways to ensure you don’t do this is to have someone, or a group of someones, who you rant to privately. Band together on Facebook private messages and offload whenever you want, write a letter, use a punching bag, whatever it takes to get rid of the knee-jerk frustration; just do not post about it publicly, unless you are willing to be judged and remembered for it.
Once you have worked out the frustration with a rant, you will more easily be able to frame a response that doesn’t damage your public presence – such as Neil Gaiman’s excellent Entitlement Issues blog post.
While branding is far less rigid than it used to be when it comes to visual presentation, it is still important to ensure you have a consistent, beautiful cover to draw in your readers. While your books will be judged by their covers, you will be judged by the images, fonts, presentation of words and photos you use online. The more time and effort you can put into the visual elements of your brand, the more people will enjoy spending time with and talking about it, and the more likely new people will be to buy into it.
Brands at their basic level need consistent logos, colours and fonts to stick to, so that they are recognisable.
This is where it becomes important that you invest in your brand; be it having an actual designer come up with a logo version of your name, a website built, or your social media presences unified visually.
Design your cover. Take time with it and consult experts and pay for what you need to get the job done properly.
If you don’t invest in yourself and present a decent cover to your readers, what will there be to make a new reader give your work a chance? Why should anybody have the confidence to buy into your brand, if you don’t put your money where your mouth is?
And even worse; present an unprofessional, tacky cover, for your book, or your brand, and you will not only lose potential readers; you will likely be publicly mocked (for example, 26 Hilariously Bad Book Covers on Buzzfeed).
It’s Your Story
Your brand is your own personal book cover. A brand will help you stay professional, define your presence, and determine your reputation for years to come. Make sure you have control over how you are perceived and remembered.
If you’re interested in creating your personal brand, and want some more information on the topic, here’s a couple of articles you might find interesting:
- How to Build an Author Brand on PublishingTalk.eu,
- From Amateur to Professional series on Creatives Unite,
- Authors, Your Brand is Your Baby on the Huffington Post blog,
- Making Social Media Social, an article I wrote on the Zeroseven website (the company I work for by day).
Do you have an author brand? How did you pull it together? Who helped you and do you ‘protect’ yourself?
Leave a comment below to win a copy of my two E-book Revolution Super Writer courses!
Tomorrow: We will be looking at how authors can create their own book apps. I chat to the team from Authorly, the new free tool for writers that is giving iBooks Author a run for its money by distributing to not only Apple, but Google Play and Kindle Fire!
Min Dean has been part of the web development industry since the late 90’s and works for a Brisbane-based web agency by day. She also offers her web development skills and online marketing knowledge via her freelance business, Equivalent Exchange. Interested in all things of a technical nature, a few years ago Min started dabbling in technical writing for her website business, as well as structural editing and continuity work, most notably for Isobelle Carmody’s ‘The Dark Road’ and ‘The Sending’. In 2013 Min launched Creatives Unite, an online directory enabling professional freelances from the publishing industry to find one another, build their own book finishing teams and get their novels finished, seen and sold, which was expanded in early 2014 to include an events and jobs directory. She is currently working on a website that will enable authors to sell short stories called ‘Fragments’.