What the Heck is this Author Brand?
Last week when I blogged about managing your author brand online a friend and writer sent me some questions that I am going to address in this post.
A brand is a promise to your readers.
Curious Author asked: “What is a brand supposed to do? To set the author apart? Is it supposed to be for readers? The media? If everybody’s coming up with short, snazzy “brands,” is mine even going to make a lasting impression? If it’s not, why should I spend time trying to come up with something?”
I think Curious Author’s key issue was that she spends so much creative effort to make each book unique, she fears the search for the similarities dilutes the originality of each novel. “Am I pigeon holing myself? she asked
Romance as a brand promises a happy ending. Hundreds of romance novels are published every month, so how can you stand out in this crowd? How can you help readers find you? How can you help your publisher market your book? How can you help yourself or your publicist, webmaster promote your novel?
The answer is by developing an author brand. So, in answer to Curious Author, yes the brand is for readers to find/want your book and for the media and your publisher to help market your book.
Have you ever gotten the cover for your book and wondered what the heck your editor, art director and marketing director were thinking when they agreed this was the correct message to send out about your book? Did they even read it? Every publishing company has its own system for creating the book package and at Harlequin we have a very detailed art information package, but imagine the great direction you can offer with an author brand.
Does this mean you have somehow limited yourself?
Absolutely not. A brand is not necessarily a short snazzy statement (although that can be good) but more a promise about your strengths. Consider Nora Roberts. She writes a wide variety of romance novels including stories with paranormal, mystery, family relationships, historical and contemporary. She’s certainly written a lot of trilogies but if you think about her brand, it is her strengths: fantastic dialogue, strong characters. No matter what kind of book she’s writing you know you are in a Nora Roberts story. And, of course, she developed a second brand, J.D. Robb, for her futuristic procedurals. I’m paraphrasing Nora here, but she refers to her two brands as Coke and Diet Coke.
New York Times/USA Today/RITA Award winner are all brands.
Harlequin is a brand. As are its many subbrands: Harlequin Presents, Harlequin Blaze, Harlequin Superromance, etc. Executive Editor Tessa Shapcott tells how Harlequin Presents was created to feature three authors: Anne Hampson, Anne Mather, and Violet Winspear. It was Harlequin Presents Anne Mather. It quickly evolved to “presenting” many more authors and the brand has evolved over time, but we all know its promise: international glamour, alpha heroes and passionate romance.
Debbie Macomber has a positioning statement that MIRA uses in its advertising and she uses on her website: Wherever you are, Debbie takes you home. It is simple and powerful and speaks to what she delivers in every story.
I’ve mentioned Love Inspired author Lyn Cote before because she attended a digital workshop the digital team held at RWA last year and she spoke about the kind of stories she wrote. Strong women overcoming challenges and came up with her brand: Strong women, brave stories.
A few others:
John Grisham – legal thrillers
James Patteson – his brand is so ubiquitous that he frequently has cowriters.
Ally Blake – fun, fresh, flirty romance novels
Curious author also asked “Why is a “brand” better than a good quote on a website or blog? Or is it?”
It’s not better. It’s a promise. Moreover, it is ongoing. Great quotes are excellent and you should definitely use them but they refer to a specific title as opposed to the body of your work. The brand shouldn’t hold you back in any way; instead it should simply highlight your strengths.
I work in a large company and there is a lot of corporate talk about developing your personal brand. Again, it’s about highlighting your strengths. Imagine you are a senior vice president assembling a team for a cool project. How do you select team members? If you are looking for someone who is creative, an innovator, aware of digital trends and a good communicator (hence my blog!) you might select me. That’s my corporate brand. You want statistical analysis? Move on.
I want to stress again, your brand is about your strengths. It can be broad or very specific. If you have an ongoing series you are writing that is part of your brand, but even if you write a wide variety of storylines there will still be your voice that is the unifying force. Ask yourself what you offer that is unique and that is the start of your author brand.
Curious Author said: “I most resist the idea of branding because of the fear of being locked into one style, one tone, one type of character and/or story because of how I’ve branded myself. Is this justified? If I try not to limit myself and my “brand” is too broad, won’t it be, basically, useless?”
When pushed further to think about her promise to the reader, she said, “That clarifies things a bit. I’ll confess that’s not something I’ve ever really sat down and thought about as referring to my books en masse. I think about what I want each book to give the reader (in terms of interesting characters and plot), but not something all-encompassing. That’s quite a challenge, really, and maybe another reason I, and other authors, hesitate to do the branding thing. I can think in general terms (entertaining, enjoyable read) but I don’t go deeper.
“Yoikes! That’s like…shallow characterization!!!
“And suddenly, I’m seeing the light and the angels are singing because THIS make sense to me. I should approach branding as I approach my characters – start with the surface, the obvious, and delve a little deeper, to perhaps what I do well?”
Yes, your strengths.
Does that clarify the question of author brand at all? I’m happy to answer questions!